Mission: Impossible? Understanding the Mind of Saginomiya Isumi

She is not supposed to be stupid…

The little world of Hayate no Gotoku! is so full of terrifyingly intelligent people that perfectly normal people, like Ayumu and Hayate, are easily regarded as “stupid”. Yet, there is a certain girl who is the easy pick as the most foolish one: Saginomiya Isumi. In and out of the story, people appear to enjoy making fun of her weirdness and weaknesses. Chapters featuring her are expected to be funny – the most recent example being Ch. 410.

Sometimes it seems a little unfair to make so much fun of her so frequently. Sometimes it appears that Isumi is not stupid at all – in fact, far from it. In the pre-Golden Week school examination, Isumi came third after Hinagiku and Aika, while the brilliant but lazy Nagi came tenth. She is fluent in four different languages, while Hayate is not considered stupid even though he couldn’t speak English. Sure, intelligence is not all about academic prowess, but it is almost impossible that a stupid person could do as well as Isumi at school and languages.

Somebody... kill me please.

Somebody… kill me please.

We might call Isumi an “airhead”, but the fact is that, while she might not have the sharp minds of Nagi or Athena, Isumi is still able to interact with other people in a more or less normal manner. If you want examples on true “airheadedness”, please look at her mother and grandmother. Interacting with those two is truly a hellish experience.

… but she is not helping herself

Yet, on so many occasions it seems that Isumi has not brought her brain along. She is absolutely feeble with smartphones – some say that if you can’t figure out how to use the “super easy to use” iPhone, you are truly hopeless. She also has almost no sense of direction – a running gag that is almost as old as the series itself. Above all, Isumi doesn’t seem to have the ability to learn from her mistakes: it has been 400 chapters, and Isumi still remains a tech-dumb and a lost child. Unfortunately, this contributes to the impression that Isumi is stupid.

She is trying to make her own claim here...

She is trying to make her own claim here…

If I am to justify the claim I made in the first subtitle – that is, Isumi is not stupid – it would be my duty to work around the impression that she is stupid. It appears to be a Mission: Impossible. Indeed, how are we supposed to make sense of someone who appears to make no sense at all, especially when we cannot decide when she would be “stupid” and when she would be not?

Let’s start with the intelligence

The bottom line is that, Isumi has shown in so many ways for so many times that she is very clever. Not only that she does well in her studies and languages, she is also a highly competent professional at her job as an exorcist. She knows exactly what is needed (more likely than not, Hayate’s blood) to do her job, and she has made huge contributions from time to time when facing the most formidable enemies. Only a very clever girl could do this.

Whatever you say, it worked.

Whatever you say, it worked.

Yes, she often sounds weird on these mystical things, and her extraordinary calmness does give us the impression that she is an airhead who doesn’t understand what is happening around her. The thing, though, is that Isumi is the only one who truly understands these supernatural things. She is calm only because she knows what to do with these things. Her only problem is that she doesn’t always sound convincing as she explains the mystical things to us, so we tend to think that she doesn’t know what she is doing.

On to her weaknesses…

Now it is time to explain why such a clever girl – as I claim she is – would be so clumsy with smartphones, has no sense of direction, and most importantly: she shows no improvement after making so many mistakes with making calls and finding ways. My claim would be that Isumi is not learning. Her failure to learn doesn’t mean that she is stupid; it is that she is being stubborn. In other words, she has the intelligence to learn, but she refuses to learn.

We would need some insights into her family background in order to explain this further.

The Saginomiya Household. Seriously.

The Saginomiya Household. Seriously.

Isumi comes from a big family which is both rich and famous. While it might not be as big as the Sanzen’in family or the Tennousu family, the Saginomiya family is still one of the top families in Japan. In other words, the Saginomiya family is a premier brand: the family members are thought to be prestigious by everyone, perhaps including themselves.

