Hayate the Combat Butler Vol. 1 (Viz Media)

hayateheaderYes, you read that right. "Combat butler."  

192 pgs. B&W; $9.99

(W / A: Kenjiro Hata)


Hayate the Combat Butler. You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more absurd title for a comic book than that, but inherent in that title is a promise that the book will supply enough insanity to live up to such a ludicrous name. Hayate's first volume doesn't quite live up to the challenge, but with both the action and comedy ramping up in equal measure as the book progresses, the series' future certainly looks bright.


The set-up for Hayate is ridiculously complicated, but the summary breaks down something like this: Hayate Ayasuki is a hopelessly unlucky young lad who had the privilege of being born to the world's worst parents. Perpetually unemployed and with gambling debts up to their eyeballs, the parents get by on what they can steal from their 16-year-old off of the meager earnings from his part-time jobs. With Christmas approaching, Hayate gets one helluva gift from his parents: an IOU stating that his parents have sold his organs to the yakuza to pay off their gambling debts. After dodging his pursuers, the normally kind-hearted Hayate hatches a plan to kidnap a rich heiress and ransom her off to pay off the IOU using something other than his own kidneys and lungs. Hayate is a bit hapless as a kidnapper, however, and when he rescues the cute 13-year-old Nagi from "real" kidnappers horning in on his racket, Nagi mistakes his protectiveness for a profession of love. After coming to Nagi's rescue (and getting battered and bruised in the process), Hayate is nursed back to health by Maria, Nagi's gorgeous 17-year-old head maid. When Nagi finds out about Hayate's predicament, she offers him a job as her live-in butler. Nagi thinks Hayate's in love with her, you see, but the oblivious Hayate only has eyes for Maria, the only one who knows both sides of story.


The cover to Hayate the Combat Butler Vol. 1. Click thumbnail for a larger image.And hijinks ensue…sort of. The overly complex nature of the book means Kenjiro Hata burns through forty percent of its pages just setting up the premise, which doesn't leave much room to get to the meat of the story. Things don't start to really pick up until the book's sixth chapter (of nine), when Klaus, Nagi's head butler, makes an appearance and decides to test Hayate's butlering skills against Eight, a nursing robot designed to be "the ultimate butler." When Nagi calls the robot ugly, Eight turns violent ("No one can stop my ‘burning pathos' in action" he declares), leaving Hayate, whose sole job qualification seems to be a staggeringly high tolerance for pain, to come to her rescue. But all that's just a warm up for Hayate's first meeting with Tama, Nagi's very possessive talking pet tiger.


The plot doesn't flow particularly logically from one scene to the next, but that works to the series advantage by never giving the reader the foggiest notion of what's happening next. The humor is suitably wacky given the storyline, although it may be just a bit too self-referential for non-manga readers, such as when Hayate gets chastised for staring at Nagi in her nightgown and thinks to himself "This being a boys manga, it's justified, but right now, that's not the problem!" Hata's clean, youthful art more than does its job, although it may be more straightforward than some might expect given the book's surreal nature. The only place the art falters is on a handful of chapter title pages, which have an inexplicable (and vaguely creepy) Lolita-complex quality to them, something that's not present whatsoever in the story pages. Hata's style seems heavily influenced by fanservice artist extraordinaire Ken Akamatsu (of Love Hina and Negima! Fame), so maybe these pages are just that influence edging to the forefront.


Viz's adaptation is excellent, with a smooth, conversational script from Mark Giambruno. The book also features a handful of welcome extras, including a look at some saucier pages that didn't make the book, a pair of 4-panel gag strips, and character bios of all the main players. The best extra, however, is on the very first page: in a brief introduction to the book, Hata's agent thanks readers for buying the book and making it a success, but upon discovering the title is teetering on cancellation, she prepares to hang herself in shame. The author even acknowledges in a note in the margin that it's "a pretty risky joke for the first volume" (let alone the first page!), but if he continues to take such hilarious risks in future volumes of Hayate the Combat Butler, Hata might just have a winner on his hands. | Jason Green

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