Manga Review: Maid-sama!, Omnibus 1

Maid-sama 1Author: Hiro Fujiwara
Genre: Shoujo, Comedy, Romance
Publisher: Viz Media (US) / Hakusensha (JP)
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Original Magazine: Lala
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Having climbed the ranks, Misaki Ayuzawa is the well-respected student council president of the previously all boys Seika High School. Now co-ed but still mostly boys, Misaki keeps a watchful eye on all of her peers, including class pretty boy, Takumi Usui. Unfortunately Usui just so happens to find out Misaki’s one well-kept secret — she works part time at a maid cafe!

Story

Originally a title nabbed by Tokyopop back in 2000s, Maid-sama! is a license rescue fans had been clamoring for. Viz answered the call back in 2014, re-licensing the series in a 2-in-1 omnibus format. The series is now in its fourth omnibus release, but the first volume showcases its strongest appeal: main character, Misaki.

Quite frankly, I love, love, love Misaki, and if you stripped away the romance in the series — more on Usui in a moment — I would still love to simply see Misaki‘s day to day interactions and trials as student council president in a mostly boys’ world. Misaki’s interactions with the other women at the maid cafe, particularly her boss — are great too, and they make me wish this story was more firmly centered on women. That’s not to say the boys of the series don’t have their moments too; the comedic relief of the “idiot trio” made me laugh more than once — though it’s worth noting that even they had openly less respect for Misaki until they found out she moonlights as a maid. Still, throughout the course of the first omnibus — two full volumes in total — we see Misaki’s relationship to the boys shift in various ways; she may be rough, harsh, and brash, but she’s also open to feedback, introspection, and considering issues from the other perspective. Misaki isn’t necessarily president because she’s the only girl, or a novelty; it’s because she’s a kind-hearted leader, open to growth.

Romantic interest Usui I don’t as feel quite as enthusiastic about. For the first chunk of the volume he’s mostly fine, and I was hopeful; he seems to have developed a genuine crush on our leading lady and wants to support her as she navigates trying to better the school and earn her peers’ respect. Then he falls into the shoujo trope danger zone all too quickly; in just the latter half of the omnibus he saves Misaki from numerous wayward men, and constantly reminds her that not only is she actually a girl — shocker, as if she’d forgotten or in any way denied that — but that she always has be on the lookout for boys with bad intentions. Even Usui corners her a handful of times to remind her, and while he never tries anything wildly inappropriate it is a bit disappointing given just how darn likeable Misaki is.

Art

As soon as I flipped open this volume I was reminded of the overly busy art from Ouran High School Host Club. In fact, the art looks eerily similar and brings up the same issues: too many panels bunched together. In Ouran’s case the busy-ness of the art put me off so much that I’m still working back to it, but Maid-sama! is slightly more manageable. Still, the multiple panels per page — some really small — combined with sometimes fast moving comedic action make the series occasionally hard to follow. What’s even more interesting about that is the end of the first omnibus includes one of Fujiwara’s earlier works — a surprisingly touching story about a relationship between a girl and the ghost of her classmate — and the paneling there is absolutely not an issue at all. I’m hoping that Fujiwara can loosen up the number of panels per page as the series progresses.

Overall

I have to admit, I had no idea what the big fuss was when Viz re-licensed this one. I figured it was mainly Tokyopop nostalgia driving the response, but I can see now that it was more than likely the fans’ love for Misaki instead. Usui unfortunately isn’t really my favorite romantic interest, but Misaki really steals the show. There are some issues with this one, but I’m hooked on Misaki’s adventures as student council president for the long haul.

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