It is therefore unavoidable that there would be some pride in the younger members of the families. We have seen such pride with Nagi and Athena, and also to an extent Sakuya. The politeness of Isumi gives us the impression that she is without pride, but it isn’t necessarily true. In fact, I would argue that Isumi has as much pride as Nagi, Athena and Sakuya, and it shows (most unfortunately) through her stubbornness.

Isumi’s pride

One of the common features of these prestigious children is that they think they are well above ordinary people. Nagi openly declares that she wants to be “something special”, such as selling trillions of copies of her manga. Athena declares that she has a name of “the greatest goddess on Earth” – you know what she is trying to infer. Sakuya has zero tolerance to stupidity and boredom. As for Isumi, she tends to think that she could do no wrong.

Not the ideal family for intelligent kids.

Not the ideal family for intelligent kids.

To a certain extent, such thinking is justifiable. Isumi has a mother and a grandmother who are both arguably more air-headed than she is. By “parenting” such elderly figures, Isumi has developed a strange kind of confidence that she does a better job than people older than her. She thinks she is good – so good that her ways of doing things are always the best. When things go wrong for her, obviously the other party (or object) is at fault.

There is no phone she cannot use, so when she cannot use a phone, the device – smart or not – must have been broken. She is the most powerful figure in the world, so she gets very, very angry when her opponent has the upper hand in a battle. She knows the way to Kyoto, and when she has ended up in Hokkaido instead, it is because Hokkaido is a part of her journey to Kyoto.

A stubbornness that comes with her pride

She did use a phone correctly once (although it wasn't "smart").

She did use a phone correctly once (although it wasn’t “smart”).

Granted, as she has made way too many mistakes with phones and directions in the past, even she has to admit that she is not that very capable with them. But she is still capable enough, and there is nothing wrong with her methodology. It is only some silly mistakes (e.g. monsters or butterflies coming out of nowhere and everywhere) that have messed things up for her. She can always get it right next time, with her very same methodology…

As such, Isumi refuses to learn from her mistakes – or, to better put it, she doesn’t think there is any mistake for her to learn from. What we would then see is that Isumi doing the same things over and over again, with the same results coming out over and over again. It is not that she is stupid; it is that she doesn’t think she has anything on which she has to be smarter.

Remind me never to make her angry...

Remind me never to make her angry…

Isumi takes pride in herself. She is also quick to defend her pride. She goes very violent at Athena, Yozora and Tsugumi because they outpower her (even if temporarily), thus hurting her pride. She makes fun of Sakuya and Nagi because they make fun of her, thus hurting her pride. She refuses to accept her apparent “stupidity” because such acceptance would mean that she is stupid, thus hurting her pride.

We could see from Ch. 410 that, when things go wrong and her friends are in trouble, Isumi would volunteer to make amendments. I think it is because she firmly believes that, if given one more chance, she would do things all right. If she could atone herself, then her “stupid mistake” previously made would be nothing, and thus her pride would be protected. Of course, this also shows her sense of responsibility: when you screw up, sort things out by yourself. This, to a sense, is also pride.

Everything is actually fine…

The main point is: we are still alive.

The main point is: we are still alive.

It is not wrong to have pride. Pride makes us confident, and it drives ourselves to stand with our moral codes: “I am not doing those dirty or stupid things because I am too good for that.” Yet in Isumi we can see that, if you are too busy defending your pride, you might miss great opportunities to learn from your mistakes, becoming a better person. In other words, if you are as stubborn as Isumi, you would end up being, well, Isumi.

Yet, Isumi appears to be doing just fine. Despite her (not clearly shown) pride, she still has best friends in Sakuya and Nagi. She still has a caring mother to take care of her. She can still arrive at scenes when and where it matters. She can still use a phone to call Sakuya when someone’s life is at stake. She is still the only one on earth who could truly understand Nagi’s manga. She is still among the 10 most popular characters in the series…

Sure, our dear Isumi is doing just fine.