When you hear that Manglobe decided to skip ahead 200 chapters into the manga, you know something isn’t right…and it shows.
Much of the premiere revolves around cameo-ing the wide cast, which offers little potential for comedy to start with. But while this can be forgiven because it’s made to acquaint ourselves with the characters again, the cameos don’t even provide a proper introduction to many cast members—some of whom are completely original to this season! Now if that doesn’t shock you, the episode includes a drab plot acting as fluff material among all the character cameos, and is a poorly handled story at that.
For one, Cuties features an abundance of fan pandering—and a far more excessive amount than the first season’s (which was already stretching it). This includes not only the generic use of sensual poses, softcore shots, and sexual lowbrow gags, but also a fairly large amount of needless harem-building (which of course comes to no fruition, as Hayate is a staunch believer in the harem route). And while there’s of course nothing wrong with the harem route in principle, it’s the fact that the show continues to ground itself with repetitious gags that got old since the first season. There’s also no hint of characterization to be done in this new one, and worst of all, the comedic timing in this episode is.. terrible. With a story about getting a cold and needing to study for an upcoming exam, there’s still a lot of potential coming from mundane gags (e.g. see any slice-of-life ever). However, the way Cuties handles the plot is just awful.
Take one case, where Hayate is sick and Hinagiku pushes him from behind as a casual way to say hello. This causes Hayate to be shoved into the dirt face-first, with an awfully large ruckus and the stone path being destroyed via some immense physical prowess. This is a lowbrow comedy gag, sure, but the problem is that no element of the show makes the scene funny–whether it be heavier exaggerations with the animation, a joke pulled by the narrator, some version of built-up suspense/execution, or even having it complemented by an attuned gag track (four things which the first season does).
Cuties also implements a ‘Commercial Connecting Theater’ as segways between episode breaks, which sadly continue to do no justice to Hayate no Gotoku‘s previously distinguished comedy. For example, one features Hayate playing a video game merely because Nagi wants to trade in-game items with someone (because that’s funny, right!?). The paltry airtime given to build up the joke lessens the effect of its (already terrible) punchline.
Another drawback to the fourth season is the setting. The focus on an apartment severely limits the amount of locations that viewers can see (which I presume is done in order to ease up on Manglobe’s budget); this takes away from one of the first season’s greatest strengths, as Hayate traveled all around the HnG-verse so we got to see the world literally build up before our eyes. Not to mention that an apartment as the focal point of Cuties can only mean all things harem in the future (Love Hina, anyone?).
Perhaps a more noticeable drawback is the lack of an omniscient narrator, which means much of the original comedy structure is already tossed into the bin, as the narrator was often what kept the show running. For example, he offered smoother transitions between scenes and played out most of the jokes in explaining any of the subtler nuances that arise among character interactions. Here, all of this is just lost on the viewer (if there were even any to begin with).
As for production values, the animation quality is by all means generic with an uninspired character design “upgrade”; the show renders basic outlines and offers very few details regarding any of the characters’ clothings or facial features (one odd effect being that they all have weird moe eyes). The color palette uses a more pastel-like tone to it, which in my honest opinion makes the show feel awfully lifeless. There’s also an awkward minimal gag soundtrack in stark contrast with the first season’s, which now leaves most of the show eerily crickety-quiet. No doubt that this intensely stymies the more light-hearted atmosphere that the first season thrived in.
Overall, I’m not sure how poor the third season is but this episode is plain disappointing, and there’s no chance I’ll be checking out the second one. Way to go Manglobe. You’ve sullied my mind with the worst Hayate no Gotoku episode I’ve seen to date. :(