[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be looking at the adorable yet brutal world of Akiba Maid War. Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are true classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is Akiba Maid War worth your time or not?]
When I think of the word “subversive,” a lot of things come to mind. If you break it down, something is considered to be subversive when it breaks away from established norms and attempts to go its own path, oftentimes commentating on those norms in order to make a larger point. The most famous anime example of a subversive anime would probably be Puella Magi Madoka Magica, an anime that is firmly set in the magical girl genre, yet spends 80% of its runtime tearing down the genre and offering up a dark alternative to it. It was hugely successful, spawning imitator after imitator that tried to replicate the success of the show, but only ended up with mean-spirited and edgy trash that didn’t have much to say about anything.
That’s usually the problem I have with any show, movie, or game that attempts to be subversive: they oftentimes do it without putting effort into giving it meaning. They rebel but don’t know what they’re trying to rebel against. They’re just trying to be different for the sake of difference and when examined, fall like a stack of cards. I guess that’s why most times I see dark and edgy takes on established genres, I brace for impact because I may be diving into a show that’s as deep and meaningful as a measuring cup.
This is the same mindset I took when I first started to hear about Akiba Maid War. At first, the series advertised itself as being a lighthearted comedy about a young woman going to Akihabara to join a maid cafe and trying to do her gosh darn best at it despite all of the challenges city life throws at her. In a way, that premise is true. Nothing about the advertising is wrong. But the subversion comes in the genre, for this isn’t a lighthearted comedy as audiences are led to believe. Rather, it’s a violent yakuza crime drama involving a group of maids deep in gang warfare vying for maid cafe supremacy that also doubles as a gag comedy. Now THAT is a genre subversion I can get behind.
I realize that to a lot of American readers, the concept of a maid cafe seems completely bizarre, and many may not even know what the hell it is. Basically, it’s a cafe where the staff is all women who dress up like maids. They serve you whatever you order, talk and socialize with you, put on little performances, and try to entertain you during your stay. While most outsiders would look at this business and think of it as being similar to the American sex industry with the maids being akin to sex workers, that isn’t true in the slightest. Sure, there will be recurring clients who visit a maid cafe because they like a specific maid working there and may exclusively request them as their server, but there are no perverse elements or expectations if you are employed there.
In fact, there is a varied group of clientele that often visit a maid cafe. There are the regulars, many of which are men, but there are also women who actively go to the cafes and may oftentimes end up working there. Usually, you’ll see in anime most maids are young women still in school. That’s because Japanese labor laws allow high schoolers to find part-time jobs, with many high school and university students opting to become maids. Becoming a maid isn’t a simple process though, with extensive interviews and high expectations for all employees of the cafe. On the surface, it’s a pretty decent job for any woman looking to make a little money to help them get through school.
When you dig a little deeper and start to hear accounts from former maids, that’s when you really see how cutthroat the industry is. Outside of the rigorous interview process, there’s also arduous training in order to achieve that maid image and not damage the brand of the cafe. The stress of working at these cafes is enough to cause mental health problems, like women who have had panic attacks during service because they’re simply unable to handle the pressure of working there. Then there is a problem with body image, with maids being chastised for gaining weight and being let go entirely if they are unable to fit into their cafe’s uniform. While I couldn’t find any specific accounts in my research, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of maid cafe employees developing eating disorders from the stress of maintaining that “maid image.” Adding onto that, there’s a strict class system for maids with non-white and non-Japanese maids being seen as second-class maids and most cafes typically focus their efforts on their big-earning maids as opposed to their fresh new recruits.
With this ultra-competitive environment, it’s a bit inspiring that a show like Akiba Maid War goes all in on portraying the business as savagely as it does. Our main character, Nagomi, moves to Akihabara with the goal of becoming a maid because she likes to make people smile and thinks that being a maid is the best way to do it. She starts to work at the tiny and poor Oinky-Doink Cafe, which has only three staff members and a panda (don’t ask) working at it. The same day, she’s joined by Ranko, a 35-year-old maid who just spent 15 years in prison for some untold reason, who also takes up employment at the cafe. Nagomi quickly discovers how hardcore the world of being a maid is when she sees a maid from a rival cafe being punished by having one of her pigtails cut off in front of all the other maids. And then Ranko produces a gun, kills all the maids in cold blood, and hooray, Nagomi is now complicit in murder!
I cannot stress this enough: Akiba Maid War is deranged. The decision to make what would normally be a workplace comedy about maids and dial up the competitiveness of the industry into literal blood feuds is nothing but inspired. The entire sequence where Ranko is murdering an entire cafe of bunny-themed maids is all done to J-pop music with knives being used as glow-sticks, Ranko executing her enemies dispassionately while doing Idol-style dance moves, the maids all dying with wonderful choreography, and crimson blood splattering all over Nagomi as she stares in horror at it all. It’s darkly delightful.. And that’s just the first episode!
Each episode starts with a cold opening that immediately grips you and demands your attention. One episode begins with Nagomi being thrown off of the roof of a building. Another episode starts with Ranko engaged in an MMA match against a Russian maid mercenary. An episode even begins with both Ranko and Nagomi being tied to a chair in a giant vat slowly filling with blood! Want to know just what is going on in each episode and how they get to such perilous situations? Watch the episode to find out. It’s brilliant, plain, and simple. I can show the intro to any episode of Akiba Maid War to someone and they can be hooked almost immediately by the ludicrousness of each episode’s first scene.
