Comics artist and former Gainax employee Lea Hernandez joins us to talk about her turbulent time back in the late 80s with the company that gave birth to Evangelion.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 6th 2006
G.Novel: Automatic Maiden
Mahoro, a cute, human-seeming female combat android, was built by the super-secret organization Vesper to be the point woman in their efforts to fight off incursions on Earth by the alien group Saint. Though she has proved to be an indomitable warrior in countless battles, the end of her operational life span now approaches; she has but 398 days left, and only that long if she drops her peak combat mode. Given the option to live out her remaining days fulfilling a personal wish, Mahoro chooses to become a maid and winds up in the employ of Suguru, an orphaned middle-school student whose house is in dire need of such care. Mahoro keeps things interesting as Suguru adjusts to having a combat android for a maid and his friends and jealous teacher adjust to a cute young woman living under the same roof as Suguru. Eventually, though, Mahoro comes to find the peace and home she has been looking for in Suguru's house, while Suguru finds in Mahoro the family that he has been so desperately missing.
But the life of a warrior cannot be so easily set aside. One threat still looms in the form of Ryuga, the strongest of the Saint combat androids, who sees a need to prove himself against Mahoro. A bigger threat comes from another secret organization known as the Keepers, who for centuries have clandestinely orchestrated the history and development of Earth and see both Vesper and SAINT as threats to their control. The steps they ultimately take have dire consequences for Mahoro, Suguru, and others who have gathered around them as Mahoro's last days count down.
The basic premise for Mahoromatic seems nothing more than a blending of typical ecchi action/comedy/romance elements: a cute young woman – who also just happens to be a retired combat android – chastely cohabitates with an inexperienced but good-hearted young man. Of course she's an impeccable cook and housekeeper, an unfailingly kind-hearted soul (well, except for when dealing with Miss Shikijo), and tremendously cute despite being a bit underdeveloped in terms of figure, and of course all sorts of opportunities for nudity and appearances by mecha, aliens, secret organizations, and other androids arise.
What separates Mahoromatic from most other titles of this type are its underlying dramatic themes. Although the silliness of the content can sometimes make you forget it for a while, Mahoro's (literally) numbered days and the sadness associated with it ever looms in the background as a more sobering reminder of a character's mortality than one would normally expect to see in a generally high-spirited, fun-loving series. It also gradually becomes apparent that the whole maid shtick is far more than a casual, fanboy-pandering gimmick; Mahoro has deep, tragic, and very precise reasons for being where she is and doing what she is doing, and they're reasons that are both very plausible considering the circumstances and beyond reproach. Her motivations also evolve over the course of the manga's run, initially being all about atonement but gradually becoming as much about finding a new place for herself in the time she has left and, ultimately, about love as well.
It also helps that, for a rare occasion, the male lead is worthy of all the female attention he gets. Suguru may not be the most bishonen of guys and enjoys his ecchi magazines as much as the next middle school student, but he is intelligent and kind and possesses strength of character, a combination which naturally (and, most importantly, believably) endears him to those around him. He has his own issues, though, for the entrance of Mahoro into his life makes him realize how much he misses his parents and how desperately he's needed someone close at hand to call “family,” a role that even his good friends can't fulfill but Mahoro can.
The unexpectedly high quality of the writing does carry a few faults. The early stages of the series are liberally sprinkled with filler content, while the story loses some of its charm in the later stages by turning completely dramatic and getting heavily wrapped up in the actions of the Keepers and their plotting against Mahoro, Vesper, and Saint. At times the manga goes almost ridiculously out of its way to load in fan service, and the character of Suguru's teacher Miss Shikijo may grate on the nerves after a while. Ultimately, though, the story does carry through to a clear resolution, one which ends up being somewhat similar to the ending used in the second season of the anime version – an interesting development given that the manga was not done yet when the much-despised last episode of the anime originally aired.
Although the Mahoromatic manga is strongest in its storytelling, the artistry is not of the same caliber. Character designs are cutesy but not especially well-defined, with two important characters in the last couple of volumes looking nearly identical. Background scenes often have minimal or no definition, and complicated action scenes are often incomprehensible. Tokyopop does not translate the sound effects, which retains the artistic integrity of the original manga at the expense of making it harder for non-Japanese-speaking readers to understand everything. The nudity and fan service offered is reasonably appealing, but other titles out there do it much better.
Nearly every chapter in the first five volumes of the manga was adapted directly into the anime version, as well as a few chapters of the sixth and seventh volumes, albeit with a heavily scrambled order of events and some changes in the details. The sole chapter in the first five volumes which didn't get adapted in some form is a very forgettable story about panty theft. The sixth volume, which came out near the end of the anime series, starts to stray away from the anime by introducing a mind-reading android who never appeared in the anime, while the seventh volume and extra-long eighth volume take the building three-way conflict between Saint, Vesper, and Keepers/Management in a substantially different (and decidedly more graphic) direction than what happened in the anime. As mentioned above, though, the end result is very similar. The story from the Mahoromatic: Summer Special does not appear anywhere in the manga; that appears to have been all-original.
Comparing the quality of the two productions is another matter. Manga fans typically claim that an anime adaptation of a manga series never matches up, but in this case that's a hard argument to support. GAINAX did a great job of retaining the manga's artistic style for their anime version and in many ways improved upon the writing. The more compact story in the anime doesn't explain the background of Saint or the nature of Matthew anywhere near as well as the manga does, nor is the interrelationship between Saint, Vesper, and the Keepers made as clear, but in its later volumes the manga does sometimes drag out scenes with exposition on these topics so the anime has a better flow. It also fleshes out a few early stories that were given light treatment in the manga, gets more of a punch out of its humor, and packs a much more affective emotional appeal than the manga can muster. The android Feldrance is also far more effectively menacing in the anime than he ever is in the manga. Aside from giving more detail, the only other place where the manga excels over the anime is in showing a “what happens after” at the end on all the major cast members rather than on just Suguru. Overall, the manga is the more complete story but the anime is the better one.
Cover art for each yellow-binded volume is fairly basic stuff. Volume 1-7 are on the thin side as manga volumes go, with page counts only in the 160s, while the extra-sized last volume offers up almost a hundred more pages.
Fans of the Mahoromatic anime will find that the manga version fills in a few gaps and offers a different take on the late chapters, although they may find themselves unsatisfied with the ending if they didn't like the anime ending, either. Newcomers to the franchise will be best-served watching the anime first (but skip the godawful Summer Special!) and then reading the last 2-3 volumes of the manga. In either version, though, it's a deeper and higher-quality story than its fan service and silliness might initially lead one to expect.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C
+ Good storytelling once one looks beyond the silliness.
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