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 RightStuf.com!