I was invited to an event. A magical one. Or so I was told. And as this slip of paper reminded me, it would not happen until seven o’clock.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I’d lose most of you if I were to continue from this point, so let me start from the very beginning of my tale.
Last week, I received a peculiar email from wordpress requesting that I examine a comment for approval made on our blog’s ‘about us’ page. It was in regards to a small event called Con+Alt+Delete that would begin the following weekend and asked if any of us were interested in attending. Tracing the source of the commentator led me to Anime Midwest’s website who listed this event as one of many the organization was responsible for.
I doubt I’d have any spare time to attend it, so I sent an invitation to my podcasting colleagues if any were interested to go in my place, to which I received no reply. Nonetheless, I was curious as to what this had to offer since an Anime Midwest representative did take their time to ask if any of us were attending, but I still doubted there would be anything to be had that would change my mind. To my surprise, they did have something which caught my eye:
The event sported a Maid Cafe. I could write for several pages as to why this fascinated me, but this is neither the time nor the place to do so. Suffice to say this was reason enough for me to attend this event, but only for one day as I had other plans already set in motion for that weekend.
And now here I was, waiting for my turn to enter their magical world. Fortunately for me the Cafe was strategically placed near a small lounging area so I was able to comfortably wait until it was my turn to be called in.
To pass the time, I began reorganizing my Tanto Cuore cards because several were hastily placed in the wrong boxes due to me and my colleagues overstaying our welcome during our previous game, and I received the usual peculiar stares, inquires, and comments from other loungers and passersby while doing so.
Although the task was completed within the hour, I still had plenty of time to spare, so I greeted the group of butlers overseeing the Cafe’s front door and asked to personally speak with one of them so I can be better prepared for this experience, to which they were more than happy to oblige.
The butler began by telling me Maid Cafes have themes; his Cafe treats all guests as if they were royalty (which also explains why they greet everyone as “Your Majesty)” and upon entering the room are meant to be whisked away to a magical world where they are respected as such. Part of this magic is performed by the Maid assigned to your party; immediately after being seated, the Maid will recite a chant and then be followed with her blowing on an unlit candle that miraculously bears light after she performs this step.
In the midst of his explanation, he briefly mentioned his Cafe does its best to offer the same activities Cafes in Japan also have, and one of them is a variety of games that you can choose to play with your assigned Maid. The first example he cites is after the candle is blown, your party has to play one that is mandatory: the King Game.
For those unfamiliar with the King Game, it’s akin to drawing straws, with the key difference being a straw or similar substitute bearing a special mark to show the fortunate individual in possession of it that they are the “king” (or “queen” if they are of the fairer sex) who then must issue a decree to the other players who in turn must execute it to the best of their abilities. The only changes this Maid Café makes to these existing rules are issuing a command is not forced upon the monarch, and there is much fanfare whenever a new ruler is crowed. Regardless of whether you were crowned or not, the Maids must fulfill your requests as long as they are within reason.
Curious as to what other games they had to offer, I pressed the butler on. I assumed he would tell me of games that would fit either the theme of their Maid Café or the time period from which its culture comes from, but they only offered simple and easily recognizable games like Jenga and Uno. Both of us were surprised that his Café did not offer Tanto Cuore (another butler revealed to me that other Cafes did), which is a shame since the prominent colors for their motif are the exact ones used for the first set in the series!
Not wanting to feel more depressed from this conversation, I changed subjects and inquired about anything else this Café did differently which no other Maid Café can proudly boast. His only reply was some of their Maids can perform a dance routine if requested.
I was able to catch a glimpse of this activity from the window of the front door that led inside. As the room was soundproofed, observing their movements was quite bizarre, and I thought to myself that I should be able to comprehend it if given a chance to hear the accompanying music.
Shortly after the Maids completed their dance, the Café began dismissing their current guests out of the room to prepare for the next round. Unbeknownst to everyone, the time of my expected appointment would present the Cafe Staff with an unexpected problem that would test the limits of how many people could be served without compromise.
At first, the number of guests arriving were at a manageable number. But as the minutes passed, more appeared. Several more. One of the butlers told me approximately seventy guests were eagerly anticipating this moment. I asked him why the numbers were enormous, and he said to me this was the only hour of the day allotted for those who chose to purchase a premium ticket.
Once again, I have neglected to tell you another small, yet undeniably important detail, and I sincerely apologize for this. A Maid Café is not a Café if they don’t serve food and drink, and the type of ticket a guest has determines which menu items are provided in that ticket’s cost. A basic ticket is five dollars and essentially covers admission through the front door; if you wish to have refreshments or pastries, you must spend additional money for them. A premium ticket is only five dollars more, and its owner is allowed a free dish from each category listed on the menu as well as one drink and an additional refill before they are required to spend more money to consume them (I also apologize in advance if this information is not completely accurate as my memory was rather hazy from consuming so much sugar in such a short period of time).
Presented with this information, it’s rather obvious as to which ticket provided its owner with the most value. Unfortunately, there was not enough foresight to add more time slots for those who purchased one. As a consequence from this unexpected turn of events, the guests had to wait beyond the scheduled timeframe until the Staff inside could get their bearings together.
