Hanaukyo Maid Team: La Verite vols. 1-3
Mike Toole rates it:
My resistance was wearing thin when I popped the first volume of Hanaukyo Maid Team: La Verite into the DVD player. Of course part of me-- the mean-spirited part of me, the one that takes pot-shots at the lonely, underconfident men that this kind of show is marketed towards-- was really tempted to just savagely tear this show to bits, to blast it to hell, to nuke it from orbit. After all, that's the only way to be sure. But another part of me was contemplating turning the ol' brain off and trying to enjoy the gratuity, because Hanaukyo Maid Team is a maid show, a show about daintily appointed young girls in ruffly French maid outfits. It's part of an insidious trend that started with relatively innocuous fare like Steel Angel Kurumi and continues, to this day, in shows with titles like He Is My Master. Some maid shows, like Hand Maid May, are cute but lousy. Others, like Mahoromatic, are better than a cursory lookover would indicate, but still can't shake the slightly unsavory pall that the whole maid situation casts.
Hanaukyo Maid Team is another show that takes nerd fantasies to extremes. It surmises a world where Taro Hanaukyo, a nondescript boy of perhaps fourteen, becomes heir to a huge fortune when his mom dies and he goes to live on his absent grandfather's estate. This estate involves a mansion, and helicopters, and tons of cash, but most of all, it involves a hundreds-strong corps of pretty, perky young girls in ruffly maid costumes. They're not dressed as actual maids or housekeepers; their costumes are more like the "SEXXXY FRENCH MAID" costume that you can get at Halloween for eight dollars. The series opens with Taro being introduced to his newfound wealth and newfound maids, most of whom are carefully molded to fit an obvious stereotype.
The Head Maid, the one who gets splashed all over most of the box art, is Mariel. (I had to check the box to make sure her name wasn't Mirielle. Ever feel like everything you watch is turning into one giant series?) She's basically Belldandy, a graceful, deferential woman with pointy, pointy hair. Like most characters clumsily struck from the Belldandy template, she has no personality of her own. Mirielle-- excuse me, Mariel-- is supported by Ikuyo, the show's nerd girl who specializes in gadgets and drawing comics. Also along for the ride is Motoko from Love Hina. Seriously, that's the character in a nutshell. It's honestly like they ran out of ideas and decided to just swipe a character from another series. The Motoko clone is called Konoe, she carries a sword and acts slightly mannish, she has the same haircut as Motoko, and she even has a secret, fearsome older sister just like Motoko. This isn't the first time I've seen such flagrant plagiarism, but it's a little unsettling to see it laid out so vividly and shamelessly.
The maids are rounded out by Yashima, a security maid with dark skin, a speech impediment, and a lesbian crush on Konoe, along with Grace/Cynthia, an underaged girl with a split personality, and Lemon, Marron, and Mellon. They're Taro's personal assistants. Their job is to make double entendres ("The head of the family should be firm"), occasionally appear topless, and throw themselves at Taro, cementing the "nerd fantasy" thing with a vegeance. Because Taro is now rich, the first thing these girls do is dress him up like Oscar Wilde. Mariel is allegedly in charge of the Maid Army, but not so you'd know it. She never seems to issue orders, or hand out lists of chores. Come to think of it, I don't think there's a single scene of a maid actually cleaning something in this entire show.
The final major character to be introduced is a girl I like to call Beer Hair, because she's one of those anime gals that sports hair with curls styled so broadly and tightly that you could probably slide cans of beer into them easily. Her name is Ryuku, she's stuck in an arranged marriage to Taro, and she's from the also-obscenely-wealthy RIVALS of the Hanaukyo family. This makes her Flintheart to Taro's Scrooge, if you can picture the two in an arranged marriage. (Don't worry, I'm sure there's fanfiction out there that covers just such a scenario.) Her job is to emit a horrible, horsey laugh and pretend to despise Taro, pausing only to throw tantrums whenever another girl accidentally stumbles into him. (This happens approximately ONE MILLION times throughout the show's run.)
There is a plot. It spends most of the series looming in the background silently, like a white elephant, only making itself known in the final few episodes. Don't worry about it, because it doesn't make any sense. It involves Taro's sinister grandfather, the fact that Mariel may or may not be the product of a terrible, scary Maid Eugenics program... and brainwashing. Lots and lots of washing of brains, though once again, puzzlingly, the maids never seem to do any washing themselves. Most of the series is filler. There's an entire episode about going to "Comaket" (complete with shots of the characters dressed as the title character from Sugar, Chii from Chobits, and Alucard from Hellsing), there's an episode about a baseball game, an episode where everyone fusses over a lost puppy... ugh.
Hanaukyo Maid Team has kind of weird character designs, like Beer Hair. Some characters, like Konoe and Yashima, have hair that tapers down between their eyes, making them look queerly like they're wearing hair-helmets. Unfortunately, one of the ugliest characters in the show is Mariel; she has about four hundred pounds of lavender hair, all of it coming to a point at the top of her head. This is also one of those shows where most of the characters have the same face. Animation is actually OK for much of the series, though there are a couple of episodes where it was clearly Bring your Daughter to Work Day. I watched all of Hanaukyo Maid Team dubbed, because I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the effort of concentrating on reading the subtitles. The cast is decent, through this is one of those dubs that just kind of leaves all of the honorifics intact, a practice I find grating.
Hanaukyo Maid Team: La Verite is inoffensive as maid shows go, but overwhelmingly, punishingly vapid. Almost the entire cast of characters is boring or stupid; people who are unabashed fans of shit like this aren't going to care about this, because they'll be content to sit and watch carefully for the bad jokes and fanservice that shows like this inevitably focus on. In the end, the series just doesn't amount to much. Hanaukyo Maid Team is the kind of show that makes me wish the characters would just resort to cannibalism. Not because they're starving, mind you, but because a show about cute, shallow girls in maid costumes hunting, cooking, and eating each other would be an emormous improvement over what's offered here.
Added: Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Related Link: Geneon Animation