First Impressions – Shounen Maid

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Shounen Maid is a series that will surprise a lot of people – if they give it the chance.

OP: “innocent promise” by TRUSTRICK

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I’m not sure I’ve seen many anime as widely – and wildly – misjudged in advance as Shounen Maid.  Part of it is no doubt a function of its premise and the promo art, but there’s also an unfortunate confluence of events that’s part of the problem.  It happens to share most of a title with a rather infamous shotacon hentai with which it shares absolutely nothing in tone or substance, and it’s premiering in the same season with a show that actually has the creeper element that so many assume Shounen Maid has (and doesn’t).

I’ve been defending Shounen Maid from these misconceptions, as I’ve read the manga (what little of it is translated) and like it a lot.  But I think even I’ve been kind of of selling it short, because I think the premiere was really outstanding.  I was quite surprised to see this series get an adaptation in the first place, since it’s not especially popular in Japan and largely unknown outside it.  And frankly, it would stand a better chance of being a hit if it actually was the type of show most who don’t know the material seem to assume it is.  But there you go – we actually did get an anime and even if it’s a one-cour adaptation of an ongoing manga, I’m glad to have it.  Gift horses and all that.

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The appeal of this series is pretty straightforward, I think.  It’s a series that is by definition heartwarming – it has a very un-Japanese emotional openness to it.  It embraces cuteness in a way that’s more traditionally associated with shows with female leads, and that won’t appeal to everyone.  But while the heart of Shounen Maid is undeniably warm and it’s a series that celebrates the goodness in people, there are some edges to it too – this is not a sugar and spice (or even snakes and snails) one note smile-fest.  Bad stuff happens in Shounen Maid, but it’s not the sort of bad stuff many seem to expect (they’ll have to turn to Super Lovers for that).

The story revolves around 5th-grader Komiya Chihiro, who’s played by Fujiwara Natsumi.  As far as I know Fujiwara-san has never appeared in anime before but she does about as convincing a job playing a young boy as any female seiyuu for quite a while.  Chihiro’s mother Chiyo (Tamara Yukari) has passed away and as far as Chihiro knows, he has no relatives.  That leaves him alone in the world and as he and his mom were poor, penniless.  Chihiro was always happy despite living a very humble life – he took care of the house while his mother worked to support him – but he had no idea she was working herself to death until it was too late.

If there’s a theme to Shounen Maid, I think it’s pride – the good things pride makes us do, and the bad.  It was Chiyo’s pride that got her cut off from her wealthy family (which she never told her son about), but she raised him to be proud of who he was and to take care of himself.  When the uncle Chihiro never knew he had comes to collect him, the boy is stunned (as anyone would be).  And Takatori Madoka (Shimazaki Nobunaga) is a pretty strange fellow to boot.  Chihiro resists – if his mother was too good to be a kept part of this family, so is he.  But the hard and grim truth dawns on him quickly enough – because he’s a child, Chihiro can’t make that choice.  He can’t survive on his own, and he has to depend on someone he doesn’t know.

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The conceit of Shounen Maid – namely a young boy wearing a maid outfit and cleaning up his uncle’s mansion – is admittedly pretty silly.  But I think it makes perfect sense in the context of these characters.  For Chihiro, it’s all about pride – he’ll earn his place in his uncle’s house.  But there’s more to it than that, because both Chihiro and Madoka give each other something the other lacks.  And while Madoka (he designs costumes for a living) is a slob and an eccentric, he’s essentially a kind person who loved his younger sister very much – and respected her choice.  His rejoinder to Chihiro that he can “allow someone to take of you – you have the right” – is very astute and generously intended, I thought.

There are a lot of really nice moments as Chihiro settles in with Madoka and the well-meaning butler Shinozaki Kinichiro (Maeno Tomoaki) – such as what happens when Chihiro sees that the two adults have been cleaning a room for him to use, the first room of his own he’s ever had (and what happens when he checks their work).  And when Chihiro sees the way his uncle works (feverishly, in spurts) and worries (“worrywart” was his mother’s nickname for him) he’ll leave the boy behind like Chiyo did.  Director Yamamoto Yuusuke (NHK no Youkoso!, B Gata H Kei) is a very steady hand at the tiller, and he deftly navigates the material like the able sailor he is.  In short, if you get past your preconceptions and biases and aren’t allergic to some good honest emotion, Shounen Maid is a really good series – one of the real sleepers of a very good season.  Not many people will come along for the ride, I suspect, but those that do will be glad they did.

ED:”Zutto Only You (ずっとOnly You)” by Uchouten BOYS (有頂天BOYS)

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6 comments

  1. /me raises his hand

    Count me in for the ride!

    Charming is the word I would use for the series, though it does have its share of hilarious and surprisingly touching moments … and even quite thought provoking and mature moments, and they all launch out of left field and pounce on you with a light touch before you know what happened and they flee back into the underbrush.

    Yes though … I also am kinda sad that more people don’t give this series a chance to see it on its own instead of either reading into it or associating it with … other things. -_-

  2. G

    Love the first episode so much. Beautiful Art & Animation. Good Fast-pace (2.5 Chapter : 1 Episode)
    I think Anime-only watcher maybe confuse about ED.

  3. I want to enjoy this but it’s sending a ton of signals I associate with BL and such which makes watching it a distinctly uncomfortable and unenjoyable experience, especially the ED. 🙁

  4. M

    But if there was three moe girls it wouldn’t have been uncomfortable? Since it’s already been established that it isn’t bl.

  5. Z

    I too among along for the ride. Never shied away from some good honest emotion and as you noted, this has it in spades. But….I think the whole dressing up as a maid thing will probably stick in my craw for a while. To me it almost comes of as an unnecessary nod to anime stereotypes, like their editor said

    “This is pretty good stuff here, but you know what would make it sell like hotcakes? Dress him like a maid!”

    Anyway, really looking forward to seeing how the story moves forward and rises above its own tropes.

  6. C

    The maid outfit is… well, I get why they included it (I’m not a fan, but this is anime we’re talking about). Otherwise, I can’t see any obviously skeevy elements. Now all we need to be safe is confirmation that the uncle and nephew are blood-related. I’ve come across enough shoujo manga with that gross “loophole” to not take it for granted. (note: I only say gross because of the adult/minor aspect and because the adult is the legal guardian)

    This otherwise looks like a fun and surprisingly down-to-earth show, so I’m looking forward to seeing where it decides to go from here.

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