Maid Sama! Volume 1
Misaki is an attending a former all-boys’ school that’s now co-ed but still mostly male. She’s president of the student council and something of a disciplinarian when it comes to school rules. She also works in a maid cafe after school.
Popular boy Takumi has plenty of girls in love with him. He finds out about Misaki’s maid job secret but surprisingly, keeps this juicy gossip to himself, which confuses her.
There’s a lot you have to accept to enjoy Maid Sama! by Hiro Fujiwara. Let’s start with the back cover description of Misaki as an “overachieving feminist”. What’s overachieving about working hard to get good grades, make her school better, and help support her family? She has an over-developed sense of responsibility, maybe, but Takumi has the same status (without having to work for any of it), and he’s assumed to be just fine. She studies hard and has also worked out, so she’s physically strong, which is another thing we’re supposed to think makes her a freak.
The “feminist” part is just plain wrong, since there’s no discussion of the problems of male/female equality. In fact, the book assumes male superiority is the natural order of things, and we’re supposed to find it funny that Misaki bosses around boys in contrast to serving them in her “other life”. She works hard to bring order and cleanliness to the school, because without any girls around, the boys were lazy, dirty, sex-crazed slobs. (This is not a flattering stereotype for men.) Wanting students to be clean and polite isn’t feminism; it’s just maturity.
We’re told Misaki hates males because her dad abandoned his family, leaving them with debts, which is why she has to keep her job, but this supposed man-hating isn’t really shown in the story. What we see is that Misaki doesn’t much like anyone, male or female, because few of her peers have her work ethic or self-confidence. If you read closely, you’ll notice that her “tough girl” daytime persona is as much an act as her playing maid in the evenings. No one wants to know or value the real her, which is why she mistakes Takumi’s curiosity and concern for pity.
He takes care of her when overwork makes her sick and praises her strengths and skills. In other words, he’s a fantasy boy that many stressed teens, torn among too many responsibilities, could enjoy. Otherwise, he hasn’t got much personality. He’s naturally smarter, stronger, and superior to her, while she’s just waiting for him to conquer her (as her boss describes her maid personality). He always knows just what to do or what lesson she should learn.
I guess I’d find the story more plausible if I believed that the maid job was demeaning. To me, it looks like another waitress gig with an unusual costume. Thankfully, the outfit and behavior isn’t visually sexualized.
The art is exaggerated when showing emotion in a style better suited to a manga dealing with life and death situations. Most of the time, the style is familiar and unremarkable. Although the story is told from Misaki’s perspective, it’s really a male fantasy, where the scary, strong, smart, self-possessed girl turns out to secretly be subservient to men. It’s sort of funny to read, until you think about what its real messages are.
The book contains four chapters of the main story plus “A Transparent World”, a stand-alone earlier work by Hiro Fujiwara. In that, a girl admires a classmate from after. He passes away suddenly, but she gets a second chance with his ghost. It’s got a very different tone from the main story, which is a frantic rom-com, and I liked it better. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)
Update: (8/7/15) Maid-sama! has now been reissued by Viz in 2-in-1 editions.