Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 25th 2009
Hayate the Combat Butler
Sub.DVD - Part 1
Filled with the faith in the power of hard work and diligence that can only be had by those who get their life-advice from Santa Claus, Hayate the soon-to-be Combat Butler spends his days working part-time to pay the gambling debts and booze bills of his astronomically irresponsible parents. His faith remains unshaken until one fateful Christmas when his parents sabotage his job, take his paycheck, and rack up 156,804,000 yen in gambling debts—which they pay off by selling him to the kind and generous people of the local yakuza. After beating Santa senseless, Hayate retires to the park to hide, where he encounters thirteen year old Nagi Sanzenin. Who he promptly tries to kidnap (after you punch Santa, nothing seems immoral). Nagi mistakes his questionably-worded kidnap attempt for a confession of love, and after Hayate rescues her from some real—or at least more competent—kidnappers, she decides to take him on as the Sanzenin family butler.
How silly can a series about a fightin' butler be? Even sillier than it sounds. You'd have to dredge far and deep to find a morsel of seriousness amidst this glut of goof. Don't even bother looking to the usual suspects for substance. Hayate's home life might be hell, but his sociopathically self-involved parents aren't only treated as a running joke, they're never even actually shown. As for his up-and-down relationship with employer-cum-self-styled-romantic-interest Nagi, he's so absolutely clueless about her feelings (and she about his) that it really is more a gag than a romance. And his professional travails...well, any job where qualification involves wrestling a talking tiger and defeating an irritable caretaker robot (complete with missiles...for fending off stalkers of course) isn't exactly going to be a source of workplace drama.
In a way, though, it's actually refreshing to see a series that's so relentlessly frivolous. Hayate knows exactly what it wants to be and refuses to let itself be weighted down with emotional or intellectual baggage. A wise decision as it turns out, as the series loses all charm once it falls below a certain critical comic velocity. The less parody- and weirdness-intensive Hinagiku episode is particularly trying, but pretty much any moment when you aren't laughing is a dull moment. That's in part because the “stereotype+quirk=character” formula that the series uses leaves us with no compelling reason to enjoy the unfunny bits, but it's also because those bits are the ones where the series does its harem construction—a tedious process, even in the best of circumstances.
Luckily such lapses are relatively few and far between, easily lost in a comic attack that's as relentlessly amusing as it is relentlessly fast and strange. Driven by staccato dialogue that mashes together otakucentric parody and convention-thrashing self reference, it displays a verve and confidence that is all too often lacking in anime comedies. Even if the parodies go straight over your head (as many will—even the most erudite nerd will have trouble getting them all), the series moves on to good old-fashioned situational humor (Hayate accidentally stomping all over the pride of Nagi's fiancé) and straight-up sight gags (a yakuza thug delivering a threatening monologue with magical girl Mask the Money's card lodged in his forehead) with a sure speed that ensures that you don't have to be able to recognize Inuyasha's signature move or Eva-01's Lance of Longinus to enjoy yourself. And if all else fails, there's always Norio Wakamoto's drolly intrusive narration—anyone who can sit through that without cracking a smile needs to tie their sense of humor to a lightning rod and pray for an electrical storm.
Other than a knack for using cheap animation to humorous ends, there is nothing remarkable about Hayate's visuals. The backgrounds are rote, never anything more than simple backdrops. The character designs are mediocre at best, with bland lookalike faces and indeterminate physiques—forgettable in every conceivable way, and only distinguishable via their coloration and signature outfits. There's a certain overall pastel haziness, but it isn't marked or distinctive enough to count as a genuine “look.” The vast majority of movement is confined to flat horizontal or vertical movements across the frame. Movement through settings is confined to short bursts. The visual energy that is mustered is supplied by lively editing and the sheer number of objects that get crammed, thrown into, and blasted out of the frame. Cheap self-censorship, omitted actions and character who pop randomly into and out of the frame all play an integral part in both the humor and the conservation of animation funds. The fights for their part are hilarious in their flatness and brevity.
Kotaro Nakagawa's bouncy, pastiche-laden score is no more successful at establishing an identity for itself than Synergy SP's visuals. Listening to him goof off here, it's hard to believe that he's the same guy who supplied series like Code Geass and Planetes with their oft gorgeous scores.
Bandai's expectations for this series are reflected in their release strategy. With no English dub and a disc crowded with seven episodes, it's obvious that they're expecting limited sales. As a bonus, they include both the original Japanese television and Japanese DVD audio tracks, the only difference between which is the bleeping of anime names from the television track. Which somehow makes it funnier than the un-bleeped DVD track.
If you're hunting the market for a low-investment comedy that keeps the chuckles coming and never overreaches itself, then Hayate is your man; particularly if your anime trivia is up to snuff. It isn't without its worrisome trends—not the least of which is its rapid establishment of a potential harem—and its look is boring, but for now at least its sheer silliness (and its scene-stealing narrator) make it one of the more reliably amusing series out there.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Funny; priceless narration.
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