The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Shōnen Maid ?
What is this?
He may one of the most responsible elementary schoolers out there, but just like any other kid, Chihiro Komiya wasn't ready to live a life without his mother. When she passes away suddenly due to heart failure, poor Chihiro has nowhere to go. She was cut off from her own family to give birth to him as a single mother, leaving her son's fate completely up in the air once she's gone. Fortunately, a neurotic oddball named Madoka Taketori shows up on Chihiro's doorstep one day (okay, he shows up near Chihiro's house quivering in fear from an enthusiastic puppy) and declares that he's the boy's long-lost uncle! Like his sister, he was living an isolated life, but unlike his sister, he has an enormous mansion to call home. Chihiro refuses to be indebted to anyone and turns the stranger down, until they arrive at a bizarre compromise. If Chihiro cleans Madoka's (filthy) estate for him as his servant, he won't be indebted to him for the living space at all! Chihiro is fine with this arrangement for now, but he's not so crazy about Madoka's love of lacy uniforms... Shōnen Maid is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Funimation, Fridays at 8:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
First of all, get Super Lovers out of your head. This is not that kind of show. Or at least, not that kind of episode; I kind of wish Shōnen Maid had aired first, because of the two first episodes to feature slightly uncomfortable content involving little boys, this is the less questionable one. It does have its moments, largely Uncle Madoka's fondness for putting Chihiro in cute outfits like the frilly maid cap and apron and the kitty pajamas, but at its heart this is a story about an orphaned child who finds that he has family after all, even if it isn't the family he was hoping for. In Chihiro's case, the recently orphaned fifth grader finds that his deceased mother had a younger brother: Madoka, a theatrical costume designer who may be a worse housekeeper than I am. This is what prompts Chihiro to don the maid get-up, but it is worth mentioning, and probably important to mention, that it isn't because his uncle has a weird fetish about boys in maid outfits – it's because Chihiro can't quite bring himself to realize that his mother is gone and that he has to live with his uncle now. When Makoto and his live-in secretary Keiichiro realize that cleaning is something that really matters to Chihiro, “offering” him the position of maid becomes a way that the men can convince Chihiro to stay: they're giving him a purpose in his suddenly directionless life. Yes, the outfit is a bit much (although we could explain it as being part of Madoka's work; this is how he sees the world since he works with costumes), but the underlying story isn't about fetishy clothes.
There's a definite thread of sadness underneath the more obvious humor of a clean-freak fifth grader in a frilly little apron. Chihiro is precocious and mature for his age, but he's still only ten or eleven years old, and that shows in his attempts to be strong. His mother, in what was kind of a jerk move, left him a letter to read after her death telling him that those who don't work don't eat, so now Chihiro feels beholden to her memory to find gainful employment, never mind that he's at the age where he ought to be taken care of. Because of her letter, he can't justify simply living with his newfound uncle in his huge mansion – he feels he doesn't deserve it, as we can see in when he sits alone in the (filthy) kitchen thinking that if he'd just worked harder, his mother wouldn't have died. That's a fairly common thought for children who have lost parents, and for Shōnen Maid to acknowledge it seems to indicate that there's a heart here, and that the overall trajectory of the series may be more emotional than goofy, although I fully expect that it will be that as well. Madoka is also carrying his own sorrows, largely, it appears, relating back to his sister, so it seems that both of them will have to come together to fully mourn her, which again belies the fetishy title and implies something more serious.
Of course, there is plenty of borderline shota-con humor, largely involving showing Chihiro in his outfit and shots of him in his shorts cleaning. There are also jokes about incompetent adults and competent children, along with the somewhat ambiguous relationship between Madoka and Keiichiro, although a young female appears to be throwing herself at Keiichiro next episode. Plus there's that bizarre boy band ending theme, full of characters who have yet to appear in the show, so I don't think we'll have to worry too much about this not balancing its serious side with humor. (The boy band does worry me, though I couldn't say precisely why.)
For the title I was most dreading, Shōnen Maid actually looks like it has a decent amount of potential. The maid outfit contrivance is silly and I'm not thrilled with the look of the show, which makes all of the characters look oddly feminine, but I do think that it's worth keeping an eye on. There's a different show burbling under the surface, and when it breaks through, it adds a level of character development and emotional content that belies the series’ concept.
