Way back when, I watched the first season of Mahoromatic because I’m a Gainax completist and later made a mental note to pick up the second season when time and finances allowed. Even then, Something More Beautiful sat on my backlog shelf for months. The fact that I have an entire DVD shelf dedicated to my backlog might explain why that happened, but Mahoromatic‘s second half wasn’t something I was in a hurry for in the first place.
I found myself compelled to see it through to the notorious end, but I can think of so many reasons why I perhaps shouldn’t have bothered. My lasting impression is that it really wasn’t bad; ignoring the waste of time that is the Summer Special (a course of action I thoroughly recommend, by the way) it still had its fair share of problems.
Firstly, there’s the fanservice. I know that’s such a common thing that I don’t normally bother to pass comment on it, but this series has so many boob gags and scenes in which the female members of the cast are shown topless it’s as though their nipples were pairs of accusing eyes watching me watching them, and making me feel guilty about it (I think I became desensitised to it, but I’m not sure if that’s a healthy thing).
Hand-in hand with this is the issue of the kids’ teacher. By her second appearance on-screen I’d already stopped finding her antics funny and started to wish she could be written out of the story altogether, especially since she served no useful purpose plot-wise. The irritating bint’s lustful advances towards the adolescent male protagonist actually creeped me out far more than the camera’s fascination with Mahoro’s tits did which implies that, in my eyes, a shotacon teacher is worse than straightforward gratuitous nudity. An interesting train of thought, that.
Seeing Mahoro and the other girls naked made me feel a little uncomfortable, but the housemaid theme goes against the grain for me too. There’s a market for that sort of thing of course (maid cafés, for instance), but the apparent portrayal of outdated gender roles left a bad taste in my mouth. I guess fans could argue about its subversive-ness (because, y’know, it’s what Gainax specialise in) and the fact that it’s not really about sexual politics, but the sense of exploitation/otaku maid fetishism still refused to go away.
The irony that Mahoro was capable of killing aliens but decided to make Suguru’s breakfast and clean his house for him after she retired from active duty isn’t lost on me, and of course it’s often part of the comedy and absurdity of the show. A more positive way of looking at her decision to become a housemaid after a life of a battle android is assuming the story is taking a pacifist/personal atonement stance…or so I’d like to think.
Mahoromatic‘s mood-orientated gear changes were a little jarring too. Since it dealt with both ecchi slapstick and tragedy, the production trod on thin ice and because the ending is in stark contrast to everything that preceded it I was caught off-balance (the comedy had outstayed its welcome by that stage so maybe that change in atmosphere was for the best).
This serious undercurrent that runs continually from the first episode to the last is however the very thing that lifts Mahoromatic up and away from the rest of the ‘forgettable fanservice comedy’ titles. No matter what the subject matter of the episode happens to be – whether it’s vacuum cleaner-powered breast enlargers, hidden porn stashes, a brassiere missile launcher or a festive christmas special – each episode ended with a title card indicating Mahoro’s remaining life expectancy…which is measured in days.
When the viewer is reminded every time the end credits roll of how fragile the fluffiness of the show is, it gives a powerful sense of inevitability and finality and ensures that you never forget the story’s bittersweet roots. On one hand I wasn’t comfortable with Mahoro being Suguru’s obsequious personal servant but on the other I really appreciated the other main theme of the series: a warrior who chooses to spend her final days making a lonely young human’s life more pleasant and discovering her own humanity. On paper, it sounds trite and dumb but seeing it happen on screen is really quite moving.
With the exception of the homeroom teacher the characters are quite likeable, even Minawa, the insipid clumsy moe maid, who miraculously failed to initiate my gag reflex. Suguru is far from the worst example of the Anime Male Lead – I’d put him in the top 50% somewhere, anyhow – and Mahoro is also one of the more memorable anime characters I’ve seen over the years. Quite a bit of effort was poured into the backstories of the two of them, and refreshingly this isn’t thrown out of the window towards the end either.
Perhaps I also unknowingly recognised Ayako Kawasumi’s voice behind Mahoro’s character, and saw her as another cute-yet-badass female with a more interesting bond with the male protagonist, and a more interesting balance between toughness and femininity too (I’m thinking of her roles as Lafiel in Crest of the Stars and Saber in the Fate franchise here).
The lifespan counter at the end of each episode is decidedly unsubtle but I still had a lump in my throat by the end in spite of myself so while I did feel it was enotionally manipulative, I was manipulated very effectively. We often walk away with more positive lasting impressions of a story if it has a memorable, powerful or satisfying ending, even when the bits that precede it are patchy; filler is by its nature forgettable, so I remember the parts that worked well and in that sense Mahoromatic did itself a favour by cleverly timing its big twists and shifts in atmosphere.
Is the comedy forced, formulaic and reliant on fanservice? Yes. Is it lightweight fluff? Until the latter episodes of the second season, yes. Does it play into the hands of the otaku and their romantic fantasies? Yes. Is it borderline sexist? Possibly. For all that though, I still can’t bring myself to hate it. I think it’s one of those guilty pleasure shows: deficient or simply crap in some aspects, but with a few redeeming features that are just enough to save it. I often wonder if Gainax deliberately choose risky projects and thrive on trying to make these unlikely propositions work. Grudgingly, I have to admit they just about managed it here.