What They Say:
Moving is seldom easy, but when newly orphaned Taro Hanaukyo arrives in Tokyo to live with his wealthy grandfather, what he finds literally blows his mind. Because Gramps has skipped off to a remote island, leaving his estate and its huge staff at Taro’s beck and call. A staff that seems to consist entirely of maids: maids in charge of cooking, maids in charge of cleaning, maids in charge of computer programming, maids in charge of technological research and development, and, of course, maids in charge of making the garden grow.
Except that Taro doesn’t just have pretty maids all in a row; he’s got them in regiments and battalions! What was his grandfather thinking? And what will Taro do with them? Did we mention that he’s a middle school student with otaku tendencies? Head maid Mariel and her staff may be in for a rough period of adjustment as the new master of the house takes charge in HANAUKYO MAID TEAM: LA VERITE!
The audio presentation for this release is presented with the original Japanese language track as well as the previously created English language track. Both of these are encoded in stereo at 224kbps, so they’re fairly standard fare pieces and works well enough for the material. The show is a familiar kind of comedy series where it has some bigger action aspects to it with the comedy and it works the forward soundstage a bit but not overly much. There are a number of different things that we get here, from sports scenes to grenades going off in helicopters, and the mix handles it pretty well. The dialogue itself is straightforward where it’s mostly center channel based with what it does but it has a couple of minor bits of directionality from time to time to give it a bit more life. Both tracks come across well in a clean and clear fashion and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twelve episode series is spread across three discs with four episodes per disc plus the minor extras on the first volume. Animated by Daume, the show is a fairly standard and almost budget feeling series, particularly by today’s standards, but it has some areas of good animation to it, such as when the characters actually move about in a busy way. The transfer here shows off the strengths of the program well with a wide variety of colors, lots of bright vibrant uniforms and richly drawn and detailed backgrounds. Other than a bit of softness here and there that may be intentional, this piece looks pretty much clean and problem free. I didn’t see any problems with color gradation issues, cross coloration or even anything noteworthy with aliasing.
The packaging design for this release won’t hide its age and origins all that much but it does work well with what it has. Going with the traditional layout of the main character in the foreground with Mariel to the right while the rest are in a big pile to the left, we’re shown lots of maid outfits and character designs in illustration style. It’s very distinctive with the style, which isn’t a bad thing, but it definitely feels like it dates it since we’re in a period of much more roundness and smoothness. The color tone is soft and appealing as well, especially with the logo and the pop of pink there. The back cover works the angled design that frustrates me a bit but it covers things well with the two rows of shots from the show that gives us a feel for the designs – and sexuality. The premise is pretty deeply covered here and we get some character artwork of Ryuuka to balance Mariel on the front cover. The bottom gives us some pink polka dot background material so it can cover the production credits and technical grid, all of which is easy to read and figure out.
The menus for this release work pretty well in setting the right mood with its static images and color design. The menus are laid out the same with the navigation along the right that has the episodes by number and title with large letters using a cursive-like font about it and bringing it together with pinks and blues – and ribbons – in a good way. THe left side works to bring the character artwork out as each disc uses different character configurations. They’re bright and colorful by using the anime imagery itself so there’s a good bit of pop and detail to them. The layout is easy to navigate and everything works smoothly and without problem with setting up and accessing the extras.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga Hanaukyo Maid Team from Morishige that began in 2000 and ended in 2006 with fourteen volumes, this property is a bit of an odd one. The manga had an anime adaptation produced in 2001 from Daume that ran on WOWOW but it was a problematic production that didn’t run as long as intended. Daume got a chance to make things better with a three episode OVA series that came out later in 2001 but both of those projects are unlicensed. In 2004 they came back to try and do it better from the get go with a rebooted property under the La Verite name, which is what we got here. That series was licensed by Geneon Entertainment originally and brought out with a bilingual DVD release more years ago than I care to remember. It’s also a show that I never really thought would find its way back to the market here because it’s hard to imagine there’s much demand, particularly with the manga unfinished from when Studio Ironcat brought out the first three volumes.
At the time that this came out, maid shows were all the rage and you realize now just how few are produced compared to just over a decade ago. And thank goodness as I was fairly well burned out on them after a while. At the time, this one surprised me by being just a bit more charming and appealing than I would have expected it to be. In a way, it does constitute the harem anime origins that most maid shows have their basis in but they manage to really keep the potential harem small. And while the lead does fall into the fairly wimpy category, his age gives him excuse to not really make a choice. Then again, he only seems interested in one of them unlike other harem shows that seemingly leave it open enough for a number of women for the male to go after.
