Shounen Maid is a major test of anime fans’ open-mindedness.
It’s with no small pleasure but also a fair bit of amusement that I see the reaction of viewers who’ve given this show a chance. By now it’s becoming clear that Shounen Maid is a very good series indeed – one of the warmer and more emotionally effective manga I’ve read in recent years in fact, and the anime is nailing the adaptation. But there’s a unique kind of suspension of disbelief that goes along with Shounen Maid – not with the premise itself, but that such a premise could deliver what it does.
I know this because I’ve experienced that disbelief myself. There’s a process of stages of denial that goes along with this series – the only reason I even gave the manga a chance is because I saw some of the stuff I would later write about it myself in reviews. But when you consider the initial impression it gives off, you try and convince yourself that it can’t possibly be as smart and perceptive as it really is. While it plays out in a completely different way, I had something of the same experience with R-15 – you keep looking for evidence that your initial instinct was right, but it just never comes.
The rest of the cast begins to make its presence felt in this episode, and it’s a very good one. First up is Ootori Miyako (Makino Yui) the young girl who’s part of an omiai (still very common in this social class) with Madoka. Miyako is underage – she doesn’t have to marry until she’s sixteen – and isn’t in love with Madoka. He’s not really the problem – she likes him well enough, but wants to be able to make her own choice. And then there’s the fact that her choice is obviously Keiichirou (Chihiro picks up on this at once, though Keiichirou himself seems to have no idea).
The upshot of all this is that Miyako (after naturally enough initially misunderstanding what’s going on with Chihiro) is struck by the fact that at the age of 11 he’s already striving to be independent, while at 15 or so she’s consumed by her own problems and spoiled by her upbringing. So she apprentices herself to him – with mixed results, yes, but like everything with Shounen Maid the heart is in the right place. It may seem as if Chihiro is unnaturally mature in giving advice about compromise and being true to yourself to a girl several years older than he is, but I see it as a reflection of his mother and how profoundly she was able to inspire Chihiro to be the remarkable boy he is.
Next up come Chihiro’s school friends. The most important of this bunch is Hino Yuuji (Saiga Mitsuki), but they’re all a big part of Chihiro’s life. They’re friends in the truest sense of the word – they know what Chihiro has been through and they’re worried about him, plain and simple. And that doesn’t change when, after a suspicious exchange regarding his circumstances, they follow him to Madoka’s mansion and see him dressed in his full regalia. What’s interesting here is that the absurdity of the conceit is acknowledged within the story itself, but somehow it never becomes a deal-breaker. It’s a neat trick of writing I never would have expected Ototachibana could pull off if I didn’t experience reading it myself.
Finally, we have a charming little aside where Chihiro realizes that he has no idea what Madoka likes to eat and sets his sights on finding out. The best part about this little story is the way it ties Chiyo-san into the narrative, and in doing so reminds us that Madoka too loved her very much. Whenever Chihiro steps back from the moment and realizes how much he misses his mother it hits home like a ton of bricks, and it’s (again) a fine turn of storytelling that something as simple as a rolled omelette can take on such poignancy.
There’s a lot of that “simple yet profound” theme I love so dearly to Shounen Maid – that, and it checks another one of my boxes by being a very different sort of series that it initially appears. It’s a very odd little story, but it’s really a celebration of human decency and compassion. Even as strange a fellow as Madoka is he’s fundamentally a decent guy (as witness the way he gets Miyako off the hook to marry him) – and he too is uncompromising in being himself. The themes here are pretty straightforward and elemental but they’re presented with a lot of restraint and perceptiveness. It’s a hell of a good show – though that’s not going to be an easy thing for a lot of viewers to accept.