Saotome Kazuya is a college student who's working on artificial intelligence in his spare time, but so far he's only built a squid-bot. One day his "best friend" deliberately gives him a computer virus that leads to him accidentally ordering a robot. The good news is that it's a cute, bubbly maid called May who's desperate to be of use in any way she can. The bad news is that she's only ten inches tall and almost completely useless. Furthermore Kazuya can't pay her 150,000,000-yen bill and thus can expect a lot more attention from the company that delivered her.
This show's so cute, it'll rot your teeth! It's loveable, albeit heavily derivative of other shows which did the same things better, but it has a few... wrinkles.
Firstly the fanservice was heavy enough to freak out my brother and drive him upstairs with dark mutterings about the Japanese. I'm not talking about nudity, but about maid outfits, lovingly animated breast movement and skirts that aren't doing their jobs. It's not actually perverted, but it gets pretty blatant.
Secondly the story is preposterous. Kazuya keeps acquiring robot maids. Why does every female fall so heavily and quickly for our relatively bland hero? It may be the standard harem formula, but that doesn't make it any less absurd. Actually it's possible to rationalise this away since Cyberdine Corporation robots presumably all have the same operating system, but the show itself doesn't even try. Oh, and that's right. The Cyberdine Corporation. It's like the Terminator, complete with a Cyberdoll Sara(h Connor) and a further nod in the "what the hell?" plot twist at the start of episode nine. The biggest difference is that May sure ain't being played by Schwarzenegger
Thirdly May herself is, uh, not exactly emancipated. To an extent, this is a cultural difference. In the traditional Japanese family, the wife kept house and the husband lived and breathed his job until retirement. These "magical girlfriend" shows not infrequently make their heroines look like doormats to Western eyes, but May is almost as bad as Belldandy in Oh My Goddess. There's something almost pathological about May's super-cute determination to cook, clean, do chores and generally work her arse off around the house. She's a robot! It's her programming! It's how she defines her existence.
However this show has one big thing in its favour... May herself, or specifically the version that's around for the first half of the show before her consciousness gets downloaded into a human-sized body. Those later episodes give us nothing we haven't seen before, but prior to that point May is only ten inches tall! In that form, she's adorable and far more interesting than a straight romantic foil. Her relationship with the hero is quirkier and her desperate desire to be useful puts her in perpetual conflict with her own ten-inch-high body. The mini-May episodes are practically a self-contained series in themselves, complete with their own ending, and they're the reason I'd recommend this show.
The Japanese voice acting is a big draw, with Maria Yamamoto doing standout work in the title role and Kikuko Inoue at her very sexiest. Anyone listening to the English dub needs their head examined. This series is shameless wish-fulfilment, with a silly premise and another "insert your own face here" hero, but I think it stands up better than many of its rivals. In an odd way it's more honest than many of them, just ladling on the fanservice and rolling out the gags. It's funny and sweet, it all hangs together logically and it doesn't have a screaming void where its central romance should be. Kazuya and May work well together, especially when she's mini-May.
There's theoretically also a spin-off OVA, Hand Maid Mai, but unfortunately its distributor Five Ways filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and so to date only that series's first episode has been released.
Hand Maid May is a ten-episode show with a tacked-on eleventh episode that's actually a better ending than the real one. It's also well animated and ridiculously cute. The fanservice even occasionally manages to be sexy, which is harder than you'd think with cartoon panty shots. You can't believe in it for a moment, but I had lots of fun.