There are many types of humor that people watch as entertainment, ranging from the slapstick comedy of Loony Tunes to the witty, sometimes burlesque comedy of Monty Python. Different writers have different approaches to how each joke or gag is performed. Sometimes a writer will spend an entire sketch setting up a joke that no one gets at the end, while others use more universal comedy that doesn’t even require a first grade education and eventually snowballs into a situation of completely unreasonable proportions. After watching 52 episodes of Hayate no Gotoku, I can confidently compare it to the writing style of one of America’s best comedy geniuses, Mel Brooks. Rather than attempting to set up intellectually challenging jokes, the humor in Hayate no Gotoku involves random Japanese culture references, lampshade hanging, smashing the fourth wall to smithereens, and just general absurdity that creates a formula for hilarity.
So why did I spend a paragraph of this review on comedy theory? Well, Hayate no Gotoku’s “story” at its base is completely nonexistent at best, a cliché storm worst. A man down on his luck meets a girl and falls upon an automatic reversal of fortune. An entire series is spent with random characters attempting to ruin his newfound fortune, and he repels them with superhuman abilities. Linking to the number of stories that fit this or a similar format (the “Boy Meets Girl” format in the words of Kurt Vonnegut), would be a tedious and unnecessary exercise. However, this is why I made the comparison to Mel Brooks. Who on earth watched Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, or History of the World Part I for the intellectual and coherent plot? No one who can formulate a reasonable story to their teacher about why they didn’t do their homework would do such a thing. If you watch Hayate no Gotoku, you watch it for not the romance, plot, characters, animation quality, soundtrack, or voice acting, but the continuous humor that keeps you coming back for more for 52 episodes. Few series have managed to hold my attention for that long without long lulls of mediocre episodes that tempt me to drop the series altogether.
However, a word of warning to all potential watchers: since the jokes often draw off of anime clichés and Japanese culture in general, there will be many that go over the head of the viewer. One’s viewing experience depends on how many of the gags one understands. Therefore, I would not recommend it to people who haven't watched a significant variety of anime series or have been involved for the culture for long enough to recognize a reference to the Gundam series when they see one.
The animation truly appears as a placeholder and a cheap medium by which the writers can tell their jokes in this series. It reminded me of the Disney Channel animated comedy series I used to watch before I outgrew them. However, making comparisons to American pop culture equivalents, one realizes that animation quality isn’t the most important aspect of an animated comedy. Case in point: South Park, the Simpsons, and Family Guy all have average or even substandard animation. However, they are beloved by their fans because this medium allows for visual gags that are impossible, expensive, or just plain awkward in other mediums. The same goes for Hayate no Gotoku. Hayate and his opponents’ exaggerated powers are best displayed through animation, and much of the fourth wall smashing takes advantage of the 2D nature of the universe in which the characters reside.
The music is overall forgettable except when it’s annoying. The best song in my opinion was the short lived second ED, Get My Way. The background music barely even tried to be significant with some jazzy tracks and some cliché pop. Overall, the music should just be tossed aside as part of the animation medium.
On the other hand, the voice acting is some of the best I have ever seen for a comedy series. Rie Kugimiya is at her best with her type casted “tsundere” role as Nagi. All the other characters also play off stereotypes, but their seiyuus execute their roles very well. With my small experience in voice acting, I find that it is sometimes more difficult to accomplish a cliché voice than something entirely natural and original. Also, these cliché voices contribute to the anime’s overall purpose, to make people laugh.
This section was by far the most difficult to score. Objectively, I might have given the characters as low as a 1. They’re formulaic, rigid, personified tropes. From a literary point of view, they have absolutely no value whatsoever. Every character you will see in this anime you likely will have seen somewhere else, whether it be some other anime that came before it, or even a movie or television show. As for character development, Maria in episode 51 summarizes it quite well for us, “These two don’t change at all even after a whole year.”
But isn’t that the point?
How many times have we seen a comedy anime fail by attempting to change the characters in the name of “progress” or “character development?” Often an anime will morph into something outside of its original scope, but then the fans complain that “the original was better.” Rather than falling into this trap, Hayate no Gotoku uses the same characters and plays off the same stereotypes consistently under the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy. Surprisingly, this works quite well, and one becomes attached to the characters' flat, static personalities.
One character that deserves special recognition is the narrator. His wit and genre savviness from across the fourth wall provide a unique hilarious style of comedy. In fact, it seems to have inspired a narrator from a certain popular anime from this season.
If there is any anime that is greater than the sum of its parts on this whole site, Hayate no Gotoku would be the one at the top of the list. This anime is the ultimate test for a reviewer between subjectivity and objectivity. Objectively, the anime is terrible and should not be watched by anyone with any intellectual capacity. On the other hand, this anime should not be judged by the conventions of other ratings scales. The entire purpose of the anime isn't to make a great work of literature; it's to make people laugh. The Subjective Entertainment Value Potential (SEVP, yeah, I just made that up), is higher than any other anime I have seen. Once again, that all depends on whether or not the jokes fall flat or you understand them and laugh (often along with the characters). However, since this anime follows the Mel Brooks philosophy, you can be certain that every scene is loaded with jokes in the earnest hope that one will understand some of them.