In their acquisition of several old manga titles from Tokyopop, Viz Media decided to pick-up the Shojo series called Maid-sama! Instead of merely just reprinting the series, original translation and all, Viz went the extra mile and decided to give it a brand new translation job and release the manga in 2-in-1 volumes. Let’s take a look.
Maid-sama! (2-in-1 Edition) Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written and drawn by: Hiro Fujiwara
Translated by: JN Productions (Viz Media) or Sun Mon Hanr (Tokyopop)
Adapted by: Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane or Karen S. Ahlstrom (Tokyopop)
Not too long ago, Seika High went from an all-boys school to a co-ed one. While girls only make up 20% of the school’s population currently and they feel threatened by the boys (this was a pretty rowdy school originally), one girl has decided to take charge and reform things. Enter Misaki Ayuzawa, the first ever girl school president, who’s the toughest and smartest teen in the school, wanting to change things for the better in her mind. Due to bad issues with her dad, who abandoned her and her mother, she has a hostile attitude towards most men. However, she has a secret that she wants to keep about working at a maid café (think of it as a café, but all of the waitresses are dressed as maids and address the customers as master) in order to support her family. Trouble is though, another student, Takumi Usui (a popular and smart guy), from the school found out her secret…
Maid-sama Vol. 1 (or Vol. 1 & 2 in this case) seems like an interesting start from what I can tell so far. It’s a series that’s definitely out of my usual comfort zone—it’s a romance series targeted at girls, but that’s beside the point. Story-wise, it initially tells a bunch of done-in-one stories about Misaki and her life as Takumi keeps butting into it whether at school or at her job. The stories don’t do much other than progress the leads and their dynamic between one another. Once the collection reaches the second volume, the first story arc happens with Misaki having to deal with a situation involving Miyabigaoka High, a rich kid school, and the school’s class president. Most of the stories are formulaic but fun, though they can get downright serious and shocking at points, and most of the time, Takumi ends up resolving the situation or helping Misaki solve it.
The main focus of the story is our two leads. Misaki is a hard-ass initially, with a big dislike for the male population due to her past and wanting to make her school more girl friendly. She takes on a lot of responsibilities as one of smartest students in the school, being the class president, and also while working part-time at the café. She even goes above and beyond the call at times, even if it takes a toll on her or makes her appear unlikeable and hard to work with. However, Takumi often jumps in to help her with advice and/or taking care of the current problem, causing her to open her eyes more and actually learning something. Misaki is a very well-rounded character that you can like or at least understand. Her biggest weakness as a character is that the creator makes her a bit too dependent on Takumi’s help (not that she actively goes out searching for it) and almost feels like she has to submit to him at points. She certainly needs help and advice to open up more, but at times, it’s gets a little uncomfortable.
I’m more concerned about the lack of teacher interference at this place.
While Misaki is a very interesting and well-developed character, Takumi is sort of the opposite. He’s not particularly likeable or well thought-out, and is just a character with very little revealed about him. At points, he comes across as very caring and helpful (trying to jump in to protect Misaki when she is threatened), but at other times, he’s very rude and acts like a possessive jerk. It feels like he is supposed to be playfully teasing our female lead, but it more often than not feels like he is pressuring, demeaning, or trying to dominate over her. Most of the uncomfortable moments of the manga come from him because of that and it’s rather hard to tell what exactly the creator wants this character to be. Either way, he’s not a good romantic lead, especially with the romance being uncomfortable to read about.
Hiro Fujiwara’s writing overall on the manga is decent enough. The pacing is reasonable in that it never comes across as too fast, too slow or sporadic. Other characters and their characterization is limited to being total jerks or totally nice individuals. There’s no real middle ground in this one, leading to a rather unremarkable supporting cast. The dialogue and narration are translated well and nothing sounds awkward or inhuman about it. Humor-wise, it’s hit or miss at points. If a joke, gag, or a bit of humor doesn’t end up working, it’s not awful nor does it make you groan. It just sort of leaves no impression on you. However, when a particular joke does work, it’s hilarious and really funny. For instance, there’s a great moment where our female lead is trying not to draw too much attention to her from a visiting school’s president, but ends up clotheslining a guy when he tries to run away from doing a makeup-exam. The reaction on everyone’s face is priceless, including her realization about her behavior in front of everyone. Finally, the romance angle of the manga is rather weak at this point. While you can see why Takumi would be into Misaki, you can’t see why she would be into him due to his attitude and behavior around her (he seems like he is constantly putting her down rather than being romantic or charming).
Fujiwara also does the artwork for the series and unfortunately, it’s the weakest part of the comic. It’s very standard Shojo style artwork in the way the characters are drawn, the cutesy look to it at times, and the emphasis to make things look more pretty or dramatic with the soft-filters or shadows used. The characters look perfectly fine (though a bit thin and scrawny in areas), though facial expressions feel limited when it comes to Takumi. There’s nothing about the art that looks all that interesting or stands out about it.
The last thing to discuss is the previous editions by Tokyopop and how they compare with this new version. Looking them over, there’s not a whole lot different between them in terms of this new translation. In terms of quality, it’s about the same in terms of the narration and dialogue—characters just say the same things in different ways (though Takumi remains a creep in both versions). Oddly though, sound effects and sometimes writing in the art in the Tokyopop version are not always translated and original Japanese text remain. It’s a choice that confuses me, but regardless, you can’t really go wrong with either version. If you still have the original Tokyopop versions, you can just stick with them until Viz translates the remaining volumes in the series.
Maid-sama! (2-in-1 Edition) Vol. 1 is an alright manga. While not being remotely a part of the target audience for this particular series, I found there are plenty of things to like about it. The female lead is pretty interesting, a bunch of the stories in the manga are nice, and some the writing and humor are pretty good. However, it’s held back by a weak male lead and the very average artwork. In the end, there are better romantic mangas out there worth reading, like Skip Beat. Though if you want to check it out, I don’t think you’ll walk away from it with a bad impression. It felt like it got a lot better the more it went along and hopefully that’s a good sign for the series going forward.
Maid-sama! is available from Viz Media. It was originally translated and put out by Tokyopop, but that run of the series only lasted eight volumes before the company went under. The series also had an anime adaption back in 2010 that was licensed by Sentai Filmworks. The anime got a Blu-ray release this year as well.