Another piece of Gainax anime, which means you never know quite what you're going to get, but that it will probably be interesting. When I first did this review I wasn't that positive about the material. I expected some e-mail opposition but strangely didn't get much, apart from one reader calmly suggesting I finish the series and look again. Well, it wasn't exactly immediate, but this review can now cover the full series.
Life in modern Japan appears to be going on as normal. But what people don't realize is that there is a secret, and bloody, war being fought against monstrous alien invaders. The only thing that allows humanity to survive being the development of combat androids with impressive levels of power. And standing before the leaders of this secret army is one of their most grizzled veterans. A warrior who has fought tooth and nail, suffered losses and taken wounds in the service of a humanity who knows nothing of her. But androids are not immortal, in fact they have a very definite time to live, and her time is nearly up. If she keeps fighting she'll operate for 38 more days. If disarmed she can survive for roughly a year. And the only reward command can offer her is the chance to try and fit a life in the time remaining.
Meanwhile we get to meet a young Japanese high school student living alone in a huge house. His mother and father both having passed away tragically while working overseas. This hasn't really left him with the skills, or the energy and motivation, to maintain a family home leaving the place somewhat chaotically organized. The solution is to hire a maid to bring order to chaos, although he never imagined (apart from some rather natural fantasies for a teen male) getting someone quite like Mahoro. She's young, cute and attractive, and takes the maid role very seriously, attacking the house with a surprising degree of discipline and skill. There's something else about her though, an unusual innocence and purity of heart... and perhaps, just at times, a certain sadness.
In case you didn't get it the two synopsis paragraphs overlap. I'm a lot more subtle about it than the series is though. Nor do they really play out the dual nature of Mahoro, it's made very obvious to Suguru that she has abilities well beyond what is humanly possible. There are also some other overlaps of course, Mahoro's lifespan and the fact she's knows certain things about Suguru's past... but strangely these never become part of the story, existing solely within Mahoro's mind.
I get the feeling that Gainax has adopted a manga that appealed to them, and then adapted it to their own style. And also, to be frank, to their own lack of discipline. Gainax produce some really strong anime, they have a great touch for characters and intensity of scenes, but consistency, both in visual and story terms, is not one of their strengths. And this is certainly demonstrated in Mahoromatic which has several definite phases in its presentation.
The foundation of it all is the character of Mahoro. Her unique origin and history having produced a rather interesting character with a strong back-story. She also manages to combine being cute, and playing the submissive maid, while still displaying strength of character. Also, as she says herself, she has intelligence and knowledge but limited experience, so there is a childlike joy in her discoveries of what mundane life mean. She also acts as a catalyst for Suguru's own social life, his friends suddenly discovering that Suguru is fun to be around now that Mahoro is there.
I'm a notoriously easy mark for such things, which is probably why I was more than a little disappointed when Gainax got bored of that angle after about, well, a whole two episodes. The maid element, with the beautiful and innocent Mahoro being submissive to Suguru wasn't really panning out either. Its obvious to any viewer that Suguru, a gentle and nerdy type, is no match for Mahoro in strength of character let alone physical strength. The answer is to put in the painfully obnoxious Shikijo-sensei, a teacher with an outrageous shouta complex. She has suddenly decided, prompted by Mahoro's arrival, that she wants Suguru's virginity and Mahoro's defeat. In other words the ecchi content takes a huge leap upwards as we get to see Shikijo's fantasies, her breast size combat with Mahoro and a dramatic increase in the number of bath scenes. There's no depth to Shikijo though, and no subtlety to the presentation, so I wasn't that impressed.
That's about the point I stopped watching in my first review. Strangely enough the show quickly enters another phase and the physical conflict comes to the fore. Another combat android, allied with the other side, enters the scene with the intention of challenging and defeating Mahoro. Both the character drama, and thankfully the ecchi, fade to secondary elements as the focus shifts. This is partly because the conflict causes Mahoro to realise that she will, either violently or by virtue of her limited time, inevitably be separated from Suguru. The series ends, relatively neatly, with the conclusion of the conflict... however there are a lot of character elements still left incomplete when it does.
So before you can answer the question of "is it good" you have to decide which phase of the show you are talking about. And since this isn't a long series this also means that each section is relatively short. I think most people will find Mahoro fascinating as a character. I imagine some people will find the ecchi stuff appealing (and I'm sure this is regarded as a selling point) but even as ecchi I didn't consider it that great. The action component is decent, there's a bit of threat there which adds intensity and allows us to understand more about Mahoro. Taken as a whole however its just too chaotic to really be great, for every scene you like there's probably going to be one you don't, and a lot of story elements never actually amount to much. Lightweight, enjoyable, demonstrating both Gainax's strength at character work and lack of consistency. I'll leave it as watchable, that fits it well, although those repulsed by Shikijo-sensei will probably consider that generous.
The animation is quite decent, albeit nothing particularly fantastic. Mahoro is plenty cute, there's lots of shoujo influence in the style and color, and their ability to express character is impressive. The character design is not particularly original though, even for Mahoro, and while her appearance is great for "childlike" innocence it's probably a negative for her sex appeal. Action is quite decent, some variety in the fights, and uses Gainax's exaggerated motion style. The characters deform a little to suggest speed and power (or at one point drop to pencil frames for no immediately obvious reason) but it works well enough. Given there really are only two combatants, and a limited environment, there's only so much that can be made of it though. The voices are solid and the music is catchy, although the lyrics to the end vocal are a little bit scary.
Cute robots and young maids are combined, and given a neat little twist, in this Gainax produced title. Because while the lead, Mahoro, is certainly cute and used to following orders her past has also made her strong while still being empathic. Which proves to be exactly what Suguru, the young male she works for, needed to recover from his own past... Although with diversions into ecchi-land, and back into action, that ends up being just one element of this watchable, but somewhat scattered, title.