|A-tan or Nagi-chan?|
I had originally planned to do this write-up entirely on A-tan/Athena Tennousu, but I realized halfway through that I just can’t do it justice (read as: satisfy myself) without making constant comparisons with the series’ main heroine, Nagi Sanzen’in, so I decided to do a joint character analysis (which is actually more of a relationship analysis regarding the girls and Hayate) instead.
|Not much room for doubt who my favorite character is. Tinierme inspired fanart by me|
Thus, this is what initially motivated me to start reading the manga – and to my own surprise, it was so interesting that I actually finished reading 413 chapters (all that was available at that time) within 5 days. If you’re wondering how the manga reads as one whole volume, the story is actually pretty coherent and the characterization quite consistent starting from around chapter 90 and onwards. Some characters like Sakuya exhibit traits that they haven’t shown since the early chapters of the manga and many characters (including Hayate) have actually changed quite a bit across these 400+ chapters – but I digress, so I’ll leave it at.
Athena’s background and relationship with Hayate
Athena Tennousu or A-tan, as Hayate and her loyal fans like to call her, is often referred to as Hayate’s ex-girlfriend. Of course, what this description fails to convey is that she and Hayate were lovers when they were like six years old. The End of The World arc of the manga basically covers this period wherein it is shown that Athena is mostly responsible for the kind of person that Hayate eventually became (I jokingly referred to her as Hayate's mother and not his ex-girlfriend in twitter) – including his superhuman strength and endurance. This was 10 years before Hayate first meets up with Nagi.
|A-tan unleashes Unlimited Blade Works~!|
Nagi’s background and relationship with Hayate
I’m sure that you would be quite familiar with Nagi even if you’re just an anime-only fan of the series, but one misunderstanding held by a lot of anime fans (upon hearing Rie Kugimiya’s voice) that I would like to clear up is that Nagi is just another typical Kugimiya Tsundere. Unlike Louise, Shana or even Taiga, Nagi is more of a “nice tsundere” in that she’s not initially violent towards the person that she likes.
|Nagi doesn't throw uppercuts from out of nowhere or horsewhip Hayate|
In contrast to Athena, Nagi is actually mostly the underdog in this series as far as Hayate’s affections are concerned. Her entire relationship with Hayate was based on a misunderstanding due to Hayate’s poor choice of words. She misinterprets his kidnapping attempt for a confession of love and thus, appoints him to become her butler and subsequently frees him from his debt to the “very kind people.”
Up to the current manga arc (chapter 417 at the time this was written), Hayate has not been shown to openly reciprocate or even recognize her feelings for him nor has he shown any form of attraction for her because he still sees her as a child, while he has definitely more than hinted at being physically attracted to Nagi’s rivals in the series including Hinagiku, Ayumu, Maria, and of course, he has declared that he “loved” Athena.
If there is one word that would describe Athena Tennousu, that word would be “perfect,” because that’s basically what she is. In fact, I would say that Athena’s main flaw as a character is that she is simply too perfect that personally, I find it hard to empathize with her because she is far too capable for her own good.
Athena has a very beautiful, regal, princess-like appearance and she has the aura of a mature woman (which Hayate has been shown to have a preference for). She is proficient in magic and has declared and been shown to be possibly stronger than the series’ other overpowered magic user, Isumi Saginomiya. Furthermore, she might be a better swordswoman than Hinagiku since she is the one who trained Hayate how to fight with a sword when they were just kids. Just like Nagi, Sakuya, and Isumi, Athena is also a super-rich multi-millionaire heiress and is the current chairman of Hakuo Academy.
|Athena's the character who is closest to being sexy.|
Athena's character design indicates that she is the character who is closest to being considered as “sexy” in the series because… well, I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
If Athena had one character flaw, it would be the fact that she fell in love with Hayate. As far as I know, this is the only "weakness" in her character as she does not appear to be a tsundere like Nagi or Hinagiku and she only ever hesitates when it involves Hayate.
