When it first opened in 2019, Akiba Zettai Ryoiki A.D. 2045 quickly made headlines as the world’s first “cyber maid café.” What made it stand out among other Japanese establishments of its kind — where staff in maid costumes treat customers like lords and ladies dining in their mansions — was their pastel sci-fi décor and their maids’ insistence that they were robot cats from the future. But it seems that Zettai Ryoiki may soon lose the title of Japan’s most futuristic maid café — here comes Virtual at-home Café, a maid cafe that only exists online and lets you chat to anime maids operated by real maids.
“Welcome, Master,” maid Mirumo greeted me when I first entered her chatroom, which, I am told, can accommodate up to three guests at a time. Mirumo tells me it’s OK if you call her Miruchi and according to her profile, she is a “New Maid” who comes from the Land of Dreams. If you ask her about it, like I did, she’ll enthusiastically tell you about how she came down to Earth to help create pleasant dreams for all humanity. One thing you could never accuse at home’s virtual café of is their maids not being dedicated to their personas.
“There are real people behind these cartoon avatars, and they all work in shifts.”
No surprise there — at-home (previously known as @home) is the biggest maid café chain in Japan and has a reputation for high standards to protect. So far, they seem to be doing everything right. While other maid cafes offered one-on-one video chats with maids in the past, many people apparently found it difficult to relax in such an intimate setting. At-home gets around that by having everyone use anonymous cartoon avatars. You can choose one out of 12 (six male and six female). They have a limited range of motion and kind of look alike but since the service is still in beta, they’ll probably become more customizable in the future.
As of now, the avatars work well and offer an additional layer of privacy that many guests seem to enjoy. From our brief talk, I learned that despite the service only being up for around three months, Mirumo and most other maids already have loyal fans who regularly visit them for long chats during their work hours. Remember, despite the maid roster featuring big-eyed anime girls who claim to hail from places like Fairyland, Cotton Candy Kingdom, or The Village from Where You Can See a Beautiful Sea, there are real people behind these cartoon avatars, and they all work in shifts.
There can be up to 35 maids working on a given day, but not simultaneously. On weekdays, the first shift starts at 7 pm, with other maids only being available from 8, 9, or 10 pm. (The café opens at noon on weekends, though.)
“During my time in Mirumo’s room, she mainly wanted to know more about me.”
The fact that you need to be at least 16 to use the service, and some maids only being available after dark, might make some people reach the wrong conclusion that this virtual café has an “adult” theme. But as at-home reminds you in numerous places on their site, sexual or abusive comments towards the maids will get you booted from the chat.
During my time in Mirumo’s room, she mainly wanted to know more about me. She asked me questions such as if this was my first time at a virtual maid café, what I thought of it and other similar things. Despite being labeled a “New Maid,” I thought that whoever is operating Mirumo knows what they’re doing. The character never lets the room be silent, and her enthusiasm for her role helps make this inherently silly setup very welcoming.
If this sounds like something you’d like to check out, your #stayhome maid experience begins at Virtual at-home Café. All you’ll need is a smartphone, tablet, or PC with a mic, as well as 500 in-service “at coins” for a 30-minute session. You can purchase them for about ¥550 (the site accepts credit cards or WebMoney.) Word of warning, though, if you try to leave the room even a minute before the 30 minutes is fully up, your virtual maid might take it personally and cry. Sorry, Mirumo. I had a deadline.