School President is Maid Episode 5 – A Phantom Menace
If there’s one thing that my co-blogger hates more than anything else, it’s stock formulas. Pulling the “x” plot off the shelf, updating it slightly to match the characters involved, and then releasing it on the audience and expecting them not to call exactly what is going on in the first five minutes: all of this is a sign of sloppy story-telling. Whether “x” is “the hero discovers a truth and can’t get anyone to believe him” or “a confusion makes the hero’s significant other grow suspicious of possible cheating” or “we learn there is a traitor two minutes after being introduced to a new character who obviously is the traitor”—you’ve seen it before and you know exactly where it is going to go.
This episode of School President is a Maid falls directly into that trap. It has its entire premise revealed the moment (less than three minutes in) that it’s mentioned that there have been reports of stalkers and assaults on worker in maid and other costume-oriented cafes. If this show were to stick to formula, that means that said stalkers will target Misaki by the end of the episode, which will either require Usui to rescue her, or will cause her to go on an “I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” feminist empowerment trip and lay a smackdown on them. And, yes, that’s exactly what happens.
In fact, to complete the cliché pile-up, we are given both responses. Yes, Misaki is able to deal with her attackers herself, but Usui goes through considerable efforts to rescue her anyway—climbing up to a second story balcony and breaking in through a sliding glass door—to show his commitment to her safety. So you get female empowerment (or at least Misaki-empowerment) and the feeling that Usui really cares. Big whoop. How does this advance anything related to the plot, or tell us something we didn’t already know?
Previous episodes had occasionally fallen into formula as well. The second episode tended a bit too much toward the “inflexible lead learns to lighten up” mold, and the fourth had hints of “spoiled pretty girl decides to try to steal away the lead’s (somewhat) boyfriend.” However, particularly in the latter case but even in the former, there were deviations and twists, ways in which the show took the set formula and not merely applied it but also transformed it into something unique.
With the last episode, for example, the spoiled pretty girl was actually a guy and fell for the lead instead of her boyfriend. There was a willingness to twist conventions and to take the audience by surprise. There was also the bonus of seeing Misaki demonstrate a side of empathy and human understanding that we hadn’t seen from her before (at least, toward guys), and a deepening of the contrast between Misaki’s inner (and outer) beauty and her complete indifference to the fact. A not-entirely predictable plot plus character development equals a decent episode. I’m actually looking back much more fondly on it now than when I first saw it.
This time, there were also a variety of things that could have been done to make the plot more interesting. The stalker subject could have been mentioned this episode and then left to linger for a couple episodes before making an appearance, thus building a sense of dread or palpable threat. There could have been threats or attacks on other co-workers. The stalkers could have been previously introduced characters, although that would have taken some advance planning. But none of these variants are used.
What does happen is that Usui’s concern for Misaki pops up continually, albeit in the easily-misintepreted-as-harassment form that characterizes all his displays of affection. He cautions her about being so confident in her ability to defend herself, fake mugs her once or twice to keep her in practice for defending against bad guys, and generally acts in such a way that would imply that Misaki would need him to rescue her at some point for her being overconfident.
I’m not certain if the fact that Misaki doesn’t need a rescue in the end to be a very clever subversion on the part of the writer, particularly after the second episode (where Usui’s warnings do come true), or is simple narrative sloppiness, but I’m leaning toward the latter. Put more positively, perhaps it’s a sign that Usui always feels like Misaki is a girl, and thus has the protective feelings that comes with that. But again, we already knew that.
Another form of narrative sloppiness is the mere fact that Misaki gets endangered in the first place. Somehow the two guys, with a single taser between them, get her to submit to being handcuffed and having her mouth taped shut. This is the same Misaki who then, after getting really pissed off by their protestations of affection, snaps apart the handcuffs and proceeds to take them both apart. So why did she let herself get captured in the first place? Because Usui needs to think she’s in danger, yet not actually rescue her. Plot holes like this aren’t forgivable just because they are necessary for the particular point to be driven home.
The humor, aside from the fun of seeing the stalkers, Usui, and other deserving targets suffer Misaki’s retribution, is also somewhat lacking. Usui’s antics are becoming old hat, the secondary characters don’t do anything particularly notable, and none of Misaki’s friends or coworkers really get any time to share the spotlight. The only real advance is that Misaki gets a cell phone, which presumably will figure in somehow in future episodes—if for no other reason for the embarrassing picture Aoi drops on it on the very end that Misaki doesn’t know how to remove.
Perhaps I’m just being a bit cynical here with a recent stream of middling to poor quality episodes coming out right about now. But, while this one isn’t exactly bad, it is entirely forgettable. And that’s not where I was expecting this series to ever wind up.