Mahoro is a superpowered battle android who's going to die. She helped mankind repel an alien invasion, but she's only got 37 days of operational lifespan left in full combat mode. However she could extend that to 398 days by retiring from front-line duties and taking up a civilian existence, as if she were an ordinary human being.
Mahoro's superiors give her the choice. What would she like to do? Answer: it transpires that she'd like to work as a housemaid.
Here's the full roster to date, by the way.
1. Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden (2001 TV season one, 12 episodes)
2. Mahoromatic: Something More Beautiful (2002 TV season two, 14 episodes)
3. Mahoromatic: Summer Special (2003 OVA, 1 episode, between season two's 2nd and 3rd episodes)
4. Mahoromatic: I'm Home! (2009 OVA, 2 episodes, between season two's 2nd and 3rd episodes)
It's a charming but slightly uneven show, with quite a lot of fanservice, occasional weaknesses and a Gainax ending. The good news is that it's very likeable, except when sabotaging itself. Mahoro herself is lovely. She's a serious-minded girl with impeccable manners and a bit of a puritanical streak. Do something she disapproves of and you're in for a lecture. However she's also straightforward, intelligent and determined to enjoy her remaining days. You might think the idea of the show sounds depressing, but it's not and the reason is Mahoro. There's a Japanese term called "mono no aware" (literally "the pathos of things" but more generally about transience and impermanence) that applies here. Mahoro's going to die, but that doesn't define her life. No, she's all about working very hard at everything, helping people become happier and being a little over-conscientious.
Her catchphrase is usually translated into English as "dirty thoughts are bad", by the way, although in Japanese she's talking about a dirty anything, including actions and deeds. Don't try looking at pornography when Mahoro's around, for instance.
Her "boss", Suguru, is equally sympathetic. He's an orphaned boy with a good heart whose house had been like a rubbish dump until Mahoro showed up. He and Mahoro are lovely together and it's heartwarming just spending time with them. His friends are nice. His schoolteacher, Shikijo, is a mentally unstable shrieking harpy who's obsessed with having sex with the underage boys in her class (and specifically Suguru) and she's often annoying, but she's well-meaning in her lazy, freeloading way. Even Mahoro's enemies are often quite nice people.
However the show has... um, quirks.
It's not so much the quantity. There's much worse out there. No, it's the fact that the show twists itself into awkward shapes for the sake of female flesh. The obvious one is Shikijo, who's a barely credible grotesque and exists to thrust her massive boobs at the camera. She starts showing up at Suguru's house and eating all his food... and no one stops her! Why? Mahoro clearly can't stand her and she has enough physical strength to keep out battle robots, let alone one schoolteacher. This stops being a problem later in the series, once everyone's accepted Shikijo as one of the gang, but in the early episodes it drove me mad.
Then we have Mahoro getting into Suguru's bath. Why? She's a prude who disapproves of anything sexy. Admittedly she's only washing his back, but that doesn't mean it's not out of character for her. The show never really tries to explain this contradiction, although in one episode it does point it out.
What's more, season two decides that doing this was a mistake and tries to rewrite its own history. In the Disreputable Grandad episode, Suguru says that this only happened once, even though it had clearly been the status quo (e.g. Shijiko trying to join them for a threesome in episode three). That's not a translation artefact, by the way. Suguru says the same in Japanese. The reason for this change is, I think, because the show wants to turn Suguru into a porn hound who'd move mountains to hide his jazz mags from Mahoro and sees doing this as a noble goal for manly men to strive for. (This is at its worst in the horrible Summer Special.) This would be a head-scratcher if Suguru were having happy naked girl fun time each day in the bath, so it's history-rewriting time!
We see Suguru's late father giving him life lessons in porn (again in the Summer Special), which he seems to have got from Perverted Grandad. Put all this together and you've got a show that doesn't seem entirely healthy in its attitude to sexuality. However being porn-crazed doesn't mean that Suguru and his friends aren't perfect gentlemen.
Oh, and most of the female characters think their bra size is either a cause for shame (if small) or superiority (if huge).
