I’m not so sure Shounen Maid isn’t the most consistent series of the spring. Even the likes of Boku no Hero Adademia and Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge have had the odd mild trough for an episode here or there, but Shounen Maid really hasn’t missed yet. It’s certainly the most emotionally effective series, in its understated way. Boku no Hero is powerful, but paints its emotions mostly in primary colors – this show deals with some pretty deep and subtle family issues in a remarkably effective manner.
Shounen Maid is also one of those adaptations that seems to have taken what was already good material in manga form and made it even better, a pretty rare feat. It’s mastered its narrative working formula perfectly – an emotional one-two punch that draws you in with warmth and humor, then lowers the boom with a sadness that really takes you by surprise. I’ve used the term before in relation to this show but you could hardly find an anime that exemplifies what it means to be bittersweet as well as this series does. That works so well because it is indeed what life is – joy and sorrow, gain and loss. And it understands that because this is true, the issue doesn’t have to be forced with manufactured drama.
The first half of that attacking combo this week focuses mostly on Hino’s sister Hana, though not before Chihiro has another dog-rescue encounter in the park with the refined old lady he met there earlier (and at Miyako’s house, too). He demurs when she invites him to tea as thanks, but only because elementary-schoolers aren’t allowed to stop on the way home in Japan – he agrees to meet her the next day (Saturday). But Hana is the surprise that turns up on the doorstep of the mansion, having run away because she’s furious at her older brother. Being the friend of the family he is, Chihiro takes her in – but calls her brother on the sly to let her know where Hana is.
Now, this sort of material can obviously be fraught with danger. But as usual Shounen Maid has a light enough touch on the gas to keep the car from flying off the road. Hana is certainly cute, but things stay relatively low-key (getting a real child to voice her helps). And we get a good look at just how deft Madoka is at dealing with children besides Chihiro – which only makes sense as he’s obviously a man still very much in touch with his inner child. He hides her in his studio, offers to let her sleep over (after letting her family know she’s OK of course – he is a responsible adult when he needs to be) because it would be a shame to make her leave after she went to the trouble of running away, and even makes her a frilly mahou shoujo dress (which is a convenient excuse for him to slag off the actual work he’s supposed to be doing).
This is nice, solid and honest stuff here – nothing too deep but well-played. Hino and Hana are obviously very close, and he’s obviously sorry for what he did (sneaking a look at her “friendship diary” – in the process doing to her what his older sisters had done to him). Chihiro is obsessed with reconciling them because, well – obsessing and care-giving is what he does. But Madoka deftly nudges them back together, and later reveals to Chihiro that this was a pattern he’d seen when Miyako ran away from her father and into his arms. He always took her side, and Chiyo always took the father’s because it would be “sad” if both of them took the same side.
As pleasant as that is, it’s clear that the more substantial drama is going to come when Chihiro has his meeting with the Obaa-san from the park. Ryuji has stopped by (Hino invited him to Chihiro’s house without telling Chihiro), and he drags Hino along to spy on what he assumes is going to be a sneak date for Chihiro – which leads to some interesting speculation when they see who the rendezvous is with. At this point we’re starting to have a pretty good idea of just who this woman might be, though as of yet Chihiro seems to suspect nothing – Hino, however, is beginning to put the pieces together.
The quiet little conversation between Chihiro and Obaa-san is really Shounen Maid at its most brilliant. It’s quite clear what’s really happening here, and while the conversation is pleasant there’s a profound sadness in the air that even Chihiro seems to sense on some level. Clearly this woman who seems to be his grandmother is heartbroken over what’s happened to her family, and longs to make up for lost time and past mistakes with Chihiro. Chihiro has no idea of any of this, but he’s simply too kind to refuse an old lady who’s obviously lonely – and he’s sensitive enough to realize that he’s lost something important through being cut off from his family through no choice of his own. To him this is a chance to experience what it’s like having a grandmother, no more – except that it seemingly is more. There’s great warmth between these two strangers, a connection based on who they are and not who they are to each other – but one of them is fully aware of all the hurt that’s flowed under the bridge before the river reached this point. It’s a beautiful, terrible sadness – and that’s something Shounen Maid is better at expressing than any other anime this season.