Skewing young, we’re introduced to third year middle school student Taro Hanaukyo. He’s just lost his mother and has been told that he’ll be living with a grandfather he’s never met before. His brief quiet time at his mother’s grave is interrupted when the attractive blue haired Mariel arrives and informs him that she’s now his personal maid and that she’ll be bringing him to the mansion. As it turns out, the elder Hanaukyo has left the mansion and turned over everything to Taro, making him the new master of the household and the head of the family. This is of course shocking to Taro but it doesn’t start to settle in until he sees the massive mansion in the middle of the forest and the hundreds of maids that are now at his service.
There are a wide variety of departments for the maids; Security, food, medical, research, personal and more. Each of them performs distinct duties in their efforts to serve their master and forward the Hanaukyo family and its holdings. It’s holdings are quite vast as we come to learn, with some speculation that the family name controls roughly half of Japan from behind the scenes with its power. Much of this is kept to the side though as something that exists and something that Taro must deal with, but it’s not the focus of the show. The focus is on Taro and how he runs the household and deals with the maids. And his growing affection/crush/love for Mariel.
With so many women and no men around, Taro’s life certainly isn’t easy since he’s more of the laid back do it yourself kind of kid as opposed to the kind that will rule the house with an iron hand. So he’s often on the run from the various servants and trying to keep himself chaste as well. One of the more amusing parts of his Personal Staff of maids is the trio of Melon, Lemon and Marron, three very attractive and busty women who are his personal bed warmers. They argue over whose breasts their master should lay his head on for the night. When one of them kisses Taro first, the others fight for “first deep kiss” and “first lay”. Even more amusing, though not done nearly as much, his personal bathers is a series of young women who lather themselves up, strip Taro down and proceed to rub their breasts and bodies all over him to get him clean.
Naturally, there’s a wide cast of amusing and interesting characters that Taro gets to deal with. His head of security, Konoe, is the darkly serious type who doesn’t believe Taro will make a good head of the household with as much as he plays around. So you know he’s got to spend time working her over to his point of view and that she’ll find him more interesting after that event. Konoe has an assistant in the overly energetic Yashima. She also provides some of the overt lesbianism towards her boss which is played out pretty innocently for the most part. The head scientist type is an amusing character named Ikuyo who loves to make up stories and generally mess with Taro’s head while also providing him with bad toys that cause more trouble.
The real competition comes with the more adult women though. With Taro falling hard and fast for Mariel, he’s rather shocked when he learns that as the head of the family, he’s already been promised in a way to another woman. Ruukya’s the daughter of the Jihioh family and in order for her to claim the position of head of the family, she has agreed to her father’s demands that she marry the head of the Hanaukyo family, which will then bring the two most powerful families together and solidify their control over pretty much everything. Ruukya’s pretty much set to do whatever it takes to achieve that position but she can’t believe that Taro is the head of the family. She ends up in instant competition with Mariel once she realizes that’s who Taro is really falling for and Ruukya goes into hyper mode to defeat her. What works really nice with this character is that, at least so far, she doesn’t decide that in order to win him over she must move in with him and become a maid to serve him like Mariel does. In fact, other than the episode where she’s the focus, she doesn’t reappear in this volume. That alone makes this a significant change over other similar shows.
The show doesn’t really explore anything new as it moves forward from the standard introductions but it continues to expand the relationships of the characters in how they interact with Taro. While the first few episodes focused mainly on the staff becoming used to how different Taro is from their previous master and adapting to the way he wants to run things, this middle arc brings it a little bit closer to Taro by just having one character really be the focus. One episode focuses on Ikuyo’s latest big plan and that’s the conquer the Comic Market with her doujinshi. She’s quite crafty in that she brings several of the maids and others with her and dresses them up. It is so rare these days to see gags like this due to copyright problems, but having the cast dress up as Chii from Chobits, Alucard from Hellsing and Sugar from Sugar is just priceless. The best being Taro as Mahoro and his uttering the “doujinshi are dirty” line. Though brief, it’s just a beautifully played out sequence.
Having seen so many comic market episodes over the years this one hits up the consistency of those well enough that you feel like you could walk in cold to one and know all you needed to know. Where this one turns interesting is when Ruukya, who is continuing to spy on Taro so that she can defeat him, discovers military doujinshi with all kinds of things inside it that appeal to her. Taro learns of this after running into her and she can’t believe that someone has discovered her secret, so she takes it upon herself to ensure that Taro doesn’t tell anyone about this little pleasure of hers that’s unbecoming of a young woman in her position.
