Hayate the Combat Butler Part 1 (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, July 16, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stuck with millions of yen of debt, Hayate now finds himself being a “combat butler” for a young rich girl.

What They Say
Hayate Ayasaki never had a pleasant childhood. He’s always had to work part-time jobs to support himself and his lazy, unemployed parents who gamble and fritter away all his hard-earned money. And now, they took out a 156,804,000 yen loan and abandoned Hayate to pay it off.

On a fateful Christmas Eve night, Hayate meets Nagi Sanzenin, the sole heir to the vast Sanzenin fortune and through a misunderstood confession and bizarre turn of events, Hayate is hired as Nagi’s butler to work off his debt. Hayate quickly learns that the truly rich don’t live the same way as normal people.

The Review!
Hayate the Combat Butler is an unusual release not because it’s only got one language track on it, but that there are two Japanese language tracks on it. Both of them are stereo presentations done at 224kbps and they sound pretty alike. The TV version is what was originally broadcast, which was a presentation that had some censorship to it, while the DVD version is uncensored and more what was originally intended. It’s unfortunate that Bandai gives NO explanation at all about the differences between the tracks with this release which can only lead to confusion. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the DVD presentation which is what we listened to.

Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set has seven episodes spread across a single DVD which is just shy of three hours. It all looks decent but lacks any real sharpness and vibrancy as the colors feel a bit muted. The action scenes hold up well but there’s an edge of softness to some of the backgrounds and the gradients are pretty strong in a few scenes, notably in the opening of each episode with the gray storm clouds out in the background. In general it looks good, but it’s not something that stands out as a very strong piece of work and it’s hard to tell if it’s coming from the encoding – which is in the mid range of five most of the time – or the actual source material itself.

This release is a single disc so it comes in a standard single sized keepcase, though some may expect more since it’s been marketed as a “Part 1” release. The front cover artwork is bright and appealing as it has Hayate in his uniform with Nagi in a cute frilly dress alongside him, both of them with big smiles on their faces. Set against the background of the household, it’s got a lot of blue and green which is quite inviting and a small segment of the house itself. The background wraps around to the back cover where Maria is standing off to the side with a cute expression as she cleans up after the mess The cover has a good amount of open space with which it conveys the series premise and a breakdown of all the episodes by number and title. The discs features and extras are clearly listed as well. Add in the production information and a good clear to read technical grid and this is an appealing looking release. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design uses the artwork from the cover for the left half which looks good but not quite as vibrant and detailed. The right half has a slightly elegant look to it to fit into the theme of the show but it keeps it simple with good looking text for the navigation selection and the logo spread across both halves. The layout is very quick and easy to navigate and submenus load very quickly. The show defaults to the DVD version of the audio and subtitles are automatically selected for playback which negates any issues with reading player presets.

The only extra included in the release is a clean version of the opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ongoing manga by Kenjiro Hata that started in 2004, Hayate the Combat Butler is a fifty-two episode series of basic silliness with some amusing quirks that let it stand out a little bit. Like a lot of comedy series, it can be difficult to get into sometimes if the humor doesn’t click perfectly with you, or appeal to you in general either. Even more so if you’ve seen a lot of comedy series over the years and have some that you think have reached the pinnacle of good episodic comedy material. Hayate the Combat Butler has plenty of room to grow so it’ll be interesting to see whether it can do so while playing up a minor overreaching storyline along the way.
The series revolves around Hayate, a fifteen year old young man who has had quite a lot going on in his life. Unlike most kids who grow up normally and go to school, Hayate found himself often working all sorts of odd jobs and dealing with his parents. Both of them, shown faceless, are idealistic dreamers who take on wild projects and plans without any real way of following through on them. They’re dreamers of the worst kind as their child pays the price for it by taking on a lot of the household duties. When they end up borrowing a sizeable chunk of money, some fifteen million dollars worth, from a group of yakuza, they split town on some wild plan and leave Hayate holding the bag. And when the yakuza come a calling for him, it turns into a nasty situation that has him moving on to the other world.

