I'll admit that I've been quite skeptical of the anime world, no thanks in part to the amount of drivel that I had to watch last year. In the beginning of the year I was "tricked" into watching Ladies VS Butlers, a show with no plotline, useless fan-service and a vast amount of drivel that would even make a zombie blow its own head off. When I first got wind of Maid Sama! (or Kaichou wa Maid-Sama! as it's known in Japan) I didn't feel like being swindled yet again to watch a series that, on the surface, looked as if it'd be another lame-ass attempt at doing moé shenanigans with little-to-no texture to it. What a surprise: I turned out to really like this show.
Maid Sama! follows the life of Misaki Ayuzawa, the class president over at Seika High School. She rules the hallways with strict protocol, and seemingly favors the girls' requests over the boys. She hates men, possibly because her dad ran off leaving her mother and sister in debt. In order to help pay for the roof over their head Misaki takes a part-time job working at a maid café, keeping it a secret as to not ruin the reputation she has built at her high school. Unfortunately her cover is blown by fellow classmate Usui Takumi, who (surprisingly) doesn't tell anyone her secret, not even blackmailing her (maybe not a first in anime, but something you don't see often in a comedic setting). Usui starts making a habit of coming to the café every day, much to Misaki's annoyance, but soon manages to becomes a big part of her life, giving her advice and a helping hand whenever she needs it. Will love blossom between Misaki and Usui, or is there another reason behind Usui's helpfulness?
Originally based on a manga by Hiro Fujiwara Maid Sama! manages to avoid many of the stereotypes that fill these sorts of romantic comedies. Yes, there is that tsundere vibe that Misaki gives, but her reasons for acting this way are revealed quickly, leaving little room for viewers to groan about there being another cold-hearted woman with a secret warm heart. And while this is considered a "romantic comedy" the romance is very under the radar, with the comedy being the main focus of the series (similar in the vein of Special A, another well-written anime romantic comedy). Speaking of the writing I've yet seen a comedy this year with a constant flow of great dialogue and visual humor as good as Maid Sama!, especially when it involves Usui getting his kicks watching Misaki squirm at her café. (Granted it begins slowly, and the first ten minutes you watch of the series drag a bit, but once you get past that the writing gets surprisingly better.)
Maid Sama! also does a good job tackling on serious issues with a light heart. One episode dealing with stalkers showcases the strengths and weaknesses of Misaki's character, who is at first caught off-guard by two men who kep her hostage late at night in the café. Fortunately Usui shows up to rescue her, only to discover that she had already subdued the two kidnappers. While done in a silly style, it shows a bit of the turmoil and disturbed craziness that women working at maid cafés have to deal with practically on a daily basis, thanks in part to some of the mindsets of the Japanese otaku.
J.C.Staff continues its nearly-flawless reputation to bring some of the best animation from Japan. With such great romantic comedy series like Honey & Clover, Nodame Cantabile and Toradora! under their belts it seemed like a perfect fit for Maid Sama! to be drawn by them. The colors are bright, the movement is quite fluid and the backgrounds and characters are drawn perfectly. Granted they do skim on a bit of the animation in a couple areas, but at those times the crappy look helped to enhance the humor that the scene was bringing out. The voice acting is genuine (especially from Ayume Fujimura's Misaki and Nobuhiko Okamoto's Usui), and the soundtrack by Wataru Maeguchi also knows how to set the right mood for each scene.
Sentai Filmworks has licensed the show for an American release, and those who are interested can check out episodes on its Anime Network page. Maid Sama! is an anime that manages to get everything right in the romantic comedy realm, bringing forth the sort of shoujo series that any guy and gal can enjoy.
**** ½ (out of five)