Maid-sama!, Vols. 1 & 2

By Hiro Fujiwara. Released in Japan as “Kaichō wa Maid-sama!” by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz Media.

It’s hard when things that you enjoyed in the past suddenly seem more problematic to you. That hilarious maid from the old sitcom turns out to be a pretty bad stereotype. The running gag in the old British radio show is basically sexist as hell. That heartwarming childhood movie is teaching messages that are disempowering and stultifying. And yes, it even applies to license rescues, as Maid-sama!, the portrait of a gung-ho Type-A high school girl and the stalkerish guy who loves her and keeps saving her from various types of sexual assault… isn’t as funny as it used to be.


To be fair, looking back over my past reviews of this title back when Tokyopop was releasing it, I wasn’t too wild about Usui then either. But in six short years he’s gotten less tolerable, mostly because the narrative frames him as correct all the time. Part of this is the comedic conceit that he’s perfect at everything – to the point where Misaki begins to wonder if he’s actually human. But part of this is because the narrative enjoys having Misaki be strong, smart and try to rescue herself from danger but also can’t help put her in danger all the time in order to get rescued by the guy who likes her. It simply can’t avoid the standard cliches, and they’re not cliches for a good reason (and yes, there will be more sexual assault attempts as the series goes on.)

Luckily, the title has one big plus going for it, and that is Misaki herself. She’s loud, angry all the time, and can’t understand why boys exist, but at her core is a good heart and a girl who wants to help everyone – which is why she became Student Council President. She’s of a type I personally am very fond of, one that comes up often in Hakusensha titles – see also Special A and I Hate You More Than Anyone. And I do agree with Usui on one thing – teasing her and seeing her blush is adorable, and we will be seeing more and more of that blush as the series goes on. She’s stubborn as a mule (the “keep my job secret” thing isn’t even due to the traditional “no part time jobs” school rule – they’re allowed, she’s just embarrassed), but that’s also presented as a positive.

As for the rest of the cast, we still haven’t seen enough of them to really get an impression. Misaki’s trio of lovestruck idiots are pure comic relief, and the less said about the arrogant rich rapist from the rival school the better. I seem to recall when I first read the series that I liked it more when it was telling stories revolving around the maid cafe more than the school, so I look forward to reminding myself why – particularly Honoka. In the meantime, I am pleased that Viz picked this up, as I do want to see how it ends. But man, Usui is a lot harder to take in 2015 than he was in 2009 – particularly when the author agrees with him.

Maid-sama! Volume 8

By Hiro Fujiwara. Released in Japan as “Kaichō wa Maid-sama!” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Yeah, I should have realized they’d dial it back a bit. After the big love-love revelations in Volume 7, it was somewhat inevitable that we would not have the relationship progress even further, mostly as this is an ongoing shoujo manga and you have to save some ammunition for future plot twists. As a result, most of this volume deals with Misaki unable to deal with Usui’s feelings for her, and blushing like a red light.

We do get some further development of Hinata, Misaki’s childhood friend who’s returned in high school looking slim and cute. He’s pretty much doomed to not win, and has become even more aware of it in this volume thanks to Usui. (Usui is refreshingly blunt about his relationship with Misaki whenever she isn’t around or isn’t listening, and clearly regards Hinata as a threat to be eliminated as soon as possible. It’s hard not to feel bad for Hinata, who’s a great guy who simply suffers from not being Usui. He even notes his friends warned him before he moved that she may have fallen for someone else in his absence. Of course, he’ll keep doggedly trying.

We also meet Misaki’s mother and sister in this volume. Her mother is pretty much what I expected, basically looking completely exhausted (remember Misaki is working at the maid cafe to earn money to help her family after their dad ran out on them), but her sister Suzuna is an immediate scene stealer, given multiple quirks that I’m drawn to (emotionless girl, snarker, seems to have astonishingly good luck), and in the anime, she was actually introduced into earlier scenes which the manga didn’t have. Speaking of the anime, it was announced at about the time this volume went to press, and we see the various characters getting excited about it.

The second half of the volume deals with the upcoming midterm elections. Misaki is running again, and is trying to get Yukimura to get more fired up about it. Several of the boys are not happy, as they’re tired of being told what to do by Misaki, and decide to find a candidate of their own to run against her. Their choice is a very odd one, as it’s Kanou, the repressed hypnotist guy who went after Misaki 3-4 volumes ago. Kanou clearly wants nothing to do with this at all, but is unable to say no as he’s quickly swooped up and promoted by the other guys. Best part of this chapter was Misaki noting that, even with all the things she’s accomplished as President, it won’t be worth much if no one cares after she leaves. She really is quite a responsible young woman!

