Overdone stereotypes given new life through character development
Kaichou wa Maid-sama! Or Maid-Sama as it is commonly called, is an anime/manga about a classic tsundere girl and the perfect boy that loves her. Her name is Misaki and she’s a smart, athletic girl struggling to make the school she is student council president of a better place while also trying to help support her family by working at a maid cafe. Misaki wants to keep her job at the maid cafe secret from everyone who knows her due to its fetishistic and therefore demeaning nature. The perfect boy’s name is Usui and he’s a smart, athletic heartthrob who knows about her job. He promises to keep her occupation a secret and the challenges of this arrangement causes are what propel a great deal of the plot. Sounds pretty cliched right? While the basic concept of the plot and the characters seems highly unoriginal, a frequent amount of well written character development enhances these standards and makes Maid-Sama stand out.
I’m a writer at my core so one of the main things that draws me to any story is good writing. From video games to TV series to novels, having either a strong narrative or well-written characters will make me into a fan pretty quickly. Pieces that unite these two become part of my top ten favorites in their particular genre. (See West Wing for an amazing example of this from the TV series category). I will admit I was initially drawn to Maid-Sama! due to the lolita style maid costumes. Lolita fashion is a favorite clothing style of mine and anything including a Lolita in it has my attention. While I was drawn to the show for the cute clothes worn at the maid cafe, I am a fan due to the consistent character development of Misaki and the strong characterization of Usui.
Misaki starts out the series as a classic tsundere, though like Kaname of Full Metal Panic! I feel a great deal of her rage is justified. Her father deserted her mother, sister and her, forcing them all to cut corners to the extreme. Their house is in an immense state of disrepair and the poverty they experience is jokingly emphasized by her sister’s constant contest entering. Her father’s abandonment of their family has caused her to hate and distrust men.
Another cause of her annoyance towards men is the school she attends. It was just recently changed from an all boys school to co-ed when Misaki enters it. The male portion of the student body have a lackadaisical relationship with the rules and often attempt to push female students around. She rises to the position of Student Council president so as to eliminate these problems and hopeful convince more girls to attend the school. Overall the male students deserve at least her annoyance and she hopes being harsh with them with make them become better members of the student body. Dealing with an entire high school filled with difficult boys does not warm the cockles of her heart towards men.
Even a girl with reasons for her rage does not a interesting character make. Misaki’s consistent character growth is one of the things that keeps her tsundere from getting stale. The more time she spends with Usui, the more the chinks in her armor show. One of the ways her feelings come through is that fact that she lets him hold her and even sometimes willingly returns the embrace. This may not seem like much, but allowing and participating in physical affection is a big step for someone as emotionally stunted as she is. The most obvious of her feelings is her own “annoyance” at him, particularly after he has done something sweet or forward. At these points, Misaki always describes her feeling as being annoyed but the audience can see that she is just uncomfortable with her own growing feelings. Though the very definition of a tsundere includes the warming of the heart towards the main male character, these changes are happening steadily unlike the glacier pace many tsunderes warm up at. This increased pace keeps Misaki from growing too annoying.
Usui is a man of mystery but the complicated nature of his character keeps him from becoming boring to watch. One of the most blatant aspects of his character is his love for Misaki. Upon realizing the difficulties she had faced to get where she is (Top of class, talented athlete and class president), he seems to fall hard for her. While his love for her is constant, it is not the pure courtly love of the medieval knight stories. Usui commonly straight up tell her that he’d like to grope her or jokingly requests sexual favors. Though I doubt he expects anything to come of this other then being called a pervert, he inter-spaces such comments between telling her such sweet things as that she is perfect for him or that she is cute. I feel that this is a highly romantic but slightly realistic way to portray his feelings. He loves her, all of her, which due to being a teenage means that he’d liked to jump her as soon as is convenient.
Usui’s careful pursuit of Misaki also makes him into a more enjoyable love interest then many. His attempts to be with her are near constant and therefore result in a through amount of stalking. He understands that what he is doing is stalking and cracks jokes at his own expense about it. Even more forward then the stalking are his declarations of feelings, and the hugs or kisses he steals. These often result in Misaki blushing and being confused. Having a man straight up admit his feelings is hard for her to grasp due to her emotional immaturity. These romantic interludes are less and less causing her to freak out and pull away as she grows up but due to the skillful nature of his courtship, he has a way to remedy her freak outs. He fixes their budding relationship by doing something odd. Frequently but not always this unusual thing is hitting on the youthful and slightly feminine male vice-president of student council. By doing such odd things as kissing a guy, Usui makes it so that Misaki can re-orientate her brain towards thinking that Usui is just a pervert, hiding the niggling feeling that Usui’s feeling might be real under a silly lie.
While Maid-sama is not a classic piece of literature, it is good and the characters either complexity or consistent development keeps what could be a one note tale from getting stale. It is nice to see that the romantic comedy genre of anime is not entirely populated with Love Hinas. (Sorry Love Hina fans, but if you can eloquently explain the constant furnace of rage which is Naru, I’ll take it back)
I’d recommend this show to anyone who loves rom-coms and also anyone who once enjoyed rom-coms but has given up the genre due to the constant beatings of male protagonists. It may surprise you.