How bittersweet watching this episode is, indeed.
I put off watching Episode 8.5 of Shounen Maid (the “bonus” episode that was actually part of the original TV schedule but pre-empted due to an earthquake in Japan) for quite some time. Why? For the usual reason – sentimentality. Knowing this would be the final anime iteration of this wonderful series kept me waiting for just the right moment to watch it – just as it often does with OVAs for shows that similarly ended too soon.
If there’s a show that I’ve covered that would qualify as most underrated, it might be this one. Oh, it was generally pretty well-liked by those that did watch it (for pure delta between my opinion and the general zeitgeist, you’d probably have to go with R-15), but for a show as fantastic as it was, that number is tragically small. In that sense it’s probably a lot like Ginga e Kickoff, and like GeK, I heard a lot from folks who told me they’d never have checked out Shounen Maid if I hadn’t championed it as strongly as I did. And that, of course, is pretty much why I do this.
While this was a disc-only release, “Women Should Be Brave, and Men Should Be Winsome” doesn’t have the feel of an OVA or special, because it was intended to be viewed (obviously) between Episodes 8 and 9. It’s very much a classic Shounen Maid episode, fully consistent with the dualistic nature of this series – very heartwarming and cute, but at the same time subtly very somber. This episode doesn’t tackle the core themes of the series like fear of abandonment and neuroses head-on, but rather focuses on the very universal animanga theme of Valentine’s/White Day. Chihiro’s classmate Nomura is trying to finally work up the courage to give him chocolates, and Miyako – while she’s been giving Keiichirou-san chocolates every year – it trying to get him to finally acknowledge their intent.
The ep is full of the clever little sidebars Shounen Maid is so good at, like the Valentine’s match between Yuuji-kun and his Grandfather, and the two main storylines are both winning. But my favorire thread was Madoka teaching Chihiro how to bake (macaroons, as it happens), because it hit all the grace notes that elevate this series to greatness. From Chihiro’s reluctance to ask, to his annoyance at imperfection, and finally to his sheepish but totally heartfelt gesture of thanks – it’s all spot-on. Of course Chihiro-kun isn’t quite ready to grasp the meaning behind Nomura’s gesture, and Keiichirou and Miyako are destined to move forward in baby steps. But that isn’t the sort of love story Shounen Maid is – this series is about family, with all its complications, and it’s Chihiro and Madoka who are at the heart of that.