The only activity outside of the Maid Café for around half an hour was that of the footman opening the front door, who would then be told by the chamberlain that the Café is still not ready to let this number of guests inside, and then be ordered to promptly close said door. Once in awhile the chamberlain would step outside the Café to assess the situation with the rest of the Staff, and only after a few more minutes of consideration let only a group or two inside. Fortunately, the Café Staff eventually found a way to be able to provide accommodations to everyone who purchased these tickets for that evening, including myself.
I’ll spare you the details of what occurred during the seating ceremony, as it happened exactly as how I described it earlier; suffice to say that I was the one who was crowned king of our table, which is appropriate given that I am the only one in the room with copies of Tanto Cuore on hand. I will also spare you what I ordered (and what I forgot to order) since my only recollections of it was mostly sugary, delicious, and delivered a tolerable amount of dull, throbbing pain to my eyes for the remainder of that evening because I consumed it all too quickly and did not have a full meal beforehand.
I was only a few bites short of finishing my dish when some of the maids began their dance routine for us, and the moment I heard the music’s first measure, I immediately recognized it was Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s song called Pon Pon Pon. I had no time to brood upon my slight disappointment that the Staff used a song in our era instead something more suited to the period when domestic service workers were more commonplace because my first instinct was to finish my meal as quickly as possible, grab my camera, and then strategically position myself in a way that would both give me the best chances of acquiring a good photograph while minimizing everyone’s inconvenience from blocking their view as much as possible.
With the dance completed, everyone returned to their previous activities. Several of the Maids have already completed everyone’s menu orders and were entertaining their guests’ whims. Our table’s assigned Maid was concerned about her performance because we did not have any requests other than our menu orders, so I half-heartedly showed the members of our table my copy of the first set of Tanto Cuore and jokingly suggested that we play this game because I knew there wasn’t enough time to set up the cards and explain all of the game’s rules.
Except that they did desire to play it, as they all agreed the game fit well with the theme of the Cafe. After confirming with everyone at our table (including our assigned Maid) that none had any previous experience with deck-building card games, I made several quick adjustments to what was available in the Town, which looked something like this:
To help them quickly become familiar with the core mechanics of the game, I also didn’t explain to them what Chambermaiding is; I only told them that getting the Crescent Sisters is good because they keep giving you Victory Points at the cost of cluttering their deck, which Colette gleefully reminded them every time she appeared in their hand. I also warned them about the unique scoring mechanics for Ophelia and also suggested to at least own one of her because she provides so many useful bonuses.
Amidst our gaming session, another unexpected twist occurred: unbeknownst to everyone at our table, Vic Mignogna discreetly entered the room and was coronated by the chamberlain himself. As a Guest of Honor, Vic did not need to play the King Game as required by everyone else, and several of the Maids fawning over his presence was reason enough for ignoring the cafe’s traditions.
For reasons I cannot fathom, Vic Mignogna chose to stand beside our table for most of his remaining time in the Cafe. This caused our Maid a considerable amount of duress; it was obvious through her actions that she adored him, and she amused all of us as she continued losing composure with each passing second. Some of the photos I documented at this point could have been easily used as possible angles to emphasize the forbidden romance between two separate social classes in a Victorian novel:
It was obvious to everyone at our table that she wished to spend more time with the Cafe’s Guest of Honor instead of at her assigned table, and her incessant fidgeting entertained us enough to let her do so, with me taking her place whenever it was her turn in Tanto Cuore. And with that decree, she would occasionally leave the table to socialize with Vic Mignogna until it was time for him to take his leave.
Shortly after he left, the chamberlain also announced that our time in the Cafe has come to a end, which in turn also meant the end of our table’s Tanto Cuore session. Since our Maid followed my advice, her deck was already well constructed before I took control of it, and she emerged victorious by three points. Since I was a member of the press, the Cafe staff allowed me to stay for as long as possible, for which I spent the remainder of my time properly packing away my collection of Tanto Cuore cards in their appropriate boxes. While doing so, the chamberlain ordered the Cafe Staff to congregate at a table and review their experiences for the day.
Several of the details weren’t interesting enough to mention except for one: my assigned Maid for that evening was the most ecstatic out of the entire Staff. Obviously an impromptu meeting with Con+Alt+Delete’s esteemed Guest of Honor in person and interacting with him contributed to this. Her victory in Tanto Cuore was another. However, she also revealed one detail that I wasn’t aware of until now: she received several generous tips from the patrons she was assigned to, and was only dollars short of a significant milestone.
A milestone that I was capable of providing. I granted my Maid her wish. Needless to say, doing so made her even more bubbly than before. And with that, I decided it was time for me to depart, but not before I said a few parting words to the Staff I was most acquainted with during my stay.
So was the experience magical? I would have to say so. It was magical in the sense that any stigmas I associated with Maid Cafes were unwarranted; since I have no better way to eloquently express this, it was more akin to visiting a Disneyland theme park than visiting a fetish club.
And now I understand why these types of cafes still thrive in Japan. If I didn’t have any other plans for the weekend, I would’ve returned to this cafe the following day, so I’ll have to settle with just imagining what could’ve happened instead. And that’s a poor substitute for the genuine experience.
– Carl Dayagdag