In contrast, you would have to be a lolicon to consider Nagi as even remotely sexy even though she is very cute. Even when compared to other girls (Isumi and Sakuya) her age, Nagi is quite small and flat-chested.
|DAT A... err...hrmph! I mean, this is the official cover for chapter 368. Kenjiro Hata, what were you thinking?|
Of course, she does have her redeeming qualities. For one, she’s actually pretty open about her feelings towards Hayate and would probably shout out at the top of her lungs that she loves him more than anyone/anything… except if he was listening, which is actually quite understandable given her tender age and the fact that she can be a bit of a tsundere. Nonetheless, if the Can’t Take My Eyes Off You anime eventually becomes canon, then she does eventually successfully confess her love for him – although whether Hayate actually understood it as such given how dense he is, is another question altogether.
Another redeeming quality that Nagi possesses is that she is actually very kind-hearted (as she herself declares in the introductory portion of the very 1st chapter) and it’s been shown multiple times throughout the manga – especially in her relationship with Ayumu Nishizawa.
One thing worthy of note about Nagi's character is that she is very unpredictable. She makes whimsical decisions from out of nowhere (such as going to Kyoto to find inspiration for her manga) and says the most random-sounding, but actually logical things that catch even Hayate off-guard.
Finally, let’s not forget that even back when she was super-rich, Nagi always shows appreciation for anything that Hayate would give her. When they first met, she called his coat cheap and oversized, but she also says that it’s warm and that she likes it. When Hayate gives her a hair ornament that he says was quite cheap, she states that gifts are all about the feelings of the giver and that she would treasure it. Later on, she even starts working in a family restaurant in order to earn her own money to buy Hayate a birthday present.
The Golden Week Arc
One thing that perplexes me whenever people bring up the idea that A-tan should be the person with whom Hayate eventually ends up with is why they choose to use the Golden Week arc to defend their cause. Although, I suppose there is really not much material to draw upon except for the End of the World and Golden Week arcs since these are the only two A-tan specific arcs in the manga and the Alice chapters are mostly one-shots/not plot-relevant.
I do understand that Athena's arcs are two of the most popular story arcs in the entire manga, but actually going through said arcs, if anything, I personally find that the Golden Week arc works against the possibility of a Hayate x Athena ending. For one, Athena herself gives up on Hayate at the end of the arc, at least as far as rekindling past relationship is concerned. The part wherein she takes Nagi’s hat, which was blown by the wind and then gives it back to her along with an empty ring box declaring that “next time, I might not give it back” basically says that she is turning Hayate over to Nagi for now… although that might not be the case in the future.
Also, there’s the fact that Hayate declared to Athena that he “loved her” in the past tense – which also happened near the end of the arc. To me, this was a very beautiful scene that provided closure to the relationship between them that ended on an unhappy note 10 years ago in the End of the World arc. This is what the arc was about to me. It was about moving on and putting an end to a tragic relationship in the past and perhaps starting over again. It doesn’t have to mean that this arc signaled the end of any Hayate x Athena relationship, but that relying solely on their past together really does nothing to leverage this particular shipping.
Both Hayate and Athena have moved on from their past – perhaps it’s time for their fans to do so as well and allow them to start anew? I'd certainly be interested in seeing the resurgence of teenage Athena and have her become a main rival again as soon as Yozora Housen and the King's Jewels become plot-relevant once again.
One of Nagi’s best moments is in this arc
The Golden Week arc actually made Nagi shine because we got to see that she’s more than just a spoiled brat, and that she is actually willing to sacrifice anything – even her inheritance or in Hayate’s words: the money that had always been protecting her, just to ensure that Hayate is not unhappy.
To refresh your memory/inform you better, in this arc, things were happening in the background that Nagi was unaware of and remains unaware of -- specifically, that Hayate needed to sacrifice the King’s Jewel, which was the key to Nagi’s inheritance in order to save Athena. Nagi senses that something is bothering Hayate, and even though she is unaware of the circumstances, she understands that it is the jewel, which was the key to her inheritance which was bothering him… so what does she do? This!
