Before you read…
How should we describe Hayate no Gotoku! Cuties?
To me it is like a textbook with 11 chapters (Episodes 11 and 12 are combined into one chapter), with 11 authors writing on 11 different topics, and minimum supervision from the editor-in-chief. No attention has been put on cohesion between these 11 chapters, so that even if you miss one, two or even ten of them, you won’t be missing anything useful for the coming chapter.
The different “chapters”, of course, tell different stories about different girls, save for Episode 1 (about a boy) and Episodes 11 and 12 (a supposedly romantic story). The objective of the stories appears to be introducing the girls to the world, so that everyone would get to know about just how many lovely girls there are in the world of Hayate no Gotoku!. You may also call it a beauty contest or a girl show – these are all basically the same thing.
The good thing about this approach is that, everyone can simply find the episode(s) they like, while completely ignoring the rest of the season. As most people would simply find the episode(s) they like “the best of the season”, each episode could become “the best of the season”, so no one can complain that the season sucks to the root.
The bad thing about this approach is that it makes the whole season fragmented – or, to use less technical terms, the season does not tell a story. Each later episode does not build itself on the previous one, so as we come to the last “chapter”, we have actually started watching something anew, and it takes time for the new story to develop. You might even treat Episodes 11 and 12 as an OVA or a movie, which arguably should have been done so in the first place.
Fragmentation: What the heck is going on here?
A problem with CTMEOY has become even more apparent in Cuties: the fragmentation confuses both the manga readers and the anime-only watchers. For manga readers, the switching between the Sanzen’in Mansion and the Violet Mansion is hard to understand, and some things that should have happened before Cuties appear to be cut – for example, Ruka, Izumi and Ayumu’s kiss with Hayate. For anime-only watchers, the reappearance of Athena is mysterious to say the least, and it is difficult to understand why so many girls are currently living in the same apartment.
That, of course, is the inevitable consequence of not picking up the animation from where they had stopped in Season Two. Now that we have come so deep into September with Cuties, it becomes harder and harder to believe that the “blank period” would be animated at all.
Even within an episode there is a high probability of fragmentation. The materials for the majority of the episodes are taken from the original manga which are not related to the current Mangaka age. We all know just how random the remaining chapters could be, and unless there are occasional short arcs which could be made seamlessly into a 22-minute episode, we run the high risk of getting lost within an episode.
Worst cases come into mind are Episodes 4 and 6, in which it seems like the production team doesn’t even care about putting the random chapters into one single piece. Nobody says that it can’t be done this way, but I honestly find myself enjoying the more well-knitted Episodes 1, 5 and 7. This really depends on how capable is the script writer – or, more likely, how willing he or she is to put efforts into the script.
So, essentially, Cuties is a girl show with no story to tell. Sounds familiar, huh?
Ironically, when Cuties does make a reference to previous work, it is not from the same series, but another previous series: Can’t Take My Eyes off You (abbreviated as CTMEOY for your sake). The link between the two animes is Kurotsubaki, a clock-sword hybrid (?!) which is supposed to be destroyed. For reasons not explained, Shin and Yukariko, Nagi’s deceased parents, have some unfinished business following the end of CTMEOY, and they return to finish it in Cuties. If we are to believe what we have seen on screen, then Yukariko has become the Tanuki which appears in Episodes 1 to 10 as Easter eggs. Some say that she has been spying on the girls to see who should be getting the “kiss dream” in Episode 11, but this is not proven.
Speaking of “unfinished business”, the continuation of the CTMEOY story in Episodes 11 and 12 makes me think that Hata is trying to address a problem that is left in the previous season: Hayate’s reaction to Nagi’s confession. It is arguable that Hayate’s response doesn’t amount as an acceptance. He simply acknowledged Nagi’s feelings, but other than telling her to treasure her feelings, he didn’t say anything else much. In Cuties Hayate has to make a choice on which girl he is going to kiss, and the most obvious observation is that “Hayate has chosen to kiss Nagi”. Forget about context and everything: this appears to be the message Hata is trying to tell with Cuties.
So that’s a message Hata is trying to tell along with 10 episodes of irrelevant stories. It is Hata’s third straight strike (the movie, CTMEOY, and now Cuties) on the Hayate-Nagi ship, and to a certain extent we must appreciate just how strong Hata’s Nagi-mania is: all kinds of supernatural beings, from Hayate’s grandma to Nagi’s parents (all dead) are trying to push these two people together. We might start to believe that should another girl get too close to these two, she might suffer her own Final Destination.
As Hata presents his most precious creation with the biggest prize in Cuties, we can see that she remains the main heroine of the series, not a certain Katsura Hinagiku as some people have moaned at the beginning of the show.
Hinagiku: Finally well done
Let’s start this section with a question: “Who said anything about Hinagiku being the main heroine of Cuties?”
