Thursday, June 27, 2013


Sorry for the delay, folks.  It's due to a combination of a game night at the local game store going far longer than anticipated combined with a friend loaning me one of my greatest video game weaknesses: an Ace Attorney game.  Damn you Phoenix Wright! Why must your games be so addictive?

Nonetheless, I'm here to finish off this maid month, and this final one is a rather apt follow up to He Is My Master.  Both are about maids, both were turned into animated series by Studio Gainax, and both are utterly terrible.

MAHOROMATIC: AUTOMATIC MAIDEN (Mahoromatikku), written by Bunjuro Nakayama & drawn by Bow Ditama.  First published in 1999, and first published in North America in 2004.

For years, a secret agency known as Vesper has fought against alien forces, and their greatest weapon is the battle android Mahoro.  One day Mahoro is given the chance to retire from battle peacefully, leaving her with roughly one year's worth of operational time.  She chooses to spend her retirement serving others - specifically, by serving Suguru, the orphaned son of a Vesper commander.  Neither Suguru nor his classmates can believe his luck - not only does he have a beautiful girl living with him, but she cooks, cleans, and takes care of him.  Still, Suguru will need all the luck he can get to keep Mahoro's true identity a secret, and Mahoro in turn will need it to fend off Suguru's lecherous teacher and outside forces  as well as dust and grime.

"Battle android turned maid" is not exactly the most intellectually stimulating story concept out there, but god knows that I expected more action and less fanservice and slice-of-life action out of Mahoromatic.

I almost had some hope, as Mahoro's first act upon leaving Vesper is to save a busful of people from hijackers.  There were even some attempts at tenderness near the end, as Mahoro hints why she chose to specifically serve Suguru.  The rest of the time, though, the volume is nothing but fanservice-laden high school slice-of-life pablum.  You'd think that with such a large cast there would be some variety, but all of Suguru's classmates are all one-note jokes instead of fleshed-out characters.  Worse of all, that cast includes Ms. Shinjuko, Suguru's mad cougar of a homeroom teacher who inexplicably sees Mahoro as competition.  Thus, she makes it her business to hit on her UNDERAGED STUDENT at every chance, stopping just short of stalking him.  She's meant to add conflict to all this fluffiness, but she utterly fails; Ms. Shinjuko is painfully unfunny and deeply offensive to boot. 

There is honestly so little to talk about when it comes to story.  Mahoro suprises Suguru at school!  They go to a bathhouse!  She makes him lunch!  All this, and no excuse is too feeble to have either Mahoro or Ms. Shinjuki get naked, nipples and all.  It's weird that there's so much flesh on screen, but that Tokyopop's translators were so oddly prudish.  You see, they left 'ecchi' untranslated, using it as a synonym for 'dirty' (as in thoughts) or for 'porn' (as in magazines).  I know that the word can serve this dual purpose in Japanese, but when left in an otherwise normal English translation it looks like Tokyopop was either being a bit lazy with translation or trying to find a way around using the word 'porn.' 

If I haven't made it blatantly obvious, I did not like Mahoromatic  at all.  When I wasn't disgusted with the naked (pun not intended) excuses for fanservice, I was bored to tears by its bland uneventfulness.

The character designs are unremarkable.  Sure, everyone looks distinct, but with little personality beyond a single gag, they still seems to blend together.  The only remarkable thing about them are the lovingly detailed breasts, which is such an oddly explicit touch to an otherwise innocuous story.  Expressions are big and broad, although I'm not sure how much of that is due to the limitations of the art and how much to the limitations of the story.  Panels are packed tightly on the page, but the presentation is otherwise straightforward.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised by how little there is to say about the art, considering how little there was to say about the story it illustrates.  If it weren't for the fanservice, it would be completely forgettable.

There are some color splashes pages in the front of Mahoro, and the first page of the manga proper is also in color.  There's also a couple of bizarre pages at the end where Mahoro and Suguru comment on the creation of their own manga, and the writer clearly isn't clever enough to pull off a joke this meta.  There are also some creator's notes and more black-and-white splash pages.

Mahoro hates 'ecchi' thoughts, but I hate pointless, bland and offensive ecchi manga like Mahoromatic

This series was published by Tokyopop.  All 8 volumes were published, and all are currently out of print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through!

Monday, June 17, 2013


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  I've reviewed many a bad manga in this last year or so, but today review joins the ranks of one of the worst I've read.

HE IS MY MASTER (Kore ga Watashi no Goshujin-sama), written by Mattsu and drawn by Asu Tsubaki.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2007.