Review: I'm not sure what, exactly, I was expecting out of this series based on its blurb and the fact that its source manga was published in a magazine aimed specifically at female gamers; something kinky with clear shota + BL leanings, perhaps. What I definitely wasn't expecting was a seemingly-innocent first episode which ably blends goofy comedy and surprisingly effective sincerity. This might actually be watchable.
The basic premise here is hardly anything novel; after all, “orphan finds a place by becoming – whether literally or effectively – domestic help” has popped up enough times over the last 15 or so years that it is definitely its own trope and could practically be its own genre. (And interestingly, this device is not particular to any specific genre, as you can see examples of it in anything from shojo romance to male-slanted comedy to seedy otaku-oriented fan service fare.) Chihiro hardly makes for the only male example, either; see Hayate the Combat Butler (okay, he's not technically an orphan but might as well be) and Isuca, among probably others that I'm forgetting. His situation, though, actually much more closely resembles Tohru's in Fruits Basket, a series that I often found myself thinking of while watching this one. Granted, Fruits Basket had a supernatural angle that this one hasn't shown, and Tohru wasn't actually related to the Sohmas, but a lot of the other circumstances are the same, as is the mix of humor and sincerity. In fact, I don't think it would be a stretch to say that liking Fruits Basket would make you more apt to like this one, too.
What the sold the series for me probably more than anything else was – quite surprisingly to me – Madoka. Yes, he's the classic nutcase relative, but his heart is definitely in the right place and he makes it abundantly clear that his connection to his sister (Chiyo's mother), and thus his commitment to looking after Chihiro in her stead, is definitely no joke. There's nothing disingenuous or even really a stretch about the arrangement he makes with Chihiro and he actually has a real occupation that he takes seriously. Even the frilly outfit he makes Chihiro wear can be passed off as his own little joke. Chihiro is also almost instantly likable, as is Madoka's secretary/right hand man, who could have easily been more overplayed than he is. Looks like next episode will bring in a regular female character, too, so it won't just be a guy thing.
If I have one complaint about the first episode, it's that the artistry is sometimes so bright that making out details can be difficult. Any concerns about this going in a skeevy direction should be allayed for now, though; due to some the fare that's come out recently, it's easy to forget that shows like this actually can actually be innocent despite a set-up which would seem to suggest the contrary. At the very least the series is going to tempt me to watch more.
Jacob Hope Chapman
There's nothing morally suspect whatsoever about Shōnen Maid. No, really! I mean, it's just about an elementary school boy who's forced to live with his eccentric funny uncle and clean his house to earn his keep while wearing a frilly maid outfit--
Alright, this is basically Plausible Deniability The Animation. We get so few anime aimed at the fringe shotacon audience that it's hard to recognize their hallmarks compared to the lolicon stuff, and after the surprise appearance of Super Lovers, that rarely-used part of my critical eye is on full alert for Shōnen Maid. Am I thinking too hard about this? Am I the one perverting a perfectly innocent and heartwarming story just because it involves a little boy in an apron?
Well, yes and no. If you can push Super Lovers out of your mind and try to approach Shōnen Maid with an open mind, it really doesn't read creepy or exploitative like the premise suggests. It has all the hallmarks of a "dysfunctional adult finds himself in custody of a precocious child and they improve each other's lives enough to eventually expand the family around them" story. There's a reason the key art shows Chihiro standing alongside two other kids his age instead of his adoptive uncle. So think less Bunny Drop the manga and more Bunny Drop the anime, if you catch my drift.
On top of that, despite its fleeting moments of sugary comedy, most of the episode is spent on the sincere and somber (but not too dark) emotions of loneliness and inadequacy that both Chihiro and Madoka feel for very different reasons, giving the episode a welcome depth of character that lets us all unclench and go "awwww" instead of "aggggh." While it certainly doesn't have the writing quality of My Love Story!!, it does achieve a similar tone, all the more reinforced by a mellow opening theme from TRUSTRICK. There's a good-natured sweetness pervading the show that feels unfair to condemn, despite the episode's rare moments of dubious intent. (Chihiro doesn't wear that maid outfit or fluffy cat costume of his own volition, after all.)
I have absolutely no doubt that there's deeply upsetting doujinshi (and maybe even official merchandise in the future) of Shōnen Maid out there, and it was at least probably created with fujoshi gaze in mind, even if it was only moe in intent instead of sexual. But whatever. You can enjoy Black Butler just fine without veering into shotacon territory, and this show is even tamer than that, so in spite of its title, I think you can approach Shōnen Maid with a clean conscience.
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