Review

by Carlo Santos, May 22nd 2009

Hayate the Combat Butler

GN 11

Synopsis:
Hayate the Combat Butler GN 11
After a childhood spent trying to pay off his parents' debts, Hayate Ayasaki has finally found his place in life as a butler to demanding heiress Nagi Sanzenin. Hayate's gone on all sorts of adventures, but none quite so stressing as trying to solve a closed-room murder. Here's the real mystery, though: why are they paying tribute to the famous Detective Conan? Also, who is the most popular character in the series? There's little time to dwell on the answers, though, as Nagi's latest whim involves trekking to the hot springs in Izu where a meteorite crash has supposedly boosted the water's healing powers. The road to Izu is a perilous one, though, as Nagi gets lost, runs into romantic rival Nishizawa, and faces off against a band of assassins! It's up to Hayate to save the girls—and for him, the assassins are the least of his worries ...
Review:

A wacky road trip leads to one of the more balanced installments of Hayate the Combat Butler, where dialogue-rich character humor meshes with the more visceral joys of slapstick. On one hand we have awkward relationship conversations and a mind-boggling encounter with Isumi's perpetually confused family; on the other hand we have crazed killers driving through the woods and extreme games of ping-pong. Throw in a few chapters of absurd, self-referential parody and it becomes a fairly accurate cross-section of Hayate. But for all its variety, the series is content to settle for comedic adequacy rather than excellence, delivering a few good laughs but never pushing the limits. What remains is an effort that's lighthearted but also lightweight.

This volume wastes no time delving into the parodical, opening with a Very Special Chapter to commemorate Shonen Sunday's 30th anniversary. As a tribute to the magazine's flagship title Case Closed, this step-by-step lampooning of the whodunit genre is dead-on, but adds nothing new to the series. The same can be said of the popularity contest chapter, which is either a stunning display of Kenjiro Hata's talents (it takes sincere effort to convert a table of poll results into a 20-page chapter) or his mediocrity (well, that's 20 pages wasted). In between is Hayate's run-in with Isumi's foggy-brained family, which is somewhat more satisfying as it introduces new characters while also capitalizing on the lights-are-on-but-no-one's-home archetype.

Things don't really hit their stride until the trip to Izu, though, which is one of the more enjoyable arcs in the series—after all, a road trip is one of the classic comedy scenarios. As usual, it's the willingness to bend things to the extreme that makes the trip so much fun: Nagi getting lost in the woods, discovering a Russian ramen stand, and getting chased by assassins all add up to nonstop amusement. (The real highlight, though, may be the hilariously ironic accident that befalls Hayate when he tries to jump off a moving train.) And the physical comedy doesn't stop there: a heated ping-pong match at the hot springs resort keeps the energy going long after the journey is over. By comparison, the romantic side with the Hayate/Hinagiku/Nagi/Nishizawa polygon isn't nearly as funny, although this volume does pull out at least one charming bike scene. And yet, despite all these gags being pretty funny, the story gets from Point A to Point B without ever really daring to stray from a well-worn path.

The series' quest for perfectly average humor is complemented by its perfectly average artwork, which settles for "just enough to get the job done" (and perhaps to accommodate the artist's limited skills). Certainly, there are a couple of eye-catching scenes in this volume—Hayate's chase to save Nagi, the bike ride on the final leg to Izu—but these are the exception rather than the rule. And the rule of Hayate the Combat Butler is this: lots of character headshots, flat or minimal screentones, keep the linework as homogeneous as possible, and lay things out in standard rectangular patterns that don't lead the eye in any particular direction. If the visuals seem boring, those are probably the reasons why. Then there's the ho-hum sense of character design as well: there may be enough distinguishing features to identify Hayate and friends (and, say, a carful of assassins), but no one really stands out, as everyone's drawn from the same general face template.

Since the loopy characters are such a key element of this series, one would expect the dialogue and interaction between them to sparkle—but more often than not, the reader gets stuck with long blocks of text that go nowhere. The conversation between Maria and Hinagiku on the train exemplifies this perfectly: they're trying to have an amusingly awkward discussion about Hinagiku's romantic issues with Hayate, but the "amusing" part never really emerges. Maybe something's lost in translation, but a lot of the dialogue comes out as dry and forced. Fortunately, the sound effects are handled more smoothly, with English words and phrases replacing the Japanese effects but fitting themselves neatly into the artwork.

Discerning connoisseurs of comedy will probably find this volume of Hayate the Combat Butler to be rather plain in flavor—some of the chapters are content to toss out random gags at will, while the main block of story is basically a road trip dotted with as many screwball moments as possible. Yet this easily accessible sense of humor, which rotates between slapstick and parody and the characters behaving in exaggerated ways, is what helps to keep the series entertaining. It may not break the mold in terms of artistry, and it certainly doesn't possess the razor wit of the best comedy titles out there, but unpredictable gags and a nonstop supply of energy are still a good thing. Out of all the hot springs excursions that have ever existed, how many of them have involved Russian ramen proprietors and maniacal assassins and an impossible jump from a moving train? In that sense, maybe Hayate isn't so cookie-cutter after all.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : C

+ Achieves a good balance between wacky, parodical out-there humor and a more structured, slapstick-driven story arc.
Doesn't take a whole lot of chances with story and gags; artwork is very plain in its approach.

Story & Art:Kenjirou Hata

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Hayate the Combat Butler (manga)

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Hayate the Combat Butler (GN 11)

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