Maid-sama! – leaving behind the formula

Maid-sama! – leaving behind the formula

Lately, I’ve been watching the popular shojo anime Kaichou wa Maid-Sama! The series follows Misaki Ayukawa, a girl who worked hard to become class president to represent the female student body in her formerly all-boys school. Like many a shojo heroine, Misaki comes from a poverty-stricken background, and must work hard to make ends meet. What her classmates don’t know is that Misaki works at a maid café! Misaki’s secret is soon discovered by Takumi Usui, the most popular boy in her school. He begins coming to the café (Maid Latte) everyday to watch Misaki work, and promises to keep her secret because he wants to keep enjoying his fun by himself. From the start, Kaichou wa Maid-sama! clings to common shojo clichés. Unfortunately, oftentimes it feels as though the series has these clichés just for the sake of having them. In the first episode, Misaki seems to hate Usui because he’s a playboy. That’s fair enough, except every time she’s seen him with a girl he’s rejecting them, which would actually make him the opposite of a playboy. At another point in the first episode, Misaki learns that she came in second to Usui on their exam, which infuriates her. However, in the thirteen episodes I’ve watched so far of the series, not once since then has Misaki’s academic inferiority complex to Usui been mentioned. While I’m glad this particular thread hasn’t been resurrected so far because it’s so clichéd (honestly, His and Her Circumstances did it first and did it the best), I feel it’s bad writing to mention something and never bring it up again. It’s almost as though the series is unsure of what it wants to do and where it wants to go next.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time the series relies too much on telling instead of showing. In the first two episodes, characters often comment on how strong Misaki is. Usui and another maid who works with Misaki have a conversation about how hardworking Misaki is and that it sometimes keeps her from allowing help from others. I’m not a fan of when series tell me how strong or unique a character is without actually showing me – but I’ll cut Maid-Sama! some slack because it does get there eventually. Misaki proves time and time again to be a very determined girl with a strong sense of values. When she is offered a free scholarship to a rich academy, Misaki turns it down because she’s afraid that Seika High School will minimize the role of it’s female students if she’s no longer a class representative there. In another episode, Misaki saves a student from a falling ladder, injuring herself in the process. But my favorite scene is in episode five, when Misaki is left by herself in Maid Latte. She’s attacked by two perverts who handcuff and gag her, and after Usui sees from the window he rushes to rescue her. Just as he kicks through the glass, Misaki breaks the handcuffs and attacks the perverts herself! This scene made me laugh out loud, as it was setting up to be a damsel-in-distress moment and ended up going against the grain.

Another way Misaki is a unique character is that she’s the first female shojo protagonist I’ve come across who is…well, sexist. As class president, Misaki often ignores the boys’ opinions in favor of the girls’. She often punishes the male students with extreme severity and thinks that by doing so, she’s improving the repuation of Seika High. However, Misaki is confronted about her bias very early on in the series. When Misaki assumes that the boys in her classroom of reading a dirty magazine and asks to confiscate it, the boys call her out on only checking their magazines, and Misaki quickly agrees to read the girls’ magazines as well to make sure they’re appropriate for school. And during the cultural festival, when Misaki ignores her male classmates’ input, they decide to rebel by not helping out with the café. Misaki apologizes and realizes she was wrong, but it’s clear that her dislike of males is still an issue for her. Her hatred for chauvinism goes directly against her role as a maid, and Usui questions her about her feelings toward her job. Misaki admits that though she initially had problems with her job, she’s warmed up to playing a maid because of her friends at work, who taught her the importance of making others happy. However, Misaki’s attitude toward males makes a later scene somewhat confusing. In episode seven, the women at Maid Latte decide to dress as men and serve only female customers for a day. Misaki thoroughly enjoys it, and prompts her to tell Usui she’s more of a male at heart. This statement feels as though it came out of nowhere and makes no sense, however, because of how much Misaki fights for women and distrusts guys, and thus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series.

