Akiba Maid War was a series I came into this season out of curiosity, and which immediately demonstrated it was something that was absolutely my jam. There will be some spoilers in this review
Akiba Maid War has a fun, simple elevator pitch – what if maid cafes were the Yakuza. Not run by the Yakuza. Not run like the Yakuza. Were the Yakuza. The show follows Nagomi Wahira, a 17-year-old girl who is looking forward to starting her first job at the Oinky-Doink Cafe as a maid, completely ignorant of the violence that lurks under the surface of Akihabara. Fortunately(?) she is starting at the cafe at the same time as Ranko Mannen, a 35-year-old maid who just got out of the slammer, and is willing to protect her kohai – and is willing to quite effectively demonstrate her aptitude for murderous violence along the way.
This comes to a head very early in the first episode, when Ranko and Nagomi are sent to a rival cafe – Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam – to deliver a message that is clearly supposed to get them killed, and provoke a war between the rival cafe’s organization (Maidalien), and the Oinky-Doink’s organization (Creatures). Only instead of dying, Ranko proceeds to spectacularly wipe out the staff of Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam all by herself, protecting Nagomi in the process, leaving Nagomi horrified as what she’s gotten into.
Now, Akiba Maid War could have just been a black comedy that juxtaposed the deliberately calculated cuteness of maid cafes with the violent imagery of yakuza films (with clear and overt shout-outs to movies like Outrage and The Yakuza Papers/Battles Without Honor and Humanity films). However, what makes the show really work is the difference in expectations between Nagomi wanting to be a maid, and say, Henry Hill wanting to be a gangster, which is something that is heavily interrogated by the show.
Nagomi frequently interrogates, often literally, the idea that in maid cafes the purpose is to provide a cute experience by serving the “masters” food and drink, complete with doing cute ketchup doodles on omelet rice, and casting “magic spells” (usually with some variation of the words “Moe-moe-kyun~”) to make them even more delicious (also justifying the increased cost), and also with musical idol-esque performances by some of the staff. However, the other half of that world in the dog-eat-dog world of the gangster, where violence is responded to in kind, and very few honor the ostensible code of honor of the yakuza.
I went through the series wondering what form the series would take with its ending. Would it go to the classic tragic ending of the gangster story – even ones like The Yakuza Papers, where our main character survived but came out bitter, and chose to walk away from not only the Yakuza life but any connections to that life? Or would it manage to find a way to transition to a more optimistic ending – something where the concept of the maid cafe could go legit?
Thankfully, it did take the second route, and it did so in a way that felt earned. In a way, without getting too far into the details, the climax is effectively a violent rejection of the perpetuation of the cycle of violence. I’m… pragmatic enough to be aware that there are some who don’t want to give up the cycle of violence because they find it empowering, and would fight to maintain that cycle of violence even if they’d lose nothing (and would even gain) in the change, so having the rejection be violent in this manner does not necessarily feel hypocritical.
This was a wonderful series, and I’m definitely going to pick this up once it gets a physical release.
Akiba Maid War is currently available for streaming on Hidive.
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