Now I'm sure it might strike you as a little bit odd that I'd choose one of Nagi's biggest rivals for Hayate's affection as my second favorite character (a far second to Nagi, mind you), but it actually makes sense.
Nagi's One True Rival
I've always seen Ruka as Nagi's eternal rival. Not just in love, but also as a mangaka. After all, Ruka was basically Nagi's antagonist during the entire comisun arc. She was always one step ahead of Nagi and as a mangaka was better -- but only by a marginal amount when compared to Nagi.
She is also an older, slightly more capable girl than Nagi as a manga artist and as well as in relationships and maturity. Yet, when you look at her personality quirks -- she is actually not that far off from Nagi.
Similarities To Nagi
Despite sharing a similar past with Hayate, Ruka is actually a lot closer to Nagi in terms of personality.
For one, she is extremely selfish. In fact, Hata makes it a point to show off just how selfish she can be by devoting an entire chapter just to prove it.
Secondly, she is an otaku. Her fantasies about Hayate often involve Gundams and reference to other classic anime pretty much like the type that Nagi is into.
Finally, she has that quirky, playful nature and knows just how to tease Hayate -- something that Nagi herself has shown in one or two occasions.
I Don't Blame Her
In chapter 413, Nagi catches Hayate promising to make Ruka happy just as she (Nagi) has completed the new manuscript that she's so proud of. To make things worse, Hayate then asks Nagi to allow him to be with Ruka for a while in the next chapter.
For me, this was something that Hayate had to make up for to Nagi if they finally did get together in the end. I will say that the butler gets a passing grade from me just for coming back to Nagi in the finale and just because Nagi is magnanimous enough to forgive and move on.
In any case, while I felt really bad for Nagi after the events of chapters 413-414, I didn't blame Ruka one bit -- even if she was also attempting to seduce Hayate at that point. In my honest opinion, the fact that Nagi was hurt so much in ways she never deserved is really all on Hayate.
Now on this point, I'm pretty sure Hata-sensei agrees with me given the way Hayate was punishing a wooden dummy with his name on it so much as "one of the enemies who hurt his ojou-sama." That was some very powerful symbolism that Hata was using there in Hayate's dream world. Unfortunately, the active manga readers at that time were so high-brow, literary, and deep that they felt it was just a cheap trick.
She Is Well-Developed
As a character, Ruka is actually very well-developed. We see the dynamic change in her throughout the series. She also exemplifies how we cannot always trust what the characters are saying explicitly and that you have to take all the available evidence -- even the circumstantial ones into account before you can formulate a plausible theory in this series.
Remember that Ruka once declared how much she hated her idol job and she even demonized her manager Atsumari-san when talking about her with Hayate.
Almost everyone thought that this was canon and that these were Ruka's true feelings -- except me and a few others. Well, as it turned out, when it came time to say goodbye to her idol career, Ruka couldn't do it.
She even deliberately allows Nagi to win/tie with her in their final mangaka showdown by withholding one copy of her own manga.
Now she might not have said it explicitly, but this clearly implies that Ruka was lying about really wanting to marry Hayate because of love and because she hates her idol career. How is this a lie? Kayura says it directly to her as a review to her manuscript -- "stop drawing lies."
A Positive Influence
Of all the people that Nagi could idolize, Ruka was a very good role model to follow. Not quite as super capable at everything as Hina, but not a complete dimbulb like Izumi, or a marshmallow of a pushover like Ayumu, Ruka is actually the real "normal girl" in the series even though she is a superstar Japanese idol.
She was a very positive influence on Nagi because she shows what you can achieve if you work for your dreams -- but that sometimes there are things beyond your reach as well -- even if you do work/wish hard for something.
Unlike another rival character, Ruka doesn't magically become the best/win at everything with the power of "hard work."
At the end of the series, the 16 year old Nagi may have been described as the new "perfect girl," but to me, it just seems like she'd become a little bit more capable just as Ruka was at that age. You might say, I found a glimpse of the future Nagi in Ruka's character -- and perhaps this is also why Hayate had such a soft spot for her. How can you hate a girl who is so similar to the one you actually harbor feelings for after all?
Fanart Corner: I have quite a few pieces to show today. All of them are manually done because I've been doing quite a marathon in getting the VN version of Samantha and the Pieces of a Heart done. I think I can actually finish making the entire visual novel by this weekend -- if I have enough free time that is.