Maids, butlers & anime: the need to serve

I was watching the third episode of Sacred Seven and it opens with Ruri buying a jewel for a ton of money. She immediately gets on a private jet to head back home. At this point, I start wondering how on earth can she afford so much free time? Isn’t she still in high school and doesn’t she have classes to attend? Doesn’t she have any other obligations to fulfill as the only remaining member of her family?

Of course Ruri does, but she can nevertheless traipse across the world on a whim because she has one thing most of us don’t: servants. Ruri’s cadre of maids and Kagami, her personal butler, are there to take care of her every needs. As a result, Ruri can then go about her business, personally attending to whatever affairs she deems most important.

Isn’t it odd how anime tends to be littered with countless drones that are ready and willing to die for their ojousama or botchan at the drop of a hat. These nobodies are often maids or butlers, and we often chalk it up to the fact that anime is just pandering. After all, maids are sexy in their French outfits! There are bloggers who can’t help but debate the hottest anime maids to ever grace their computer monitors.

In Mei-chan no Shitsuji, each female student had her very own butler.

Then again, are butlers sexy? Do female anime fans find a tall, dark and handsome guy sexy when he’s actually subservient to random anime ojousamas? Ladies & Butlers! didn’t seem like it would appeal very much to girls, but who knows — maybe Kuroshitsuji, on the other hand, appeals to some ladies. While I think pandering is part of the reason why servants exist as maids or butlers in anime, I’m looking for a more primal reason for the existence of servants.

You could hypothesize that maids and butlers are just yet another form of Western fetishization in Japanese pop culture. After all, Japanese media, from live dramas down to anime, seems to have Western culture, especially British culture, on some sort of pedestal. In episode two, Arma’s classmates marveled over the changes at their school when it really just meant a switch to Western cuisine and aesthetics. While this gives us some more insight into why servants are maids and butlers specifically, not all servants are maids and butlers. The Sacred Blacksmith had a princess and her loyal soldiers. Those loyal soldiers would risk their lives simply to see their princess smile.

Others might argue that this sort of ideal, i.e. supreme sacrifice for someone in a higher social class, appeals to anime nerds. That when they look at the girl of their dreams, anime nerds might actually think that the girl is literally in a different social class than them. So, maybe, selfless duty to her and her every needs might allow them to transcend those barriers? Ah, I think we’re getting closer to what I have in mind, but what explains this idea that human beings are so stratified by class?

Perhaps our need to serve is simply inherent in us, ingrained from a time long ago. Maybe our minds need order, and social stratification serves this purpose. Things just make a tiny bit more sense when everyone’s in their role and performing their given duty. To see this, we must simply look back to each of the world’s major classical civilizations.

The Greek philosophers once argued that slavery was necessary because without slavery, society simply couldn’t function. According to Aristotle himself, “…ruling and being ruled belong not only among the necessary but also among things advantageous.” We needed the production of the many in order to support the few in the upper class. But why would we want to support the upper class? What makes them so important? Ah, y’see, they are the intelligent — the people with ideas to move their world. Surely, you wouldn’t have the upper class waste their time with physical labor? Likewise, early Hinduism made social inequality quite literal: we are all in different social layers and those who live according to their duty will perhaps transcend the layers during reincarnation.

In East Asian, the situation was no different with Confucianism, a philosophy that would eventually make its way to Japan as did most thing Chinese. For Confucius, each social class had a role to play. The upper classes owed it to the lower classes to “be wise and govern well.” In the meantime, the lower classes should do their best not to interfere. To some extent, social inequality wasn’t seen as an injustice; it was seen as a necessary component in maintaining order.

Of course you do….

By all of this, I’m not saying that anime characters explicitly exclaim, “Derp, I want to make sure Ruri has time to think and contemplate for the betterment of my life so I should serve her every need!” But I do think the need to serve is ingrained in mankind from a very early age. It becomes fascinating when our newfound liberalism clashes with this primal, subconscious desire to serve. Most us want to have equal rights for all, but there’s still an inkling inside some of us that says, “Y’know, maybe the big thinkers are more suited to higher pay or higher respect. Teachers should be paid more! Scientists should be lauded!”