Still, there are many things about Maid-Sama! that are fun and interesting. Usui is an interesting example of a male tsundere – he’s slightly less cruel in his teasing than the average shojo male love interest yet somewhat unfazed by his surroundings. Despite this, he’s more open about his feelings for Misaki than the average male tsundere is, which I like. His ability to show up wherever Misaki is is made fun of in the series, and is really funny. So far, not much is known about Usui’s background, and I’m looking forward to finding out more. The episode where Misaki and her friends trail Usui to find out what he does outside of school has been one of my favorites so far. Misaki’s friend Sakura gets the idea that Usui must be rich (a common trait among shojo male love interests), and he purposely goes to a luxury tailor and ultra high class restaurant just to mess with them! In many ways, the series uses shojo formulas for both good and evil. When it’s bad, Maid-sama! is an uneven but watchable series. But when it’s good, Maid-sama! feels like a shojo anime that’s actually worthy of the popularity it’s received. I hope that the second half of the series learns to let go of the clichés – or at least learns how to twist them a little bit more.

13 thoughts on “Maid-sama! – leaving behind the formula

  1. You have made me curious to watch this series now. I like that they do turn some of the usual shojo cliches on its head. It’s too bad that at times the anime is all over the place based on your review. Can’t wait to hear your opinion about the second half of the series.

    1. I love when series make fun of yet embrace cliches at the same time (Dengeki Daisy and Ouran probably do it best), so I really like Maid-Sama for that reason. I wanted to wait to write a review of the entire series, but since I had this much to say only at the halfway point I decided it’d be best to go ahead and do it.

  2. I like Misaki, but continue to have more than a few problems with Usui. The man just won’t take “no” for an answer, which creates a terribly negative tableaux when combined with Misaki’s strength.

    See, the show is in some ways excusing his creepy, stalking behavior under the aegis of “OTP”, but frankly you should probably steer clear of a guy who follows you to work and manages to worm his way into the locker room at your place of employment.

    Moreover, it implies that Misaki is in the wrong for continuing to rebuff him since Usui is “sooooo dreaaammmyyyy”, which contradicts the positive message of her as a protagonist on two levels. First, it implies that no matter how strong or independent a woman, she really wants a boyfriend even if she doesn’t think she does (it’s sort of the moral of the end story, that she’s not complete without Usui). Second, it excuses the creepy, invasive behavior of Usui because he’s attractive, talented, and intelligent. From where I sit, it looks a lot like Rape Culture at work. That a “good man” knows better what Misaki wants and therefore her opinions on the matter are irrelevant sounds a lot like victim blaming and a failure of understanding consent.

    But, maybe I’m reading too much into this?

    1. Usui himself doesn’t offend me because I’ve seen much worse behavior from other shojo males that is supposed to be romantic but comes across as possessive – Kyo from Black Bird is a good example.

      That being said, one scene that did bother me was when Usui tells Misaki (after she says she’s a guy at heart) that she’s still really a girl, as though all females are the same (and consequently, all females are weak). But as for your comment about “no matter how strong or independent” a woman is she really wants a boyfriend – I can see how you’d read the series this way, and I’d argue that most media send this message (otherwise, why would all four women in Sex and the City end up in monogamous relationships)? However, it’s never bothered me too much when series use this formula (having a strong woman allow love into her life) because in real life, most people, male or female do want to have someone special in their lives. What bothers me more is when female characters’ only goal in life is to fall in love, which is often the case in fiction – but Misaki isn’t interested in love and has other goals, which is why the series showing her opening up to love doesn’t offend me.

  3. I think I’ll give this series a go after Ouran. I’m a little disappointed in Ouran right now. Not enough to drop it just yet, but enough that I’ve put it on a small hiatus. Yeah, it was the beach episode. I think I’m going to write a post about why that episode is problematic because a certain scene really really disturbed me.

    1. Oh, many people have problems with that episode. It’s funny; when Usui made the comment about Misaki really being a girl, I instantly thought of when Tamaki scolded Haruhi about trying to fight two guys in Ouran‘s beach episode. The message is bad enough itself, but the way that message gets reinforced (by Kyoya pretending to sexually assault Haruhi to show her how ‘defenseless’ she is) is really bothersome.

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