What have we here? It’s another heartwarming episode about family both present and past. If there’s one thing I think can be said about Shounen Maid’s genetic makeup, it’s that this is a sentimental series. Sentiment is a four-letter word when it comes to some fans, not just of anime but perhaps particularly so. But there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with sentimentality as long as it’s backed up by character development. And the fact that unvarnished sentiment is so rare in anime makes it all the more notable when a series that isn’t afraid of it and knows how to present it comes along.
I’ve never heard of the Japanese referring to cockroaches as “bearded barons” and I have no idea if that’s a real thing or a Shounen Maid invention. But for a 5th-grade cleaning otaku it’s no surprise their presence is non-negotiable, and honestly – if Madoka is OK sharing a room with them he‘s the one with the problem. But the A-part this week isn’t about the bearded baron so much as the other discovery Chihiro makes when he’s cleaning his uncle’s room – a bunch of what look like presents, but are actually just the skeletons of presents, the wrapper they came in re-molded into its original shape.
One of the things this show is good at is letting us inside its characters without beating us over the head about it, and I like how revealing this little exchange is. It says a lot about Madoka that he’s so soft-hearted he can’t even bring himself to throw out gift wrap (I know people like that too – I’m related to them). Of course this puts Chihiro in mind of Chiyo, who cluttered the front of their fridge with mementos of Chihiro’s childhood. After Chihiro sees how devastated Madoka is that all those “presents” are in the trash, he goes and digs them out. “It just looks like paper to me.” Chihiro says to himself, and that says a lot about the sort of boy he is – but so does the fact that he was willing to dig through the trash to retrieve it, and to iron it to restore it to some semblance of its former state. Even if he can’t understand the reason why its important to Madoka, the fact that it is important is enough.
The B-part turns to Miyako and her pudding-based courtship of Keiichirou. Pudding gets pores if it’s steamed at too high a temperature as its baking, apparently – who knew (well – Chihiro did). The whole Miyako situation is handled in an admirably low-key way – there’s not a lot of humiliation or embarrassment driving it. Madoka knows the score and wants to help as best he can, and Miyako, as much as she wants to, doesn’t abjectly throw herself at Keiichirou. She just tries to make her case by example.
The big question here, still unanswered, is how aware Keiichirou is of all this. Chihiro panics when he finds a photo of a girl in Keiichirou’s planner, but it turns out the “girl” is Madoka, and Chiyo (as older sisters do) liked to dress her younger brother in her old clothes. The tangle goes way back here – all of these people were childhood friends – and Keiichirou keeping all these photos shows that he’s no stranger to sentiment himself (even if they do have a certain blackmail value). What’s really happening here is that Chihiro is being reconnected to all these people after being connected only to his mother where family is concerned. That was a choice Chiyo made for Chihiro – he had no say in it – and while it’s clear she adored her son (and he her), in making that choice she did deprive him of something valuable. The restoration of that – and Chihiro coming to understand its value – is to a certain extent what Shounen Maid is all about.