Manga Review: Hayate the Combat Butler (Complete)

So, the manga of Hayate the Combat Butler concluded a few years ago – and while the official US English release has not yet reached its conclusion (Viz is moving at a somewhat glacial pace with their releases), the rest of the work has been translated through (*ahem*) other avenues. Consequently, I can provide a reasonable analysis as to whether it’s worth the wait for Viz to reach the ultimate conclusion of the series.

To give the ultra-high level overview, Hayate Ayasaki is a Japanese High School student who is cursed by having a pair of parents who are complete and total scumbags. Not only are they thieves, con artists, and various other degrees of assholes (at the “would steal a baby’s pacifier and sell it back to their mother level”), but they also are very loose with the money they do steal. Consequently, Hayate has had to work a wide variety of jobs since the age of 13, frequently pretending to be older than he actually is – only the money he earns to be taken by his horrible parents.

This comes to a head partway through his high school life, when his parents borrow a massive amount of money from the yakuza, leave Hayate himself as collateral, and then skip town (we later learn also not before renting a whole bunch of movies in Hayate’s name as well). In a desperate bid to save his own life, Hayate admits he needs to break bad, and decides to try and kidnap a (very) young heiress – teenage prodigy Nagi Sanzenin. Only things don’t go according to plan in two respects. First, Nagi mistakes Hayate’s demand that she come with him for a love confession. Second, shortly afterward some people kidnap Nagi instead, forcing Hayate to rescue her. This ultimately leads to Nagi (who is stupidly rich) taking on Hayate’s debt, and Hayate ends up working as Nagi’s butler until the massive debt is paid off. Also, you know that love confession misunderstanding? Still hasn’t been straightened out.

Hilarity ensues.

Hayate and Hinagiku are dropped into a pitfall trap in Hayate the Combat Butler

Kenjiro Hata has, quite frankly, a really strong knack for absurd comedy. He does a tremendous job throughout the series of putting together all sorts of scenarios that are deliberately contrived, which he then proceeds to call out as contrived in a way that makes them all the funnier. Scenarios like Hayate ending up being loaned a brand new expensive coat, followed by being presented by a series of increasingly over-the-top scenarios where the coat is placed at risk. This is not a unique concept – it’s part of the plot of Ray Bradbury’s story “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”. Still, it provides a lot of ways to add a sense of absurdist slapstick to the story without becoming completely monotonous. Honestly, I’ve discussed some of these in my previous reviews of the anime adaptations, but it bears some reiteration here.

Some of these do lead to a degree of fanservice, but it never reaches the point of overwhelming the series the way that something like Shinji Ikari Raising Project did. That was a series that started as a conventional rom-com and went full horny-on-main by the finish. With Hayate, on the other hand, Hata drops some fanservice in every now and then, and in a few cases it’s in ways that don’t make sense in the story (and is called out as such – which isn’t an excuse), but it never becomes pervasive.

What the manga has that is under-used in the other adaptations is the supernatural drama aspect of the series – specifically related to a collection of supernatural mysteries ultimately connected to how Hayate is such a good combat butler (beyond the myriad skills he developed to keep food on the table), and related to Nagi’s inheritance, her mother, and something called The King’s Jewels. Here the manga gets a lot flashier in its action and plot development, and we also get some of the book’s more involved action sequences – not only with Hayate, but with some of the supporting cast (particularly Hinagiku and Isumi). This part of the plot could lead to a sense of tonal whiplash, but I think Hata does a good job of tonally balancing everything.

Speaking of Hata – in addition to the solid writing of the manga, he’s also got some very strong art throughout the series. We get some very involved backgrounds and landscapes in combination with the action sequences, but the slice-of-life elements of the story never feel neglected either. Related to this is the work involving Hakuou Academy, the school much of the cast attends – Hata’s art does a solid job of giving a sense of geography to the academy. Even if I don’t have an exact sense of the distances between every part of the school, I do get a sense of the major locations throughout the school.

Finally, there are the character designs – Hata’s characters all have a strong sense of identity and “cuteness” to them (something which carries over to the Can’t Take My Eyes Off You manga. If I have a gripe about all of this is that he does a very good job at making everyone generally look their age, which is a problem when he then decides to do a fanservice shot of Hinagiku (16) in a bikini. At least in the shots where Nagi ends up naked, it doesn’t feel as much like it’s done for fanservice (there is some sense of that – but it doesn’t come across as being Hata’s intent for it to be fanservice). Otherwise, everything just looks great.

As far as the ultimate conclusion goes – without spoiling it, while it didn’t pan out quite the way I hoped, the result we got was emotionally satisfying. I won’t say it exactly could have panned out any other way, as there were a couple alternative options on the table, but I wasn’t mad with that resolution.

In all, I am glad I finished reading the series, and I will be picking up the official releases of the remaining volumes as they come out, and I would recommend you all pick the manga up as well.

The Hayate the Combat Butler Manga is available digitally through the Viz app (either through buying individual volumes or as a subscription), through the Amazon Kindle store (affiliate link), and physically through RightStuf (affiliate link).

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