Tuesday, April 30, 2013

4/30/13 -- Not So Nice Cuties

Because I figured titling this post “Dick Riding Kenjiro Hata” wouldn’t be entirely appropriate.

So I’ve been off for a couple of weeks, not because I didn’t want to write something or because I was too depressed about you-know-what, but because I wound up having to take some trips out of town for various reasons. I’m back now, and my absence has made it possible for me to do something super special.

I get to review all the available episodes of the new Hayate the Combat Butler anime. Sometimes life is good to me. So how does the latest offering from our favorite butler-in-debt fare against his previous outings? Find out after the break.

Hayate the Combat Butler: Cuties puts me in an awkward situation. At first I thought it was an anime centered around the deliciously sweet yet pleasantly tart citrus fruit known as the Clementine , but come to find out that isn’t the case. As fate would have it, the word “cuties” seems to refer to the female characters in the show.

Which is weird, because “cutie” is not the word I would use to describe Nagi Sanzenin.

Visual Approximation
The way this series structures its narrative is simple. Much like Pulp Fiction and the upcoming fourth season of Arrested Development, each episode of Cuties will center around one of the girls from the Hayate series. We begin with the staples: Nagi and Hayate (who is a female lead in his own respects) but eventually move on to characters like Athena and Ruka, characters I’m much less familiar with.

This puts me in an awkward position. I like Hayate. It’s pretty much my favorite series, but unfortunately I keep up mainly with the English translation of the manga published by Viz Media’s Shounen Sunday prints. This used to be enough to get by back when Viz was putting out three or four volumes of Hayate per year. Now we’re lucky to get two per year, and the English release is roughly ten or eleven volumes behind the Japanese release.

Couple that with the already gaping gap in the plot between anime seasons and it can be difficult to try and play catch-up without spoiling too much of what’s happened in the manga. And before anyone suggests it, no. I will not read the scanlations. If Kenjiro Hata isn’t somehow getting my money, then I will not be partaking in any form of Hayate. Just ask my Japanese art book I had no business purchasing.

Here’s what I’ve gathered so far. In Cuties, Nagi’s lost her fortune and had to sublet an old building near the mansion. This answers a few questions I had about the nature of that strange apartment building that was a prominent fixture in Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. That would mean that Cuties takes place before Can’t Take My Eyes Off You chronologically.

But that can't be right, because the first episode references Ruka's concert in Vegas from the final episodes of Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

Unfortunately that’s about all I’ve gathered. I know who Athena is (the manga isn’t that far behind) and I know a little bit about Ruka and what’s her face that hangs out with Nagi and dresses as Saber from Fate/Stay Night. This is bad. I’m hoping that Hata will cool it with the new characters for a while. I used to pride myself in Hayate being good because I could remember every character’s name due to their clearly defined personality types. Now it’s gotten to the point that I can literally call out a character as being “other Nagi”.

Where was I? Oh right! The show!

Our first episode focuses on Hayate, our favorite accidental crossdressing butler. He manages to remain in his butler uniform for the entirety of the episode, which is good because Hakuou Academy’s diabolically difficult exams are coming up, and he needs to look as dapper and capable as possible if he’s going to pass them and continue his education. He needs that degree so that he can marry Hinagiku, because I’ve decided that no matter what this is how the story will end.

Of course I’m not that lucky. Now that we know Hayate is a Madoka fan, there’s probably only one way his story will end.


Anyway, the central focus of this episode is on how hard Hayate works and how he has to balance each aspect of his life carefully. It’s actually a very interesting look at the character, a view from his perspective of sorts. See, in the past it’s felt like we’re seeing Hayate’s story from an outside perspective. This was mostly due to the hilarious wisecracking narrator. It’s a well-executed comedy device, but it has the effect of removing you from the story in a way.

This is why the fact that Norio Wakamoto’s narrator is once again MIA in this story is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it makes the story, the struggles that these familiar characters have to face, a little more engaging. The narrative feels more focused, like it’s able to tell an interesting story and let the humor of situations come across on their own without a disembodied voice sort of directing our laughter where it needs to go.

On the other hand, it really does make the show less funny. This is a comedy series. Not only does it have to tell a good story with characters that you care about, it also has to make you laugh and deliver solid comedic moments. Just from writing this blog, I know how difficult it is to try and tell jokes while still delivering some semblance of thought-provoking analysis and critical evaluation of whatever I wound up watching on any given week.