Of course, some people would dismissively say that Nagi never had the potential to do this before, so this was an abrupt development. (I won't even go into the "it was irresponsible" argument as that is clearly not what Hata was trying to get across here. If you need to resort to that argument to downplay Nagi's shining moment of awesome in this arc, then it's useless to even waste words with you about it.) I would argue that she has always been the type of character to do exactly this ever since the start of the manga – it’s just that she has never been given that many opportunities to do so since everyone is always trying to keep her in the dark when it comes to the supernatural developments happening in the background. This seems to have changed starting with the movie and the Can't Take My Eyes Off You anime series, however, as she has been shown to be able to be surprisingly insightful and capable when it comes to supernatural events - even if she lacks the physical or magical abilities of the series' combat frontliners (Hayate, Hinagiku, Isumi and perhaps even Athena - though not as Alice.)
Nagi’s sacrifice vs Athena’s sacrifice
If one were to measure the sacrifices that each heroine has made/what they have done for Hayate, then Athena would come out as the clear winner. After all, she sacrificed her right to be with Hayate, the person that she loved and who loved her back in return in order to save him, and she has done this more than once. She did it when she felt that Hayate would be in danger back when they were just kids in the Royal Garden and then she did it once again when she saw Hayate enrolled in Hakuo Academy when she chose not to meet with him because he had someone else who cared for him now. Isn’t that quite noble?
On the other hand, Nagi sacrificed her inheritance and her right to make use of the Sanzen’in fortune while asking if Hayate can protect her from now on instead of her money.
If one were to objectively analyze it, you might say that Nagi’s sacrifice is actually quite a bit more selfish than Athena’s – but this is exactly why I believe Nagi’s sacrifice is much more relatable than Athena’s, even if Athena’s sacrifice was more altruistic.
|Nothing wrong with being selfish, right Ruka-chan?|
On the other hand, Athena sacrifices her right to be with Hayate and then spends years brooding over it in regret – and she just pretends that she doesn’t even know him when he sees him right in front of her because she thinks that “he has found someone else who cares for him now?” Girl, why not just tell him that you do remember who he is and then let him decide? The way Athena acts as if she knows exactly how Hayate would react to any given situation when she hasn’t even been with him for over 10 years just seems a bit cold and assuming to me. Why would I want to root for her when she ignores the opportunity to be with her loved one that has been presented to her so openly?
In the End of the World arc, a very young Hayate promises to Athena that he would definitely return to be with her forever, but this promise is not fulfilled since Hayate loses the ring that Athena gave him thanks to his abusive parents and at this point, Athena has already been possessed by the spirit of Midas and is forced to chase Hayate out of the Royal Garden for his own good. The arc ends in a tearful goodbye for the star-crossed couple. At this point, Hayate is still not the super strong, super durable combat butler that he would eventually become as he is pretty much just a normal, whiny six-year old brat and there was no Isumi or invincible Hinagiku to save them. You might say that circumstances just worked against these two and it’s really quite sad, but that is how life goes and life goes on.
In a similar manner, Hayate promises that he would definitely return to Nagi’s side near the climax of the Golden Week arc. This time, it’s a promise that he fulfills, unlike 10 years ago. You might say that luck (“luck” being a mangaka named Kenjiro Hata) is on Nagi’s side since at this point, Hayate is strong enough and has several overpowered friends at his side (Isumi Saginomiya and Hinagiku with Wooden Masamune and Shirosakura.) and he is able to rescue Athena, albeit with some difficulty, and return to Nagi to fulfill his promise to her.
|Also, let's not forget Hayate's other promise to Nagi.|
There is no question that both of these girls have had their fates intertwined with Hayate’s life. What irks me is when some people say that Athena is responsible for forming Hayate’s character and making him the kind of person that he is today without taking Nagi’s part into account. Haven’t you guys realized it yet? Without Nagi coming into Hayate’s life, he would have been butchered for his organs by some “very kind people” in the very first volume of the manga.
Furthermore, the entire Mykonos arc/saving Athena would not even have been possible without Nagi taking Hayate there in the first place because she wanted to have some alone time with him.
The main point is that neither Athena nor Nagi can take sole credit for being for being Hayate’s “savior.” Both of them have helped out Hayate immensely at one time or another and none of the things they have done so far really makes one girl more “entitled” than the other to end up in a romantic relationship with him.
But Hayate still loves Athena… right?
