Hand Maid May Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, August 28, 2001

What They Say
Nanbara is furious! Nanbara, the self-absorbed, pompous, overbearing villain of our show has always resented Kazuya, the constantly distracted hero, and developed a virus to exact his ultimate revenge. Unfortunately, "revenge"; became an accidental delivery of a 1-foot tall cyborg maid whose sweetness is only exceeded by her cheerfulness!
Will Nanbara's schemes of revenge ever become realized? Will Kazuya be able to pay the $1,450,000 bill? Join May and our new cast of lunatics for a wild ride to explore the cutting edge of computer peripherals...

The Review!
A shoujo-style comedy, this story includes lots of fanservice for the guys and a real plot, so those who enjoy panty-shots and love polygons should be highly amused.

Nice and clean. While the music was decent but not thrilling, the voice-acting was quite funny. The DVD transfer was good. The directionality was fine, but there wasn't very much bass, probably because this is a comedy. In all, this series does not focus on sound, which turns out to be a good thing, because it makes the dub come off pretty well. I found most of the voices to be relatively similar between the two versions, with a thumbs-up for Sara and Kei and especially our villain Nanbara. Strangely enough, Rena is not quite as ear-splitting as in the Japanese version.

A note on scripting- most dubs annoy me because of the scripts, rather than the actual acting. In this case, the English script did not differ much from the original. Most of the changes were acceptable because they were idiomatic or joke-related. If you are looking for a decent dub, you might consider this one.

Bright and shoujo-style, the animation is very sweet. Though it's obviously not meant to realistic, I enjoyed the variation in character designs and the well-drawn backgrounds because they contributed to the mood better than cookie-cutter work. I saw almost no rainbows, lines, or other issues, at least on our setup. The "soap opera" that the girls watch is obviously meant to be bad, so I won't count that. On the other hand, the animation is also not very complicated, nor does it involve lots of epic landscapes or imaginative building designs. So, as the gymnastics world puts it, the show didn't start out worth the full ten points, but the execution was flawless.

The front cover is a shot of May holding her USB port plug-in, with the show's logo and some background information meant to look like a webpage. The back is a very cute Mac desktop with windows open to scenes from the show and Kei standing calmly at the bottom. Inside, the insert features Kasumi sitting on a rail winking, with a *gasp* panty shot! (Surely we didn't think this was that sort of show! *wink*) Inside the insert is a picture of the entire female cast, and on the back is May by herself with the chapter listings. Finally, the disk itself is red with the logo and Ikariya fuzzed on (yes, I mean fuzzed) and May from the cover in silver relief. With a couple of minor exceptions, this was a very cute package.

The menus are the gimmick of this disk. When you first put it into the player, it pops into "Nanbara's Room" and asks you to choose which of the flattering adjectives listed best describes the show's over-the-top villain. To get into the disk, just press "up" and select "Mr. Laaaarge!". Nanbara will scream "Dynamite Card!" and some other stuff, then you will get a lovely view of his tonsils. Wait a while and he will come back on and let you into the disk. This entrance is the reason the menus have a double rating- if you are annoyed by Nanbara and the gimmick, your experience will be much different from that of people who enjoy this sort of thing.

The rest of the menus look like a basic website, with dialogue by May. If you switch the audio, you get the same info in Japanese- a nice touch, since the Japanese creators obviously went to so much effort to make the menus in the first place. From the main screen onward, the menus are pretty easy to navigate, though the extras have error messages in Japanese, making them hard for English-speakers to puzzle out.

Also known as the "appendix", the extras are divided into two categories: those you can view on this disk, and those you can't. The ones you can view are basically introductions to the female characters. The ones you can't view make alerts pop up promising that you can see them on a future disk. The intros are cute, but not particularly interesting, except for Kasumi's. Maybe future disks will be more interesting, but I was a bit disappointed by this one. (Hidden extras don't count for this review.)

Kazuya is an engineering student trying to build a walking, talking robot, and not doing so well. Then the arch-nemesis he didn't know he had gave him access to a website, where he ordered a cyberdoll maid. The package is delivered the next day, and it talks.... Rather than giving up on his project in the face of what May can do, Kazuya renews his efforts, upgrading his prototype, Ikariya, with May's help. During all of this, there is still that $1.5 million bill to pay, and the person who delivered May is determined to take her back if Kazuya doesn't have the money....

This is a character-driven comedy about Kazuya slowly accumulating a harem, ahem, I mean friends. The first is the girl next door, Kasumi, the tomboyish daughter of the landlord. She is boisterous, practical, and makes no secret that she considers Kazuya to be hers, though he never seems to realize this. She welcomes the newcomer May, despite the fact that they might be rivals for Kazuya's affections.

May herself is, as advertised, sweet and cheerful. She also has problems doing even the most basic things, being only one foot tall, even though she wants desperately to make Kazuya happy. Her feelings and adventures are the focus of the story. As a heroine, she's does the usual amount of crying and apologizing for not being able to do anything, but she is generally more interesting and less annoying than most of her type.

Later, we meet the child Rena, whose piercing voice causes everyone around her to give her anything she wants if she cries long enough. Despite that, she can be very kind, and she considers Ikariya to be her best friend. Kei, the cyberdoll with every mathematical and physical fact in the world stored in her database, appears later and tries to understand why May is different from all other cyberdolls of her type.

Kazuya does his best not to be distracted by all of the cute girls around him, but he usually fails. Nevertheless, he has a good heart and a genuine interest in helping other people. His thoughtfulness regarding May and Rena's limitations (and his kindness in not pointing them out) make him sympathetic, while his frequent engineering and school failures keep him from being one of those annoyingly perfect guys that sometimes appear in shoujo anime.

Of course, there are also the bad guys. Kotoro Nanbara, the slimy, self-appointed nemesis of Kazuya, is constantly trying to ruin the other boy's projects with his own insane schemes. When he finds out about May, he's furious. Sara, the person who delivered May, just happens to be hanging around trying to recover her, and the two form a shaky alliance based on Nanbara buying Sara lots of ramen.

I can't say that the bad guys moved me all that much; although Nanbara gave me flashbacks to Jinnai of El Hazard, he was definitely inferior. My favorite scenes turned out to be the girls interacting- with everything from jealousy to camaraderie- and Kasumi acting like a mother hen trying to herd cats. I'm sure some of the guys in the audience will be glad to hear that panty shots, shower scenes, and large busts make several appearances, but after the first couple of episodes, they settle down to almost normal levels for a comedy.

This story looks like it's going somewhere, and the characters, while somewhat stereotypical, have strong personalities and some good dialogue. I think this will turn out to be a fun show, but I'll have to wait and see.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Character Introductions

Review Equipment
25" Samsung Stereo TV, code-free Pioneer 333, Sony STR-SE391 receiver, Sony speakers, and the cables that came with the set.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-/
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hand Maid May