February 11, 2007
A while back, I mentioned that I would soon be visiting a Toronto-area maid cafe on behalf of fps. This weekend, I accomplished my goal.
Trekking south from Toronto's labyrinthine Pacific Mall, I and my hearty companions braved frozen, sidewalk-free roads to find the intersection of McNicholl and Kennedy. We were happy to find it, although my stomach quaked a little to find it completely deserted aside from staff.
The staff is who I had come to see, however. Dressing up as a maid to serve customers is a convention within anime and manga, where cosplaying is a gimmick that can draw otherwise-innocent bystanders (cf. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Chobits, Fruits Basket). Using this strategy in reality is something completely different, however. I was happy to see that the French maid-style costumes were actually rather tame. Both girls I saw on shift wore knee-high striped socks. And when I took their picture, they were very, very shy.
Purposefully-sexy photos can be found at the cafe website, under the "Our Staff" heading, and my photos do not do the cafe (or the girls' tiny waists, skillful makeup, and stylish hair) justice. Neither of these girls very much enjoyed being photographed, and looked to their boss for approval. (Note the bespectacled man in the background.) The girl on the left tried her hardest not to be photographed until her co-worker grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her into the shot. Although I had no problem visiting a cafe where the girls receive payment for dressing as fetishes, taking their photo when they were clearly reticent about it left me feeling a little bit dirty.
What's not dirty, however, is the cafe itself. It's a bright, bi-chromatic blend of IKEA-like furnishings, pendant lighting, LCD screens (see photo) and Apple computers. In deepest darkest suburbia, it's actually a great place to meet people for coffee and snacks. The cafe stays open until 1 a.m., and its broad variety of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Canadian foods at reasonable prices led me to believe that it would be better suited to a university neighbourhood. Most of the diners arrived later on, and I saw plenty of orders for ice cream over waffles, sundaes, curried noodles, and soups. The mango sherbet was delightful, as was the hot mint coffee. Each serving comes in over-sized dishes, a boon considering the prices involved.
Curiously, the most "fannish" aspect of the cafe was not the cuisine or the girls themselves, but the constant re-play of an Avril Lavigne concert DVD on the aforementioned monitor. It's not unusual in Toronto to see televisions in elevators, at the veterinarian's, and at Asian greasy spoons, but I found the presence of Avril Lavigne befuddling. Perhaps it would be a little too synergistic to play anime on the big screen, and maybe a Canadian pop star's DVD at a Japanese-themed Chinese food cafe says something about the Toronto area in general. Just down the road, Canadian shoppers can purchase bootlegged anime subtitled in Hong Kong, so perhaps the polyglot nature of the iMaid Cafe isn't so strange after all.