Izumi and Matsuki are two teenage sisters who have run away from home.  They are looking for a job to support themselves, and they just so happen to find a listing for live-in maids outside of a large mansion.  That mansion belongs to one Nakabayashi Yoshitaka, an orphaned 14 year old who has inherited a vast fortune and possesses nothing resembling restraint or dignity.  He hires the sisters on the spot not so much for their domestic skills as much as their ability to fill out the skimpy uniforms he provides for them.  Matsuki is perfectly content with this new situation, but Izumi is less so, since she so often has to violently fend off Yoshitaka's peeping and perversions.  Worse still, she also has to fend off Matsuki's pet alligator Pochi, who loves to chomp off Izumi's clothes.  Then Izumi has to fend off the advances of Anna, a classmate who starts with a misguided crush on Yoshitaka and ends up with an equally misguided one on her.  Worst of all, it seems everyone (including her family) wants Izumi to get together with Yoshitaka!

I was not expecting great things from this title.  After all, it's a harem series based around a maid fetish, so the bar for "not completely terrible" was set mighty low to start.  Surely, it couldn't be THAT bad, could it?

Oh, how very, very wrong I was about this manga.  He Is My Master is that bad.  In fact it is nothing but pure, pandering, irritating PAIN.

Let's start with the cast.  I guess I should be glad that unlike so many male leads in harem series, Yoshitaka isn't a spineless nebbish - the kid does actually have a personality.  The problem is that said personality is awful.  He's a brat with no notion of restraint or control where girls are concerned.  He's not the sort to get neurotic over seeing a girl's boobs; indeed, he's quite the opposite.  He will go out of his way to sneak a peek at naked girls or their underwear.  He purposesly dresses the girls in uniforms that are only a step or two removed from novelty lingerie.  Even at school he forces the girls to serve him in secret and exploits this every chance he gets.  I was actually relieved to learn that in-story Yoshitaka's classmates regarded him as a pervert and a weirdo, because it meant that at last someone other than myself and Izumi thought of him as horrible. 

Poor Izumi doesn't fare much better, though, as a character onto herself.  She's stuck in the role of the straightman, always the butt of the joke, always reacting to the plot instead of moving it forward.  Thus, she's stuck on the violent, overreacting end of the Tsundere scale instead of getting to develop anything resembling a personality or character arc.  Mitsuki is just a mystery, and I don't mean that in a good way.  She never seems to question the girls' situation, and for god knows what reason she likes Yoshitaka.  She seems to have a fondness for overly complex games and contests, which mostly serve as the jumping points for plot lines or a way for the writers to pull a solution for one out of their butts.  Finally, there is Anna, who mostly fits the yamato nadeshiko trope save for her own perverted streak. 

The perversion doesn't stop when you look towards the supporting cast, be it the gang of schoolboys who serve as Matsuki's fanboys, the girls' father who has the wrong sort of fascination with his OWN FREAKING DAUGHTERS EW EW EW, or the girls' mother who is way too calm about everything.  At times, you wonder if the perviness will ever stop long enough to actually have the girls do actual maid work instead of getting them involved in wacky schemes or putting them in the bath. 

I also can't say I'm the hugest fan of the translation, which found to be shockingly lazy at points.  I'm usually not one to harp on leaving honorifics in the text, but the constant use of 'oneechan' bugged me.  Unlike a lot of honorifics, that phrase does have a perfectly good English equivalent, and no deep cultural context would be lost by using 'big sister' instead.  Weirder still, the girls' mother breaks out a 'fu fu fu' laugh, which may sound like laughter in Japanese but which is just bizarre when left untranslated.

He Is My Master is a story that never leaves the gutter. It just lingers there, giggling over boobs and panties no matter how many times it sees them or how crassly they are introduced.  Worse still, it thinks it's being funny simply by the merit of being wacky and out-there, and it's all so forced, false, and pandering that it left me actively irritated.  There is not one redeeming thing to be found in the story of He Is My Master.

One might hope that the artwork might be competent enough to redeem something from the piss-poor story, along the lines of something like Tenjo Tenghe. You'd be wrong, though - the artwork is just as bad as the story.

The character designs are heavily moefied, simplified to the point where they're barely above the quality of an elementary schoolchild's drawings.  Weirder still, everyone is blushing all the time, like everyone is suffering from a low-grade fever.  All that detail is saved instead for the costumes, which are rendered right down to each ruffle on the maid dresses or the finest stich on the panties.  The artist (who oddly enough is a woman, and the writer's now ex-wife in fact!) clearly knows what its audience is truly here for: fanservice, and plenty of it.  Not a single chapter passes without some opportunity to have the girls flash some taint, squish a boob, or have some article of clothing torn off, and it's done from the lowest, most zoomed-in creeper angle possible.