As Nagi would say (while explaining Ruka’s love for Hayate), “Hayate’s feelings don’t matter.” Okay, perhaps this is taking it too far, but I wouldn’t really trust anything that comes out of Hayate’s mouth at this point. While he did declare that he “loved” Athena and we can safely conclude that he did mean romantic love, we need to understand that he said this in relation to their relationship from 10 years ago (as two liddle precocious six-year-olds.) After the Golden Week arc is concluded, there is really no further indication that Hayate is deeply in love with Athena, although it is undeniable that he acknowledges that they had a past together.
The point is, as far as romance is concerned, Hayate is so clueless that I wouldn’t even trust him to know/recognize his own feelings – which is perhaps part of the reason that these shipping wars have gone on for so long. The guy just flat out refuses to make a definite choice – so until he does, saying that it’s a done deal for any of the girls is jumping the gun a bit – and yes, I say this even though I hope that Hata-sensei goes for the Nagi route based on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Cuties.
Hayate doesn't see Nagi as a romantic prospect?
From several re-readings of the manga, it's become clear to me that Hayate does have feelings for Nagi - and it's not just platonic as he seems all too eager to convince himself to believe. In the latest manga (chapters 300-400-ish) arc, Hayate states that he needs to be with Nagi until she is able to stand on her own without him, but the truth is that the current Nagi is not really as dependent as Hayate believes her to be and if she is somewhat lacking in certain social skills because of her sheltered life, she has other people who are willing to support her now even without him. (She and Maria will definitely not end up in that ridiculous poorhouse scenario that Hayate envisioned in his head) The earlier part-time job stories show that Nagi is actually a quick learner when she puts her mind to it, and this is clearly shown when she shows up Ayumu Nishizawa as a waitress. (poor hamster.)
In my opinion, what is really happening is that Hayate is in denial or simply refuses to address how he really feels about Nagi. It may be partly due to the fact that he still believes her to be too young (as he so often points out), or it may be a more deep-seated psychological hang-up stemming from his early psychological programming from Athena (you don't deserve a girlfriend until you can make enough money to support her all your life). He might also be simply too romantically inept to recognize just what it is he feels for Nagi. It might not yet be love, but it's probably more than just platonic. It's pretty clear in Heaven is a Place on Earth that his ojou-sama cannot be just about anyone (Nagi's role was artificially replaced by Maria in the movie) - not even a girl that Hayate does find attractive as a possible romantic prospect.
Despite Hayate's outward manifestations that he does not see Nagi as a romantic prospect however, he still keeps making excuses to stay by her side. The truth is that he can simply walk out and quit his job as her butler at anytime, debt or no debt, and there would be no real repercussions on his part coming from his mistress - and this has been shown in Can't Take My Eyes Off You. Even if it wasn't really Hayate in that body, Nagi believed that it was him at that point and did not even bring up the fact of his debt to her.
|This hasn't happened yet as far the manga is concerned.|
Nagi's character development
It is in this department where I can safely say that Nagi has the clear edge over Athena. While Athena has remained a mostly static character and has not changed much, nor do we really get to know much more about her throughout the manga’s 400+ chapters (which is why I still cannot fathom her popularity), Nagi has actually undergone quite a few subtle changes in the few months (yes, it’s only been that long) that she’s been with Hayate – which is quite understandable since she is the main heroine of this series and thus gets a lot more screentime.
In the earlier chapters, she casually burns a 3000 yen prize-winning ticket belonging to Hayate since he was bickering over its ownership with Yukiji-sensei. She thought that it was the best way to get rid of the problem that was bothering him, but it only leaves Hayate feeling depressed having the meager amount of money that he had legitimately won being burned away just like that. In a later chapter, Nagi reflects upon what she did (she says so herself) and asks Maria about the value of money. She then decides that she would work a part-time job and give Hayate a present on his birthday with the money that she earns from said job. (a still ongoing sub-event in the manga.)
|Nagi reflects on her past mistakes... as expected of her!|
I find this to be a very endearing trait of hers because it shows that she actually does reflect on her past mistakes and tries to learn from them. The fact that she has lived such a sheltered life gives her character so much potential to grow.