Where he meets Santa.

Yes, Santa Claus. In the next world, that’s where the discussion begins that he shouldn’t give up on life so easily and to get back there because a young girl was caught up in his situation and he has to defend her. The young girl, Nagi, was someone he was initially contemplating kidnapping so he could rustle up the money that way but it all went to heck and back and now he finds himself protecting her instead. And she’s got something of a crush on him and opts to take her back to her mansion because she is incredibly wealthy. Though the head maid Maria disagrees with Nagi’s plan, the thirteen year old girl convinces Maria that Hayate should come to work for her as a butler to help pay off his debt and also to help protect her. After seeing Hayate come back to life, she has the misguided idea that he’s fairly indestructible.

The show kicks off initially with Hayate dealing with a robot that wants to kidnap Nagi and then they launch into their origin story, which you forget is going on until episode three hits and it takes us back to the robot that’s trying to get her. The show plays with its structure a little bit in places, mostly because the narrator and Hayate talk to each other sometimes and the narrator often is trying to push Hayate into the realm of the dead by ending the episodes early. It’s a cute trick the first couple of times but hopefully it doesn’t get used often. Hayate also finds himself tested by the man in charge of the butlers and maids in the mansion by sending the household tiger, Tama, who can actually talk, to fight him. The tiger is rather amusing since he only reveals this to Hayate after their fight is over and he doesn’t talk much in general which gives him a really fun role as he observes so many things.

Hayate the Combat Butler does bring in a few more characters as time goes on, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about them yet as they haven’t really established themselves well. Within the household I admit to liking Maria since she’s a calming presence, but the additions of others such as Nagi’s cousin Sakuya dosen’t do much for me since she’s still pretty shallow. A little more interesting is the arrival of Nagi’s best friend Isumi who develops a bit of a crush on Hayate, something that will be sure to cause trouble along the way. This is mostly because Nagi has a crush on Hayate and Hayate is oblivious to both of them as his interest is mildly at best towards Maria. Everything takes a more complicated (and obvious) turn when Wataru shows up. He’s the same age as Nagi and is betrothed to her through an arranged marriage. Neither of them wants it and he’s actually got the hots for Isumi which just adds even more to the overall complicated nature of it all. It all comes across as if the writer was just throwing more characters into the mix with interests in each other to try and raise up the potential for silly misunderstandings. It works, but it’s admittedly not all that appealing.

One of the appealing areas to Hayate the Combat Butler is that it does play within its own realm by reference other anime series. There are little visual nods here and there and a number of references as well, such as a Gundam bit and a few others. Some of these are fun, others fly under the radar depending on how in tune you are with the scene overall. It’s a show that would have made out a bit better by including at least a screen on the references so the less than knowledgeable fans would know. But Bandai did drop the ball a bit when it comes to explaining things since they do provide two language tracks without a single word as to why there are two language tracks and what the differences are. Not all fans are in the know, something that needs to be remembered if there’s ever a hope of getting away from being completely focused on the core fans.

In Summary:
With seven episodes and a $40 price tag combined with no English language adaptation, it’s hard to see where Bandai is really trying to target this release. For ten bucks more, other companies are offering nearly twice the content and sometimes a few bucks more will net you a dub as well. Hayate has a lot of episodes in this season alone, never mind the new season that’s airing in Japan as of this writing, and this release format is something that’s a very hard sell. Even during the boom, it would have been very difficult. This is the kind of release that doesn’t please anyone in the end. As for the show itself, it’s cute in its own way but it’s lacking a really strong hook for me so far. The characters are alright, the situation is made a little too “complicated” early on in an effort to bring in more characters and the animation is decent if unexceptional. It’s not a show that I’ll run away from, but it doesn’t grab me and hold me like some other comedies do, and have done for a couple hundred episodes.

Japanese 2.0 Language DVD Version, Japanese 2.0 Language TV Version, English Subtitles, Clean Opening

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13+
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 175
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hayate the Combat Butler