Maid vs. Butler
After being disappointed by the latest release in another series I have been following and enjoying (Happy Cafe Volume 3), I was glad to crack open “Maid Sama Volume 5” and find that Hiro Fujiwara was still on stride.
“Maid Sama” is a comic I always feel a little bit embarrassed carrying around because of its super-shojo covers, but the inside comedy knows no gender barriers. There are two strong lead characters, Misa and Usui, who both have their sugar and spice sides which I enjoy, and a big helping of off-beat humor. The series has taken some hits from reviewers for being too text heavy, but to me that is where the gold lies. All of those cumbersome words are saying some pretty funny things if you take the time to read them.
Volume 5 has two stories, one short and one long. The first shorter story has student Sakura dragging along Misa and Shizuko for a group date with a boy band that she is a fan of. Once they are there, it soon becomes apparent that the boys in the band are not nice guys at all and they treat their fan Sakura with distain all while trying to make the moves on Misa. The next, longer story features the return of Tora Igarashi (Maid Sama! Volume 2) who is in cahoots with the heir to the Maki Dinning Group. They come to deliver an offer that Café Latte owner Satsuki can’t refuse. Either sell the maid café to the Maki Dinning Group, or be run out of business. The Dinning Group has plans to tear down the entire building and build a high-class Butler Café in its place focusing on expensive fine dinning. Of course, the girls won’t stand for that, and they decide to infiltrate the interviews for Footmen for the proposed Butler Café (Dressed in drag of course. No women needed for the Butler Café), and see if they can prove that the maids have what it takes to beat the deep pockets of the Maki Dinning Group. Needless to say, hijinks ensue.
The shorter story was a bit of a throw-away, and didn’t add much to the ongoing story or the comic itself. On a personal level it was kind of sweet, however, due to the discussion of the Japanese custom of patting your girlfriend on the head. When I was living in Japan that took me awhile to get used of, the head-pat as a sign of affection. It was funny to see it show up in a comic. The longer “Butler Café” story-arc takes up most of Volume 5 and there Fujiwara busts out her trademark style. Unlike most comedy manga, she doesn’t rely on sight gags or cheap laughs, but instead uses dialog and relationships to make her points. The interplay between Misaki and Usui, with their open war hiding a deep affection, reminds me of famous love-battles like Beatrice and Benedict (Much Ado About Nothing) and Spike and Buffy (Buffy The Vampire Slayer).
I love how Fujiwara is able to play with her characters as well. The Stupid Trio are getting less and less human with every issue, and Fujiwara clearly has a sadistic streak in her somewhere in the way that she abuses them. My favorite feature is “Q&A Time” when her characters answer reader questions. This time up is the sissy boy Yukimura taking questions if he is “that way,” and featuring a brilliant scene when Yukimura is asked “What is a seductive uke?” and Usui steps in to help show him. Funny stuff!