Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Akiba Guild

Akiba Guild takes up two small floors of the building, on Chuu-ou Dori, just across the street from Usagi no Jinja (Rabbit Shrine), on 7F and 8F. On my first visit, I stayed on the 8th floor in the casino. To get here, just go 3.5 blocks north on Chuu-ou Dori from Kandamyojin Dori (the street that runs in front of the UDX building and SofMap), enter the doorway on your left and take the elevator up.

Yes, Akiba Guild is a maid casino where you can try your luck or match your skills against the maids in games such as roulette, baccarat, Texas hold-em, black jack and a couple of others. There are about 5 tables and room for about 5 people per table, so the place can get crowded during peak times. When I arrived, they were over half full with mostly businessmen, although one woman was enjoying herself at the roulette table. There's no English menu or instructions, but at least one of the maids will try to help you out in English. Life does get a lot easier for you if you can understand at least some Japanese.

The rules are simple. 2000 yen gets you $300 worth of chips and a free soft drink (I got an ice coffee, which was pretty good). You can play for 1 hour, after that you're expected to buy another drink. You can get more chips if you want (if I understand the chart right, another 2000 yen will get you $110 in chips). You're not playing for money. When you're ready to leave, you can cash out for one of three prize items ($300 in chips plus 300 yen gets you a cell phone screen, $1500 in chips plus 1800 yen gets you an ashtray). Prizes are available on the 7th floor. (The 7th floor is mainly just filled with more tables for playing poker as a kind of overflow room.)

When you pay your entry fee, you get to pick the game you want and then you're led to the appropriate table where you get your chips. The chips are color-coded by player to make it easier for the maids to tell which bets came from which players and printed with the name of the game you're playing. So, if you decide to change games in the middle, the maids have to change your chips around to one of the free colors at the next table. You play until you're out of chips, or when you decide to cash out. You are given one$1 chip that you're expected to give to the maid at the end as a "thank you" present, which lets them know you're out of the game.

(Events calendar)

There is food on the menu, in the 400 to 600 yen range, including soups, chicken rice and chahan, but I didn't see anyone eating at the time. Soft drinks (cola, coffee, tea and juices) are 200 to 300 yen, and floats (soda, coffee or juice plus ice cream) are 400 yen. Ignoring the fact that you're essentially paying a 2000 yen cover to enter the door, as long as you keep winning chips, the prices for the food are very reasonable.

For the most part, the staff is no-nonsense. The dealers are friendly, smiling when you win and saying "nice catch". But there's not a lot of conversation during the games. However, when I was between games, the maid that greeted me at the door, "Kaeda" (meaning "maple" in Japanese) was very friendly and eager to make sure I understood the house rules. She was also happy to answer my questions at the end when I wanted to get enough info to write up this review.

Maid photos are 500 yen. And there is a "members card" that gets you some perks whenever you return to the Guild. There are various events during the week, and tournaments held regularly for those that want to advance in ranking against the other players.

I enjoyed myself, but I'm not really a good gambler. I ran through all my chips after about 30 minutes at the roulette table. One of the other players had a very haphazard way of throwing his chips all over the table that generally resulted in his having the biggest stack of chips of the group. The one female player was also holding her own by taking a more conservative approach by playing the corners of the number bets. The players at the card game tables kept quiet, but there was some serious playing going on there.

If you like playing no-stakes games, or if you're new to poker and just want an inexpensive way to get in some practice, Akiba Guild is a good place to go.

For an idea of what the Guild is like, check out the videos on their youtube channel.

