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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kamen no Maid Guy: Kukuku... Seems the World is Not Yet Ready for Male Maids

Yoshiki Fukuyama has an interesting spot as a member of JAM Project, because he's the only member to have had prior (notable) anime success as part of a larger group. Specifically, his old band Humming Bird was chosen to be the sound behind Macross 7's rock band Fire Bomber, with Fukuyama himself being the singing voice of main character Basara Nekki. Not just that, but following the end of that anime, Humming Bird would continue being used for anime & game themes, from its debuts with 1997's City Hunter: Good Bye My Sweetheart & Next Senki Ehrgeiz to the band's final singles with 1999's Macross VF-X2 & Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon. Since teaming with JAM, Fukuyama hasn't done too much solo work when it comes to anime themes, with his themes to Overman King Gainer & Buso Renkin being possibly his most iconic. In fact, Yoshiki Fukuyama hasn't had a solo anime theme song since 2008!

2004's Kamen no/Masked Maid Guy was the debut manga for Maruboro Akai in the pages of Monthly Dragon Age, home of titles like Triage X, Highschool of the Dead, & many manga adaptations of light novels. It would run until 2012 for 15 volumes, & during serialization saw two adaptations. First was a radio drama series in 2006, & following that was a 12-episode TV anime adaptation by Madhouse during the Spring of 2008; the later home video release added an extra OVA episode. Unfortunately, 2008 was one of the worst times for anime to see initial airing & release from an international perspective (at least for North America), because that was during the time the bubble burst, which meant that it was sandwiched between the old days of stuff being grabbed left & right for home video & the current days of almost everything being simulcasted for streaming. Because of that, it got passed over without much ado.

Combine that with the fact that Geneon Entertainment Japan was handling the home video release, which itself was about to enter a merger with Universal Japan (now NBC Universal Japan), & Kamen no Maid Guy still remains with any sort of official release in English; there are fansubs, but it was definitely a victim of unfortunate timing. I say this because I felt back then, & still do today, that Maid Guy could have been, at the very least, a strong sleeper hit for its time, because it, quite literally, has just about everything that sells housed inside it. Yes, it's as insane as that sounds.

Naeka Fujiwara & her little brother Kousuke have been living on their own while their parents left the country for a trip. One day, though, their rich grandfather Zenjuro decides to give them a pair of maids to help them live a peaceful life, especially since the siblings polluted their home on their own so much that it became national television. Kousuke gets the ideal Fubuki, while Naeka gets Kogarashi... An overly muscular "Maid Guy" who wears a mask over his eyes. Unbeknownst to the siblings, though, is the true reason why their grandfather sent them their maids. The rich magnate has a massive inheritance for his next of kin, and all of his many grandchildren have since been snuffed out; even Naeka & Kousuke's parents have actually gone missing. Therefore, Naeka & her brother are the last remaining next of kin, and with 173 days remaining until Naeka's 18th birthday, when she can officially claim the inheritance, it's up to Fubuki & (especially) Kogarashi to protect them from those who wish to kill them.

Kamen no Maid Guy is easily described as an absurdist comedy that revels in its insanity & perversion, but never to the detriment of any characters. I bring up that last bit mainly because one of the most often seen gags revolves around Naeka's 88 cm bust, and the show really gets a ton of mileage out of it. For example, Episode 2 is all about Naeka having to ace a make-up math test, or else she's out of the Kendo team up through the finals, and everyone blames it on Naeka's giant chest. In fact, Fubuki, who herself suffers from a similar plight, gives the basic history of the work of (the completely fake) Prof. Schneider, a German milk physicist who studied the link between bust size & memory before disappearing in Chichibu, Saitama during World War II. In turn, Kogarashi decides to slap Naeka into a steel breastplate to compress her chest, only for it burst open violently during the make-up test... Because Naeka's breasts are that powerful. Combined with Kogarashi's earnest attempts to serve his master, which early on enter the realm of sexual harassment (though Naeka always gets her vengeance on him), and it's easy to see that this anime makes no qualms about being pervy for the joke of it. Hell, Naeka's breasts even have a fan club in the form of the male Kendo Club, & Naeka herself has Saki, a female classmate who's desperately in love with her; if you want legitimate sexual harassment, then just look at her.

