With the manga competition between Ruka and Nagi out of the way, all that remains unresolved of the current plot entering this chapter is the relationship between Ruka and Hayate. Their burgeoning affection, mutual yet undeveloped, is constantly interrupted by comedy here, but while that would be out of place and frustrating in many other series, it’s perfectly suited both to this series and these characters. The constant fluctuation between comedy and awkward romance is effective because of the extent to which these characters embody those tones.
As well-established as Hayate is as the pinnacle of competence, he is nowhere near as developed socially. Athena aside, nearly all his romantic progress has been accidental, played off as a joke stemming from his unintentional perfect behavior towards women. When presented with the opportunity to actively develop a relationship with the obviously interested Ruka, Hayate flusters and falls back on his usual smooth diplomacy. This is a flaw in Hayate’s character, but a logical and intended one meant to give him depth, and not a flaw in the way he is written.
On the other hand, Ruka’s role in this chapter is again that of the sympathetic figure. Her most compelling aspect has been her struggle to balance the desire to live the regular life she never had with the need to give validity to the actual life she chose. As a result of that conflict, she’s been a character right on the edge, in tears for one panel and delivering a punchline in the next.
Ruka’s desperate need to have two diverging lives merge neatly into one comes through well in this chapter. Her nervous comedy persistently hints at her lack of confidence in approaching Hayate seriously. Like Hayate, Ruka comes across as childish thanks to her lack of maturity, though in her case it’s even more pronounced than Hayate because of how much it contrasts with her fame.
Such contrasts are the backbone of this excellent chapter. Despite their clear feelings for one another, Hayate and Ruka both know that accepting those feelings and entering a relationship would be destructive to the rest of their lives. For Hayate, his loyalty to Nagi trumps all, even if that translates into difficult sacrifices like these. As for Ruka, to “throw everything away” for Hayate as she suggests would be to betray her identity, as she would be throwing away the career and status that she worked so hard to achieve. Ruka is unconvincing in saying she could leave her life behind to be with Hayate; her reference to the plastic mask is appropriate, but rather than her life as an idol being the suitable comparison to a cheap diversion, a relationship with Hayate is what would truly be an unsatisfying escape from her reality.
Indeed, the fantasy is swiftly broken by fireworks, an amusing choice given their status as a symbol of celebration. The scenes that follow are tasteful and emotional; Ruka’s sad smile and quiet acceptance of the impossibility of being with Hayate is touching, while her silent goodbye over deliberately similar pages emphasizes Hayate’s painful loss by showing him with and without Ruka in identical circumstances. Hayate being left alone to reflect on what he could have had is devastating yet beautiful, not just a magnificent ending to the chapter but a fulfilling one for the entire arc. The long-standing question about the last few years of Hayate has been whether the lengthy focus on Ruka, a relatively new character compared to the rest of the cast, was worth it. After this chapter, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Final Flash: Absolute brilliance.