So often, really, it’s the shows hardly anyone talks about that end up being the ones you remember. It was true with Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, Sarai-ya Goyou, Ginga e Kickoff… Well- if I let myself go down this road we’ll be here I’ll day, so I’ll stop. But while it’s obviously great to see banner series like Boku no Hero Academia live up to the hype, this season would have ended up being a disappointment if stuff like Shounen Maid and Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge weren’t around to do a lot of the heavy lifting without getting much attention for it (especially Shounen Maid).
Is there a market for shows about good people trying to make the best of life – especially when they aren’t built around moe girls vamping for the camera? Well, this series did get made, though I’m still not quite sure how that happened. I think Shounen Maid is one of those instances where the overuse of term “slice of life” is manifested. Flying Witch is a slice of life (and a good one, BTW) but Shounen Maid really is not – this is a series driven as much by plot as character. While Chihiro is cute and he sometimes does cute things, there’s a larger, linear story being told here – a progression from chapter to chapter, and a timeline that links the past quite directly to the present.
I don’t imagine it comes as any surprise that Chihiro is a good student. The problem if anything is as Madoka says, that he doesn’t spend enough time acting like a kid and doing stuff he likes. Yeah, he likes to clean and cook – but really, that’s not what an 11 year-old’s life should be built around. The conceit of a school open house is really a perfect vehicle both to shed a light on where Chihiro and Madoka’s relationship has progressed to and to kick it to the next level. Even when Chiyo was alive Chihiro hid the notice from her, worrying that she’d be too busy with work to want to attend. Now, with Madoka, he seems inclined to try and do the same thing.
The feels are pretty thick here, no doubt, but they’re arrived at so honestly that I don’t see how anyone could complain. First off, I love the fact that Hino and Madoka are now email pals, exchanging messages about Chihiro’s problems. Madoka is worried that Hino is right and Chihiro won’t show him the notice, but he’s too insecure about it to force the issue. Chihiro is initially too insecure to come clean, but what’s striking is how much each of them really wants for Madoka to go – and considering Madoka has given Chihiro ample reason to worry about being embarrassed in front of his classmates, that’s saying something.
Madoka’s delight when Chihiro finally bolsters his courage and invites to the open house is genuine and profound, and exceeded only by Chihiro’s when Madoka finally shows up and walks in the door on the day (Chihiro’s smile at that moment is one of the best things to happen in anime this season). Before that day, though, Chihiro has to wrestle with the question of the essay he’ll have to read – his dream for the future. Chihiro is obviously not a typical fifth-grade boy, but Madoka helps him get his thoughts around what his passion for cleaning and taking care of people might actually be channeled towards (“hotel baron” – like the Bellagio guy, apparently). It’s hard to tell which one of them is the child here, but that’s an element of Madoka’s personality that’s really good for Chihiro to have in his life.
As usual with Shounen Maid, there’s a deeper and subtler theme here that it doesn’t beat you over the head with. Chihiro’s initial answer to the dream question is “I want to be rich”. The context of that is simple – Chihiro has been poor his entire life, and wants to be rich so that he can take care of his mother. Well, now he is rich – but it’s too late to make that dream come true. The concept of wealth means something very different to Chihiro and Madoka – it’s very easy for Madoka to say that wanting to be rich is a good dream, and fun, because he was born rich. As in so many respects, I think the two of them will have much to learn from each others perspective in this area.
As for the day itself, that Chihiro smile is definitely the highlight – but it’s also notable that Madoka went extremely straight-laced and conservative for the occasion. Hino’s rowdy family (mostly) shows up of course, but so does Keiichirou – ostensibly (well, truthfully) to keep an eye on Madoka but also, I think, because he’s an uncle too at this point. In the aftermath, though, he refuses to be drawn in when Chihiro’s teacher requests a meeting to check up on Chihiro’s home life – declaring quite correctly that this is one of those moments when Madoka has to step up and be the responsible adult that being a child’s guardian will sometimes require him to be. It’s awkward, but fortunately the teacher is perceptive enough to see through the argument. And in the aftermath, both uncles make gestures towards helping Chihiro pursue his dream – another one of the advantages of being rich, I suppose.