There’s two more side-stories here, both of which ran in the spinoff magazine LaLa Special. The first doesn’t quite work for me, being very unfocused. It’s about the three idiots again, and how one of them used to be the big badass delinquent at his old middle school. So when his old underclassmen go looking for him and find a doofy Misaki-loving goofball… they’re upset. And so they kidnap Yukimura, who is dressed in drag for no reason whatsoever, and our heroes have to dress up as delinquents to save him. Intended, I expect, as pure fanservice, the only reason anyone would want to read this is seeing Misaki look like she stepped off the pages of Hana to Asuka-gumi. The other side-story here is Misaki overthinking whether she should make Usui a lunch, and is sweet but slight.

After the big romance of Volume 7, much of this volume does feel like a bit of a letdown. Nevertheless, reading about Misaki is still fun (though try not to take a shot every time she blushes, drinking game fans) and I look forward to seeing the outcome of the student elections in Volume 9.

Maid-sama! Volume 7

By Hiro Fujiwara. Released in Japan as “Kaichō wa Maid-sama!” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I’ll be honest, there was a lot of this volume that didn’t really work for me. It ends with a side-story featuring Aoi and the other minor male characters in the series, the premise of which seems to involve Aoi trying to drive them away by being mean and the others not noticing because this is what they call friendship (and it’s implied they’ve grown used to abuse from Misaki). I don’t especially mind Aoi, but the story just never gelled for me, and the lack of Misaki until the climax hurt it. The first chapter, in which Misaki dressed as a Visual Kei hottie in order to help her fellow maid get out of an embarrassing date, is also not great, mostly as it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Misaki is determined, Usui watching over her and teasing her, etc.

However, this is made up for with the other chapters. In one of them, she has to take her childhood friend Hinata to the maid cafe… while not giving away that she works there. I had actually forgotten the reason she hides her profession is merely embarrassment and worry what people would think. I’m so used to manga where part-time jobs are forbidden by the school that I assumed it was for that reason. As a result, I was taken aback by Honoka, another one of the maids, just laying into Misaki for making light of the rest of them and treating her job as a shameful thing. (Honoka and Usui seem to have a common trait in inspiring Misaki, but while Usui enrages her, Honoka depresses her.) This Hinata now knows about her job as well, but at least she can stop trying to lie to him.

There’s a great flashback in this chapter where we see young Misaki yelling at young Hinata for not crying over the death of his parents. She tells him that you should never lie about your feelings. She recalls this in the chapter, and it helps inspire her to reveal her job to Hinata, but more importantly it sets up the next two chapters, which are essentially the payoff we’ve been waiting seven books for. Misaki and her friends (plus Usui) go to a school festival, which happens to be at the school of those J-Rock fakers we saw a volume or so ago. It turns out that Sakura is still dating the lead singer, and that he may actually be shaping up a bit. Due to the insane popularity of the band, Sakura and Shizuko get swept into the crowd, leaving Misaki and Usui to wander the festival… including having their fortune told. The fortune is clearly rigged, giving them bad luck in love so that they have to take their special love challenge as a result.

I’ve mentioned guys being hard to read in shoujo reviews before, particularly Naoko in Itazura Na Kiss. Usui is not very much like him, but also has a certain quality that makes it hard for the reader to really tell what he’s thinking, mostly as he’s so good at hiding it from Misaki. We *think* that Usui was briefly affected by the fortune telling, but since he so quickly converts it to his usual teasing we can’t be sure. And so he and Misaki end up doing the love test, which involves a series of dumb feats they have to do without letting go of each other’s hands. Needless to say, anything that is a competition is going to be a piece of cake for these two, and as a result they’re invited to the school dance at the end (normally restricted to students from the school only.)

And so Misaki, who has noticed Usui acting weird despite his best efforts, is feeling out of sorts. This is not helped by the singer from the band, who in defending his relationship with Sakura is aghast that Misaki and Usui still aren’t a couple. “So… what? Are you still making him wait for you?” is his blunt assessment, and it gets Misaki even more upset. Due to her family life and her sheer bullheadedness, the feelings she has for Usui are terrifying and alien to her, and doing the competition didn’t help. The whole thing comes to a head in an abandoned classroom, where Misaki asks Usui if he’s holding back for her, and he tries to get her to open up (something he usually avoids, except obliquely). He points out that, unlike EVERYONE else she deals with, including Hinata, she lies to him constantly about her feelings. No, she’s not blushing. No, she really hates him. Etc.

And so finally, she tells him the truth – she wanted to hold hands with him the entire day. But he makes her so confused that she has no idea what this means. And so (and really, we can’t blame his passions for being inflamed by this, as Misaki has never been more attractive and adorable in her blushy indecisiveness) he shows her how he feels. And tells her. While I felt the chapter went on too long (it had 20 extra pages that month, and the chapter gives a sense of being dragged out as much as possible), the emotional punch of the payoff works great. Of course, we don’t get a confession on her end (something Usui immediately points out), but by now Misaki saying she hates Usui has BECOME an expression of love – she even yells at him when he notes it, saying only she is allowed to say that to him.

So not perfect, and following it with the Aoi side story didn’t help, bujt still, I am very grateful to Maid-sama! for delivering on its romance in a way that, say, Otomen wasn’t really able to do. Looking forward to Volume 8 to see how Misaki deals with this.