Name: Akiba Guild
Location: Chuu-ou Dori, near Usagi no Jinja, 8th floor. 3.5 blocks north of Kandamyojin Dori.
Price: Moderate. This is primarily a casino, so drinks are cheap as long as you keep playing the games.
Cover: No cover, but you need to buy 2000 yen in chips to start, and order a drink once an hour.
Food: Light entrees and soups, but I didn't see anyone eating. Soft drinks and floats.
"Love": "Okaerinasai" when you enter. Otherwise, no special chants or drawings on the food.
Outfits: When I was there, a blue blazer with white scarf and maid cap.
Photos: 500 yen.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Gambling. This is a casino where you're playing for the fun of it. No cash payouts. When you cash your chips back in, you can get a cell phone screen or an ashtray. Tournaments are held regularly where you can advance in the rankings against other players.
Recommendation: If you just want to sit down and have some fun playing against other people for $20 USD or so for an hour, this is a great place to do it. The staff is friendly, but there's not a lot of chatter between players. You're not playing for cash, so don't expect the games to get cutthroat. Games include roulette, poker, Texas hold-em and baccarat. Recommended.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Maid non-cafes, part 1 - ASCII Weekly

This is actually part 1 of the "Maid non-cafe" series. I want to start off here talking about Weekly ASCII, a free advertising booklet that can be found at various shops around Akihabara. A lot of the ads are for computer stores, electronics parts and regular restaurants. However, there's a map with a legend sorted by business type. Two of the categories are "maid cafes" and "maid other". On their website, they have an interactive Flash-like map that lets you more easily locate businesses by putting the mouse cursor over the map. The problem is, the list of shops is out of date (that and there's no English version of the map). "Cafe with Cat closed its doors several months ago, and Mai Dreamin' 3 (opened in July) isn't in the list. The paper vision of the map is a little more up to date, but it's still incomplete.

In any case, the ASCII weekly map is a good starting point in collecting a list of maid cafes, and "maid other". This second category is fairly broad, and includes a couple hair stylists, some bars, a mahjong parlor, a darts bar, Little TGV and Candy Fruits Optical. I've cleaned the list up a bit, included English or romaji versions of the names, and confirmed that the links to the web pages work. I've also added a few shops that I've found that were missing from the ASCII list. The ultimate goal is to at least add descriptions of the shops in English, if not outright reviews.

Maid Runner's List of Maid-related businesses in Akihabara.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Schatzkiste

(Day and...)

Schatzkiste has taken on an interesting motif - a German tea house/library combined with an American board game meeting room.

(... night.)

Schatzkiste describes itself as a German library, and it does have a couple hundred books on the shelves, but they also host gaming sessions for people wanting to play TCGs like Yugi-oh or Magic: The Gathering. They also have a selection of board games to choose from if you want to challenge a friend or stranger. The maids wear "elegant black dresses with white aprons and white lace hairpieces". The floor space is fairly narrow, and you're expected to share the tables with everyone else. Maximum seating capacity may be 30 people. The woodwork is a dark mahogany, and antique clocks show you the time.

(Around the corner.)

There's a cover charge of 500 yen per half hour, but this includes free tea. While I was there, the hot tea served was a Ceylon. They also have ice tea. The menu is limited, including a plate of tea cookies, some light cakes, and a bowl of hot soup. The soup is so thick that you can eat it with the provided pieces of bread like a fondue. All items are between 300 and 500 yen.

(Flier for cafe)

There's no maid photos here, but they do have a points card. 500 yen per point, and the points have a purchasing power of 5 yen each if you want to get the branded items at the cash register (post cards, tea, etc.) The customers were about 80% single men (salarymen and college students) and the rest mixed couples.

(Closeup of the signboard at the front of the shop.)

The seating arrangement encourages strangers to talk to each other (although, in Japan, talking to strangers is not a normal activity) and to engage each other in the board games. One of the other guys at my table started by asking where I'm from, and eventually got around to challenging me to an older German game called "Geister", or "Ghost" in English. Originally released in Germany in 1982, Geister is a very simple game that has a very complex strategical element. Two players start out with 4 red and 4 blue ghosts each. The ghosts face the player so the opponent can't tell which is which. Players take turns moving one of their ghosts one square on the playing board (forward, back, left or right). If you land on the square with an opponent's ghost, you take that ghost. The goal is to either take all of your opponent's good (blue) ghosts, give up all your bad (red) ghosts, or be the first person to get a good ghost to the "exits" at the opposite corners of the board and then off the board. It's a bluffing game, and you never know if a ghost that's making a run for an exit is a good ghost trying to win the game, or a bad ghost threatening your back line. We only played one round, but I won by accident (I still had no real idea what I was doing.)