Imagine if Ruri had to go to class every day or do her chores. What time would she have to buy the pretty jewels she needs for her boy toy Arma so that they can save the world?

Sacred Seven Ep. 3: Thoughts & Impressions

Sacred Seven just feels as though it’s taking itself too seriously. It’s not fun and light-hearted like Sunrise’s other show, but it’s not compelling enough to standout as a thrilling action anime.

Case in point: when I see Arma writhing on the ground, I don’t go, “Oh no~” I don’t feel anything, actually. The anime has yet to convince that I should care about this dude.

• This episode introduces a few more major characters, most notably Doctor Kenmi and yet another morose sullen young man by the name of Knight. According to Kenmi, there’s a vaccine that can prevent people from turning into Darkstones. Unless ‘vaccine’ means something totally different in the world of Sacred Seven, this would imply that some sort of virus is responsible for the transformation.

• Knight is all “That Arma guy is like me… the highest class of Sacred Seven!!” Whoa? We’re already at the highest class already? That doesn’t sound very exciting.

• Kenmi tells everyone that he’s trying to use the power of the Sacred Seven for good, but he looks evil and TV never lies.

• Since when did Hellbrick and Arma become bros?

• Y’know, let’s try something else besides bullets on the Darkstone creatures.

Just sayin’ — bullets don’t seem to even scratch the enemies.

• The anime is just so ugly. A character went from this…

…to this:

She’s covered from head to toe in armor when other anime series would have had her in some bikini outfit instead. On the other hand, puke green and pink?

16 thoughts on “Maids, butlers & anime: the need to serve

  1. Alex Horsman

    I’m rather dubious that class structures are anything “primal”. I suspect they’re nearly entirely cultural, and the reason they crop up everywhere is that inequality breeds inequality. As soon as you have a power structure, it becomes relatively easy and obviously beneficial to maintain it. The reason we feel Doctors and Teachers should be paid more is economic, we consider them to provide greater social value than unskilled labour, and that they should be compensated accordingly. The equality we seek is that both of them are given the same opportunity to become Doctors or Teachers, which is not in conflict with them being worth more at all.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I’m rather dubious that class structures are anything “primal”.

      What is your definition of primal? I’m using it within the context of “first” or “original.” Since class structures coincided with the births of civilizations, you could say that social stratification is primal. When we become a community, we naturally divvy up into leaders and followers, and assume that the latter should do the (physical) heavy lifting. Is this not primal?

      The reason we feel Doctors and Teachers should be paid more is economic, we consider them to provide greater social value than unskilled labour

      How does one measure this? Without food, we would all starve to death. One could then argue that farmers provide the greatest social value, but few would ever give much consideration to a farmer.

  2. Alex Horsman

    My initial post was a little reactionary, and I didn’t really make my point very clearly. Basically I was annoyed by the line “our newfound liberalism clashes with this primal, subconscious desire to serve.” in several ways.
    Firstly, I don’t think we have a “subconscious desire to serve”. Your argument seems to be, “because class structures exist everywhere, we must have a subconscious desire for them”. I argue instead that power structures come into being because power imbalances are self perpetuating. Perhaps I picked on the wrong word with “primal”. It’s reasonable to argue that power structures are something that are likely to come out of civilisations.
    Secondly, I don’t think ascribing varying value to different jobs necessarily “clashes with liberalism”. Or rather, I think you need to take a relatively extreme viewpoint in order for it to be contradictory. That everyone should be paid the same (or have the same standards of living) regardless of what they do, is not really the same as equal rights, and is a relatively extreme socialist viewpoint, and I doubt the majority of people hold it. (Although I mean no disrespect to those who do).
    Finally, I don’t think the values we ascribe to jobs are rooted entirely in our ideas of class structure. That jobs requiring higher skill are paid more is based on the opportunity cost of acquiring those skills. In order to be a Doctor, a person must spend a great deal of their life in education, with the possibility to fail and gain nothing for it, whereas a person can become an unskilled labourer as soon as they are able to work.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I argue instead that power structures come into being because power imbalances are self perpetuating.

