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Manga Review: Hayate the Combat Butler
Quite frankly, as much as I enjoy anime, It's always good to sit down with a manga. Hayate the Combat Butler (Japanese: Hayate no Gotoku) is definitely one of my personal favorites. Despite the fact that there is a three season anime (with a fourth one planned), and a movie, I still enjoy laying back and just reading the books, although, I admit, I've had much difficulties locating the light novels, which are important because contain stories that aren't in the anime or manga, yet they are canon to the storyline. Although the story makes sense without the light novels, there is the occasional reference to an event that occurred in them.
That aside, Hayate no Gotoku is a slice-of life comedy about a young boy whose parents are gambling addicts. One day, they abandon him to the Yakuza, who plan on harvesting and selling his organs to make up for debts owed them by the parents gambling problems. So, in order to pay off his debt, he tries to kidnap a young, rich girl, but accidentally saves her from other kidnappers. This girl, Nagi Senzenin, happens to be the sole heir to a multi-trillion yen fortune (over a billion dollars in America). Nagi, confused and thinking Hayate has confessed his love for her, pays the Yakuza members in full, and hires Hayate as a butler/bodyguard to pay off his debt. And thus the story begins. Yes, that's a lot to cover in the first few chapters. But hey, when serialized weekly, you have to try to keep the audience interested so you need to have a bit of a fast pace.
It's hard to aptly describe the series. It's basically shonen, disguised cleverly as a shojo manga. While the hero is clearly Hayate, it plays a lot on romantic themes, and despite "needing Hayate to protect her" (Hayate is not the first person to attempt to kidnap her), Nagi is not as weak or as dumb as she might first seem. In fact, when she needs to, she is fully capable of taking the situation into her own hands, and making difficult decisions with full knowledge of the consequences. Additionally, besides the common slice of life flaws of skipping school so she can sleep in, her biggest flaw is that she doesn't really know her flaws, and when she comes face to face with a challenge that she has to struggle with - and occasionally loses, she gets very depressed. But despite sometime not knowing the difference between what she is and isn't capable of, she's extremely smart and definitely one of the stronger female leads I've seen in anime or manga, especially a shonen manga.
Then again, while I would like to see more strong female leads, shonen normally really doesn't set that bar high. But that's why there are plenty of other strong female characters in the manga. Particularly Maria, Nagi's maid, seems to rule the household with an iron fist (Even Nagi's bodyguards are afraid of her) but at the same time, is a tender, loving, big sister to almost everyone she meets.
Also, Hinagiku Katsura, the series resident tsundere, is the intelligent and beautiful student council president. First in athletics, grades, and intimidating Hayate, we see a softer more mature side when she begins to realize her own feeling for Hayate, yet also see her struggling as she pushes them aside because her friend also likes him. She struggles, and in a Japanese way, is still very feminine, although the characters don't often see it.
Enough about how this breaks away with usual anime tradition, and on to what else makes the series so great. Number one, the artwork. It is amazingly simple, yet incredibly realistic. Hata-sensei can draw extremely vivid images with a simple series of well places lines. Compared to other manga's I've read, Hata-sensei's images have much more detail, yet fewer pen strokes. This is a huge turn compared to a lot of the anime I've read in the past, most of which started serialization in the 80's, in which while the art steadily improved over time, pictures were still much more complex than they needed to be. It might be because the series is serialized weekly, compared to my monthly series that I normally view.
Another thing the series does well is braking the fourth wall. The characters frequently acknowledge that they are in a manga, and sometimes even interact with the narrator and read each other's internal monologues. However, they do this to great comedic event, and don't overplay it. Think of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" when Eddie asks Roger if he could have taken his handcuffs off himself at any time (as Eddie is trying to saw the handcuffs off), to which Roger replies "Not just anytime. Only when it's funny!"
Also, there is a lot of action and battle scenes. As a series that parodies a lot of anime and video games, Hayate fights everything from King Midas' tormented spirit - possessing the body of his first love no less - to killer robots and mechas, to even an evil nun (what?). For some reason, his body is almost immune to severe harm, and he does it all for the sake of protecting those around him he cares about - even if they are completely unaware. Hence why Hayate "always seems to have gotten himself caught up in some misunderstanding."
Overall, the story is quite well written, although the faster pace is sometimes due to shorter chapters (usually between 16-20 pages in length) and is definitely not your usual shonen manga. At 399 chapters (in Japan), it's a lot of catching up to do, but absolutely worth it (I've just finished chapter 356 myself), but it's published in japan weekly, so even though translating puts us behind in the English language world, tenkoubon releases are still pretty frequent, even in North America.
Oh, and for those interested, on the Fanservice Scale, I rate this a Love Hina. Tons of visual gags, crude and otherwise, but not a lot of actual talk about sex, and any nudity is discreetly hidden. Hope you can all catch up!