Hand Maid May
Saotome Kazuya is a college student who is attempting to perfect a robot with artificial intelligence, which he calls Ikariya. Unfortunately, he's not having much success with his squid-bot. The constant interference of his "best friend" (bitter rival, really), the flamboyant (and inept) Nanbara Koutarou doesn't help things, not to mention the racket from the apartment next door, whose tenant never seems to be around to pay rent. But Nanbara's attempts to sabotage Kazuya's work inadvertently gives him access to the order website of an obscure company, and Kazuya receives something he didn't expect - a fully functional 1/6th scale robot of a maid, named Cyber Doll May. A very cute, very sweet, and very much artificially intelligent May. Of course, she comes with a few strings attached, and Kazuya must protect May from being kidnapped by those who consider her to be the ultimate peripheral.
We almost made a pretty grievous error. We chanced upon the DVD of this at a local convention, but the entry menu was so frustrating, we just about gave up on this series. We figured, oh well, it's probably just another stupid harem anime with a bimbo cast, lots of cheesecake, and bad jokes. Might as well write it off from the get-go. But we went ahead and watched it anyway, since it looked cute.
It's a damn good thing we persevered through that menu, because what Hand Maid May is a genuinely sweet, well-acted, and thoroughly enjoyable bishoujo comedy that takes a well-trodden and seemingly played-out genre and twists it in clever and entertaining ways. And the show is every bit as sweet and cute as the cover implies, with the winsome May, in a role that could so easily have been irritating or cloying, being a whole lot of fun, while displaying an honest sense of innocence.
Granted, a lot of scenes in this show are anything but innocent, with some rather perverted humor played out for laughs. However, the vast majority of it is situational and pretty harmless, especially since the main male character, Kazuya, is not really perverted at all, but fairly innocent in his own right. The very first episode has a simply classic comedy scene involving, Kazuya, May, and a USB port - that's all we're going to say about that. But there is no explicit sex or nudity in this title, and content of that nature would be horribly out of place in this genuinely cute series. Kazuya may seem like this week's installment of Yet Another Loser Hero, but he's earnest and sweet, more like Love Hina's Urashima Keitarou, or even My Dear Marie's Karigari Hiroshi, than the true loser sociopath Techno from Don't Leave Me Alone Daisy.
A lot of the fun (and conflict) come from the main antagonists: the very rich and outgoing, but always second-fiddle Nanbara Koutarou, who constantly conspires to bring down his "rival" Kazuya (in a sci-fi update of Jinnai Katsuhiko from El Hazard, with the same English voice actor, to boot), and an employee of the Cyber Doll Company (incidentally named Cyberdyne, yes you may laugh at the reference), a ramen-obsessed and brash young woman with pointy ears named Sara, who is trying to repossess May because Kazuya couldn't possibly afford the exorbitant fee for his accidental order. In comedy, there's nothing quite like seeing perfectly laid plans foiled by using the wrong noodles. And there's plenty of comedy in this pair, who play off each other exceptionally well.
In addition to Kazuya's neighbor, the tomboyish Kasumi (who is pretty much there to help out Kazuya while giving him, and the audience, lots of fan service shots), many of the episodes feature other girls, usually actually Cyber Dolls, who latch onto Kazuya (or those around him) in some sort of way. While that does sort of qualify this as a harem anime, the characters aren't too gratuitous, and we didn't find the sometimes formulaic scenarios to detract from our viewing experience.
The animation is really good for a television series, which should not surprise fans of Pioneer's work. The opening song is definitely cute enough to set up this show, while the soundtrack itself was pretty average, and not entirely memorable. What is memorable though, is the voice acting. In both Japanese and English, the acting is superb. We honestly don't know which versions of May and Nanbara we like better, to tell you the truth. Christi even likes the English dub better than that of El Hazard, which should tell you a whole lot about its quality. Tons of kudos to all the voice acting talent in this series, which despite the dang frustrating opening menu in the first volume, is still one of the best arguments yet for bilingual DVDs in the North American market.
Well-animated, well-written, and well, just darn cute, Hand Maid May truly deserves to be part of every anime fan's collection.
Recommended Audience: Despite gobs of fan service, we didn't find much incredibly distressing even for children in this title. No violence, no strong language, and we didn't feel a bit squeamish showing this to the kids at our local conventions. Of course, more conservative parents may not want to let their kids see flashes of animated cleavage and panties, but that's the most you're going to see. (As if girls haven't seen panties before, anyway...) While it's officially rated 13+, we feel that it could be fudged a bit depending on the audience.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Hand Maid May © 2000 Wonder Farm / TNK / Pioneer LDC / PEA
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