「暑さ寒さも彼岸まで」 (Atsusa Samusa mo Higan made)
“No Heat or Cold Lasts past the Equinox”

It’s straight-up criminal how few people seem to realize just how great Shounen Maid is (most of them because they refuse to watch it, of course). There’s so much depth of emotion here that puts the vast majority of anime to shame. I have no idea about the background behind this series – anything about mangaka Otochibana’s life or experiences. But there are certain series (Watamote was very much another one) where you strongly sense that the author gets what they’re writing about on a molecular level. This one clearly understands family – the difficulties attached to trying to navigate one, and what happens when we’re wedged apart from those closest to us. This stuff just can’t be faked – not to this degree of believability.

One of the many skills Shounen Maid has repeatedly displayed is the ability to effortlessly shift from lighter material to stuff that’s extremely serious without any juddering at all. Part of that, no doubt, is due to the light touch it displays with that heavy material. We’re allowed to take it in and process it rather than having it crammed down our throats, and sometimes we don’t even notice when the gear-shift has taken place. But it most assuredly has, and when Shounen Maid is in sixth (as it certainly was in the latter stages of this episode) you absolutely feel the impact.

The rolling start this week once again revisits the matter of Madoka’s frustrated obsession with all things feline. As an unrepentant cat person myself I can definitely feel Madoka’s pain here – to love cats so much and not be able to share your house with one (or many) is a cruel fate indeed. I did wonder if Miyako’s brilliant idea might be to get Madoka a hypoallergenic cat – they certainly exist, and they’re quite tolerable for most people who suffer from cat allergies. Nevertheless this was a rather light and silly romp, with stuff like Madoka’s ridiculous gas mask scheme and Miyako’s giant box of stuffed cat plushies (not a real substitute – sorry, Nyanko-sensei who’s staring at me right now). I also made note of how much fun Chihiro and Miyako were having hanging the laundry out in the sun. Though Madoka does have a dryer (a luxury of the wealthy few in Japan) there’s a deep-seated belief in this country that it’s healthier and happier-making to hang your clothes out to dry.

Effortless as usual, Shounen Maid uses the cat motif to segue into the main event of the episode. It’s time for Higan, along with Oban the most important Buddhist holidays for honoring lost ancestors and loved ones. Naturally this Higan is especially significant for Chihiro, and when Hino’s mother reminds him of it on a shopping trip, Chihiro thinks it would be nice to make Botamochi (sweet rice packed in sweet bean paste) rather than store-bought. On the way home he meets the old lady in the park again, this time trying to entice a stray cat into being petted (might she too be allergic?) and Chihiro once again stops for a chat. The subject of Botamochi comes up (Chi naturally assumes a proper Japanese lady would know how to make them) and she tells him it doesn’t matter how well they’re made – any mother would love to have Botamochi made by her child brought to her graveside.

There’s so much double and triple-meaning in so much of what happens here. Of course the old lady would have had no reason to know who the botamochi were for – Chihiro figures this out eventually. When push comes to shove he asks Madoka for help in making them, despite the fact that he has no experience doing so either – and that of course is highly significant. When have we ever seen Chi encourage Madoka to help in the kitchen? But this, of course, is different – these two are adrift on the same boat and despite being a small boy still, Chihiro is perceptive enough to understand that. I also think it’s notable that he hasn’t visited the grave in so long that it’s become disheveled – when have we ever seen such behavior from the ultra-responsible Chihiro? It’s a reminder of just how hard this has been for him, despite the support of Madoka and his friends.

The scene at the cemetery… Honestly, it’s hard to watch even before Chihiro’s grandmother (and by now, of course, we know that’s who she is) arrives (and may I add, the whole sequence is gorgeously drawn and animated). Chihiro and Madoka are such good souls, both of them, and they need each other so badly that it’s painful to think what might have happened if Chiyo hadn’t nudged them together. Madoka is obviously plagued by a lot of self-doubt and guilt here, as witness his reaction to seeing “Komiya Family” on Chiyo’s gravestone. As for Chihiro, he’s troubled by the fact that he can’t remember his father (and yes, we now have our answer as to where his father is). Madoka tells him it was enough simply to have been there and given his father the family he’d never had – “Isn’t that what being a family is like?” – and that’s somehow an incredibly heartbreaking exchange between them.