The forced franticness of the story is also reflected in the art, which crams the panels as full as possible with stuff.  These panels are then crammed onto the page atop one another wily-nily.  Since the art is so focused on the foreground and the jiggly bits within, the backgrounds are nonexistent.  Instead, the character seem to drift through blank white limbo. 

He Is My Master is a story where you can in fact judge it by its cover, at least where the art is concerned.  It's pandering, ugly, and lazy, which only magnifies the faults of the writing.

There's a brief and deeply unfunny omake, along with a couple of profiles about Izumi and Matsuki.  There's also an honorifics guide and some translation notes.

This manga was just a perfect storm of awfulness, one where it failed at every level.  He Is My Master is a series which has joined the short of list of Brainchild's Worst Manga Ever, and I cannot dissuade people from reading it enough.

This series is published by Seven Seas.  All 5 volumes have been published, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: MAID-SAMA!

Oh, if only every series this month were as good as Emma.  Sadly, while today's series is more popular than that, it's nowhere near as good.

MAID-SAMA! (Kaicho wa Maid-sama!), by Hiro Fujiwara.  First published in 2005, and first published in North America in 2009.

Misaki is the hard-assed, quick-tempered student council president of Seika High, a boys' school which recently went coed.  She is determined to correct the slovenly, chauvinistic behavior of her fellow classmates and turn the school into somewhere safe for students of both sexes.  Misaki also has a secret: to support her single-parent family, she works part-time as a waitress at a maid café.  Misaki's troubles begin when Usui, the resident prince of Seika High, discovers her side job.  Misaki is afraid he will reveal her secret to the student body, but Usui is more interested in learning about Misaki and protecting her from trouble, even from the trouble she brings upon herself.

It is taking some control to not launch into an incoherent rant about this stupid series.  I have to try to focus on its good points.

If there's anything resembling a good point, it's Misaki herself.  I found myself liking her a lot, in spite of her faults.  Yes, she's stubborn as a mule and too quick to anger, but she's physically strong, wants to protect those around her, and is incredibly determined and focused.  I do wish we had gotten a chance to see her family, since they are the only reason she's doing this side job in the first place.  Still, Misaki is the closest thing we have to a strong, independent woman...or she would be, if not for Usui.

Oh Usui, how I loathed you, let me count the ways.  First of all, he's your bog standard princely shoujo love interest, the kind of guy that only exists in the minds of 13 year old girls who have no idea how guys or relationships work. He's smart, athletic, noble, adored by every girl in school, but he's sooooo nice that he always lets the girls down gently.  How do we know this?  Because there seems to be some sort of Greek chorus that follows him around singing his praises for the audience because Fujiwara is too lazy to actually SHOW him excelling at these things.  Someone clearly never learned about "show, don't tell."  They also never told him that perfect characters aren't interesting.  

The worst thing about Usui, though, is that he's so freaking perfect that he's always right.  No matter what Misaki does or says, he's always the one in the right, and he's always the one who has to save Misaki or help her change her ways.  You know things are bad when they pull out the Rape card in the FIRST.  FREAKING.  CHAPTER, all so Usui can charge into the situation like a goddamn white knight.   Worse still, they threaten Misaki with rape AGAIN in a later chapter, and the only difference there is that Misaki saves herself; had Usui saved her again, I would have been throwing the book towards the wall at warp speed.  Of course, afterwards Usui ends up saying something suggestive to or kissing Misaki.  God knows it's so romantic for a guy to force his affections on someone who has made her disinterest in him plain.  I hate that Fujiwara clearly things Usui is the best thing ever and wants the reader to love him like everyone else does, because I found him both a ridiculous fantasy and an ass.

The plot, when not threatening rape, is heavily episodic.  Misaki has a problem either at school or work, Usui suggests a solution, Misaki rejects it, trouble occurs, and Usui saves the day.  Very little progression is made as far as the storyline or character building, and that only added to my frustration with Maid-Sama.  I just can't believe this series is supposed to be so popular.  What few good qualities it does have are greatly overshadowed by the awfulness of the love interest and the pointlessness of the plot.

The character designs are typical for modern shoujo, meaning that they are flat, pointy and generic.  Of course, it's hard to tell that from under their goofy, overly styled, and pointy hair.  Panels are busy as hell, packed to the brim with conversation and characters.  Of course, things always expand once Usui is on screen, because we just have to soak in the majestic beauty of his overly pointy features, the straw pile of hair on his head, and dark, cat-like eyes.  Also typical of modern shoujo, backgrounds are almost non existent.  Instead, Fujiwara abuses the effects, flowers, and screen tones like nobody's business.  The pages are also equally busy, because those overly busy panels are packed onto the page. 

