Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ladies versus Butlers!
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Akiharu has earned his way into a prestigious private school, where he will be a butler-in-training alongside maids-in-training. This Servant Class intermingles with a Master Class of almost all girls (and one guy) from elite families who might also be prospective future employers for them. To his consternation, Akiharu quickly runs afoul of the school's top two students: the proud, uppity Selnia Iori Flameheart, whose blonde curls resemble drills, and Tomomi Saikyō, a seemingly sweet girl whose well-mannered demeanor has hidden a truly devilish side since Akiharu's known her in their elementary school days. Add in a roommate who's actually a girl trying to pass as a male butler, an unbelievably clumsy maid-in-training, a narcissistic pretty boy, and a cuckoo principal, and you have the recipe for all sorts of sexy antics.
Some series are innovators within their genre, while others are mere followers. This 2010 adaptation of a light novel series is decidedly the latter. Even though it came relatively early in the wave of super-heavy fanservice shows of the late 2000s (it debuted the same season as Qwaser of Stigmata), it relies on gimmicks that were already tried-and-true at that point, and the visuals weren't exactly cutting-edge either. As a result, it shakes out as a middle-of-the-road example of more sexiness-driven romantic comedies, offering plenty to ogle but little to back its base appeal up. Perhaps that has something to do with why it took so long to be licensed and released in the States.
That said, if all you care about is the pervasive fanservice, then this series does not disappoint. The camera goes out of its way to fixate on panty shots, the artistry is fond of depicting lingerie and nipple outlines through clothing, and the director finds some excuse for nudity on a regular basis. The series caters to most major fetishes, whether you prefer fake lolitas (a 19-year-old who could easily pass for a grade schooler), busty babes, or just about anything in between, but above all, the focus remains on maid fetishes. There's even a token pretty boy and a crossdressing girl so flat-chested that she gets mistaken for a guy even with her torso bare – which is fortuitous, because she thought her cover was going to be blown. All of the standard gimmicks get represented, with a few odd additions like a girl so airheaded that she will strip at the drop of a hat. None of these are represented with top-grade visuals – compared to Xebec's other major fanservice franchise, To Love-Ru, this one is second-rate – but it does well enough.
Get past the fan service though, and the series' other merits are limited. Though the notion of servants-in-training attending school with their masters is nothing new to anime (Hayate the Combat Butler and Mayo Chiki! are probably the most relevant examples), this is an especially dumb and unwieldly treatment of the premise. Whatever slight promise the notion of up-and-coming elites evaluating future potential employees may have, it gets washed out in the uninteresting lack of stratification between the Master and Servant classes. The story tries to find some humor in this by subjecting servants-in-training to thoroughly ridiculous challenges on the off-chance that they might have to do something really extreme someday for their master (such as jumping into the sea to rescue a master who has fallen overboard from a ship), but usually these efforts are painfully brainless in execution. Many other anime have gotten much better humor out of this dynamic.
However, the series is not entirely comedy-challenged. Its shtick does sometimes result in some funny moments; one example is the maid girl who's always falling down, which is normally cringe-worthy but a couple of occasions do carry her pratfalls through to a riotously funny degree. The flighty female principal also has her moments, as do Selnia's maids at her mansion, who are all-too-willing to maneuver their mistress into amorous situations with Akiharu for their own entertainment. The humor works too sporadically for it to be considered a reliable plus, though.
The show's one other major merit is the dynamic between lead girls Selnia and Tomomi. Their classic Prideful Girl vs. Devious Girl rivalry doesn't initially look like it will amount to much more, but one mid-series episode that flashes back to the beginning of their conflict changes that impression. From there, revelations throughout the series show that the motivations behind this rivalry are not as simple as they may have appeared. That feeds into their eventual competition over the clueless Akiharu, which doesn't actually start in earnest until the last few episodes. At this point, the series traverses some slightly fresher ground, since while Selnia does seem to be genuinely falling for Akiharu, her duel with Tomomi is less about romantic interest and more about not losing to the other girl. Their status at the end of the series leaves them in a frenemy dynamic, which feels appropriate.
I mentioned before that the fanservice is not visually impressive, but that same comment could apply to the artistic effort in general. Nicely-detailed backgrounds are fronted by anime-typical character designs; only the Muslim girl and her blond attendant actually stand out, and that is as much because of their clothing as any distinctive design. Problems with staying on-model or scenes just generally looking rough are not pervasive but still relatively common. The animation rarely misses an opportunity for boob jiggling, but it takes plenty of shortcuts elsewhere. The one visual standout are Tomomi's malicious expressions, though one CG scene involving some fighter jets isn't bad either. The musical effort is more consistent but also not exceptional. Surprisingly, much of the score is fully orchestrated, though it does not aspire to any bolder sound than gentle enhancement. Opener “LOVE x HEAVEN,” sung by four of the female seiyuu, is a suitably energetic number, as is J-Pop-styled closer “my starry boy,” which is sung by Selnia's seiyuu.
Media Blasters released the series on DVD back in November 2015, but for whatever reason, this Blu-Ray release got delayed for a few months longer. It's a bare-bones release, with no physical or on-disc extras. Given the very low retail price, that would be fine if not for other problems: the songs in the opener and closer are not subtitled, English production credits are only provided at the end of the last episode, the subtitles include a handful of grammatical errors, and one scene (but only one) still has its stream-of-light-styled censoring bar. The English dub is provided by MB VoiceWorks and mostly features voice talent with limited anime experience; only Carrie Savage (Selnia), Genevieve Simmons (the Muslim girl's servant), and Funimation regular Bryn Apprill (the magical girl-wannabe princess) have substantial anime résumés. Unsurprisingly, this results in a mixed bag of performance qualities. Main roles are mostly solid, with Amber Lee Connors smoothly hitting the mark perfectly as Tomomi, but minor supporting roles and bit parts are much weaker. The dub does make a notable effort to reproduce the background chatter from the Japanese dub, and the script, while sometimes interpretive, never strays much.
While ostensibly a romantic harem comedy, Ladies versus Butlers! is more of a straight-up comedy for most of its run, with some slightly more dramatic elements creeping in later. Four girls do ultimately express romantic interest in Akiharu, but one never acts on it, one doesn't pursue him consistently, and the other two don't do much in that direction until halfway through the series. So the series actually has little for full-blown harem antics beyond the Selnia/Tomomi rivalry, and even that is more about their conflict beyond Akiharu. Even so, the show's appeal will still be limited beyond those who normally favor harem fare.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Lots of nudity and fanservice, dynamic between two female leads is interesting, Tomomi's malicious expressions are fun
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