Hand Maid May Apologia

(definitely under construction!)

Well, the TV series Hand Maid May (HMM) definitely has some questionable elements. However, it does have more depth than it appears to have at first and it does have some structure. Some episodes are worth watching twice, and not just to check out Kei's legs.

The series has two major themes, the nature of humanity, what makes one human, and the role of memory in defining that humanity. That one is totally defined by one's memories is the very Proustian thesis. May's OS is ported from body to body. She changes size from 1/6 scale to full size and back again, but it's only when her memory is erased that she ceases to exist. May herself realized the importance of memory. When she realizes what the ladder symbolizes to Kasumi, she is ready to protect it with her life. To both Kasumi and her mother the ladder represents the most important relationships in their lives. In flashback we learn that Kazuya and Kasumi have some history together, all revolving around the ladder. When May dies, her friends realize that she still exists in their memories of her. This idea has been figuratively presented many times before, including in the ancient idea of ancestor worship. Even John Wayne says in The Sea Chase (where he plays a German sea captain) that your friends stay alive after they have passed away as long as you remember them. In May this is taken literally when the memories of both the CBDs and the humans are used to reconstitute May's identity.

The very Japanese attitude of always trying to do your best, no matter what the task may be, is also an important theme. If you've been raised in a household with any sort of Asian tradition, you know what this means. Even if your status isn't that exulted, or if there isn't much chance of success, you still keep trying. May is smart enough to realize that she isn't very good at anything, but she keeps trying at her job. Kasumi finally learns not to give up and keep trying after spending most of the series depressed abour her failure to get any attention from Kazuya.

HMM is basically the Terminator II, anime style. Kazuya and Nanbara apparently founded a robotics company named Cyberdyne. Instead of producing Terminators, this Cyberdyne produced cyberdolls, or CBDs. Their descendants are still running the company, and in true time travel paradox fashion, the descendants travel back in time to inspire the founders to get their act together and also fix a problem that has been passed down to them. In the present Nanbara created a computer virus to annoy Kazuya. Kazuya temporarily overcomes the virus, but it stays on his computer and apparently becomes imbedded in the MAID OS software he is writing (initially to drive Ikariya?) until it becomes malignant again in the far future. This isn't quite a Tenchi style harem format since most of the female visitors don't have normal romantic interests in the male lead. They mainly seem to be interested in parasitic relationships. Kazuya and Kasumi end up footing the bill for three of the CBDs. Even Kei who has a job doesn't seem to be helping with the domestic economy. We know that May isn't Kazuya's girlfriend since if he were, Kasumi would have killed him already. Kei is mainly a researcher and a tease and Rena is only a child. The CBDs are only interested in Kazuya when they can get something from him, such as a ticket to the fun park. The exception is Sala who develops a temporary crush on Kazuya, but her come-ons are just as clumsy as Kasumi's.

The CBDs are not just products, but apparently also work for Cyberdyne. It's also possible that in the economics of the future such roles have blurred. Sala takes some pride in her work for the company and pride in her role, just like May. She's irate when Nanbara suggest that she is a maidservant and is very pleased when she gets to show the president of her company around. She's also equipped with more communications gear and surveillance gear than her peers, typical corporate perks. Mami, the Martha Stewart CBD, also seems to have some special status. Besides being a trainer, she can time travel freely, just like the real humans, and she has access to information that the other CBDs, even Sala, lack. Kei is the specialized information gathering and data processing unit, which is important since this team of CBDs was sent back in time as a carefully controlled experiment by Cyber X. Rounding out the team, Rena seems to be some kind of security unit since she is the only one equipped with a weapon, the ability to emit immobilizing whines. She can also track other CBDs. So, to summarize, the CBD team roles include:

