Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Misaki Ayuzawa has enrolled at Seika High School, a former all-boys academy that is struggling to reclaim a decent image with its newly co-ed student body. She chose it because of the cheap tuition, but that's not going to stop her from standing up for the rights of the girls in this testosterone-heavy environment. But our crusader for girls' rights has a secret: in order to earn money for her family, Misaki has a job as a maid/waitress at the Maid Latte café, and she worries that if her part-time employment becomes common knowledge, her position as the tough student council president will suffer irreparable damage. So what's she going to do when Takumi Usui, a boy in her class, discovers it? And is there a reason he keeps hanging around...?
If you just look at it on the surface, Maid-sama!, the chosen abbreviated title of Hiro Fujiwara's shoujo manga Kaichō wa Maid-sama!, is an odd choice to get a license rescue. The story follows Misaki Ayuzawa, a girl who hates men because of her father's abandonment but has had to enroll in a predominantly male high school because its tuition is cheap and it allows students to work part-time. In order to combat her dislike of the way 80% of the student body makes the other 20% uncomfortable, she becomes the Student Council President and rules the school with an iron fist. She also works outside of school...in a maid café. If you're not familiar with the concept, that's a restaurant where the waitresses wear (sometimes fetishy) maid costumes and call the clients “master” when they serve them – in other words, the exact opposite of the image Misaki projects at school. She's desperate to keep her two worlds separate, so when classmate (and requisite hot guy) Takumi Usui discovers her job, she fears the worst. Instead of spreading it around, however, Usui seems eager to keep her secret for himself, as well as to spend as much time as possible around a very reluctant Misaki.
Underneath its somewhat goofy premise and the slightly uncomfortable specter of Usui following Misaki around, Maid-sama!'s first two volumes (Viz is reprinting the series in two volume omnibuses) has some interesting things to say about the differing views of female power. Misaki is feared as a force at school (although also respected) and loved at Maid Latte, but in both cases she's unarguably herself. She may be more polite in her maid costume, but she's still a determined hard worker who wants to make sure everything goes smoothly and that people are comfortable, it's just that here that involves bringing out omurice rather than taking surveys. But it feels undeniable that she might lose the respect of some of the other kids at school if they knew that she spent time calling men “master” while wearing a maid costume, as we see demonstrated in volume two with the president of a different school's student council. Even Usui, who has seen her physically take down would-be molesters and hold her own in a variety of circumstances, feels the need to remind her that she's “a girl,” and to use that as an excuse to let him take over. While it is true that males can be physically stronger than females, generally speaking Misaki can handle the situations herself, so his reminders feel a bit like put-downs rather than the romantic gestures they can be presented as.
That's really the major issue with these first two volumes, particularly with volume one, which casts Usui in a much creepier light than volume two. As the book goes on, we see him realize that some of his tactics are perhaps not working, such as when he realizes that his fondness for touching her is making Misaki uncomfortable. It's almost as if Fujiwara herself came to this realization in between volumes one and two, as that's really where the shift occurs. This helps to make the story feel more romantic when the two are together, as well as to make Usui a bit less inscrutable. We rarely hear his thoughts, and thus are nearly as in the dark as Misaki as to who he really is. Seeing him rein himself in tells us that he's more than just a Pretty Face with big hair and that he does have some emotional intelligence.
Those issues aside, Maid-sama! can be a very funny read. The so-called Idiot Trio are generally good for a laugh, as are the antics of some of the boys in Misaki's class. (And they do have a good point that she discriminates against them, which helps us to see them as high spirited rather than annoying.) The way Misaki comports herself is an enjoyable mix of over-the-top and naively self-assured, and no matter what she's doing, her determination is impressive.
While I do not have the TokyoPop volumes on hand, the translation feels, if not fully re-done, touched up from the original English version, and the result is that this book reads much more naturally. Fujiwara isn't a particularly great artist, and her work as a generic LaLa/Hana to Yume house style feel to it (Usui could almost be Kei from Special A). Legs tend towards the scrawny and go on forever and panels are occasionally difficult to follow, but Fujiwara tries to make each character distinct and splash pages feature a variety of maid costumes. There's a lot of screen tone in use here, but by and large that doesn't detract from the art; rather it helps to cover up some of Fujiwara's deficiencies.
Maid-sama!'s first volume is weaker than its second, making this omnibus a great way to get into the series. It has its issues with concepts of femininity and power (although those are also quite interesting) and Usui starting the series in creepy stalker mode, but Fujiwara's sense of humor and the energy of the story help to alleviate those issues. All in all this book is a lot of fun, and even better, the omnibus format means that you don't necessarily have to re-buy volumes 1 – 8 to get the whole story, unless you prefer your shelves uniform. Even if the title is turning you away, Maid-sama! is a fun shoujo escapade and worth checking out if you missed it before.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Story has a good sense of humor, included short story is beautiful, albeit sad. Misaki's an engaging heroine. Omnibus format really helps to get you into the series.
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