In emotional terms, Shounen Maid is one of those series that punches way above its weight class.
I think the theme for this season (even more than most) could easily be “Good shows you’re almost certainly not watching, and mediocre ones you almost certainly are”. But even on a schedule loaded with under-appreciated series of real quality, Shounen Maid is making a strong case that it’s the most emotionally profound. In its unassuming way this dismissed and ignored little show is sitting quietly in the corner, telling a seemingly simple human story of real depth and subtlety.
The two-chapter per episode groove Shounen Maid seems to be settling into is working quite well from a structural standpoint – better than I would have expected based on my time with the manga. As is often the case with shows using this template, the A-part tends to be the more humorous, with the B-part the more bittersweet. And so it was this week, with the first story focusing on Chihiro’s recovery from a sprained ankle suffered ironically enough on cleaning duty at school. Naturally this elicits a certain trepidation from Chihiro, especially when Madoka slips on his own (much larger, thankfully) maid outfit and sets about keeping house himself. One might argue that with his money he could just as easily pay someone to come in for a few days, but the truth is Madoka clearly finds this kind of role-playing to be fun.
It’s certainly no surprise that Madoka makes a disaster out of the kitchen in nothing flat, and all he knows how to cook for dinner is sweets, so Miyako (I love how she calls Chihiro “Sensei” now) is brought in as a backup. The upshot of all this is that between the two of them they seem to be handling things all right, which has the unintended consequence of making Chihiro feel pretty insecure about his role in the household. It’s still not so easy for him to feel like he belongs, being the orphan that he is – and it’s endearing that despite his maturity there are times when Chihiro’s vulnerability really shows itself.
After a brief interlude for foreshadowing, the episode turns to what seems at first like it might be another pretty light-hearted chapter when Yuuji brings a horror movie over to watch (the first horror for Chihiro is that Yuuji and Madoka are texting each other). Chihiro is weak against Japanese horror as it happens (I sort of am too, to be honest) – Madoka mentions that Chiyo was too – and that leads to a rather stressful night for him, even with Madoka sleeping in the same bed. When Madoka is working late on business the next night it’s even worse – another reminder that when Madoka is gone, Chihiro is basically just a little boy all alone in a big and scary house – especially when he hears a plaintive cry coming from the garden.
This subplot is really just the canvas on which the series paints here, and it ties everything back to the core story in a very clever and poignant manner. Madoka and Chihiro both have dreams – they’re both of Chiyo as it happens, though Chihiro doesn’t realize that at first. Madoka remembers leaving for boarding school in France, and a promise between he and his sister. One suspects that he’s never forgotten that promise, even if he’s only recently been given the opportunity to keep it.
What’s really sad here is that Madoka spent all those years waiting for Chiyo to call him – to say she was at the end of her rope, and have Madoka save her as she’d promised he could. Clearly she reached that end, but she never called – was it pride that stayed her hand? It’s funny how Shounen Maid clearly shows us why both Chihiro and Madoka adored Chiyo, but strongly hints that she was a flawed and even selfish person in important ways. In a sense the two of them are refugees of Chiyo, both left isolated because of their love for her and her immovable pride. But now they have each other – the boy who wants to live independently the way his mother taught him, and the man who feels the urge to protect anyone that cries out for help (and even someone in particular who doesn’t) as a means of honoring his promise to the boy’s mother. They’re a mismatched pair, but what they share is far more important than what divides them.