By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as "Hayate no Gotoku!" by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
This volume of Hayate was delayed almost a month for me, not being part of Diamond's March releases as it should have. Still, it turned out to be worth the wait, introducing another minor character with a giant plot point in her hand, and of course giving us more meta comedy and romance fail.
The first arc here is Sakuya's birthday party, and Nagi manages to overcome her groggy exhaustion to show up. This being Sakuya, she's aiming for comedy, something Wataru utterly fails to provide, as he manages to humiliate himself in front of his beloved Isumi. Still, at least he gets another beta-harem girl later in the volume!
(For those unaware, beta-harems are those manga/anime where there is a second, lesser male lead in the harem show who gets some of the cast-offs who don't fall for the hero. Kotaro in Negima is an excellent example. Wataru fills that void here, although notably the harems do seem to have some crossover potential.)
Meanwhile, Hinagiku finally gets Ayumu to a quiet place where she can confess her guilt-ridden love for Hayate. There's some lovely Hina-torture here due to the nature of the quiet place, providing some hysterical laughs. Still, her confession is done seriously, as is Ayumu's response. Of all the potential harem girls in Hayate, Ayumu is not only the first to have confessed, but clearly the most mature. (She notes how childish Hina is being several times.) I'd say she was a lock to win if she weren't a classic "Unlucky childhood friend", and if this weren't a manga that loves to play with cliches. But it is. Poor Hamster.
The other noticeable plot point in Sakuya's birthday party is when she and Hayate are out on her patio, with Sakuya teasing Hayate about all the girls who flock to him. She lightly accuses him of being a player, but Hayate shuts up, and we once again see a flashback to a princess-curled little girl, who screams at Hayate that she's had enough of him. Even Sakuya notices his brooding. She also notes how she wants to have a 'big brother' figure (Gilbert apparently is too stupid to count), and nominates Hayate for that, thus removing herself from the harem wars. Sakuya has been one of the more observant and mature characters, despite her Osaka comedy styles, so this isn't too much of a surprise. And we once again see how Nagi's mom's dead has affected her, with her terror of everyone eventually leaving her.
The second half of the manga deals with a school hike, up a very mildly sloped mountain with no dangers whatsoever. However, with half the cast being weak and feeble girls even by shonen standards, no mountain is too mild. And with Hayate being part of the trip, no mountain is safe, as a huge bear gets loose and starts to attack our heroes. Highlights here include Katsura-sensei's seating chart, which manages to parody both Negima and 20th Century Boys to hilarious effect, and Nagi's imagining of anthropomorphic Mt. Takao apologizing to her for being such a hard climb.
We only get one new character introduced here, and she doesn't seem like she'll play a big part, but appearances are deceiving. Her name is Aika Kasumi, and from what we see in this volume, she seems to be the 'secretly evil' yamato nadesico sort, being very polite and mild-mannered while writing things down in her book of other folk's weaknesses. She also has a pendant, similar to the evil luck-sucking pendant that Nagi's grandfather gave Hayate. She notes that it also appears to be giving her bad luck, but says that in the end it's something that money just can't buy. More foreshadowing!
This was a good solid volume of Hayate, setting up a few future plot points while remaining true to its wacky 4th-wall breaking ways. It rewards re-reads, and also manages to be a harem comedy where a) the girls aren't sex maniacs, and b) the lead isn't a complete loser (althougb he thinks he is). I really enjoy it.