Maid Sama Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Robert Harris
Review Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Misaki plays the ruthless student president of Seika High School by day, but at night transforms into the horrifying, pleasant maid and works in a maid café. It’s a lot like Batman except way, way less cool.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Hiro Fujiwara
Translation: Su Mon Hanr
Adaptation: Karen Ahlstrom

What They Say
Brilliant and overachieving, Misaki Ayuzawa is the President of the Student Council at Seika High School, formerly a boys' school. Unfortunately, most of the students are still male and stuck in their slovenly habits, so man-hating Misaki really socks it to 'em in an attempt to make the school presentable to attract more female students. But what will she do when the sexiest boy in school finds out that after school, Misaki works in a maid cafe?!

The Review!
Technical:
I’ve been rough on Tokyopop in the past for their presentation, but Maid Sama! was a pleasant surprise. The cover has a great soft blue/purple (lavender?) background with lots of intricate borders and floral designs, while the main characters Usui and Misaki pop off the front, nicely colored and very attractive. Even the Tokyopop logo has been fit to the color scheme; the spine is the only place where the bold red logo can be found. The book will definitely stand out among its peers on the shelf and for a smaller series like this that’s a big bonus.

The character designs are typical shoujo fare, but remain attractive given that basic framework. I’m going to attribute that mostly to hair; Hiro Fujiwara does amazing hair. There’s a pleasing amount of variation without resorting to blond mohawks and pink mullets, which makes it easy to recognize characters, even at a distance. Backgrounds are unfortunately scarce, but well drawn when they do put in an appearance.

Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Maid-Sama! begins with a very basic setup: the protagonist, Misaki, is the student president of her high school, which until recently was all male. Misaki has become well known for her hard-line stance against the boys, carving out a comfortable niche for the girls while browbeating the boys into civility. All the expected super-human shoujo traits are housed within her compact frame: first place in exams, extremely strong, and proficiency in martial arts. She’s also quite adamant in her hatred of men, which has turned a great deal of the male population against her.

And that’s where the requisite twist comes in, in the form of a maid uniform and Japan’s most creepily beloved cultural convention. Misaki spends her evenings moonlighting as a waitress at Maid Latte, a maid café in a neighboring town. She may hate men and talk tough, but the pay is good and she makes her own hours. And considering how much of her time her superhuman exploits consume, those two factors are integral. Of course her secret is quickly discovered by her wunderkind male counterpart, in a story twist that is really more of a straight line. Usui is equally strong and academically gifted, except he makes it all seem effortless, while Misaki’s had to work long and hard to excel.

If you’re familiar with shoujo manga you may recognize this setup from possibly billions of previous series. It typically begins with the looming threat of blackmail to force the two leads together, and through the combination of pressure and time, romance is extruded, much like a diamond. Old hat at this point, which is why it’s nice to see Maid-sama! mix up the formula a little. The difference in this case is in the characters; Usui is not the sadistic playboy so often cast in his role, and Misaki is not the indignant princess set grimly to defend her secret to the last. Both turn out to be strong, confident, compassionate characters, and watching this story take place from the point of view of two equals rather than the prototypical cat and mouse makes all the difference.

In Summary:
Focusing more on the political climate of Seika High School than I would have expected, Maid-sama! was a delightful surprise and proves once again that first impressions can be misleading. Despite the comedic bent it’s not a laugh out loud riot, but the stories are interesting and the chemistry between Usui and Misaki is real. It depresses me that a strong, self-sufficient female lead can be so refreshing. Maid-sama! rises above its formulaic foundation to become something legitimately enjoyable. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

 



Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translation Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 10.99
Pages: 208
ISBN: 978-1427814036
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Maid Sama!