Okay, I exaggerate. It's usually not that bad. Avoid the Summer Special and you'll miss the worst of it. There are also character benefits to all this, so for instance Suguru's porn habit is clearly in the show to create conflict with the puritanical Mahoro, while the two of them bathing together is resurrected in a touching scene towards the end of the series. He's wildly underage and actual sex would have been all kinds of wrong, but that bathing scene is metaphorically just that and it's a strong character moment at a time when Mahoro doesn't have long left.
2. THE WAR
Earth's been at war with alien invaders for years and no one's noticed. Suguru's friends don't even think aliens exist. This is eventually explained by the existence of the Management, a global conspiracy that's controlled every aspect of human history for centuries, but that just introduces a new level of "you must be kidding". I dislike that kind of conspiracy theory bollocks.
So you've got a superpowered combat android who's also so clumsy that she can't walk two paces without falling over. Okay. Right. This can be explained, though, by hypothesising that she switches between Civilian Mode and Combat Mode. What's harder to explain is other people giving her things to carry.
4. WHAT EXACTLY IS AN ANDROID ANYWAY?
It gets a bit confusing, since there are androids, cyborgs and others. However androids are visually indistinguishable from people and can eat food, cry, get sleepy and (in the manga) get reincarnated as humans. Uh-huh. Really?
5. SAINT, VESPER, THE MANAGEMENT, etc.
What was all that? I don't think I ever really had a firm grip on which alien factions meant and intended what. Were Saint and Vesper really the same all along, or what?
6. THE ENDING
In fairness, the manga was still running when they were making the anime. They had to invent something for themselves and furthermore it sounds as if they must have got a few pointers from the manga-ka. The manga and anime endings are similar in concept, even if key details are different. However the anime's ending is darker (to the point of being depressing unless you take a particular reading of some weird stuff) in a "20 years later" conclusion that's imprecise on what actually happened. Is [SPOILER] alive or dead? Where did [SPOILER] come from? Was that real or a hallucination? What the hell?
This is a Gainax Ending, because this is a Studio Gainax co-production (with Shaft) and they're famous for this kind of thing. See Neon Genesis Evangelion, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, etc.
This is unpopular among some fans. Quotes I found include: "wtf was that?", "it just screwed the whole series", "one of the most fucked up and retarded anime endings ever", etc. It's jarring. I'd have preferred something happier. However I'd also argue that it fits into that "mono no aware" theme, with Suguru clinging desperately to his notions of being with Mahoro forever, while she for her part had been lying to him throughout. Even right up to the end, she never told him she was going to die. She promised she'd always stay with him. The tone and content of this ending is a massive wrench from everything that went before, but thematically it fits.
There's a weak streak in the middle of season two, while I'd recommend skipping the Summer Special outright.
8. THE ACTION STUFF
Is it just me, or do Mahoro's guns make her seem less tough? Superman wouldn't seem like such a big deal if he sorted out all his problems with a handgun. In fairness, though, when she really lets rip, you'll know about it. Mahoro's enemies also have a regrettable habit of wanting to fight her out of "I Have To Fight You" warrior machismo instead of, say, having a chat.
9. THE CLOSING TITLE SEQUENCES
These are frustrating. Mahoromatic's end title music is wonderful if you shut your eyes, but it's dragged down by no-budget animation that's boring to look at. Hardly anything moves on the screen. The exception is the 2009 OVAs' closing titles, which are lively and fun despite being just as cheap-looking.
10. SOMEONE SAYS "IT'S SHOWTIME"
Die die die.
All that said, though, I still like the show. It's basically charming, funny and very good. Mahoro is a sweet girl and often hilarious, but there's also a quiet awareness that we're seeing her last Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc. Every episode ends with a countdown, telling us how many days of life Mahoro still has. The show's a platonic romance, despite the nudity, porn and panty shots. It has problems, but I'm fond of it.
I think season two is the one with the weaker episodes and Suguru becoming a porn hound, but on the upside the fanservice becomes less distracting. The last few episodes are dramatic, obviously. It's slightly awkward, but basically an interesting and likeable show.