(Points card)

From September to October 31, Schatzkiste is doubling as an art gallery, hosting the works of the famed Akiman. Akira Yasuda started at Capcom as an artist for the box art on the NES version of "1942". He then worked as a planner on the Street Fighter II series, The Punisher and Darkstalkers, and as a character designer for Gundam: Giren no Yabo. He left Capcom in 2003 to go freelance. He's also credited as a mecha designer on the "Code Geass" anime, and character designer on the "∀ Gundam" anime series. He's done some DVD box art and has had at least one book of his own work published. The pictures shown at Schatzkiste are all incredibly well-executed, with Chun-lee showing up several times, but there is a bit of etchi-ness to a couple of them. I don't know if the following is related to the exhibit or if it's a regular feature of the cafe, but there are several sketch books lying around with artwork from the customers. A large percentage of the sketches are professional grade, and it looks like you're allowed to do your own drawings if you want to.

Overall, this was one of the more fun, relaxed cafes I've been to in a while. There is a refined element to the cafe, similar to Cure Maid, but I haven't really being able to sit down and just play a game like backgammon against someone at a cafe like this since I last lived in Minneapolis.

Name: Schatzkiste
Location: Kuramaebashi, just east of the Jonathan's at the intersection with Tsumakoizaka. On the ground floor.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: 500 lets you stay 30 minutes.
Food: Some light pastries, like tea cookies and chifon cake. Does include a bowl of soup with bread. The tea is all-you-can-drink.
Service: Very elegant and friendly, but reserved. The maids don't speak English and there's no English menu. However, the menu does have pictures of the food.
"Love": No special "added flavor chants", no writing on the food.
Outfits: Long black dresses with white aprons and lace.
Photos: No maid photos.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is a library of sorts that lets you sit down, read, play board games or chat with friends. From September to October, the cafe hosted an art display from Akira Yasuda. Future art exhibits may be possible.
Recommendation: Schatzkiste hosts various trading card game and board game events, as well as just acting as a place for people to sit and play 2-person games ala go and shogi. The atmosphere is refined, and free tea is provided as part of the cover. The menu is limited to cookies, cake and a bowl of thick soup. The cafe is modeled on a German motif. The only caveat is that you're paying 500 yen per half hour, rounded up. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 19, 2009

When is a Maid Cafe a Maid Cafe?

Or, the question should probably be, what is the definition of "maid"? Yes, I did address this issue a little bit back when I started up Maid Runner, but I didn't cover all of the bases at that time.

First, in Japan, "maid" refers more to the costume than it does to the occupation. This is part of the reason why we also see "maid shampoo" and "maid reflex". It's not that these places are maid cafes, but rather that the female staff is wearing maid uniforms. Then, as part of the maid image, the female staff will also greet customers with variations on "welcome home master". Western writers (such as those at the Metropolis) will make a point of commenting on places with "maid" in the name as not really having maids. This misses the point. The idea is that various types of businesses want to cash in on the maid concept and therefore dress their female staff up as maids. It's not much different from McDonald's or Wendy's forcing their staff to wear coordinated uniforms and welcome their customers with formulaic greetings. The difference is that at a maid hair stylist, the staff is having more fun in the role than at a "normal" hair stylist.

If a maid cafe is a snack shop or restaurant where the servers dress up in maid uniforms, and "maid sham" is a hair dresser where the stylists dress up in maid outfits, what do we call a "maid cafe" where they don't use maid uniforms?