We get to see just how much she would literally sacrifice for Hayate’s sake in the Golden Week Arc when she gives up her right to the Sanzen'in fortune for Hayate's sake. This paves the way for the mangaka arc wherein everyone is now living under the same roof in the Violet Mansion with Nagi as the landlady -- and she surprisingly tries to act responsibly with regards to the mansion's upkeep. She even remarks that they cannot afford to have a party with the cheap rent that the tenants pay. This statement alone is enough to show that she has come to appreciate the value of money now that she's no longer the super-rich heiress of the Sanzen'in fortune.
Aside from losing her fortune, Nagi has actually been through a lot not just in this arc, but throughout the manga. First of all, let’s not forget that even though she was a super-rich heiress, she lost her mother when she was very young and she never even knew her father (which you would know if you've seen season 2 or read the Shimoda arc in the manga. Chapter 119). Her hikkikomori otaku lifestyle has actually been explained to be the result of the fact that she has been targeted by kidnappers and other miscreants ever since she was small, so she chose to become a recluse instead of being an open target for her pursuers. Next, she willingly loses her fortune in the Golden Week arc for Hayate’s sake… which she really doesn’t seem to mind as she adjusts pretty quickly to not being so rich anymore.
In the current mangaka arc, she is super-excited to have her manuscript read by a professional mangaka, but she is shocked to realize that her skills are far inferior to that of a professional’s and runs away in tears – emotionally crushed. Things start to perk up when she sees Ruka’s manga, which gives her hope that even with her skills, she can still make it as a mangaka since her manga isn’t that much worse than Ruka’s, but again, she takes another emotional hit when she suffers a moral defeat to Ruka when they both sell their doujin together at comiket and Ruka’s manga sells out (with some help from Hinagiku) while her own manga needs to rely on a fanservice book (and her genius level marketing skills) featuring Maria in order to sell. Finally, in chapter 413, we get this scene with Hayate and Ruka – which still hasn’t been cleared up to this point.
|Just what exactly do you think you're doing here, Hayate!?|
I will seriously be pissed off at Hata-sensei if Nagi doesn’t finally get some kind of moral victory at the end of this arc – perhaps even enough to drop the manga altogether – of course, I believe that Hata won’t let me down since Nagi is still his favorite character after all (together with Hayate), which is only fitting since they are both the main characters of this series.
Although their entire relationship was initially based on a misunderstanding, there is some indication in the current arc that Nagi might actually be aware that Hayate is not really in love with her. She’s not as dense as Hayate after all… which just makes me want to root for her even more.
|Nagi knows Hayate and trusts him enough to let him do as he pleases|
Athena's character development
Meanwhile, while Athena has certainly had a huge role in terms of plot development, I can’t say that there is really that much to say about her personality. She is still the same cool-dere, somewhat sadistic character who was featured in her own arcs several hundred chapters ago – even as Alice who supposedly doesn’t have all of her memories. We really don’t know enough about her to figure out just what kind of person she is right now based on what we have been shown. All that I do know is that she shows vulnerability only where Hayate is concerned - such as in the Golden Week arc when she is shown to be secretly very emotional after Hayate confronts her for the first time in 10 years.
She shares many characteristics with Hinagiku, including being smart, apparently level-headed, and the fact that she appears to be competent in a whole lot of things (except housework, possibly, considering that she is just as much of a rich, sheltered girl as Nagi). She also seems to have a sadistic streak which becomes her trademark characteristic as shown in Hayate's "pain of love" flashback. Then there are her moments as Alice (see pic below).
|Yandere Alice is Best Alice|
The reason that I find Ruka to be more well-developed than Athena right now is because Ruka has received several chapters that really define her personality for the reader even if these chapters do nothing to actively advance the plot, while Athena's chapters were always more plot-centric and less character-focused. She isn't really given as much of a chance to interact with the other characters in the Hayate no Gotoku! universe in her chapters - considering the more supernatural setting of the Mykonos arc. This made her arc flow more smoothly as a story, but as a result, she never got the amount of attention that Ruka is currently enjoying in the most current chapters of the manga.
Who should Hayate End Up With?