All of this is to inform us of just how terrible the situation is for the ladies (and panda) of Oinky-Doink Cafe. They are in catastrophic debt to their parent company and are always viewed as being bottom rung in the company food chain. As part of the Creatureland group, they’re expected to pay monthly dues to the organization in order to keep functioning, but thanks to the efforts of the cafe’s manager (known as the Chief), they keep getting into more debt and are shamed at every opportunity. It’s actually kind of impressive how much the Chief sucks at keeping the cafe operating. I have no idea why the heads of the Creatureland group would keep this cafe open, let alone have the Chief running it, but the results are comedy gold. Plus it seems that every single conflict the maids of Oinky-Doink get themselves into ends with at least one dead body.
Actually, that’s a lie. It ends with several dead bodies.
So each episode focuses on a different situation that the maids of Oinky-Doink Cafe find themselves in. One episode has them going to a maid casino to try and win their way out of debt. Another has them trying to be “re-educated” by an expert drill sergeant maid in order for them to better fit in with the expectations of the Creatureland group. Then there’s a storyline that lasts for three episodes focused on a gang war that ends with an honest-to-god baseball game. The comedy comes from the setting and circumstances our maids find themselves in, not necessarily because of the characters themselves.
Akiba Maid War isn’t a series that is focused on telling character drama or even fleshing out most of its cast. While Nagomi and Ranko are our main characters and receive a fair amount of development, the rest of the supporting cast feels underutilized. At first, I thought this was a misdirection, but the other maids of the cafe just seem to be there for extra comic relief and violence. Each character does get an episode of development, but it doesn’t carry over to future conflicts and they go back to square one by the time the next episode rolls around.
The only exception to the mediocre supporting cast is the Chief, who is a ball of evil chaotic energy that I just love. The Chief is detestable and I love her for it. She’s greedy, will throw anyone under the bus to get ahead, humiliate herself to try and save her own bacon, and is just a complete and utter moron. In short, she’s comedy gold and the folks at P.A. Works are aware of this. They do whatever they can to beat her down and yet she still manages to be the show’s most endearing character from how completely and utterly pathetic she is. Also, the show decides to give her a rocket launcher in an episode and no one ever asks where the hell she got one and who in their right mind would arm this dangerous gremlin.
Where the show ultimately excels is in its yakuza drama. I’m not someone who readily follows yakuza-inspired media, so I had to reach out to Peter, who thankfully is an expert on yakuza culture. I mean, he played all of the Yakuza games multiple times! That’s gotta count for something!
I asked him what some of the tropes of the genre were and what some of the behaviors and practices were of the yakuza and in terms of iconography, Akiba Maid War gets a gold star. You have big important meetings with the heads of each cafe, gang wars, Ranko and another maid going to prison and coming out seeking vengeance, finger (pigtail) cutting, and ritual bonds of sisterhood, among many other smaller moments. Throughout all of this, the show never loses its sense of humor. There’s something delightfully dark about all of the major heads of each maid cafe having an all-black version of their maid outfit on standby to attend funerals for their fallen maids. I don’t really like playing spectator in pieces like this, but there’s not much else I can do to try and sell you on this show other than to point out the absurdity of it all and laugh at it.
The show fully commits to the gag and never once tries to point at how ridiculous all of it is. Even in spite of the unhinged concepts and executions, Akiba Maid War doesn’t try to wink at the camera about its comedy. It’s so very tempting for a comedy to point out just how ludicrous it is that maid cafe employees are killing each other over territorial disputes while dressed as pigs and sheep, but the show restrains itself. If it did, even a single time, the joke would be dead. It would break the immersion and rules established by the show and make this a world where everyone knows that this is a stupid situation. Instead, by acknowledging its stupidity, the show would lose its teeth and could never try to be straight about it again. In a way, it’s perfect deadpan humor, never giving in an inch for even a moment.
The metaphor is very on the nose with what Akiba Maid War is trying to do. It’s putting the business practices of maid culture in the spotlight by comparing it to a criminal organization, but therein lies the humor. We talked earlier on about the strictness and the borderline oppressive culture of maid cafes, so making a comedic comparison to a criminal organization is an exaggeration, but it’s a funny exaggeration. This wouldn’t work with any other job though. If there were an anime that tried to compare, say, high school clubs to the yakuza, or anime production companies to the yakuza, it wouldn’t land. Why?
Well, I could give you an in-depth explanation as to why the comedy of the situation wouldn’t work, but sometimes that simplest answer is the best one. It’s funny watching cute maids get into gruesome gang wars with each other over territorial disputes. Like, just explaining the joke of the show is enough for anyone to understand its appeal. Plus, it’s funny. There was a show called Back Street Girls: Gokudolls that attempted the same joke (comparing the Idol industry to the yakuza), but the show failed because it simply wasn’t funny outside of some hilarious out-of-context still frames. That, and also rampant transphobia. The premise wore thin, but Akiba Maid War still manages to keep going with funny situations, clever homages to previous anime, and earnestness to both respect the yakuza films and shows that inspired it as well as the maid culture that it draws iconography from.
I don’t really know for sure if this is flying under the radar for many anime fans because whenever I talk about it with other anime fans, they gush over it. However, my circles are small and if this column accomplishes anything, it would be to get you to at least watch the first episode and judge it for yourself. Given that Akiba Maid War was released in the absurdly packed Fall season, which is just stuffed with so many great shows, it’s quite possible that it may slip under the cracks because of the sheer quantity of other great shows airing now. That doesn’t mean the series isn’t great. It’s a hilarious package of yakuza tropes that should tickle the fancy of anyone looking for a little subversive comedy series.
January 2022: Anime of the Year Awards 2021
February 2022: Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc
March 2022: My Dress-Up Darling
April 2022: Platinum End
May 2022: Anime Recommendations Vol. 1
June 2022: Ya Boy Kongming!
July 2022: Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
August 2022: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
September 2022: Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun
October 2022: Chainsaw Man