Specifically, places like MIA Cafe and Little TGV serve food (TGV is more of a bar, though), but MIA's staff dresses up in costumes from various TV anime shows, and TGV is a train-themed izakaya where the staff dresses up in train personnel uniforms. They're still grouped under the heading of "Maid Cafe" in the Akihabara directories, but they're really not maid cafes because they don't use maids uniforms. Instead, these places are generically called "cosplay cafes" or "cosplay clubs". I'd prefer to call them "theme shops" or "theme cafes", but within Japan the title used is "cosplay". Of course, there are cosplay bars as well, but I haven't encountered cosplay hair stylists yet.

Naturally, there's no reason to expect a strict division between the two types of shops. Many maid cafes have "cosplay events" where the staff dresses up as specific anime characters, or in other outfits (such as elf uniforms for Christmas). In the case of Mai:lish, from opening to 5 PM is "maid time", and from 5 PM to closing is "cosplay time".

We can muddy the waters further by introducing "butler" and "dansou" cafes, where "butler" generally refers to guys dressed up as butlers to cater to a female clientele, and "dansou" are women cross-dressing as butlers for the same customer base. While it's appropriate to lump these two (along with "little brother" cafes) in with cosplay cafes, it's probably a good idea to keep "maid" and "butler" separate largely because they are aimed at different target audiences. On top of which, I've yet to find a "butler hair stylist".

Now, why am I going on with this diatribe (other than the fact that I dislike the way the English press represents the entire maid movement)? Because I'm preparing to start up a multi-part blog entry on non-cafe maid-related businesses. My criteria is that the business follows the maid motif (uniform, greeting, treatment of the customers, etc.) As mentioned above, I haven't found many cosplay shops that aren't cafes, but if I do, I'll include them in the series. For the moment, I'll focus on Akihabara, simply to keep things under control. If anyone wants to talk about places in Ikebukuro, Yokohama, Osaka or elsewhere, please free to add a comment.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Mai:lish

Mai:lish is a maid cafe during the day, a cosplay bar at night. Kind of like Batman in having a secret identity, but much cuter. It's located at the northwestern edge of the Akihabara district, near the intersection of Kuramaebashi Dori and Tsumakoizaka Dori. This means that the clientle is a bit different since there are more offices and schools in the area, and fewer electronics and manga shops. When I arrived, there were several businessmen, and one businesswoman. To get here, take the north exit from the Akihabara JR station, turn left in front of the UDX building. Go past Chuu-ou Dori to the next major street (Tsumakoizaka), turn right and walk about 4-5 short blocks. The cafe is just before the next signal (Kuramaebashi), on the right on the second floor. There are several signs in front so it's easy to find.

The shop area is a narrow rectangle with about 20 small wooden 2-person tables and chairs set up. Shelves near the cash register by the door hold branded goods, including coffee cups, ash trays, towels, posters, and laminated cards and pins with manga-style versions of the maids drawn on them. Along one of the long walls, there's the bar and kitchen, plus the dessert case. The case contains several kinds of cheese cakes, an apple tart, a banana pie, and the "cake of the month". At the far, narrow wall, there's a flat panel TV. Half of the shop is smoking, half non-smoking. It's well-ventilated and the smoke stays in the smoking area. The walls are painted white and the shop is bright and cheerful.

As mentioned above, Mai:lish has two identities. From opening to 5 PM, it's a maid cafe and the staff is all dressed in modest, knee-length (or so) dresses with aprons and lace. After 5, it becomes a cosplay cafe, where the costume themes change periodically. The night I was there, Mai:lish had a train theme. The drinks were all named after Tokyo train lines, and a DVD of various trains played on the TV. The PA system played various soft rock songs that all seemed to have Japanese lyrics regarding trains. One maid wore a maiko (shinto priestess) dress, another had a kind of sailor dress uniform, and the two other maids wore dresses for anime shows I didn't recognize.

