Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 4th 2009
He is my Master
DVD - Complete Collection
14-year-old Izumi and 13-year-old sister Mitsuki leave home when their father's attitude towards Mitsuki's beloved pet Pochi (as well as the questionable way their father has started to look at them) make remaining untenable for them. Desperate for a job and place to live, they happen across a mansion advertising an urgent need for live-in maids. To Izumi's dismay, they discover that the filthy-rich Master of the mansion, one Yoshitaka, is a like-aged boy with perverted proclivities who lives alone so that he can do what he wants, and for him the prospect of two middle school-aged maids walking around in alluring maid outfits is a golden opportunity. While Mitsuki happily plays along, Yoshitaka coerces the feisty Izumi into complying by holding a substantial debt over her head (various expensive things tend to get destroyed when she's around, you see). A third middle school-aged girl soon joins the household when classmate Anna, who originally had a crush on Yoshitaka, develops an even stronger one on Izumi and opts to serve as a maid to be closer to her. Various antics ensue, including two rivals to Yoshitaka popping up, Izumi becoming an Internet idol, the ghosts of Yoshitaka's parents meddling in the affairs of the living, Izumi and Mitsuki's parents and little sister Karin showing up from time to time, and everyone having to deal with the girl-obsessed alligator Pochi, but always Mitsuki finds a way to resolve issues with inventive contests.
Back in 2001, Gainax explored the possibilities of a cute teenaged maid and a “little sister”-type maid living with, and working for, an orphaned middle school-aged boy otherwise living alone in Mahoromatic, so with this 2005 adaptation of the original manga by Mattsuu and Asu Tsubaki Gainax has returned to familiar territory. That this series shares several key staff members with the Mahoromatic franchise should be no surprise, given the similar basic premises and visual styles; the character designers are the same for both, for instance, and director Shouji Saeki also helmed the Mahoromatic: Summer Special and upcoming Mahoromatic: Taidama Okaeri special in addition to serving as assistant director on the second season of the TV series. Saying that someone who loves Mahoromatic should love this one, and vice versa, may be going too far, however, for while both are primarily fan service-laden comedies and have other distinct similarities, He Is My Master is, in many senses, a diametric opposite of Mahoromatic; one can easily imagine the Gainax creative minds choosing this one to allow them to revisit the same idea from a totally different angle.
Chief among the differences are the characterizations. Whereas Mahoro was proper, well-mannered, infallibly efficient, and relentlessly kind, Izumi is a firecracker prone to beating the crap out of people who piss her off (typically as a result of some form of sexual harassment) and an incompetent cook. Whereas Mahoro had such a petite build that it became a running joke and typically dressed conservatively, Izumi is well-endowed and often forced to dress provocatively. Whereas Mahoromatic's Minawa (aka the “little sister”) was a hopelessly shy uber-moe incompetent, Mitsuki is not only cheerily outgoing but also the series' most competent character. Whereas Slash was an able companion to Mahoro, Pochi is a menace to everyone except Mitsuki but especially Izumi when she's wearing something sexy. An even starker contrast can be seen in the male leads. Mahoromatic's Suguru, despite his copious stash of porn magazines, was otherwise a decent, intelligent, and respectful guy with many close school friends and potential love interests, while Yoshitaka is outright evil in his exploitation of the circumstances to foist costumes on the girls, spy on them, sexually harass Izumi, and otherwise make Izumi's life a living hell. On the rare occasions that he does show respectable merit, it never lasts or is part of some grander scheme.
That Yoshitaka is so evil is where some of the series' charm and a good deal of the series' fun factor come from. Characters like him in anime rarely get to be male protagonists, so he is a welcome change of pace in content otherwise awash with common romantic comedy clichés. Anna's relentless lesbianism has become an all-too-common archetype, and tough-minded and much-harassed heroines like Izumi are a dime a dozen. The girls' mildly creepy father is also an archetype that has also popped up a little too often of late, and the alligator Pochi is a little too similar in temperament to Hayate the Combat Butler's Tama (although this series came first by a couple of years). The girls' mother, while not an original character, is much more amusing for the way she merrily encourages Izumi to hook up with Yoshitaka. The one true breakthrough character is, quite surprisingly, Mitsuki, who gradually shows that her cheerily innocent disposition masks a subtle but almost frightfully effective talent for manipulating people; although her resorting to contests to resolve things may be eyeroll-inducing after a while, in retrospect the contests usually prove to be tailored specifically towards producing a desired result. If anyone is in real control in this series, she is.
Although Mahoromatic showed that series like this could have some real depth, this one has no such bold aspirations. It is ultimately almost entirely about its comedic antics and fan service. In the former respect the series gets off to a slow start, as first episode focuses more on establishing the circumstances than on delivering the laughs, but by episode 3 it hits its full comedic stride, producing plenty enough laughs to warrant a view; we've seen characters get beaten up like Yoshitaka does before, but rarely has it been so thoroughly deserved or is so funny in execution. The laughs remain fairly regular even through to the end, as this series never fully takes the entirely serious turn that series like this often do in their later stages (although it does have some serious moments).
The fan service also prevails throughout, with plentiful sexy costumes and lots of near-nudity, to the point that the lack of full exposure becomes a joke at times. Two very brief scenes – one in the first half and one near the very end – do even show nipples, which seems a little incongruous given how painstakingly the series otherwise just barely avoids showing it. The series also conspicuously offers a girl maid for every taste; Izumi is the busty one, Anna is the mid-sized one, and Mitsuki is the petite loli. The series also hosts fan service of the “anime references” kind, with costumes and names from other Gainax titles and occasional references to non-Gainax anime popping up in various places to delight fans with a sharp eye and ear. Only very astute fans will catch them all.
As artistic design and animation goes, the series is a mediocre effort. Anyone who was not too crazy about the look of Mahoromatic and/or This Ugly Yet Beautiful World will not like the look of this one, either, as the character designs are in the same vein. The background art is sharper, but there are still many series out there which equal or better it. The only place where the series visually distinguishes itself is in its costume designs, especially the sexy maid outfits, although like many Gainax titles it does pay special attention to the fan service.
The soundtrack is likewise serviceable but nothing special, with a wide variety of mostly comedy-tweaked themes that include a couple of numbers which sound suspiciously similar to themes that would be well-known in America (one recurring theme sounds like a key Phantom of the Opera number while another sounds like a theme long-used with Monday Night Football). Neither the opener nor the closer is of any special merit.
Section 23's release of the title carries no English dub and seems unable to completely escape the typos and grammatical errors which plagued Sentai Filmworks subs in other titles earlier this year. All twelve episodes are split between two disks fitted into a normal-sized DVD case. Extras split between the two disks include original Japanese promos, clean opener and closer, and an episode-length interview with producer Hiroki Sato from a (Japanese TV) TBS special.
A title like “He Is My Master” suggests something sexy in a trashy way, and to a certain extent the series does live up (or down?) to that expectation. Contrary to expectations, though, it does not feature subservient girls gratefully pandering to a master's wishes (although the protagonist would probably prefer that!), instead using a female lead who only reluctantly goes along with the maid scheme out of necessity and is certain to assert herself at any hint of the “master” getting too far out of line. The degree to which Izumi gets sexually harassed – let's see, she has a boy her age, a girl her age, an alligator, and even her own father all with prurient interest in her – may not set well with some viewers even though it is done for comedy, but that aside, the series has a feisty enough spirit, and delivers well enough on the laughs, to merit a recommendation. This is not a masterpiece but is definitely better than it could have been.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Often very funny, plentiful fan service, Mitsuki, male lead's evil streak.
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