When it comes to stories about maids, there are certainly plenty to be found in the manga market – but what if that maid is a monster? Well, that concept has also been done, but isn’t seen as regularly in the English market these days, so here to capitalise on that is Yen Press’ new series The Splendid Work of a Monster Maid. Let’s find out if this work is as splendid as the title implies!
Our story follows Sumire, a black cat that lives with an elderly woman who pampers and treats her as her own daughter. Sumire desperately wants to repay her owner for her kindness and one day she gains the ability to turn into a human, but by then, sadly, her owner has passed away. With nowhere to call home, Sumire wanders the Demon Realm looking for a new place to belong, even if it means working as a maid!
When we meet Sumire in Chapter 1, she’s already working as a maid for a mage called Mary but having never been trained for the job, Sumire finds herself constantly making mistakes. Even just serving tea leads to the poor nekomata burning herself and dropping things left and right. Tired of Sumire injuring herself on the job, Mary hires two maids from the Cirsium Domestic Staffing Agency to help guide Sumire and teach her how to be the splendid maid she dreams of becoming.
The agency sends out Rose who is undead and Ivy, an android. The two are certainly capable maids, but their goal here isn’t actually to train Sumire. As it turns out, Mary only wants Sumire so she can freeze and keep her as a trophy in her collection, which she’s willing to accomplish by using powerful magic. This magic is why Ivy and Rose are actually here since they secretly work for a powerful demon (who goes unnamed beyond ‘boss’) whose powers were stolen by his younger brother and distributed among his followers.
Once Sumire learns the truth, she’s understandably devastated, but because Rose and Ivy have noticed that our young protagonist has a talent for magic, their boss asks if she’d like to join their company. With nowhere else to go and having become fond of Rose and Ivy, Sumire accepts the offer. Together the three hunt down the magic stolen by the boss’ younger brother while disguised as splendid monster maids.
Volume 1 of The Splendid Work of a Monster Maid contains four chapters, with the first three being episodic stories. Thanks to this approach, we get a good grasp of the world Sumire lives in as well as learning that not everyone with the stolen magic is actively using it for bad reasons, some of them can be left alone once the magic is taken back. I certainly appreciated this take on the concept since evildoer after evildoer would have grown old after a while. Plus there is more room for Sumire to grow as a character if she has to work out that the presence of the magic has changed someone and if they need to do more than simply take that magic back.
The downside of the episodic approach is that it leaves little room for character development, so for the most part Sumire is the only one with any growth while Rose is stuck as the intelligent older sister and Ivy is the powerful and empty-headed younger sibling type. That’s not the worst thing, given both are likeable enough characters, but I do hope future instalments will do more with these two instead of simply focusing on the current mission.
Where this manga truly shines is in the artwork. The series has been created by mangaka Yugata Tanabe (who has two unlicensed series to their name) and it looks fantastic. The art perfectly conveys the whimsical vibe of the setting which is combined with cute character designs and easy-to-follow battle scenes. Yen Press has released this in one of their bigger formats, which certainly allows the reader to become engrossed in the lavish artwork and pick up on the smaller details like the fact both we and Sumire see magic as ‘sparkles’. My only minor criticism is that the pages can become a bit busy at times and overwhelm some of the smaller panels, but Tanabe manages to avoid this most of the time through the use of double-page spreads or large panelling.
The Splendid Work of a Monster Maid Volume 1 has been translated by Eleanor Summers. The translation reads well with no issues and there are a couple of translation notes at the back, one of which explains what a nekomata is for those unfamiliar with yokai. The series is ongoing in Japan at four volumes and Yen have Volume 2 scheduled for an English release in March 2022.
Overall, The Splendid Work of a Monster Maid Volume 1 is an entertaining read, thanks to its likeable cast and fascinating setting. Although there is potential for it to grow old, given its formulaic nature (particularly if it doesn’t develop the cast in books to come), for now, the series is off to a solid start.