"Sword Art Online? More like Sword Fart Online!"
Fortunately, the story in the first episode is told fairly well. Hayate is pretty good at his job, and it shows us how booked his schedule is. From cooking to cleaning and studying, it seems like Hayate can do it all, and he does it all on about four hours’ sleep. Or as we teachers call it: “Sleeping in.”

Unfortunately, there’s one more thing that Hayate has, and it isn’t as helpful as his strong work ethic. The day before the final exam, everyone in the apartment building suddenly comes down with a wicked case of the cold. EVERYONE. This means that poor Hayate has to take care of everyone. Unfortunately, as you might be aware, the common cold is quite contagious, and before he knows it, Hayate has caught everyone’s cold.

Did I mention that the final exam is drawing very near? I was actually in a situation like this a couple of years back. I definitely failed the test.

Now super sick, Hayate tries to power through and make it to school, but not before getting distracted by a multitude of personal favors, monster attacks, and Yukiji being a horrible teacher.

In the end, Hayate is able to survive the test by almost passing out from exhaustion. He returns home to find that the girls have all made dinner to repay Hayate for taking care of them while they were sick. It’s their turn to take care of him.

Okay, so the plot isn’t Earth-shattering in importance, but Cuties demonstrates in its first episode that it has all the elements of an effective slice-of-life anime. It puts the characters first and develops the story based around situations specific to their wants and needs to give an insight into who they are as individuals. The comedy may suffer for it, but this was a promising first episode that left me looking forward to the next week’s story.

At least until I realized who next week’s story was centered around.

That’s not fair to say. I don’t dislike Nagi. I just think she’s the least interesting character of the bunch. Well… even that’s not entirely true.

That’s Fumi. She’s just about the worst thing to come out of Hayate the Combat Butler. Based on the premise of this show, I’m assuming she’ll get her own episode. More on her later.

In any event, Nagi is the least interesting to me because of the way she comes across in the series. Too often it seems that stories that revolve around her aren’t suited to her character. As a result, she never really grows, and she rarely ever experiences any development as a character. It’s not to say that she’s stagnant, it’s just that the audience is left with the impression that aside from her crush, Hayate has had no real impact in Nagi’s life.

Hell, even Kenji Harima started to try and clean up his act after Tenma walked into his life. He applied himself to his hobby, he started coming to school every day, and he started thinking about his actions before committing to them. His love for Tenma shaped who he was and motivated him to become better.

That kind of motivation is present in Nagi as well, but it’s often underutilized and makes the character come across as weak. The only thing that anyone seems to find memorable is the fact that Nagi happens to be voiced by Rie Kugimiya.

Now that I’ve rambled about the finer points of Nagi’s characterization, I have to say that this show handled her episode really well. Again, by playing to various aspects of Nagi’s personality, they were able to tell a story that I was interested in.

One of the main plots of this episode focuses on Nagi’s desire to be seen as an adult in the eyes of Hayate. Unfortunately, her life as a slacking, would-be mangaka leaves her slightly ill-equipped to appear to have any amount of maturity. At worst she’s a thirteen year old girl, and at best she’s as mature as an intellectually gifted fourteen year old.

An event in this episode that I found particularly effective was one where she encountered an adult video that got reshelved in the wrong section of Wataru’s video rental store. Naturally, she was appalled that such content would be easily accessible, but at the same time, she’s curious about what kind of things are actually in an adult video. As she performs a hilarious dialogue about “fake” renting it so that she can yell at Waka if he accidentally checks the video out to her, Hayate startles her and causes her to knock over the shelf of DVDs. In haste, she scoops up as many DVDs as she can, along with one of the R-18+ videos, which Waka accidentally rents out to her.

She’s about to watch it at home, when it’s suddenly revealed that she grabbed the wrong adults-only DVD. In a humorous inversion of the animation age ghetto principle, she figures that it’s still rated for 18 and older, so it has to be the same as the one she was interested in. All R-rated movies are the same, right?

Nope. She rents a horror movie, supposedly one of the scariest ever made. The movie effectively traumatizes her to the point that she refuses to be without Hayate for any stretch of time. It’s a great instance where her desire to seem more grown up is juxtaposed with the fact that she’s still very much a child. There’s some things you aren’t ready for at that age.