There's a side story where a shy, quiet girl learns to open up to others after finally making friends with her crush, the twist being that she can only do so because he died and she is one of the few people who can see him.  It's a trifle of a story, and the lead spends most of her time being a spineless jellyfish of a girl.  It didn't offend me in the way the main story did, but neither did it really endear itself to me.

No one needs to be served by this patronizing piece of crap.

This series was published by Tokyopop.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 16 volumes currently available.  10 volumes were published, and all are currently out of print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: EMMA

So yeah...things have been a little quiet on the Test Drive.  Well, the truth of the matter is that I got burnt out.  Life happened and I got so far behind on the Merry Month of Manga that I felt there was no point in trying to get caught up.  I haven't given up on the whole thing, though.  Things will go back to normal, with a review every week.  This week we'll be looking at one of the classics of otaku fetish bait stereotypes - maids!  Today I'll kick things off with what is in my highly subjective opinion the best maid manga on the market.  Considering I've declared my love for the mangaka's work more than once, you all have probably been expecting this one for a while.

EMMA (Ema), by Kaoru Mori.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2006.

In 1890s London lives Emma, the quiet, pretty housemaid of former governess Kelly Stowner.  One day Kelly receives an unexpected visit from her former pupil, William Jones.  Practically from the moment he collides with her, William is smitten with Emma, and through happenstance the two keep meeting and remeeting, and a romance begins to bloom between the two.  This romance is not without its challenges.  William is the son of a wealthy merchant who seeks to marry William into nobility to maintain their lifestyle while enhancing their social status, something that can't be done by marrying a mere chambermaid.  Worse still, William's Indian friend Hakim comes for a visit, and he too falls for Emma.  Emma, on the other hand, is very conscious of the social divide between her and William, even if her employer quietly supports her cause.  Can William and Emma's love survive in a time and place where social standing means everything?


As always, I do have to get that off my chest so I can focus on the analysis without falling into a fit of squees.

While it's the romance between William and Emma that drives the plot, it often feels more like a slice-of-life story.  Each chapter focuses on a different character, and it fills in either some portion of backstory or establishes their main conflict.  Emma is not a terribly talkative work, and most of what is said is polite and formal.  In this story, far more is said in expressions, small gestures, and in the way one looks at another.  It takes a good storyteller to say so much with little but physicality, and Mori accomplishes it beautifully. 

The characters are all fascinating in their own ways, but there's one thing about them that bothers me: why practically everyone on the block (William and Hakim included) is trying to court Emma?  Sure, we the reader have quite a bit of insight into her because we get to see the casual, almost daughter-like relationship she has with Mrs. Stowner.  We even see a flashback to her childhood that explains how she got her glasses (something that was quite the luxury for a servant girl in the Victorian era).  That doesn't explain why she is so seemingly irrestistable.  Yes, she is pretty and genteel, not to mention modest enough to turn down William's offer of a gift of new glasses, instead asking only for a lace handerchief, but that somehow doesn't seem quite enough. 

At least we do get a very good sense of who William is, someone who is at once shy, awkward, but also wears his emotions on his sleeve.  We also clearly see that his personality clashes with the leadership role his steely, class-conscious father is trying to press him towards.  Hakim's personality is also well sketched, despite his relatively short screen time, as someone who is impetuous, curious, and highly romantic.  We even get a good sense of who Mrs. Stowner is, through the flashback to her own early marriage, her sly, period-appropriate level of snark, and the gentility in her relationships with both Willliam and Emma, treating them both almost like her own children.  Mori creates such wonderful characters for Emma that even the mild conundrum of Emma's desirability cannot spoil the story as a whole.

Mori's signature character designs are in place here, with their highly similar, flat, doe-eyed faces that are always so wonderfully, subtly expressive.  Her attention to detail is also on full display, especially in the costumes and backgrounds.  Her backgrounds are so beautifully drawn and textured that you could almost feel the texture of the stones on the buildings, and she spends the same amount of effort on every little frill and fold of every piece of clothing.  Mori's panel and page composition are quite plain, even conservative, but she uses every bit of space that she can.  She also sometimes slips in clever little tricks, such an early sequence where the panels follow William's gaze as he look upon Emma.  Emma's artwork is as subtle and detailed as its writing, and the two complement one another perfectly.

There's a brief bio on Mori, along with an omake about her research for Emma.  I've often remarked on how much I like Mori's omakes, because there's a wonderfully manic energy to them.  You get a real sense of her enthusiasm for her work and for history, and as a fellow history nut I really appreciate her effort.

Did you expect anything less?  This is an absolute gem of a series, and I desperately wish it was still in print because it is worth every penny.

This series was published by CMX.  All 10 volumes were published, and all are now out of print. 

You can purchase this manga and many more like it through!