Granted, she sings the OP, and she features very heavily in the OP sequence, but it still doesn’t make her the main heroine. Instead, she obediently remains a powerful supportive character, who contributes to every part of the story without getting the final prize. An analogy I like to use is that Hinagiku is the Xavi behind Nagi the Messi: Messi easily gets all the spotlights and love, while the silent contribution of Xavi could only be appreciated by the pros.
In fact, if there is one thing I would praise about Cuties, it is that it is the only anime season which has done Hinagiku correctly. For the sake of the argument, the Heaven is a Place on Earth movie is not considered.
“Huh? What about Season 2?” you may ask, but the haters have always made this point clear: Hinagiku stole too much spotlight in that season. To a certain extent I agree: when a supporting character makes more appearance than the main heroine, you know that the former is going too far. The results announcement of the Second Character Poll in Episode 14 was completely unnecessary, and I went as far as to doubt the motives of the production team.
Yes, everyone knows that Hinagiku appeared too much in Season 2, but nobody seems to care about why. My answer is that, it is the fault of Season 1.
Of the 52 episodes in Season 1, 17 episodes are completely original ideas by the production team. While it is debatable if these episodes were funny enough, the crucial point is that they ate into the opportunity of animating the manga. The animation of manga chapters covers up to around Ch. 130, but certain arc have been cut. Care to know which arcs have been cut? Answer: The Freedom Marathon arc, the Butler’s Den arc, the Valentine’s Day arc, the Katsura Household arc, Hinagiku’s Birthday arc, and the White Day arc.
So, from a certain point of view, Season 2 has merely animated those arcs which have been left out in Season 1. As the previous season has, for whatever reason, left out all these arcs (which are so heavily related to Hinagiku), the only choice for Season 2 was to animate them. In other words, it is not that Hinagiku was unfairly focused on in Season 2, but that she was unfairly ignored in Season 1!
CTMEOY has actually done a rather nice job on Hinagiku. She has resumed her supporting role, with occasional highlights and interesting interaction with Hayate. The problem is, of course, the Episode 3 Abomination, which has become so infamous that some people would only think of Episode 3 whenever CTMEOY is mentioned. Conspiracy theory aside, nobody knows why it was Episode 3 which was done so horribly, while the other episodes have been… not that bad.
Finally we come to Cuties, in which everything seems to go well for Hinagiku: Singing the OP, check. Spotlight episode, check. Frequent appearance in other episodes, check. Strong supporting role, check. Interesting interaction with Hayate, check. Nice artwork, check. Things to complain about, none.
In fact, until the last 10 minutes of Episode 12, Hinagiku still has a large enough role to be considered a reasonable receiver of Hayate’s kiss. So much efforts have been put on her internal struggles about the kiss, and her quest to find and help Hayate, that one can only say that her efforts are wasted, not that she has not contributed anything. Still, it is often not up to us to decide whether our efforts would pay off, so I could only leave this case here.
If we say that Hinagiku’s efforts have been wasted, there are several things in real life we can add to the list.
There is her OP song, “Haru Ulala♥Love yo Koi!”, which means “Spring Ulala♥Come, Love!” – now sounds more and more ironic as we listen again. There is the Shonen Sunday cover above, and what the Hayate figure says is “The sakura of love would certainly bloom!”. In promotional videos of Cuties, it is Hinagiku doing the voice over with Hayate. All these hint that Hinagiku would have an exceptionally prominent role in this season.
Now that the romantic kiss is not for her, and she returns to a supporting role, I can’t help but think that I have been made fun of. I believe that the above expectations are reasonable given the way the production team used Hinagiku for promotion, and now that these expectations are not fulfilled, I can only conclude that the entire promotion campaign has been a hoax.
Nobody would complain that Hinagiku is not doing the promotion. They would only complain that Hinagiku is being brushed aside in the final minute after all the heavy and promising development.
So, what’s next?
There are still plenty of chapters not yet animated, most notably the End of the World arc, the Athena saga and the Mangaka age. Yet animating these materials means that time has to roll back for about 4 months, and as Hata is having so much fun with months way ahead of the current manga, my prediction remains the same.
Of course, given how bad I am with predictions, you might possibly see the news soon enough. When it happens, remember to remind me to start predicting Hinagiku would never win Hayate’s heart.
Does Hata need another original story to promote Hayate-Nagi? I don’t really think so. In fact, after 3 straight attempts, I think that he has made his point clear enough. Any more promotion could be annoying, and I don’t think Hata wants his preferred ship to sound annoying.
Doughnut Gunso would score Hayate no Gotoku! Cuties 6 out of 10.
Pros: Artwork, a proper Hinagiku, CTMEOY continuation
Cons: Fragmentation, promotion hoax
In 5 words: Good until the last episode