Mai:lish is a cafe bar. Entrees include several versions of curry, and some pasta and hamburg steak dishes in the 800 to 1200 yen range, plus some snacks and side dishes. There's a wide variety of soft drinks, with prices from 450 to 600 yen. The royal milk tea is the pricier item. Desserts include ice cream, the cheese cakes and the tarts. The "cake of the month" is a mont blanc chestnut. Supersized soft drinks are available for 900 to 1200 yen. Cocktails are 600 to 800 yen.

The maids are friendly and relatively easy to talk to, but they don't speak English. Fortunately, there is an English version of the menu. I ordered an ice coffee, a tahiti curry and the mont blanc cake. The food was delivered promptly but with no fanfare. Mai:lish skips the standard "maid" stuff like "added flavor chants", drawing pictures on your food and stirring your coffee for you. Instead, it's a simple cafe that focuses more on the food and the costumes. The ice coffee was about 10 ounces, and pretty standard. The tahiti curry was described as being sweeter than the regular beef curry, with more fruits and chicken added. When it was brought out, I was given a plate with a small mound of rice, and a tureen of curry on the side. There's a lot of curry in the tureen, and it makes up for the reduced amount of rice. But, it contained beef instead of chicken so I'm assuming that the maid misunderstood my order and just gave me the regular beef curry. If that's the case, it was good beef curry, but kind of lacking in vegetables. The mont blanc cake was a small slice of fluffy cake with a tan, chestnut frosting. It was good, but would have been better with hot coffee or milk. The full meal came to 2100 yen. A moderate price for a drink, entree and dessert and fortunately, there's no cover charge. But, they don't let you take photos of the food.

Mai:lish doesn't offer maid photos, and when I asked about them, was told that I could buy laminated cards with manga drawings of the maids at the register if I wanted them (I passed on that). They do have a points card. 1 point per 1000 yen; 20 points per card; a full card lets you get a "suteki present" (a nice present, basically just one of the laminated cards or pins). The website advertises some books with links to, and has photos of the maids, the food menu, a blog and the online gift shop. It even has something called the "Mai:lish School" which is described as a "virtual school", but it requires that you be able to read Japanese - it's very text heavy.

I arrived around 6 PM on a week night, and the place was still quiet. It probably got busier later on. It was a nice experience - simple, no frills, focused on the food. And, because there are 3 other maid cafes nearby (Misty Heaven, Year 2 Class 1, and Eine Burg) I'll be back in this area fairly often in the near future.

Name: Mai:lish
Location: Near the intersection of Kuramaebashi Dori and Tsumakoizaka Dori, just before the light on the right-hand side of Tsumakoizaka when coming from the Akihabara JR station.
Price: Moderate. Main dishes are between 800 and 1200 yen; soft drinks between 400 and 600; cocktails around 1000 yen; desserts around 600 yen.
Cover: No cover.
Food: Standard entrees, including curries and pastas. A wide range of beverages. Desserts include ice creams and a variety of cakes and cheese cakes.
Service: Friendly, responsive and willing to talk to the customers during the meal.
"Love": No special chants or drawing on the food.
Outfits: Modest maid dresses of various colors from opening to 5 PM. From 5 PM to closing is "cosplay time", where the costume themes change periodically.
Photos: No maid photos. Laminated cards of manga-style maid drawings are available at the checkout counter.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Outside of having some good desserts and a couple different variations on curry rice, the main highlight of Mai:lish is the cosplay time during the evenings. The themes vary from night to night. When I was there, the theme was "trains", and the costumes included "maiko", sailor dresses, and some other character types.
Recommendation: Mai:lish is a combination maid cafe/cosplay bar. The staff is friendly, the food is good and the prices aren't too high. Plus, there's no cover. Recommended.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Games With a Maid Page

Many maid cafes allow you to play board or video games against one of the maids for about 500 yen for 3-5 minutes. Few let you be the maid.

