Sunday, July 4, 2010

Maid-sama! Volume 5

By Hiro Fujiwara. Released in Japan as "Kaichō wa Maid-sama!" by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Writing a shoujo manga where the plot is 'will they get together?' can be very difficult. Most shoujo romances I see, especially from Hakusensha, fall into 2 categories: 1) the heroine hooking up with the hero is the purpose of the manga, and it will end when she realizes her feelings; and 2) The hero and heroine hook up at some point during the manga, and the rest of it is fighting various things designed to cause trouble for them, and trying to get 'closer' (without getting too explicit - this is Hakusensha, not Shogakukan).

The difficulty with this, of course, is that you risk irritating your audience. Otomen makes fun of this exact point, having Juta desperate to get Asuka and Ryo closer so that his own manga can develop, but the two are trapped in a classic 'shy and oblivious' circle. Maid-sama has a similar problem, but in this case it's all about Misaki getting over her dislike of men and coming to accept Usui has genuine feelings for her, and it's not just about his sadistic love of teasing.

We understand where Usui's coming from, because he's right, seeing Misaki flustered and blushing *is* fantastic. She's never cuter than when she's warring with herself, as best exemplified by the final chapter in this volume, where we see her attempting to care for Usui after he broke an arm protecting her from a fall. Her cooking is horrible, and she laments that she's unable to do anything for him, even after all he's done for her.

Of course, Usui knows this is stupid, because he's seen how strong Misaki can be. The butler contest shows her at her stubborn best, taking on a herculean task because of Usui's rival Igarashi being a giant jerk. (Didn't he try to sexually assault her when last we saw him? I'd expect a little more venom for him than we got, really.) She's good at the physical, but not so much at the elegant, which is where Usui can take control. And she's really good at laying into selfish people and coming up with the perfect rant to make everything better, which is what happens here.

The plot is inching along, slowly - we see Igarashi hinting that Usui should enjoy his freedom while it lasts. I've seen this sort of plot in a few other manga, notably Ouran High School Host Club and The Magic Touch, so I suspect that he's in some way connected to an obscenely rich family, and will be having that old arranged marriage hanging over his head soon. I could be wrong, though.

The other characters are there, but more than any other volume this is a two-hander. Misaki and Usui dominate, and if you like them I think you'll like the volume. No, it doesn't look as if Misaki will be getting over her denial and getting together with Usui anytime soon, but at least she's blushing and stammering more and more each time out.

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