I don’t have any news that’s directly related to Maid RPG, but at FanimeCon I attended an interesting panel called “Butler Cafes Exposed,” hosted by some ladies from Yaoi-Con‘s Cafe Verfuhren (which means “to lead astray” in German). I took some notes, and hopefully I didn’t get anything wrong. It’s interesting as a cultural thing in general, and it provides some insight into why people are so into maids and butlers.
Maid cafes are taking off in Japan (and popping up here and there in the U.S.), and with more and more women otaku out there, it was only natural that someone would try to make an equivalent that appeals to them. Butler and maid cafes have somewhat different aesthetics–black and wood grain versus white and pink–but they are both essentially a place where customers go to spend time in a safe environment and enjoy viewing a fantasy. Although interaction between the customers and staff is an important part of the experience, there is a very prominent divide. Despite the gimmick, these establishments have a proper client-customer relationship in place. Maid/butler cafes are not host clubs. In a host club, a customer is essentially paying someone to be their date, but in a maid or butler cafe the customer is just a customer at a cafe with some added flavor. Maid cafes still outnumber the butler cafes probably by a ratio of 4:1 or so, and in both cases these businesses come and go.
Each cafe creates something of a distinct brand, and the staff creates their own personas for the cafe. They use assumed character names, and build up a personality to play while they’re at work. In a sense, they are drawing on anime, manga, etc. to create a fantasy experience grounded in the media that the customers enjoy so much. The customers are coming home to an English country home, where handsome servants welcome them and wait on them hand and foot. This is a factor in all of these cafes, but in fact butlers are more often than not women playing the part of men. This calls to mind the Takarazuka Revue all-female theater group, and indeed it does create a greater feeling of safety. They tend to push the BL angle and build up a story more than the cafes with actual male staff. Amusingly, there’s also at least one butler cafe with English-speaking Western men for the butlers, and being able to practice your English is one of the selling points.
Maid cafes may be a little different, but the customers of butler cafes are mainly women in their 20s and 30s. I get the impression that the female fans (“otome”) tend to live relatively normal lives and work ordinary jobs, and go get their fix of BL manga and spend time at a butler cafe once a week or once a month. Many of them do serve alcohol, and all of them are fairly expensive. They also don’t allow photography, but will be happy to sell you signed pictures, along with other merchandise. Surprisingly, the women on the panel saw a lot of men at butler cafes. This is partly because a lot of maid and butler cafes are run by the same people (as with Pinafore and Checkmate), and in some cases there would be (for example) a special opening of a butler cafe where you have to buy something at a given maid cafe to get tickets. For that matter, maid and butler cafes alike often have theme nights, and some maid cafes will actually have “butler nights” where the girls who are normally maids dress up as butlers.
The panel also touched on the experiences setting up a butler cafe at an American con. There were the inevitable difficulties with unions and convention center policies getting in the way of doing things that should by all rights be relatively simple. It was also an explosive success the first year, to the point where they were running out of food to serve people, to say nothing of what happened when they lost the hot water. The second year they worked things out to be in a better space, to serve better food and even alcohol, and so on. Also, at some point the owner of Eighty Plus One (a Japanese number pun on the syllables of yaoi, in case you’re wondering) visited the cafe. Some people even said that Verfuhren provided the only decent food they’d eaten all weekend. (Which makes me appreciate the variety and quality of food available in downtown San Jose during Fanime, if nothing else).
So, as I’ve mentioned before, Maid RPG’s butler rules require you to have one single butler among the maids, who is a badass and an island of calm in a sea of chaos. I want to put together rules for “stewards” (the Japanese word, 執事/shitsuji, can mean either), junior butlers who are more on par with maids, though I think I’m going to need some input from fans of such things if I’m going to get it right. Even among the 4chan crowd, there are people who want to do a game purely about butlers, whether because they’d be more comfortable with it, because they’ve been watching Hayate no Gotoku, or just because they really like butlers. In terms of They Are My Noble Masters, the existing butler rules would be perfect for creating the Colonel, and I want to make rules for creating the likes of Ren.