Monday, November 29, 2010

Maid-sama! Volume 7

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.

I'll be honest, there was a lot of this volume that didn't really work for me. It ends with a side-story featuring Aoi and the other minor male characters in the series, the premise of which seems to involve Aoi trying to drive them away by being mean and the others not noticing because this is what they call friendship (and it's implied they've grown used to abuse from Misaki). I don't especially mind Aoi, but the story just never gelled for me, and the lack of Misaki until the climax hurt it. The first chapter, in which Misaki dressed as a Visual Kei hottie in order to help her fellow maid get out of an embarrassing date, is also not great, mostly as it's nothing we haven't seen before. Misaki is determined, Usui watching over her and teasing her, etc.

However, this is made up for with the other chapters. In one of them, she has to take her childhood friend Hinata to the maid cafe... while not giving away that she works there. I had actually forgotten the reason she hides her profession is merely embarrassment and worry what people would think. I'm so used to manga where part-time jobs are forbidden by the school that I assumed it was for that reason. As a result, I was taken aback by Honoka, another one of the maids, just laying into Misaki for making light of the rest of them and treating her job as a shameful thing. (Honoka and Usui seem to have a common trait in inspiring Misaki, but while Usui enrages her, Honoka depresses her.) This Hinata now knows about her job as well, but at least she can stop trying to lie to him.

There's a great flashback in this chapter where we see young Misaki yelling at young Hinata for not crying over the death of his parents. She tells him that you should never lie about your feelings. She recalls this in the chapter, and it helps inspire her to reveal her job to Hinata, but more importantly it sets up the next two chapters, which are essentially the payoff we've been waiting seven books for. Misaki and her friends (plus Usui) go to a school festival, which happens to be at the school of those J-Rock fakers we saw a volume or so ago. It turns out that Sakura is still dating the lead singer, and that he may actually be shaping up a bit. Due to the insane popularity of the band, Sakura and Shizuko get swept into the crowd, leaving Misaki and Usui to wander the festival... including having their fortune told. The fortune is clearly rigged, giving them bad luck in love so that they have to take their special love challenge as a result.

I've mentioned guys being hard to read in shoujo reviews before, particularly Naoko in Itazura Na Kiss. Usui is not very much like him, but also has a certain quality that makes it hard for the reader to really tell what he's thinking, mostly as he's so good at hiding it from Misaki. We *think* that Usui was briefly affected by the fortune telling, but since he so quickly converts it to his usual teasing we can't be sure. And so he and Misaki end up doing the love test, which involves a series of dumb feats they have to do without letting go of each other's hands. Needless to say, anything that is a competition is going to be a piece of cake for these two, and as a result they're invited to the school dance at the end (normally restricted to students from the school only.)

And so Misaki, who has noticed Usui acting weird despite his best efforts, is feeling out of sorts. This is not helped by the singer from the band, who in defending his relationship with Sakura is aghast that Misaki and Usui still aren't a couple. "So... what? Are you still making him wait for you?" is his blunt assessment, and it gets Misaki even more upset. Due to her family life and her sheer bullheadedness, the feelings she has for Usui are terrifying and alien to her, and doing the competition didn't help. The whole thing comes to a head in an abandoned classroom, where Misaki asks Usui if he's holding back for her, and he tries to get her to open up (something he usually avoids, except obliquely). He points out that, unlike EVERYONE else she deals with, including Hinata, she lies to him constantly about her feelings. No, she's not blushing. No, she really hates him. Etc.

And so finally, she tells him the truth - she wanted to hold hands with him the entire day. But he makes her so confused that she has no idea what this means. And so (and really, we can't blame his passions for being inflamed by this, as Misaki has never been more attractive and adorable in her blushy indecisiveness) he shows her how he feels. And tells her. While I felt the chapter went on too long (it had 20 extra pages that month, and the chapter gives a sense of being dragged out as much as possible), the emotional punch of the payoff works great. Of course, we don't get a confession on her end (something Usui immediately points out), but by now Misaki saying she hates Usui has BECOME an expression of love - she even yells at him when he notes it, saying only she is allowed to say that to him.

So not perfect, and following it with the Aoi side story didn't help, bujt still, I am very grateful to Maid-sama! for delivering on its romance in a way that, say, Otomen wasn't really able to do. Looking forward to Volume 8 to see how Misaki deals with this.

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