Hanaukyo Maid Team Vol. 2
As we enter the second volume of this tale, Morishige steers carefully away from the routine harem comedy that Hanaukyo Maid Team was threatening to become and makes it something a little different.
A little odd, yes, but at least it's something we haven't seen before.
Taro Hanaukyo is clearly a stock manga character. He's young, competent yet self-conscious, and he's also alone. However, his fate is about to change.
He is contacted by his grandfather, the head of one of Japan's wealthiest families, who informs young Taro that the responsibility of managing the considerable assets of the Hanaukyo family is now completely in his hands. As it turns out, his grandfather was getting tired of being in charge and he wants to enjoy life free of the burden of leadership.
Ah, but how is a young, bashful, inexperienced boy expected to take the reins of such a financial juggernaut? Why, with the aid of the Hanaukyo Maid Team.
Suddenly, Taro goes from having no parents and few friends to being the head of an army of beautiful women who exist solely to serve him.
Insert various character types here. For example, there's Konoe Tsurugi, the lead security expert of the household. Konoe is a skilled martial artist, and although she exudes an icily powerful aura, she has an inner core of femininity that Taro has a knack for bringing out. One of the more unique characters is actually two people, depending on how you look at her. Grace and Cynthia Randlaviger have two distinctly different personalities, but they share the same body - a condition brought upon Cynthia by a traumatic childhood event. Grace is tougher and more practical, while Cynthia is quiet, friendly, and due to her caring nature, more vulnerable than her counterpart. More traditional characters include Ikuyo Suzuki, a mechanical expert, and Ryuka Jihioh, the heir to the Hanaukyo family's greatest rival. Ryuka, in an entertaining turn of events, has been charged with the task of marrying into the Hanaukyo family to make the Jihioh family's position even stronger. Her intense pride and seniority over the introspective Taro makes Ryuka a fun addition to the group of girls, as her feelings for the boy are sure to change as the story develops.
While her role is still forming in the series, perhaps the most important maid in this story is Mariel. In this volume, we're given some insight concerning the manga's subtitle, "Blue Silent Bell", closely connected to Mariel's origins.
Rather than remain a straightforward romantic comedy, this book gets into the subject of science fiction. Instead of trivializing the plot, it actually strengthens it. It helps a bit that the characters are fleshed out more in this volume as well. With the added rivalry of Ryoka and the slight yet steady maturation of Taro, it's getting better as it moves along.
The artwork is good throughout, though clearly there are far more female characters than males. Hairstyles make the various maids visually distinct, though their personalities vary enough to make them distinguishable in dialogue as well. The visual style boasts sharp, clearly inked linework along with soft, rounded character designs. Gradient shading appears occasionally, though most of the background illustrations are rather simple. While nothing is drop dead gorgeous, the book's look is appropriate for the type of story that this is.
Studio Ironcat has put together a mixed bag when it comes to the technical aspects of this release. It's printed in a smaller than average format and it costs more than the typical manga release. However, I like the way that the sound effects were handled. The artwork is untouched, but translations are provided between the panels. There's a handy character summary and some bonus artwork at the end of the book. The only other potential issue with this series is that it's hard to track down Studio Ironcat works in traditional stores, so you may have to find a comic shop that stocks manga in healthy quantities.
While Hanaukyo Maid Team is not a revolutionary addition to the harem comedy genre, it is an entertaining enough series. Taro is endearing, as most pitiable young guys are, and Mariel's plot is only beginning to surface. Her story may just be the most interesting component of this otherwise average tale. Yet being average doesn't make it bad, and by the time volume three rolls along, perhaps it will do even more to separate itself from the pack. Here's hoping for that possibility!