「終わり良ければすべて良し」 (Owari Yokereba Subete Yoshi)
“All’s Well That Ends Well”
Barring carryovers (and Kyoukai no Rinne is the only one – the first time I can remember only one series on my watch list carrying over) this post marks the end of the Spring season for me. And it was a good season overall, if not exceptional. Somewhat unusually, there were three new series that were not only far, far ahead of the pack but effectively tied for the top spot – to the point where even now, I don’t think I could rank them. Boku no Hero Academia, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge and Shounen Maid were all wonderful shows in their own way, each with their own particular strengths. But what Shounen Maid did best, it did better than anybody this season.
This finale was a bit of a departure from earlier episodes in a number of ways, to the point where I’m almost sure much of it was original material. The inclusion of Chiyo-san – the Chihiro-aged version of her, to be precise – as a ghost was a bit of a conceit, used to tie together the season and wrap a bow on it. I think it worked quite well on the whole, though perhaps not as effectively as a simpler and more grounded ending might have. But when ongoing stories have to be wrapped up so prematurely, it forces difficult choices on the anime staff.
This episode, not unexpectedly, lacked the humorous and light-toned A-Part that’s become a staple of the Shounen Maid anime. Indeed, I think the first ten minutes of the episode were especially effective because they’re a shining example of the way this series lets the audience put the pieces together on their own. Superficially we had Chihiro being his usual obsessive caregiver self, fussing over an overworked Madoka (it’s wedding season) like a mother hen. But there’s something deeper going on here too – Chihiro is old enough and certainly smart enough to understand the circumstances behind his mother’s death. And he reacts exactly as you’d expect to seeing Madoka drive himself to exhaustion to meet the demands of fussy brides-to-be. It’s a perfect storm for Chihiro’s neuroses – taking care of everyone, and fear of abandonment.
My hope going in was that this finale would focus on Kazusa and her relationship with both her son and grandson. And it did, after a fashion – but it certainly didn’t deliver any Game of Thrones-style audience wish fulfillment. Indeed things with Kazusa were left open-ended and frankly a bit somber – the word “sayonara” has very specific connotations in Japanese as most of you know, and it seemed Chihiro used it quite conspicuously after his latest meeting in the park with his grandma and the aloof white cat. Chihiro clearly wants to know his grandmother better, and his affection for her is stronger than any grudge he can hold. But this is hard, very hard – complicated and painful and difficult. And that family bond he longs to establish may or may not ever come.
My hope too was that Chihiro might loop Kazusa into helping him take care of Madoka, but that was never likely. They do have a very touching bonding moment over it but that’s all – she leaves him to take care of things and so he does, in his fussy but loving fashion. And Madoka eventually does finish up his backlog, but rather than go straight to bed he ends up back in his workshop, staring at a wedding dress that remains behind. We know whose dress this is, of course – how could we not? But that doesn’t lessen the impact when Madoka tells the story of how he came to create it, and how it was never worn.
The fact that it’s the anniversary of Chiyo’s death may have made Chihiro worry about Madoka that much more – perhaps he was subconsciously aware of it. It’s a bittersweet ending, this, because while the year’s worth of recollections he shares with Chiyo’s spirit are mostly happy ones, the fact remains that her death has left a huge empty space in his life. And Madoka has cut his own mother out of his life by choice, though she remains very much alive. You only have one mother, and whatever difficulties exist between parent and child, once that parent is gone they’re gone. Chihiro is a child, and I’m sure he doesn’t know how to formulate this in words for Madoka – but I’m just as sure that he understands it on an elemental level, and the state of affairs in his family profoundly unsettles him.
If ever an anime exemplified the idea that appearances can be deceiving, Shounen Maid does. As cute as Chihiro is and as bright as the color palette and designs are, this series is both very complex and quite dark. It embraces the pain that’s part of the human condition in a manner few anime have the courage to do, and it does so fearlessly and without resorting to emotional manipulation or cliche. Like Uchouten Kazoku and Kyousougiga, this show is a love story without being a romance. It’s about the love of family – how powerful that love is, and the hurt we often cause ourselves and others with whom we share it.
That Shounen Maid ends here is certainly frustrating, but it’s a story fans of manga are all too familiar with. While the unlikely existence of this adaptation is something to be grateful for, the fact that there are no translations of the manga whatsoever since 2012 makes seeing the anime end here (though there is the skipped episode that will be included on the Blu-rays) especially painful. Being a manga fan can be painful at moments like these, no matter how many times we see the process repeat itself. It’s always an effort to focus on the positive, but I can say with honesty that I never for a minute expected Shounen Maid to receive an adaptation. As gutted as I am to see the story end here, I am glad it had a chance to win over a few (not nearly enough) new fans.
Shounen Maid has been a funny sort of series for me. I felt myself very much in the role of defending it to a skeptical potential audience, because I’d read what little of it is translated and seen that it’s excellent (and how different than the sort of series most assume). But I was not really prepared for just how good this series really was – maybe because there are only about 20 chapters out there in English, maybe because I was guilty of a bit of the same closed-mindedness I was seeing in others. Maybe, even, because the anime has improved on the manga. But whatever the reason, it’s time to confront the fact that Shounen Maid may just be the best series of the Spring – and who would have predicted that?