And what better way than to move into the residence? Under the premise of getting to know her future husband better, she goes through the motions of applying to the various maid departments and trying to get a toehold there so that she can be close to Taro to ensure he doesn’t rat her out. The best part is that everyone keeps turning her down for the job but she ends up with the Personal Staff in the end, which means she’s one of those responsible for making sure Taro doesn’t sleep in a sense and is constantly taken care of. With the triplets taking her under their wing, it’s very amusing how Ruukya goes from feeling successful to scared out of her mind. Of course, with her personality, it’s not long before she subjugates the entire staff and takes over, which leads to some concern among the other staffs.
Ruukya’s being around constantly now, though not overwhelmingly thankfully, means that she’s more involved in the competition around the mansion. One of the competitions that Taro wasn’t aware of was that other than a couple of key staff areas like Memol and those working for Mariel have to compete each year in a baseball tournament to ensure they get the level of funding that they need. Konoe’s team has pretty much won continually which is why the security folks are always up to date with the latest gear but she finds herself challenged this time around as Ruukya is whipping the Personal Staff into shape and the other staff groups are eager to take advantage of the confusion, particularly Ikuyo and her group.
The entire baseball aspect is just a lot of fun and they play it up for laughs without treating it too seriously. The competition side of it just amplifies what normally goes on around there but it’s just so much fun to watch them playing around like this and having a good time that it’s really addictive in its own way. It keeps coming back to everyone realizing that while Taro is fairly oblivious, his good natured personality is what allows him to do some strange things or to make odd suggestions that in the end work towards bringing them all closer together or at least understanding each other more.
At the end of the day though, this is a show that’s built around all the women serving their master and trying to please him. This part of it is definitely a constant throughout the show but it’s toned down from even what it was in the first volume as the people who interact with him the most continue to get more and more familiar with him. It’s quickly changing from a boss/employee kind of relationship that someone like Konoe would want into something that means much more to her and is closer to what Mariel seems to always have. And overall, while the various women do seem to care for Taro, it hasn’t really approached the kind of overwhelming love that most other series end up with, with the exception of Ruukya but that’s plainly intentional.
As the series moves into the final arc, you realize that Hanaukyo manages to have quite a lot of heart and emotion to it and it tries so hard to avoid a lot of the usual pitfalls and pratfalls that would take down a lesser series. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s much more relaxed for a good part of its run, letting the characters actually talk and try to figure each other out instead of constant action. Not that there isn’t action. The inclusion of a character like Ruukya who finds herself slowly being charmed by Taro and his ways as she sees how he interacts not only with his staff but also with her rival in Mariel brings a lot of the wild moments to things since she knows she’s got some serious competition. As she goes through the motions you can see how she’s realizing that she’s got the short end of the stick this time around and does her best to compensate for it. Even better though is that once she realizes that she can never be what Mariel is to Taro, she doesn’t turn it into an even bigger match or tries to eliminate Mariel but instead accepts things as they are, but not without revealing some of her own true feelings about the matter.
With the last four episodes, we get some good material that helps to round things out and essentially ends what you could call the first chapter of the storyline. Taro’s trying his best to find time alone with Mariel so that he can talk openly with her without being disturbed and this leads to them sneaking out of the mansion and going into the city. The time the two spend alone is nicely done as it’s essentially just a simple date and it’s fun to watch them playing around town and just having that quiet time together. Taro’s finally able to start asking the questions he wants about feelings, liking people and the usual awkward ones of the age, but the revelations he gets are heartwarming at first but then disturbing and awful as he realizes what’s really going on.
With her answers setting him up for a fall and his own reaction to it, Mariel ends up in a state where she’s out of the picture, which after some initial time allowing for her health to be restored she’s kidnapped by the elder Hanaukyo’s lead maid as he wants his prize possession back. The story gets kind of twisted at this point as it turns into action/rescue detour but it’s done with some fun combat sequences as Taro leads the closest members of the group deep into the facility where Mariel is being held. Ruukya in particular comes across extremely well here as she has some good growth and the rest of the characters are spot on. It all felt out of place in its own way but it just managed to click right I think.
While by no means a great series, the show is one that has a certain charm to it as it builds the narrative over the twelve episodes. It’s simply not complicated and overwrought, at least until the last couple of episodes, and there’s an appeal to that after so many shows try to really go in some strange directions to define themselves. With its short length and overall lack of filler, each episode worked its way well towards expanding and understanding the interesting cast and the unique situation that they’re in. In the end, the show lets its characters evolve nicely and show their true feelings and desires. It won’t change the world but it certainly brought a smile to my face with each episode and it was a fun series to revisit after not seeing it for about a dozen years.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening and Closing Animations
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 6th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.