      I’m not trying to explain so much why power structures exist, but why we accept it. Yes, people in power will strive to maintain their superior position relative to those who are weak. But why do the weak capitulate? Why do we resign ourselves to serving others? While the religions and philosophies of the classical civilizations weren’t created to explicitly defend social inequality, they all ended up doing so. Religion, of course, is a source of strength for a lot of people (regardless of my own personal views on it) so this then suggests that mankind generally finds something comforting in the idea of religion and, by extension, the idea that social inequalities are natural and sometimes necessary. Hierarchies establish order and also allows for certain individuals to abdicate the greater share of the responsibility when things go wrong.

      That everyone should be paid the same (or have the same standards of living) regardless of what they do, is not really the same as equal rights, and is a relatively extreme socialist viewpoint

      No, this wasn’t quite what I was arguing. In theory, we should all be paid according to our labor so if someone contributes more to society (I have doubts whether or not this can be properly assessed), they should be paid more. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used money as the only example, but the point is this: we assign a higher level of respect to certain individuals when it can hardly be argued that they contribute more to society than anyone else. Again, perhaps teachers and scientists weren’t the best examples to use, but you can see the level of respect being paid to the elites in society who rarely do an ounce of labor in their lives.

      And yet most people are okay with this — nowadays, people want equal rights, but they are also okay with the fact that certain people will receive a higher level of esteem compared to them. Why should a scientist get more respect than me when we both contribute to society? Because he contributes more? How do we measure this? Not all doctors are altruistic. Not all scientists contribute original research. Because he has spent “a great deal of their life in education?” Isn’t this presumptuous in assuming that no one but a doctor or a scientist can dedicate their lives to a career?

      I see your point in arguing how an unskilled laborer might not deserve as much money or respect as a doctor, but this is using a very extreme example. Not everyone is a minimum wage earner who only sweeps the floors and wipes the tables.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Just because I said it’s part of mankind doesn’t mean everyone has to act on it. We are complex creatures full of competing subconscious desires and instincts. I just think the need for social stratification is prevalent enough that we can watch a group of maids serve an anime character and not bat an eyelash.

    2. Alex Horsman

      I think most people are actually quite surprised the first time they see an army of maids in an anime. After that it becomes accepted as a trope of the genre, and thus just as “normal” as nosebleeds and survival of ridiculous falls. I rather doubt anyone thinks it’s that normal to have servants in the real world.

      1. E Minor Post author

        I rather doubt anyone thinks it’s that normal to have servants in the real world.

        You’re being too literal about it.

  3. A Day Without Me

    I think butlers and maids are so rampant in anime because they play very well into the class system of feudal Japan, a system itself which continues to have a very strong affect on Japanese society. Victorian England itself, which is where butlers and maids seem to take most of their appearance from within anime, seems particularly well-suited to the feudal class system.

    On the face of it, by the way, Kuroshitsuji seems to have a much larger female fanbase than a male one. All that damn shouta service.

    1. E Minor Post author

      This doesn’t really negate anything I’m trying to say. I simply chose to go further back in the causality chain.

  4. Ryan R

    To defend E Minor slightly, I’m not sure if human beings are born with an inherent desire to serve, but I do think that human beings tend to be drawn to “Great (Wo)men”. It’s hard for me to escape such a conclusion when I see how nuts an awful lot of people get over a music star or a movie actor, as well as how all such people have massive entourages and “hangers on” that pretty much devote almost all of their waking hours to servicing the needs of these celebrities.

    I know for a fact that high-ranking politicians have similar hangers on as well. It’s important to note that nobody is forced into a role like this (generally speaking) – people have to chose such a life of almost total servitude to another human being themselves.

    I think that people do kind of accept that some humans are “stars” or “great (wo)men”, and I think that many people feel that if they can’t be one such “star” themselves, the next best thing is to work for one directly.

    1. E Minor Post author

      We often learn history in two particular ways (not saying that these two ways are the only ways): from the approach that great people shape history or from the grassroots approach. The former is often the more popular way to teach history, for what it’s worth.


Please refrain from posting spoilers or using derogatory language. Basically, don't be an asshole.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.