Content warning: Gore, gun violence
What’s it about? The year is 1999 and bright-eyed Wahira Nagomi moves to Tokyo’s Akihabara ward with dreams of becoming a maid. She quickly finds a home at cafe Ton Tokoton, a.k.a. The Pig Hut. But it’s not all frills and thrills: being a maid means fighting for your life, and newbie Nagomi is about to get up close and personal with just how real that is…
When I picked up Akiba Maid War, I did so unknowing that this show was TV-MA, which, at first glace, caused me to make the same sound Solid Snake does when he doesn’t hide under a box fast enough. “Oh, maids?” I thought. “It’ll probably be low-key.”
And let me tell you, episode 1, “Oink It Up! Starting Today, You’re an Akiba Maid!” is anything but low-key. But I’m going to tread carefully here because I do think this premiere functions best if you don’t know everything. There’s things I have to mention–see the trigger warnings above–but by and large, I think it’s best to go into this by reading this part of my review, bouncing over to the show, then coming back after you watch the episode on HiDive.
Okay, you’re back? That let’s get frilly with it and learn about some 20th century murder maids!
Episode 1 starts out sedate enough with maids getting out of a car in 1985: it’s a quiet scene, backset by the sound of rain. Umbrellas unfold as maids bustle to their individual cafes. Then, a seasoned maid (that is to say, an older maid) turns, entering the scene.
And bullets start flying, thus bringing “war” into the title. It’s jarring, it’s out of nowhere, and because of that, it’s fan-fucking-tastic.
Hard cut to Wahira Nagomi, a fresh-face to Tokyo: more specifically, to Akihabara in 1999, a nerds paradise if there ever was one. But she’s not here for college or to see the sights: no, Nagomi’s here to become part of the pigsty at Ton Tokoton, a.k.a. The Pig Hut. It is the most outlandish idea, and like, I routinely frequented maid cafes during my four years in Japan. I don’t think I ever went to a pig-themed cafe, though I kind of wish I had.
Still, Nagomi’s eager… almost too eager: she flubs her entire first day to comedic degrees, barely making it to the end. And then a curious customer comes in, and things take a twist a la Akiba’s Trip, making this already curious premiere even more twisty.
It’s hard to contain my gushing because there’s so much I really like about Akiba Maid War. It’s got all the sugar sweetness of an IRL maid cafe packed into its plot alongside the fact that there’s a literal turf war going on in Akiba’s moe moe streets. It’s got excellent comedic timing, stellar voice acting, just enough drama that it’s going to live rent-free in my mind, and the animation isn’t half bad. In fact, it looks pretty solid, and I really like how distinct the characters look. They’ve got this very turns of the century vibe to them, channeling everything I think of when I imagine this specific time in terms of otaku culture.
It helps that the characters are definitely in on the joke: they’re savvy young women who are working a job, to a degree, and aren’t always into their job though some are very dedicated to their cafe. The cafe is in deep debt, forcing Nagomi into the dark underbelly of Akiba’s maid cafe system from day one. It’s grim, without being overbearing, and the running joke of maids using their own cafe lingo in the midst of a tense scene really ups the ante. It’s a moe moe cute blend of black comedy, action, and surprisingly, a thriller, all bundle up in mary janes and a frilly, pristine white apron.
Now… that’s not to say that this show isn’t A LOT. Fuck, there’s so much blood and murder and bloody murder, and it’s almost pretty because of how the sequences are animated. It’s like watching a maid perform wotagei, but with bullets. In fact, it’s not like: it’s just literally that, and it’s set to eurobeat, 120bpm idol songs. I mean, I know this is TV-MA but like, wow there is A LOT OF MURDER. Viewer beware. Seriously: beware because the body count is gonna rack up quick in this one, and that coupled with everything else won’t always be tasteful or enjoyable.
Akiba Maid War is fantastic: it offers a lot up front but never fails to surprise and never lets up. It’s the exact kind of show I need this season, combining the teeth-rotting fluff of maids with Gunslinger Girl. That’s not to say it’s completely unproblematic: in fact, there’s some problems here that automatically made me a bit nervous. First and foremost, our heroine is seventeen in a TV-MA show, which… opens her up to a lot of potentially bad situations. I’m not sure if Akiba Maid War will ever dip its toes into questionable territory in regards to Nagomi’s body, but it’s definitely something to be aware of, given the stakes of a mature anime. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that.
That said, it’s shockingly chaste in the way the all-female cast is viewed, at least in terms of the camera. I found that in my two watches (yes, I watched this twice, back to back, specifically for the wotogei murder sequence that just like… gave me the idol music I want this season I guess) that there was little excess fanservice outside of the fact that the maid uniforms are sexy-cute, which I expected. But the camera doesn’t leer: it doesn’t linger on thighs or do any upskirt antics. If anything, these girls and young women get a degree of power by nature of the plot, imbued by the fact that they’re all ready to murder at the drop of a hat or just when murder is necessary. There’s something here that keeps pulling me in, something that makes me hungry to see where this show is going to go.
I’m calling it: this is going to be what I don’t stop talking about all Fall. This is my jam from jump: it has serious potential to critique the maid industry and be a strong feminist contender. It has the potential to enter into conversation about gendered competition and working in an industry where performative gender is what’s primarily attracting clients, as the girls change from squeaky customer service voices that sound like a lot of cutesy anime heroines to deeper registers when the customers are gone. Of course, it could just be a black comedy, but as an anime original series, I want to think that there’s going to be something deeper because the joke of maid murder only goes so far.
Right now, Akiba Maid War is one of Fall 2022’s strongest premieres, and honestly… whenever this gets a box-set of any merch, fully expect to see me on Twitter proxying it because I just really, really like this show. It’s definitely not going to be for everyone, but I do think there’s a lot of potential to be found here with the female cast and perhaps, a larger message about femininity and maid cafes.