Mayo Chiki! (2011)
A romantic comedy unlike any other
The oddly titled Mayo Chiki! is an abbreviation of Mayoeru Shitsuji to Chikin na Ore to, translated to The Stray Butler and Myself the Chicken, in English. Adapted from the Japanese light novel series written by Hajime Asano and illustrated by Seiji Kikuchi, Mayo Chiki! explores the life of ginger-haired second year high school student Subaru Konoe, who suffers from aichmophobia — a fear of sharp objects — loves the popular ‘Lost Sheep’ plush dolls and works as a butler for the Suzutsuki family. Subaru however, isn’t your ordinary butler, as she is a female, working to serve the high school principal’s sadistic 17-year-old daughter, Kanade Suzutsuki.
Although Subaru isn’t a ‘male,’ she still feels obligated to carry out her family custom by serving the Suzutsuki’s, even if the tradition involves a male butler. Therefore her father, Nagare Konoe, allows Subaru to work as a ‘manservant’ if she can spend her entire three years of high school disguised as a boy in order to uphold the family rule. All is well with the arrangement until cobalt blue-haired, 17-year old Kinjirō ‘Jirō’ Sakamachi walks into the men’s washroom and discovers the popular male butler Subaru’s big secret. Alas, Jirō, who suffers from acute gynophobia — as his nose bleeds whenever a girl touches him — is forced to sign a contract with Kanade Suzutsuki, vowing to keep Subaru’s secret at any cost, whilst in exchange, Kanade promises to find a way to cure his gynophobia. What’s more, our protagonist Jirō hates it when others call him by his full name Sakamachi Kinjirō — due to the Japanese culture of putting the surname before the given name — as the sounds ‘Chi’ and ‘Kin’ put together sound like the English word, chicken, hence the title, The Stray Butler and Myself the Chicken.
From the onset, Mayo Chiki! comes across as your archetypal comedy/ romance/ harem style anime, complete with the customary episodes where our protagonists have a rendezvous at the local pool, take part in the high school festival, vacation at a hot spring resort near the beach, dress up in yukatas and attend the summer festival; there’s also an episode where Jirō finds himself working part-time at a Maid Café in order to repay his friend for copying her Summer homework. Be patient though, as Mayo Chiki! does take some time to find its footing as the first few episodes are somewhat mediocre, predominantly being focused on Subaru’s cross-dressing secret, Subaru’s popularity amongst school students and ‘his’ fan clubs, including the popular S4 or Shooting Star Subaru-Sama, alongside typical harem romance sub-plots. The general concept of the petite Subaru, fooling everyone into believing that she is a male, is undoubtedly a rather silly notion, nonetheless the show picks up stream at around episode five where we are introduced to a vibrant crew of second-tier characters.
We meet Masamune Usami — a pink haired high school student who lives on her own, and as a result, has become quite a good cook — after Jirō ends up getting run over by her scooter. Following a misunderstanding where his glasses get caught in her thigh boots, Masamune blackmails Jirō — with a photo of what appears to be a date between Jirō and Subaru — into pretending to be her boyfriend up until the end of their school fair. Jirō reluctantly agrees, in the hope of keeping Subaru’s secret, and Masamune later gives Jirō the nickname ‘stupid chicken,’ where in turn, he calls her ‘bunny,’ as her name is noted to sound similar to the Japanese word for rabbit. Although Masamune is essentially your stereotypical teenage tsundere — a common character development process seen in Japanese animation, where a person, who is initially bitter or hostile towards another, progressively reveals their warmer side over time — she is perhaps the show’s most appealing personality.
We are also introduced to Nakuru Narumi, the cat-eared ganguro student who spies on Jirō and Subaru and is the chairman of a popular Subaru fan club, ‘Let’s warmly protect Subaru-Sama committee.’ The busty Narumi is perhaps the ‘raunchiest’ character in Mayo Chiki! as her fetish for glasses and boy love — which is expressed through her manga drawings of Kinjirō and Subaru — lend themselves to some crude, yet farce comedy due to Jirō’s chagrin. As the show progresses, Jirō’s younger sister, Kureha Sakamachi — who loves martial arts and is in her first year of high school — becomes more of a key player, eventually developing a crush on Subaru, who she believes to be male. It’s truly these diverse secondary players who add flavor and zing to an otherwise daft and conventional narrative with their eccentricities and wacky personalities.
Although labelled as a harem anime, Mayo Chiki! has a surprising amount of sensitivity and heart; Jirō and Subaru’s friendship/ romance is admittedly sweet, as is the relationship between Jirō’s and his little sister Kureha — highlighted in episode 10, where Kureha celebrates her 16th birthday — even the way Masamune ultimately warms to Jirō is pretty cute, understandingly being drawn to his kindness and compassion towards others. In addition, the fan service in Mayo Chiki! is fairly tame, opting for ‘sexy’ opposed to ‘explicit,’ bar an out-of-place dream sequence depicting unwarranted nudity and some strongly implied sexual content. Other fan service elements have been written into the narrative to aid the story such as Jirō’s nosebleeds, which occur when he makes direct contact with females, as an alternative to sexually arousing situations.
Furthermore, Mayo Chiki! doesn’t play out like your typical harem series as only Subaru, and eventually Masamune, show a romantic interest in Jirō; Nakuru is more absorbed with her shounen-ai fantasy involving Jirō and Subaru, Kureha falls for Subaru’s male persona, and while Kanade does flirt with Jirō from time to time, she is more fixated on paring him up with Subaru’s feminine side, rather than entertaining her own romantic desires. Additionally, none of the girls flight over Jirō as they are oblivious to Subaru’s femininity, therefore appear to have little in the way of romantic rivalry, making for an amusingly different harem take, nonetheless, Jirō still gets his fair share of female attention, even though a likely relationship with any of the girls, bar Subaru, is doubtful.
The animation work by the studio feel. is quite ordinary for a show of this type, as feel. are better suited to illustrating nudity, just check out their work on So, I Can’t Play H! (2012), then again, their efforts on Mayo Chiki! are passable for the most part. Subaru makes for a cute protagonist, but looks too girlish in her butler uniform to pass off as a probable male, whilst Jirō’s sister Kureha, shows little family resemblance to her brother. The school uniforms on the other hand are sexy, if not improbable, whereas the background art is generally polished. The voice work as a whole is also solid, whether watching the Japanese version or English translation, with Margaret McDonald, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere (2012), being the clear cast standout in the English dub, vibrantly bringing Masamune’s hostility and warmth to life.
Fundamentally, Mayo Chiki! is a considerably familiar harem anime which does little in the way of attempting to distinguish itself from other, ‘better,’ harem shows on offer. On the plus side, series director Keiichiro Kawaguchi, Nyan Koi! (2009), delivers just enough humor, character development and fan service to amuse or entertain those in the mood for a light distraction, even if the notion of Subaru getting caught up in situations where her true identity risks exposure gets a bit tiresome.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Mayo Chiki! is released through Madman Entertainment Australia