The opening page is an in-joke of the characters talking about how amazing it is for the series to get its own book. For those that don’t know, most manga in Japan is published by chapter in manga magazines, and reaching enough chapters to print the first book is usually a major milestone. Because of this, fans will generally already be familiar with the series, and possibly have read all the chapters in the book, before it even comes out, so by that point the manga artist can be a little more casual with their readers.
For people who don’t read the magazine though, it’s a really risky approach that could easily isolate new readers. In Hayate’s case, it’s carried off with enough finesse that it makes you feel in on the joke, even if you never read the original manga chapters. The key is that it was done with only two characters, and you don’t have to know anything about them to understand what’s going on. One is super excited. The other (the loli on the cover) is super deadpan and adorable. The single page manages to feel like a “welcome” mat for the manga.
The next few pages feature our protagonist, the blue haired shota(?) stalking Lolita, while insisting he’s not a pervert, he’s just bitter and hates Santa. No, we don’t get an explanation, at least not for another thirty-something pages.
We jump back through time a bit and learn what Shota, Hayate, is actually like. He’s a 10th grader who works part time as a bicycle delivery boy, because he apparently can’t trust Santa to bring him a Gameboy. He’s actually honest, hardworking, and hard done by. He’s not an anime protagonist, he’s an anime sidekick! Actually…
Well, I’m glad to see Syrus got work after GX. I heard Alexis just does cheap hentai these days, and Jaiden, Jaiden is with the Winged Kuriboh now…
Hayate’s parents are hilariously unemployed, and somehow that has given him a stiff sense of responsibility. Unfortunately, that responsibility is spit on when said parents steal his money, blow it on pachinko, and then leave him ¥156,804,000 in debt (roughly 1.6 million USD). Oh, as a Christmas present. Oh, but of course his parents were ready to help him pay it off. In fact, they already contacted some thugs to harvest his highly valuable organs!
Nothing I say could make this funnier right now. A sarcastic “Thanks, mom and dad!” fails to bring out the absurdity of this situation any further. So instead, thanks Kenjiro Hata, for making me laugh.
Anyway, given his situation, Hayate abandons his hard working attitude, and decides he may as well become a villain, thus the first scene, him stalking our heroine.
Blonde loli, aka Nagi, is a rich, naïve, deadpan girl. Unfortunately, that’s the bulk of what we get for her character for now, but in itself it’s pretty nice. You rarely see a naïve character who can give her kidnappers a good death-stare, or flatly talk about how they’ll get their asses kicked by her knight on shining bicycle. It’s usually one or the other, but the combination works well, I think partially because the twin pigtails automatically imply tsundere aspects to her, so we just know she’s more aggressive than your usual naïve anime rich girl.
Hayate’s attempts to kidnap Nagi for ransom go horribly wrong, and he ends up rescuing her from other kidnappers. Thankfully, he comes off as a major badass, and remember to ask Nagi for a job before he nearly dies. Thus begins his employment as her personal butler.
And that’s the gist of it.
The series seems like it likes to play with anime tropes in its humor. For example there’s a scene where Hayate climbs into the bath without realizing that Maria, the family maid, is already there. The standard anime joke here is she screams sexual assault, he gets beat and/or yelled at, ha ha, why is this funny?
But the way Hayate does it is a lot more restrained. Neither character really reacts. Hayate has his mind on whether this is a dream or not, since he just sorta woke up in this mansion with no explanation. And Maria is too nervous to cause a scene and doesn’t know how she’s supposed to react. It’s not the best meta, and isn’t doing anything on a level any deeper than, “hey, I expected one thing and got another,” but it gives you an idea of what’s in store. Taking the piss out of anime trope, just for the heck of it.
The biggest weakness is, it’s not consistent in its piss taking… should probably rephrase that. While it is able to step back and look of the silliness of some tropes, others it just falls into. Nagi, for example, is a blonde loli, twin-tailed tsundere. That’s not all there is to her, but that is a large part of her personality early on. She’s that way because, let’s face it, blonde loli’s are popular, and twin-tailed tsunderes are even more popular (I’d like to hope). And the manga won’t dare to make the slightest comment on that.
And it bothers me that, while the main pull of Hayate seems to be its self-awareness, it can just turn that self-awareness off to play strait the tropes that it likes. It commits artistic suicide. It loses all ability to meaningfully comment on the clichés it plays with. Or, perhaps I should say, it shows that it really has no interest in commenting on them. Just lampshading them. Just pointing out a silly trope and saying, “Hey, ain’t that a thing that exists? Lol!”
So far, Hayate is funny. And I have no doubt it will continue to be funny. Its actual jokes are hilarious. Its taking the piss out of anime tropes is a little dull spirited but still fun. But funny is all it has going for itself. There is no reason to read this, except for a good laugh.
Don’t Lose Your Way