Title: Hayate no Gotoku! aka Hayate the Combat Butler
Synopsis: Ayasaki Hayate’s family is poor, largely because his parents are horrendously irresponsible with money. His situation has forced him to develop a good work ethic, but he tends to attract misfortune. After his parents rack up a huge debt and sell him off to some “very generous people”, Hayate figures he can cancel the debt by kidnapping a girl for ransom. However, the girl he attempts to kidnap, Sanzenin Nagi, misinterprets Hayate’s poorly chosen words as a love confession. Hayate’s kidnapping plan backfires, and after Nagi is kidnapped by some real bad-guys, Hayate steps in and saves her. After seeing his courage and learning of his desperate situation, Nagi, who happens to be extremely rich, decides to offer Hayate a job as a live-in butler at her mansion.
Comedy: Self-aware and well balanced; funny for the most part.
Characters: Likable, but not very deep.
Relationships: A lot of romantic interests, but very little progress; mostly there to serve the comedy.
Length: It’s impressive that the show can still be funny after fifty-two episodes.
The short version: if you go into Hayate no Gotoku! Manga expecting any semblance of plot, you’ll be disappointed. While the first ten or so episodes introduce the characters and set up a fairly elaborate web of relationships and romantic interests, Hayate no Gotoku! Manga is ultimately ten different types of comedy before it is a romance. The relationships, just like everything else in this anime, are established to serve the comedy, so there’s no real point in taking them all too seriously. Hayate no Gotoku! Manga basically lives and dies by how funny it is, but fortunately, for the most part, it’s consistently humorous.
Hayate no Gotoku!’s forte is its sense of balance. There are a lot of different types of humour jammed into this series, from awkward sitcom humour, romantic misunderstandings, black comedy, moé humour, slapstick, screwball, satire and otaku references, but the show mixes things up enough so that none of these elements ever feel excessive or overused. Sure, the show has its repetitive and/or inane jokes, but they’re never so prominent as to adversely impact enjoyability. But, the show is fun on many levels, effortlessly switching from cute and charming to witty and sardonic when the moment calls for it. The satirical humour marks the show at its cleverest. Real life celebrities like Bono, Nabeshin and Dick Cheney are the targets of derision, while a list of anime as long as a football field are parodied, including Death Note, Yoakena ~Crescent Love~ and Gurren-Lagann, just to name a few.
It’s a minor miracle that a fifty-two episode comedy can still be entertaining right to the end, but not every episode is funny. Some episodes, particularly a woeful episode where the cast flies to a beach resort, are tedious to the point of painful, but fortunately these are rare. Everything happens at a sprightly enough pace that it usually doesn’t matter if one joke is bad, because the next is just ‘round the corner. The comedy also works because the characters are generally quite charming. Hayate is strong and sympathetic, if oblivious. He’s one of these characters that is intensely hated by the universe (or the writers) and bad things constantly happen to him, but he accepts everything with a steadfast optimism, which makes him very likable. And other characters like Hinagiku and Maria are seriously moe (and not in the contrived, manufactured way designed to win popularity contests or sell figurines).
At the end of the day, however, fifty-two episodes is a long time for pretty much nothing to happen. The series itself points out that it’s a love comedy show that doesn’t go anywhere, which shows that the molasses like pacing is quite deliberate. However, ultimately comedy is what this show is intently focused on, and it has a decent enough grasp of its own strengths to confidently play to them. Hayate no Gotoku! Manga can be thought of as one of many of the new breed of self-aware otaku comedies, but it’s also one of the better ones. Kannagi or Ouran Host Club might be better if you just want the short version, but if you’re in the mood for a comedy with staying power, you can trust Hayate no Gotoku! to deliver for the long haul.