by Carlo Santos,

Hayate the Combat Butler

GN 8

Hayate the Combat Butler GN 8
Abandoned by his parents and deep in debt, hard-working Hayate Ayasaki was once about to be thrown to the loan sharks—until the day young heiress (and serious otaku) Nagi Sanzenin took him in as a household butler. But what will Hayate do when a recent embarrassing incident forces him to leave the house for a few days? It seems that hitting the road only makes things worse: Hayate finds himself inadvertently squandering a million yen, rooming with class cutie Hinagiku, setting off awkward love triangles, and generally acting so suspicious that Sanzenin head maid Maria has to go undercover to find out what he's up to. And even if he does make it home, the drama doesn't stop: a new pet kitten has awakened the jealousy of domestic tiger Tama, and Nagi's latest manga obsession takes her into the dangerous world of fishing...

The humor of Hayate the Combat Butler is many things—quick, quirky, and bordering on the absurd—but one thing it is not is "uniquely Japanese." Rather, the heart of this series relies on universally funny things like repetition, escalation, and exaggeration. Watch Hayate's money drain away, and the pacing's not too different from one of those "three guys walk into a bar" jokes. Observe his dealings with possible-girl-of-interest Hinagiku, and it could be straight out of any romantic sitcom around the world. But while the humor of Hayate has broad appeal, the haphazard storytelling and somewhat bland art still make this volume—along with the rest of the series—something of an acquired taste.

At its best, Volume 8 offers delightful bursts of rapid-fire comedy, jumping effortlessly from joke to joke as Hayate finds himself in increasingly sticky situations. His million-yen escapade is one such example, escalating from pocket change to hundreds of thousands as Hayate finds his altruistic nature to be his own worst enemy. Hinagiku and Hayate's cooking spree also brings out some truly oddball humor, this time in the form of random people/animals/houseplants self-referentially commenting on how cute a couple the two of them make. Even the seemingly plotless chapters towards the end of the book are a fountain of fast-paced absurdity: cat vs. tiger in a fierce house-pet rivalry, a ruthlessly violent nun trying to win the heart of the boy who works at the video store (yes, this is exactly what it sounds like), and plenty of classic fishing humor when Nagi tries out her new hobby. Clearly, the tight constraint of 16 pages per chapter forces an artist to work efficiently, the result being lots of laughs packed tightly together.

But not all chapters are created equal, and sometimes Kenjiro Hata can be caught grinding the gears of plot when he has nothing funny to say. Hayate's stay at Hinagiku's house doesn't yield nearly as much humor as it ought to; instead, most of that scenario is spent on wordy romantic miscommunications (which only get more awkward when Nishizawa, one of the other girls who likes Hayate, shows up). Come on, Hayate is wackier than this, leave that generic rom-com stuff back in the 90's where it belongs! And when the romantic fluff runs out, then it's off to haphazard story fragments that don't even connect at all: sure, maniacal kittens and killer nuns and fishing trips may be funny, but it also makes the tail end of this volume seem like a collection of one-shots rather than an ongoing series. Meanwhile, for other fans, the real shortcoming of this volume may be the lack of Hayate-Nagi interaction and the lack of Nagi in general.

If the series' humor seems to be driven mostly by dialogue and the pacing of each gag, that's probably because the artwork is too weak to do much of anything. With a style as bland as Hata's, one had better hope for good enough writing to distract from the visuals. The character designs are simplistic and uninspired, and the big bobbleheads and spindly bodies take extra time getting used to. Page layouts, too, depend mostly on dull rectangular sequences that are just a step removed from 4-panel format. Add in the flat-looking backgrounds and a lack of contrast and texture, and this becomes a perfect storm of artistic mediocrity. Even the occasional visual gags (Maria in a school uniform, hooray!) tend to be confined to a rectangular pattern, as if letting the artwork flow dynamically is just too scary of a thing to imagine.

Those who can look past the artwork, though, will be rewarded with the bouncy dialogue that carries the humor of this series. Much of it relies on rapid back-and-forth delivery and silly misunderstandings ("Ojô-sama, you're pretty small..." "Shut up! Hinagiku's are about the same size!"), making this one of the few titles where it's actually fun to read long strings of text. Most importantly, this translation also brings out each character's personality, whether it be Hayate's self-effacing manner, Nagi's bratty attitude, or any of the other characters in between. Readers will also note that, in addition to various cultural references, the text also retains Japanese honorifics where necessary (i.e., to make certain jokes work). You're on your own with the cultural references, though, as this volume contains no glossary. Meanwhile, sound effects are replaced entirely with English equivalents, although these aren't really a key factor of the story anyway.

Volume 8 of Hayate the Combat Butler continues the series' grand tradition of rapid-fire, off-the-wall comedy, especially with the first few chapters doing their best to make a fool of Hayate with unexpected twists and hilarious turns of misfortune. Unfortunately, other chapters in this volume don't fare quite as well, relying on tired old love-triangle situations or simply tossing out random crazy ideas in hopes that something works. As is so often the case with this brand of humor, it can be a real hit-or-miss process, and you have to hope that the story and writing are going to be a hit, because the artwork isn't going to impress anyone anytime soon. But when it's on top of its game, Hayate is a lot of fun—just try not to mind the stumbling blocks along the way.

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

+ Relies on rapid-fire gags, hilariously unlikely scenarios, and comical exaggeration to generate plenty of laughs.
Falls back on generic romantic comedy and plotless meanderings when good ideas run out. Bland artwork.

Story & Art: Kenjirou Hata

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Hayate the Combat Butler (manga)

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