Aaliyah | Maid Machinegun (Del Rey/Ballantine)

maidmachinegun-header.jpgUnfortunately Aaliyah is not a very good maid: she’s clumsy, slow, and inclined to forget the menu.




186 pp. Del Rey Manga (Ballantine), 2008. $9.95 (paperback original)


Maid Machinegun is a short novel written as a series of diary entries by an 18-year-old girl, named Aaliyah, who comes to Tokyo to work in a maid café. That is, to be a waitress in a café catering to guys obsessed with manga and anime, in which she wears a fetishized maid costume and refer to male customers as "masters."

Maid cafes are part of cosplay (costume play) culture, which is extremely popular in Japan, and not just at sci-fi and anime conventions. There are numerous cosplay restaurants (including maid cafes, butler cafes, and little sister cafes) and the center of this culture is Akihabara, a shopping district in Tokyo devoted to electronics, anime and otaku (obsessed fan) goods. Sexual favors are not on offer, although some fairly bizarre (at least from a Western point of view) services are, including ear-cleaning and photography sessions.

Click for a larger image.Unfortunately Aaliyah is not a very good maid: she’s clumsy, slow, and inclined to forget the menu. But fortunately, because maid cafes are all about role-playing, customers forgive her by assuming she’s just playing a "clumsy girl" character. That’s not good enough for Aaliyah, who’s determined to succeed as a maid. As in all good coming-of-age novels, she eventually realizes that first she must discover who she is, before she can succeed in the role she has chosen.

Plot and character development are not the strong points of Maid Machinegun. There’s a mystery at the café, but it’s not integrated with the main thrust of the novel, which consists primarily of a series of episodes which provide the opportunity for Aaliyah to inform the reader about aspects of Japanese popular culture. To cite one example, a customer who self-publishes BL (boy-love) manga, much to her mother’s disapproval, is not developed as a character but serves as a launching-pad for a quick introduction to Yaoi (gay manga) and its conventions.

One thing is certain: if you don’t know what a maid café is, you will after reading Maid Machinegun. Aaliyah supplies lots of direct explanation, including a section titled "Maid Café 101," and also provides five pages of vocabulary notes. You’ll also learn about moe, Comiket, tsundere, and much more. But if you’re already familiar with otaku culture, you can sit back and enjoy a few hours immersion in it from the comfort of your living room.

The identity of Aaliyah the author is unknown. But if she (or he) is not a teenager, she certainly has an ear for teenage speech. The character Aaliyah would fit right into an American high school, with her fondness for expressions like: "OMG! Best. Comeback. Ever." Young people will eat this up, but adults should be forewarned that a high tolerance for teenage slang is a prerequisite for enjoying Maid Machinegun. On the other hand, if you have children of that age, you may enjoy seeing their habits and mannerisms reflected in the mirror of Japanese society.

Maid Machinegun includes a section of moe-style illustrations and a brief manga drawn by Suzuhito Yasuda, who also created the manga series Yozakura Quartet. | Sarah Boslaugh

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