Granted, it's not like the characters themselves are paragons in & of themselves, either. Naeka is more or less purposefully showcased as a bit of a self-hypocrite, so she feels annoyed by her large chest while also taking pride in it, she loves Kendo & wants to follow "The Way of the Sword" while also admitting that she mainly takes up the sport in order to keep her weight in check, and even has a pair of reading glasses for studying, even though she instantly falls asleep whenever she tries to actually study; amusing stuff like those. Kousuke is an eroge-obsessed fat gamer, though his weight is due more to his love of food (a quick gag in Episode 6 actually shows that he's rather handsome when in shape), but is essentially proud of his state of life, though he does appreciate the new maids making life better for him & his sister. Fubuki is your more traditional maid from a visual perspective, but she's always more than ready for any situation, with her nail-studded wooden bat being her most at-the-ready weapon. She takes her job extremely seriously, even feeling heavy shame when she gets sick in one episode. Still, the main attraction of the main cast is easily the titular Maid Guy himself.

Fitting the title itself, Kogarashi absolutely steals every second he's featured in. He has a freak-of-nature physical build, claims to have 37 senses (instead of the five that normal humans have), and has a wide assortment of special abilities, like Maid Guy Eye (X-Ray vision that lets him see through clothing), Maid Guy Hair Sensor (his hair grows into sentient vines to ward off foes), Maid Guy Freezing Voice (he can freeze normal people into place for 30 minutes), etc. That being said, Kogarashi isn't completely unstoppable, as the most common gag is having either Fubuki or Naeka beat Kogarashi down into a pool of blood, using whatever bladed weapons they have on hand, due to his actions pissing them off. Said punishment is primarily due to the fact that Kogarashi is completely straightforward in his intentions, usually to the point of annoyance. For example, when a threat to Naeka is identified only by the fact that she wears Strawberry panties, Kogarashi uses his super speed to snatch panties off of every high school girl at Naeka's school, without them realizing it, in order to find out who the threat is. While Fubuki detonates a remote explosive in order to punish Kogarashi for his insane plan, the Maid Guy was simply thinking of the most direct path to finding the new enemy. He's also very blunt when it comes to Naeka & Fubuki, having no qualms at pointing out their self-induced problems to them & the like.

Still, what's probably most surprising about Kamen no Maid Guy is that, hidden within the insanity & perverted humor, there's a real sense of heart & family to be found. Naeka & Kousuke are a loving pair of siblings, Fubuki & Kogarashi truly mean for nothing more than to protect their masters from any & all harm (even if it comes from themselves), & you get a real sense that they all truly do care for each other. One of the best examples of this is in Episode 6, where Naeka forces everyone to go on a diet because she's worried that she's gained a little weight, which only exacerbates the cold that Fubuki caught in the shower earlier that morning. Naeka & Fubuki act like sisters who decide to work together to better themselves & each other, Kousuke plays along (even if he doesn't really care about losing weight) & results in the previously-mentioned weight gag, and Kogarashi gets things like dinner ready for when the three of them are done torturing themselves. When Fubuki then gets ill, Naeka tries her hardest to heal her, even if her cooking can kill, & Kogarashi reinvigorates Fubuki's feelings to train harder & become a better maid. Very quickly, the four of them become a believable family... An admittedly bizarre & crazy family, but one that at least truly cares. Hell, there are even episodes dedicated mostly to Miwa & Eiko, Naeka's friends, & even the Leader of the Men's Kendo Club/Naeka's Breasts Fanclub, which is very welcome.

But what about the whole "people trying to kill Naeka in order to claim the inheritance" concept? Well, the anime doesn't really focus on it much until the final (TV-aired) episode. One rival is introduced early on in the form of Elizabeth K. Strawberryfield, a 13-year-old prodigy who has twin ninja maids at her service, but she becomes part of the supporting cast more than anything after her introduction; even her maids Shizuku & Tsurara effectively disappear until the finale. Said finale essentially teases what the later plot of the manga would be like, with the introduction of a primary rival to the inheritance & his own female masked maid who can stand up to Kogarashi in a fight; Naeka still has 124 days until coming of age by the end. Oh well, at least it's not as much of a tease as other shows that end inconclusively due to it being a manga adaptation, as it was relatively episodic up until then. As for the DVD-exclusive episode, it has Naeka & company on a deserted island that her grandfather owns a villa on for a vacation, only to wind up taking on an elderly & super-perverted version of the legendary Urashima Taro, and it's easily the most perverted episode of all. In a nice touch, though, the perverseness actually makes perfect sense once you see the amusing twist at the very end.

Why a cow? Because Naeka has giant udders... Brilliant.

