On a Saturday evening, I found myself walking into McDonald’s, being subjected to its extremely mediocre food, to witness the Maid Café set-up there. This was the second instalment of the event organised by the Manga and Anime Club, hosted in collaboration with Glam & Glitz and Chords & Co. The small space was filled with groups of anime enthusiasts, popularly termed as otakus, who chattered excitedly as acoustic tunes wafted in the air.
Maid Cafés though started initially in Japan, can be found all over the world in countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and France. They are an intersection of the subculture of cosplaying and the service industry. It is speculated whether such a concept will ever be brought to India, let alone be successful. But, for the time being, the Manga and Anime Club brought this unique experience to the students of Manipal.
“Last year we jokingly discussed the idea of bringing a Maid Café to Manipal but our seniors told us to pursue it, and it ended up being a great success at Egg Factory. So we wanted to carry that forward this year too”, said Rohan, a member of the Manga and Anime Club.
A mere observation would tell you that the event was a greater success last year, as there were far less logistical and logical flaws. The main problem was the almost suffocating atmosphere, partly owing to the physical constraints of the venue. There, in the few square metres of the area of McDonald’s, were the attendees of the experience, a total of 8 maids and butlers from Glam and Glitz, a corner set up for performers from Chords & Co., members of MAC, all mixed with the regular customers of McDonald’s. Furthermore, McDonald’s, being a self-service fast food restaurant, which defeats the functionality of a Maid Café, per se. The general vibe was one of confusion, animation, and borderline commotion.
Many are sceptical when it comes to the idea of a Maid Café. The general set-up of one works such that servers are maids, or butlers, to their customers who are considered as their masters. In a traditional maid café, they go as far as offering hand massages, spoonfeed the customers and so on. What may seem ordinary to a resident of Japan, is slightly strange to a foreigner, mainly due to the differences in culture and cultural perception. Clarifying this, a member of MAC said, “This is because many people are misinformed about it. We brought it here because this is something you only get to see in anime or videos, but it is an exciting experience. It isn’t about how short a maid’s skirt is or how cute they look; it’s the experience of the service itself.”
In line with the misconceptions that seem to flow this subculture, I was curious to know what the experience of the maids and butlers themselves was. In a conversation with one of the maids, Reha, I asked her if she had felt uncomfortable or had had any strange encounters with people thus far.
“There were some times where I’d see some guys staring at me and sometimes they would take pictures of us while we were walking around.”
Despite several shortcomings due to the location and organisation of the event, my experience there was a general commotion as many excitedly discussed anime, swayed and sang along to the live musical performances, and absorbed this unique experience arranged for them.
“I feel that it’s slightly messy; there’s a lot of confusion. In my opinion, they could have managed it better, but I think it’s quite a good attempt and I’ve still found it enjoyable”, said Anushka, an anime enthusiast who had come to be a part of the experience.