We know what’s coming is coming, of course. We finally have a name to attach to the face – Takatori Kazusa (Sakakibara Yoshiko). In our (and thus Chihiro’s) meetings with her, we have no reason to think she’s anything except a kind and lonely old woman. But the deep pain that broke her family apart still lingers, as we see in Madoka’s reaction to seeing her. He blames her for driving Chiyo away – Kazusa-san likely blames herself for it. Chihiro is devastated when she admits the truth about who she is – not just because she lied to him, but because he knows the back-story here. He knows what happened between Chiyo and her parents. What he – and we – don’t know is what role his grandfather (who’s still alive) played in all that.

Once again, this is all extraordinarily deep and very subtle. Chihiro’s thoughts at this moment might be of a thousand things – he might even be feeling guilty because he met his grandmother and liked her. Is that a betrayal of his mother? No, of course not – but how is an 11 year-old boy supposed to understand that? And for all the growth Madoka has displayed since Chihiro came into his life, this is taking him into territory he’s just not equipped to navigate. He says something that strikes me as very significant and a bit ominous at this point – after muttering that his mother was sneakily “trying to get on his good side after all this time”, he notes “But I guess I’m the same huh?”. Make no mistake about it, there are wounds all around here that are not yet healed – and in truth, maybe never will be.

13 Comments

  1. Even just from reading your review I can feel the emotions welling up inside me ;_; This series really does have the right dose of humor, and knows how to draw out deep issues without being over sentimental and manipulative. It’s quite amazing how much they manage to fit in a short episode every time… And I wish too that more people would give this anime a chance! It’s definitely not what some people think it is (hence the reason for them not watching it).

    xClueless
  2. Man, you could just feel the atmosphere shoot up to twelve on the tense scale during those last few minutes.

    I did love how, despite it being a sad fact that the father is also dead, they basically mocked the whole “no clear picture of the parent(s)” gag that’s usually used in anime, like with how only half the face can be seen, it’s blurred, or something to conveniently obscure them from the viewer for one reason or another.

    HalfDemonInuyasha
  3. While I agree with you that Shounen Maid offers more than people assume on first sight, I have to disagree that this is not a selling point of the show. The surface appeal with which the series gets most of its audience is through the premise of putting cute boys into cute outfits. It very much belongs in the shotacon-genre, even though that is something the Western audience will be very uncomfortable with.

    This is one of the points though, where the gender double-standard becomes obvious again. Cute, clearly underage girls are completely A-OK, but when it’s showing boys it’s a perversion.

    The problem I have with Shounen Maid is more the fanservice-heavy container in which all of that competent writing is presented. It’s not like Hourou Musuko where crossdressing and gender-inconformity was a central part of the premise and plot. To me it’s similar to many fanservice shows with girls, it’s not doing anything for me therefore I would like the show more without it.

    seizonsha
      1. There’s another anime IP called Shonen Maid something-kun which is

        not only yaoi. It’s shotacon.

        So I guess the name does curse this show, despite how oh so very unlike the other one it actually is.

        ElHuesudoII
      2. @So I guess the name does curse this show

        I can guarantee the name does not curse this show in the slightest. Anyone interested in this show could easily read up about it before watching, or at the very least watch a preview to see what they’re getting themselves into.

        @Duzz

        I’m genuinely struggling to see how anyone could come to the same conclusion as you.

        Lyfe
  4. I know that Japanese family relations are different, with the whole filial piety focus and other stuff, but if I were in Madoka’s shoes I would not be able to forgive my parents for throwing away my sister and letting her die alone, away from the family home, just for their useless pride.

    Dio
  5. “It’s straight-up criminal how few people seem to realize just how great Shounen Maid is”

    It’s indeed quite a shame, yet another underappreciated anime…
    I for one, have been following it closely since ep01 and loving every bits of it ^__^

    sherry

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