Nagi, of course. What? Did you think my final answer would deviate from what I've been implying all throughout this write-up? In my honest opinion, Hayate should definitely end up with Nagi as far as the ongoing plot of the story goes. While many would argue that he should end up with Athena because she is the “fated one” or even with Hinagiku because she is the “best girl,” I really don’t see how this particular story can be wrapped up satisfactorily with anything except a Nagi ending (either that or the disappointing cop-out “I’ll be her butler forever” ending which would neither please nor sorely disappoint anyone). This is because I feel that since even before the Mykonos arc, the developments in the story have been less than subtly foreshadowing an eventual Hayate x Nagi pairing. (and this is strengthened by the events of Heaven Is A Place On Earth, CTMEOY and Cuties. ) All that Hayate really needs to do is show even the slightest hint that he is attracted to Nagi as a romantic prospect and all other ships would be sunk.
Having Hayate end up with Athena would probably be the worst decision as far as the current story is concerned, because it would destroy everything that the manga had been building up to, in my opinion. I firmly stand by the assertion that the Golden Week/Mykonos arc should be treated as a closure arc as far as the past Hayate x Athena relationship is concerned. Athena should not end up with Hayate not because I don’t like her, but because it just wouldn’t suit the story anymore the way things have been developing. Furthermore, she is simply way too “perfect” that having Hayate end up with her simply based on the Mykonos arc would be too convenient, and too clichéd of an ending for anyone to really appreciate except hardcore Athena x Hayate shippers.
A Hinagiku ending would certainly satisfy the fans (considering that she is still the most popular character in the series by a very wide margin), but it would be hard to justify this type of ending as well unless the manga is wrapped up with several last-minute developments in the concluding chapters that solely support this pairing. The main reason being that she has been more or less permanently relegated to support/side character status for the last hundred or so chapters. She's basically the "heavy swordsman" of the group while Isumi is the "spellcaster."
Out of all the girls (before Ruka, which needs to be discussed in a different essay… or, you can just read Doughnut Gunso’s take on the subject matter, because I pretty much share the same views as far as the Ruka x Hayate pairing is concerned), Nagi is the only one who would never be satisfied with Hayate ending up with anyone but herself. Thus, the manga would have to end with sudden last-minute changes to Nagi’s character wherein she either falls in love with someone else (which is highly unlikely since this isn’t really a love comedy/triangle), or goes completely out of character in a selfless act wherein she accepts that Hayate should end up with some other girl. I just don’t see this kind of scenario realistically happening. Nagi will perhaps eventually no longer need Hayate to be her butler (as the manga seems to be headed in this direction), but I don’t see her ever giving up Hayate for any of the other girls – so perhaps the only way is to have her fall into a coma or even kill her off – but would Hata be cruel enough to do that to his favorite female character? Nope, I don’t think so. Let’s not forget that this is still primarily a comedy manga after all. (Not denying the possibility that Hata can just pull a random plot device from his bag of tricks and probably still make this type of ending work.)
To put it simply, if we were to disregard the developments which have been made in this manga (basically, all the of the large arcs, as well as the extra Radical Dreamers chapter have been aimed at setting the stage for a Nagi x Hayate relationship, in my opinion) so far, then based on the merits of each character, Hayate should perhaps choose a “better” or more ideal girl to eventually fall in love with, because Nagi is apparently not the "best choice" for a lot of people. However, since we are still talking about Hayate the Combat Butler, I think that he should end up with who the story has been subtly foreshadowing him to end up with throughout all these 400+ chapters – and of course this person would be none other than Nagi Sanzen’in.
Still, this does not prevent you from speculating and choosing a different pairing to root for. That is still part of what makes this manga so much fun after all. Hayate no Gotoku! is not very serious, therefore, Hata can basically play around with an infinite number of plot devices and characters and manipulate them to foreshadow whatever type of ending he wants to happen - even late into the story's development. Thus, until Hata says that the manga is heading towards its final conclusion (which I don’t see happening anytime in the near future. 60% done? I'll believe that when it finally ties in with the future anime timelines since he can just forestall the Ruka arc forever), it’s still an open field for all shippers… even if you’re hoping for the Kotetsu ending... I think.
|Hata might just troll us by ending the manga with this pairing.|
Of course, I'm sure that a vocal majority of you out there disagree with me, so go ahead. Discuss it in the comments and share your opinions with me. Keep your passive-aggressive verbal assaults to yourself, however.