Well, technically, it's not a cafe, and you're not really a maid, but why pick nits? The Melty Cure website has a link for a handful of Flash games that are kind of fun to play. The first game is "Walking Reversi", where you guide a maid to turn all the pieces red. The second is a trace-a-route game to have the maid reveal a picture (mess up the route and you have to start over). Third is a reaction time game where you click to pound a batch of mochi while trying to avoid hitting your partner on the head. Fourth is another reaction time game where a cat tries to catch a waving cat toy. Then we have LT-RT, a symbol matching game similar to Tetris (4 or more of each symbol in a row makes them disappear). Panpan Waroon has you clicking on balloons in numerical order to see if you can beat your best time. And finally there's the gramophone (click on the record to play a song.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Mai Dreamin 3

Mai Dreamin' 3 is the newest of the Mai Dreamin' cafes, having opened in July. It's located on the 4th floor of the Kyoueki Soto-Kanda Dai Ichi building, right on Chuu-Ou Dori, half a block north of the Donkey building. The basic interior motif is the same - white and pink, with big hearts designed into the tables. It's a bit cramped, especially right in front of the elevator when people start to pour in and the next group can't get off the elevator into the cafe. The room is a long, narrow rectangle with table seating in one half, and bleacher-style bench seating (ala @Home) in the other half. The benches face the small stage in the middle. While the stage would lend itself well to song and dance performances (granted, the dances wouldn't have much movement and there's only room for 2 performers) while I was there it was used only for the maid photos.

As always, there was J-pop playing in the background. The seats were only about half full at any given time, but there was a constant influx of customers during the evening. MD3 seems to be fairly popular with western tourists - at least 3 different groups of Europeans (I could hear them talking but couldn't place the languages) came in, and about 10% of the customers (including the tourists) were women. A number of the guys were dressed up as punks, and a few of the salarymen fit the definition of otaku in suits.

The menus between all three Mai Dreamin's tend to be the same, and there were empty Dom Perignon bottles on the shelf in front of the cash register podium. MD3 does promote its mixed drinks, but it's set up to be more of a cafe than a bar. The current entree set includes your choice of pasta, omelet rice or curry, a soft drink and a maid photo for 1900 yen. The maid talked me into getting "ice", which is just a small scoop of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and sparkles for an additional 200 yen. Together with the 500 yen cover, the total came to 2600 ($27 USD), which is on the high side for a regular dinner but about to be expected for a maid cafe.

I got the curry rice and an ice coffee. Again, the coffee was nothing special. The curry was unusual, though, in that it was a pile of rice in between 2 different curries. One was a heavier red curry that was slightly reminiscent of something from China, and the other was closer to a chicken gravy. It was definitely good and filling, but nothing like the standard Japanese curry (for one, it was mostly just sauce, without the chunks of vegetables and meat). The maid asked what I wanted drawn on the rice in catsup and I asked for a cat. Since she got started drawing right away, I assume that "a cat" is one of the more common pictures. And again, they only let you take photos of the food. As I was checking the picture on the camera, moving it around to get the angle against the lighting right on the screen, a panicked maid ran up, thinking that I was going to shoot the inside of the shop.

The maids all greeted me with the "welcome home, master" chant, and sent me out with a "be careful master" at the end. There were a number of variations on the "added flavor chant" (including "moe moe beam"). The maids were cheerful and energetic, but not particularly talkative this time. At least half could speak a little English, and the menus and instruction cards were all in (slightly error-filled) English. When it was time for the photo, the maid told me to take a cat pose, and then gave the photo to someone else to embellish. The final photo wasn't up to "maid standards", in that it didn't have anywhere near the number of hearts and flowers I've gotten from other cafes.

I need to mention one of Mai Dreamin's trademarks. You can see it in the upper left corner of the photo of the curry plate. It's a little electric light, called a "fairy candle" When you sit down, the maid greets you as having come into the house, then blows on the candle, which causes it to turn on. When you get ready to leave, she says something to the effect that you're now leaving the house and blows on the candle to make it turn off. Mai Dreamin' fairy candles are available for sale at the cash register.