Kamen no Maid Guy follows the general trend for Madhouse in that it looks very nice visually, and the kinetic nature of the animation fits director Masayuki Sakoi (Needless, Princess Resurrection) well, minus maybe a slightly awkward face or two in rare instances. That being said, those flaws are super rare, & the character designs by Kouta Sakai (Higurashi - When They Cry, Sakura Trick), under the alias Koume Aoi, look to be accurate to Akai's style, which matches the mania well. The writing headed up by Kazuyuki Fudeyasu (Ben-To, Monster Musume) is super sharp & clever, with jokes hitting their mark extremely well, banter between characters is both amusing & endearing, & situations resolve in both unexpected & humorous ways. Finally, the music by Kaoru Okubo (Da Capo II, School Days) isn't exactly something to grab the OST for, but every track perfectly fits the moment it's used in, & there are even some arrangements of classical standards that are used in the most silly moments; the dissonance is great. The opening theme is "Special Life!" by KOTOKO, and I remember this song being a very sharp change from what I knew of this female singer back in the day. I knew of her through themes for Kannazuki no Miko & Baldr Force.EXE, which were both very heavy on techno, but her Maid Guy theme is absolutely high-energy J-Pop; thankfully, this song is intensely addictive & tons of fun to listen to. The ending theme is "Work Guy!!" by Yoshiki Fukuyama, and compared to KOTOKO's it's downright dark insanity. Combined with footage of Naeka & Fubuki trying their hardest to escape the ghastly clutches of Kogarashi, Fukuyama goes crazed with devilish energy in one of his most enjoyable anime themes.

The voice cast is perfectly fitting for the insanity held within, but the undisputed champion of them all is easily Rikiya Koyama (Takamura in Hajime no Ippo, Tora in Ushio & Tora), whose Kogarashi is perfectly earnest yet blunt. The fact that Koyama handles the next episode previews with his natural voice is amusing, too, because it really shows how much he gruffs his voice for a role like this. Following Koyama is Yuka Iguchi (Index in A Certain Magical Index, Miku Kohinata in Symphogear), who delivers an excellent Naeka in all manners, whether it's embarrassed, prideful, angry, or confused (or any combination). Megumi Toyoguchi (Revy in Black Lagoon, Klan Klang in Macross Frontier) plays Fubuki, hitting the moments of care, love, anger (at Kogarashi), & bashfulness very well. In the role of Kousuke is Daisuke Sakaguchi (Youhei in Clannad, Shinpachi in Gintama), who plays up the innocently-perverted otaku nature of the character in an amusing way. Liz is performed by Saki Fujita (Ymir in Attack on Titan, vocaloid Hatsune Miku), who plays up her English nature with numerous uses of actual English words, and they are all used in proper fashion (though it doesn't make it sound any less "random"). The rest of the supporting cast is handled by the likes of Yuko Kaida (Saki), Tokuyoshi Kawashima (Breast Club Leader), Mugihito (Zenjuro), Emiri Kato (Eiko), Yu Kobayashi (Miwa), Akemi Kanda (Shizuku), & Hiroe Oka (Tsurara). Overall, it's a very spirited cast that matches the madcap insanity the characters constantly finds themselves in.

So, does Kamen no Maid Guy truly have "just about everything that sells housed inside it," as I mentioned at the top? Admittedly, that is a bit of hyperbole, but not as much as you'd think, because the show really does squeeze a lot of content into his "single cour" length. You've got zany comedy over everything, but there's a little bit of action at times, plenty of silly fanservice (& tons of poking fun at the concept), absurd manliness in the form of Kogarashi, a hint of slice of life (though I don't think anyone would really want Naeka's life), & even a bit of (one-sided) yuri in the form of Saki. Had this anime aired either a couple of years earlier or later than it did, then I would guarantee that this would have been a notable success in North America, either by getting picked up by the likes of ADV Films, Media Blasters, or even Geneon Entertainment; either that, or CrunchyRoll would have easily simulcasted it. Unfortunately, Geneon Japan was likely the biggest reason why Maid Guy got left out when it came to coming over to North America. Not only was the American anime industry barely recovering from the 2007 bubble burst, but the Geneon/Universal merger in Japan literally made it impossible for any Region 1 company to license anime from that entity for a couple of years; even something as big as Hellsing Ultimate was heavily affected by it. By the time Geneon Universal Japan titles were able to get picked up again, Kamen no Maid Guy had essentially come & gone, and there were plenty of other titles, both brand new productions & previously-licensed catalog picks, to grab in place of it.

Still, I do hope that, one day, a company will remember this show's existence, because it's not just as zany & funny as it starts out, but it also has a true caring heart deep inside just waiting to be showcased. Plus, I'd love to hear an English interpretation of a character like Kogarashi.

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