Content Warning: sexual violence, fanservice, gender essentialism, threats of eviction
What’s it about? Hayate’s grandmother passes and leaves him the cafe where she lived, and he thinks it’s a great opportunity to tear down the property and build a parking lot. Not if the five beautiful maids who live and work there have anything to say about it! Will he acquiesce and let them keep living there, or will he kick them to the curb?
Let’s start with the obvious: Café Terrace is a very old fashioned harem show. In the first five minutes, the protagonist Hayato has run into not one, not two, but five girls in their underwear and/or naked and been given a roundhouse kick to the face for walking in on them. The girls he now lives with both force him into and are forced into sexual situations that he is not comfortable with. He and they eventually acquiesce to living together.
If those shows are gross to you, you will not like it. I did not like it. But this show is bad in an interesting way, in that it reveals the interfaces between sexism and capitalism.
Just go with me.
The interest largely arises from the conflict between the landlord protagonist, Hayate, and the maids who inhabit the café the land is on. Hayate in the first five minutes comes across as a greedy, grotesque cheapskate. The first ten seconds consist of him practically spitting on the grave of his own grandmother, showing absolutely no care about her death. He then announces his plan to evict the women who work at the café that she ran, and tear down the café because it’s not profitable.
The show seems to side with the women at first, inhabiting their perspective for much of the premiere as they, led by the source of endless gender essentialism Ouka, hatch and carry out a scheme to… figure out what Hayate’s deal is? Threaten him with blackmail to get him to keep the cafe open? It really wasn’t clear. But for the moment, I was somewhat onboard. The idea of a show about a group of maids fighting back against an oppressive male boss? Sign me up.
However, as their scheme began to actually take place, it became clear that it was merely a thin excuse for Harem Hijinks—i.e., seduction/assault of the protagonist. In one scene Ouka gets one of the girls Shiragiku drunk and sends her into Hayate’s room to seduce (sexually assault) him. The kinkshaming joke of the scene seems to be that Shiragiku has a smell fetish, and Ouka plans to film her assaulting him so that they can blackmail him into keeping the café open.
In this moment, the girls’ interiority and scheming, which was the main selling point of the anime for non-fanservice enthusiasts, exists only to justify more scenes of sexual titillation and fanservice for the male viewer, often through sexual violence. If the sexual violence against Hayate was not enough, it is additionally later revealed that Shiragiku, the girl who was gotten drunk, was not aware of the scheme, which is… disgusting? If the scheme had worked, she would have been every bit as violated by it as the Hayate, so I suppose these girls are happy to use each other and violate each other sexually to get what they want?
Additionally, as the episode goes on, it inhabits more and more Hayate’s perspective, and makes his capitalist money-grubbing more and more #relatable. His greed is revealed, through intensely dull flashbacks, to arise from watching his grandma be threatened by money lenders—who she owed because she hired all the women in the café, making it not profitable. The anime ends with him resolving to make the café profitable by any means necessary, and asking the question, at least as localized: “Will these women be the goddesses of fortune who save this café, or the devils of poverty who ruin it?” The madonna/whore complex is, in a sense, read onto class status, and both end up reinforcing each other. He is presented as the capitalist savior of these infantilized women who could never run their own establishment.
Overall, the only thing that made this show interesting, the conflict between women’s labor and male bosses/landlords, is almost guaranteed to be resolved by episode’s end. Even if it had continued, like the conflict in many harem anime it was merely a thinly veiled excuse to exploit the women the camera leers at. I can’t recommend this anime on any level except as a fascinating example of how patriarchy interfaces with capitalism.