Name: Mai Dreamin' 3
Location: East side of Chuu-ou Dori, just north of the Donkey building. On the 4th floor.
Cover: 500 yen lets you in the door to stay 1 hour.
Price: Moderate-high.
Food: Large-serving specials for the omelet and curry, as well as regular-sized entrees of the same type. Hamburger patties and pasta. Entrees in the 800 to 1000 yen range. Soft drinks are 500, cocktails and wines are 1100 yen. Desserts include parfaits, cakes and smoothies, in the 700 to 900 yen range.This location is more of a bar, and features bottles of Dom Perignon.
Service: Very friendly and outgoing.
"Love": "hoi hoi gyu" over the drinks; a similar chant is made over the foods and desserts. Drawings of your choice on the food in catsup.
Outfits: Black dress with white apron and blouse.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid, or 1400 yen as part of the dessert set.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: 500 yen lets you play a game with the maid for prizes (maid photos, etc.) Various events throughout the year.
Recommendation: Like Mai Dreamin' 1 and 2, Mai Dreamin' 3 is a very relaxed cafe. It's also very popular with tourists. There's no real theme or gimmick here, other than the maids treating you like the master of the house, but the atmosphere is light and the food is good. Recommended, although I preferred the friendlier setting of MD2.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Maid juice

There's a vending machine in Akihabara, just west of Chuu-ou Dori and north of the Mandarake shop, that sells juice at 150 yen a 6-ounce can. I haven't seen vending machines like this anywhere else, and the artwork looks like it comes from a video game or anime. The name is "Touhou Cancan Musume" (Asian Can Can Girls).

This specific can is for "Fuyajou tomato" juice (Unending Night Quarters Tomato) and features Remiria, the Vampire Maid!

The other flavors are grape (Frandool), roasted green tea (Reimu, AKA: Vision) and milk tea (Marisha, AKA: 1/millionth Demon Logic).

Remiria is the cutest of the group, and is the most maid-looking of the 4. Seems that this is the second set, and I missed seeing the first set. I'm hoping that the next collection comes out soon. Vampire Maids! What will they think up next? - Vampire Maids in Space!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: Mai Dreamin 1

Of all the maid cafes in Akihabara, several belong to a chain, or at a minimum have more than one location just a few blocks apart. Pinafore has 2 locations, @Home has 5 (four in the same building), "Little" (Little BSD, Little TGV, etc.) has 3 or 4 (depending on if you count all the links from their website), and then there's Mai Dreamin'.

Mai Dreamin' just opened a third location in Akihabara a few weeks ago. I figured that it was time to fill out the full set, since I'd already been to MD2, and was on my way to MD3 along Chuu-ou Dori when I encountered a maid handing out fliers on the street. A quick glance confirmed that the flier was for Mai Dreamin'. I asked her for directions to the original shop, and she told me to keep walking a couple more blocks down the street, turn left at the next signal and to look down the side street just off Chuu-ou Dori. When I got to what I thought was the right area, I couldn't find the desired building. However, I almost immediately ran into another Mai Dreamin' maid handing out fliers, and she escorted me one more block along Chuu-ou, and then up to the cafe on the 6th floor.

The original shop, MD1, and MD2 have very similar interiors - brightly lit, white walls, white Formica tables, a few booths, and small, flimsy-looking white chairs. One long table along one wall seats about 5-8 people, and the place can hold about 30 people total. There's a 500 yen cover per hour for the one-person seats, and 500 yen per 30 minutes for the booths. A set of shelves in front of the elevator contains the branded goods, like CDs, keitai straps, etc. J-pop (probably sung by some of the maids themselves) plays continuously in the background.