So Nagi’s episode was fine. What about episode 3? This was one that I had no idea what I was expecting. The character focus in episode 3 was supposedly Athena, a character I admittedly know very little about. Fortunately, I don’t think I needed to know anything about her, as the anime seemed to go out of its way to ensure that they didn’t tell me anything about her.

All I know is that she was Hayate’s first love when he was in grade school. Most of her role in the story (that I’m aware of so far) take place during the “End of the World” story arc, a nine part section of the manga that represents one of the high points in the series. I don’t know anything about her outside of this arc, though.

Unfortunately, this episode did nothing to advance the character. At all. It’s pretty much the reason this post took so long to write and/or post this review. The Athena episode perfectly encapsulates the problem I have with this show.

I just can’t get excited to watch this Hayate anime, and you have no idea how hard this sentence is to write. I just threw up. My body is rejecting my ambivalence towards Cuties. Don’t get me wrong, this show does some things very well. The first episode was a strong start that promised some solid character development. Nagi’s episode started to shift focus a bit, but was still a pretty well-crafted episode. Athena’s episode, however, was one of the most ill-focused, poorly conceived examples of storytelling I can think of.

One of! I said One of!
Episode 3 also directly contradicts the proposed format of the show, with episodes focusing on each of the show’s female characters. Athena is barely in this episode, or at the very least her presence isn’t strong enough to give you the sense that she has any importance to the events of the episode in any way. The episode about Athena is more about Saki and Wataru than anything else, as their story in the second act of the episode is far more interesting than anything Athena does over the course of the entire 22 minute episode. Hell, they should have just made this Saki’s episode. I probably would have liked this episode more, because at least then I wouldn’t feel lied to.

I also have it on good authority that the entire third act of this episode is taken from a story in the manga that is actually about Isumi. They just swapped in Athena for Isumi and called it good. Not okay. That pretty much screams “I have to fill a character quota” and it doesn’t make a good case for each character being distinct individuals who think and act differently from each other. Shame on you, Hayate. You’re better than this.

After an above-average first season, a phenomenal second season, and the criminally underrated Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Cuties fails to deliver the laughs and excitement of its predecessors. I do not anxiously await new episodes like I did for Can’t Take My Eyes Off You or either of the first two seasons, but rather I’m watching episodes because I happened to remember that a new one should be up on Crunchyroll on a particular day and I “guess I should try to catch up.”

For every step forward it takes in terms of character development (Hayate and, to a lesser extent, Nagi) it takes two steps back and seems to make the case that having a hefty volume of heroines to choose from isn’t automatically a good thing (Athenasode 3). I guess what I’m trying to say is that this show suffers from a variant of Pretty Cure All Stars syndrome.
That's not fair. I'm pretty sure there are fewer Pretty Cures than there are
characters in Hayate the Combat Butler.
I’ll probably still watch it, though. As a fan of the source material, I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t watch it. I don’t hate it, after all. I just have no strong feelings about it. The next episode is going to be about Sakuya and Isumi, and those two are always good for a laugh. Not only that, but the two of them share a history and have a character dynamic that I’m actually interested in exploring. The Hinagiku episode is after that, but beyond that there isn’t too much that I’m looking forward to, aside from the Ruka Suirenji episode down the road.

Oh well. Each episode has a different ending theme that the central character of the episode sings, so at the very least we’re getting a new Shizuka Itou single out of it. She, unlike Hayate, has yet to disappoint me.

Again, sorry about the delay on this one. I’ve yet to review a show that actively made me as unenthusiastic to review an anime as this one did. I’ll try to be back next week with a more exciting topic.

… Actually… If I’m going to watch Cuties, I might just take you all down with me. Until I decide that it’s gone from disappointing to just plain bad, I’ll be featuring an episode of Cuties as the week’s third show. I’ll be back this weekend with a fresh batch of shows to sample.

Until then, keep your knees loose and always turn left.


  1. I bet you talk about Toradora in the next post. :P

    Sorry to hear this was a bit disappointing. I know that feeling in terms of long-running series.

    1. If I can find an excuse, I will. I've already watched the Cuties episode for next week and (surprise) it wasn't very good.

      Also, our conversations on Monday afternoon are what inspired the "Sword Fart Online" joke. Just thought you should know. You get a consulting credit for this post.