Besides the CBD virus, the other plot thread is the relationship with Kasumi. In the opening episode we see her rather clumsily trying to communicate to Kazuya that she is available. As is plain to everyone except her, this sort of a come-on doesn't work with Kazuya. Kei is able to size him up immediately and figures out which buttons to push to manipulate, but quickly loses interest once she has gathered all of her data. Kasumi spends the rest of the series dejected and despondent, as we can see in the closing credits, until the end when she finally learns from the CBDs the importance of always trying her best. Kazuya's sister and Rena have already figured out that Kasumi and Kazuya are a couple. May implicitly has, too, in her respect for the importance of Kasumi's memories. Although Kasumi is jealous of the attention the CBDs receive, she exhibits no animosity towards them. She adopts Rena into her family and enjoys dressing up Kei and May. They in effect are two new friends for her, and provide some excitement in what is probably a bland life otherwise. There is a scene directly lifted from Hyperdolls in which Kasumi dresses up all of the live-in CBDs in yukata so she can have an entourage to take with her to the festival. She's obviously having the time of her life while being miserable at the same time.

Kazuya himself at least isn't a ronin who has trouble getting the attention of girls. He and Nanbara are students at a technical college and both seem to be very self-confident and are getting along fine in their Jobs (Nanbara)-Wozniak (Kazuya) relationship. The technical world attracts extreme personalities, and in my time as an engineer I've met people similar to both of them, which is probably one reason I like the series. The fact that Kazuya isn't annoyed by Nanbara's actions, even the virus, implies that he is used to him and they've been experiencing this sort of interaction for a while. At the very end we see some of the qualities in Nanbara that keep him in Kazuya's good graces. When the chips are really down Nanbara stops fooling around and can come through. He's one of the characters who matures and learns something. When Sala is stricken, he shows genuine compassion for her and humbles himself by asking Kasumi to take care of Sala. When it's pointed out to him that his virus caused all of the trouble, he doesn't have any quick answers. Sala herself abandons living on roof tops and moves in with Nanbara, who supports her ramen habit. Sala shows that she cares what Nanbara thinks about her. On his side, he enjoys hitting on May in front of her, a typical immature way of expressing affection. Eventually Sala gives up her sleazy sexpot outfit and starts dressing more professionally and acting as if Nanbara is her property (by beating him.)

Besides being cute, May has no special talents except that she's a good observer of the people around her and cares about their feelings. She's the catalyst who inspires Kazuya's programming project to success and she's brave enough to sacrifice herself for her CBD friends. Her philosophy of trying her best even though she's not very much better than being an expensive TV remote control energizes Kasumi. Although May runs around in a French maid outfit and there is that very strange scene in which Kazuya searches for her USB port, May's design is basically wholesome, unlike Kei who is always attracting attention. On the other hand, Kei is the only one who gets a job to help support their little commune and doesn't take up much room by living in Kazuya's closes, just like NieA. Like May, Kei also cares about the other CBDs. One of the best scenes is at the festival when Kei tries to keep Rena's head from getting wet during the rain. The OVA does have some embarassing scenes in which Kei is inconsistently presented with Nurse Nanako proportions. Otherwise, she gets more mileage from her bare summer shoulders than from a bounce.

Fan service is a big issue, as mentioned before, but Kasumi and the CBDs usually wear fairly sturdy underwear. (No one complains about the knicker shots in Kiki's Delivery Service, since she wears the industrial grade variety.) This show is definitely not a Plastic Little. The early scenes with Kasumi putting on her show aren't repeated and make some sense in context since we're seeing Kazuya's viewpoint. Except for the infamous USB scene and the Nanako style Kei shots, most of the fan service is rather cartoonish and harmless, such as the opening credits. The other objection is that the soap opera the CBDs, including Rena, follow, is pretty racy and has far more action than the framing story. Overall, May is much less harmless than the last episode of El Hazard, the Alternative World. The CBDs themselves are rather prudish and judgmental. When they discover Kazuya's porno video stash, they go to great lengths to ensure that he'll never get any use out of them again.

In the Hand Maid May world, life is a continuous series of soap opera watching, cooking and eating, picnicing, festival hopping, and baseball mixed in with creating new OSs.



Last Update: 16 June 2002
Web Author: Doug Ikemi