I give the spring season's most pleasant yet unexpected surprise...an 87/100!
If someone told me last year that I would find myself in love with a show called Shounen Maid, I would have called them crazy! Before this anime came out, I thought it was going to be absolutely terrible, just like what I thought of Steven Universe before I actually sat down and watched it. I mean, it's a show about a ten-year-old boy who has to live with his uncle, and said uncle makes him half-dress in a maid outfit for kicks and giggles. Tell me you didn't think "Oh my God! Is this gonna be some super sexual shotacon hentai?! Is it trying to condone pedophilia?! No way am I watching this garbage fire!!" when you read that premise. I won't lie, I thought the same way. But then the show actually came out and people were suddenly praising it up the wazoo. Again, just like Steven Universe. So I sat down and watched it...and while I admit I don't like the art style much for reasons I'll explain in a bit, this show really went against my expectations and actually wound up being really nice!
Based on the manga by Ototachibana, the show is about a young boy, Chihiro Fujiwara, whose mother just died from a heart attack. It had always been just the two of them, but with his mother gone, Chihiro is all alone...or so he thinks. One day, his mysterious uncle, a rich costume designer named Madoka Takatori, appears to take him in as his ward. But while Chihiro appreciates the gesture, Madoka isn't known for keeping his house clean, and Chihiro can't stand anything that's not clean, so he works hard to clean the house all on his own. Since Chihiro's not the kind of kid who just wants stuff handed to him, Madoka proposes a deal: Chihiro can stay at the Takatori house if he's okay with handling the chores, since Chihiro likes doing that. Chihiro accepts...though Madoka makes him wear a frilly maid outfit as a uniform for funsies. With that, Chihiro has a new home.
Let me tell you something right now: This isn't a dumb sexual shotacon anime like most people thought. Rest assured, Shounen Maid is nothing like that, misleading title and initial premise not withstanding. It's actually a wholesome, low key slice of life story about a kid trying to deal with his loss and meeting new people upon going to his new home. And thank God it actually turned out to be genuinely good. Otherwise, I never would have given this show the time of day, especially after hearing people talk about it. Of course, this isn't a perfect show, and it does have a few problems, one of those being the animation. Well, not really the animation per se, but the character designs, particularly how large the characters' eyes are. They're fine on the kids, but the adults having them just makes them look really awkward, especially with how their eyes almost take up the entire upper halves of their cheeks. The actual animation is quite good, with colorful backgrounds that are easy on the eyes and smooth movement as well, along with the occasional cutesy chibi head every now and again. The soundtrack is also nice and pleasant, with a lot of woodwinds, oboes, flutes, and violins that perfectly fit the soothing, heartwarming atmosphere the show is going for...except for the ending song, which is basically typical boy band fare straight out of the mid-2000s.
Thankfully, the dynamic characters more than make up for the occasional animation slip-ups. I loved the whole ensemble, as they all had a wide array of personalities and quirks, but also didn't lean into typical anime archetypes. Madoka acts like a whiny, lazy uncle, but he's actually compassionate and does genuinely love his nephew and worries that he might be growing up too fast. Keiichiro could have just been the overworked butler, but he also has quite a bit of charm to him by being a confidant for Chihiro, having a life beyond just being Madoka's butler, and being the voice of reason for Madoka. Miyako could have easily been just the busty girl next door character and little more than walking fanservice and boob close-ups, but thank GOD the anime didn't take her in that direction. She's klutzy and nice, but is also proactive and a lot smarter than people give her credit for. But I think Chihiro is the best out of all of them. At first, he does seem like the kind of idealized kid who acts more grown up than he should and is really OCD about cleaning and stuff, practically raising Madoka when the latter should be the one raising him, but the anime always makes sure to remind us that, at heart, he's still a young boy. He likes reading fantasy novels, is scared of horror movies, likes animals, and can be kind of demanding and bossy at times. His character alone pretty much carries the whole show, and his chemistry with all the other characters is wonderful to watch.
Now, this anime might not be for everyone. Since Shounen Maid is very much a slice-of-life show, its pacing is deliberately slow and languid, and much more character-driven than story-driven. This might not sit well for people who prefer faster pacing and more action-oriented stuff, and that's fine. I think Shounen Maid's slow pacing works to its benefit, and the show itself doesn't try to be anything more than the cute, wholesome family drama it wants to be. But there is one more bit of criticism I have in terms of its audio: Some of the characters' voice acting tends to border on grating or really overdone, the biggest offenders being Madoka and Hino. For the former, he's voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki, who is normally a pretty good voice actor, but here he gives Madoka a ridiculously high pitched, whiny voice that makes him sound like a teenager than an adult, and when Madoka yells and screams, it is absolutely painful to listen to. Hino's voice actor, Mitsuki Saiga, is also a prolific and very talented voice actress, but the voice she gives Hino just makes him sound like a strangled duck, and I feel bad about saying that because she's normally really good at what she does. But I find she's better at doing low pitched voices for quieter, more stoic characters than upbeat, loud, and cheerful ones. It really says something when the English dub voice actors for them turn out to be way better and more listenable. Seriously, watch the English dub. It's really good! That's really all I have to say on the show.
Overall, don't let the misleading premise and image of Chihiro in a maid outfit fool you. Shounen Maid is the perfect example of how not to judge a book by its cover, and it's a nice, heartwarming, wholesome anime that deserves more love and appreciation than it gets.