They have an English version of the menu, but it's missing the monthly specials. A couple of the maids enjoyed practicing their English on me, and it was good enough to be understandable if you don't speak Japanese. They greeted me with the "Welcome home, master" chant, used the "added flavor" chant over the food, and sent me out the door with the "please be careful, master" chant. One of the other customers ordered the omelet rice and had a cat drawn on it. Down at another table, some of the customers were challenging a maid to a board game for 500 yen for 3 minutes. A couple maids came by to ask what manga I was reading (Tezuka's "Don Dracula"), and they also chatted with some of the other customers. At 6 PM on a rainy Tuesday evening, the cafe was still rather quiet, with only 5-6 customers, mostly businessmen. My neighbor turned out to be a young Indonesian guy trying to decide which animation school to join as a student.

MD1 has a larger selection of alcohol than MD2 did, and there's more of an emphasis on mixed drinks in the menu. One of the special items is the "God Drink" which includes a bottle of Dom Perignon. Several empty Dom bottles, embellished with hearts and stickers, lined one window sill. Suffice it to say that this is not one of the cheaper things on the menu. Entrees include the standards (curry, omelet, hamburg steak, pasta) in the 800-1000 yen range, and a number of items can be super-sized for a couple hundred yen more. Desserts are 700-900 yen, mostly cakes and parfaits. Soft drinks are 500 yen. I got a dessert/maid photo set for 1400. This gave me a choice from two desserts, and of any soft drink on the menu (no refills). I chose the chocolate panda and an ice coffee.

The ice coffee was pretty good sized, compared to other maid cafes, and tasted ok. The panda was made up of two waffles sandwiched around whipped cream and some canned fruit (melon and grapes), with artwork in chocolate syrup, chocolate ice cream for ears and more whipped cream. It was good, but the molten chocolate cake at MD2 was a lot better. In any event, the panda was cute, and Mai Dreamin' does allow photos of the food. At one point, a businessman nearby ordered a mixed drink, and looked very embarrassed when the maid went through a 1-minute "nyan nyan" chant that included the rest of the staff as she shook the shaker. The shaking of the drink ended when the chant finished.

At the end of my meal, my maid came over to tell me that she was ready for the photo, and she had me do the "cat paws" pose. A few minutes later she returned with the embellished photo (I wrote down the word "embellish" for her in case she wants to use it on another customer). The dessert set and cover came to 1900 yen ($20 US), which is a bit on the high side, but is about normal when you figure that the photo usually runs 500 yen by itself. What hurts the most is the 500 yen cover.

It's interesting, the number of cafes that I've gone to lately that don't offer maid photos as a separate, buyable item. It's kind of nice finally being at a maid cafe where I can get one as a souvenir. However, it does look like Mai Dreamin' still doesn't offer a points card. Overall, I had fun, and I recommend both MD1 and 2. Although, MD2 did have more of a party atmosphere when I was there, MD1 would be a better setting for large office drinking parties.

Name: Mai Dreamin' 1
Location: Just west of Chuu-ou Dori, 4-5 blocks north from the Akihabara JR station. On the 6th floor.
Cover: 500 yen lets you in the door to stay 1 hour.
Price: Moderate-high.
Food: Large-serving specials for the omelet and curry, as well as regular-sized entrees of the same type. Hamburger patties and pasta. Entrees in the 800 to 1000 yen range. Soft drinks are 500, cocktails and wines are 1100 yen. Desserts include parfaits, cakes and smoothies, in the 700 to 900 yen range.This location is more of a bar, and features bottles of Dom Perignon.
Service: Very friendly and outgoing.
"Love": "hoi hoi gyu" over the drinks; a similar chant is made over the foods and desserts. Drawings of your choice on the food in catsup.
Outfits: Black dress with white apron and blouse.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid, or 1400 yen as part of the dessert set.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: 500 yen lets you play a game with the maid for prizes (maid photos, etc.) Various events throughout the year.
Recommendation: Like Mai Dreamin' 2, Mai Dreamin' 1 is a very relaxed cafe and the maids have no problems talking with the customers. There's no real theme or gimmick here, other than the maids treating you like the master of the house, but the atmosphere is light and the food is good. Recommended.