With a pleasantly humorous commentary on human culture, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon) surprisingly steps up it’s animation this week while also introducing us to another lovable dragon friend.
Tohru’s rapid acclimation to Japanese society is something not even she fully understands, which is great for us. We get to see the bright and cheerful maid picking up everyday norms from an outsider’s perspective. As Kobayashi and Tohru go out shopping, we view the assimilation through Kobayashi’s eyes. Whatever realm Tohru came from is more fantastical than Kobayashi’s normal representation of our reality, so even mundane discoveries become interesting. And as the salary woman teaches and the dragon learns, they grow intentionally closer.
Tohru and Kobayashi’s romance was underplayed
The romantic element to Tohru and Kobayashi’s relationship may have been underplayed in the show’s premiere. After Tohru’s maid cover is almost blown in the neighbourhood shopping center, Kobayashi grips her hand as they walk home, not letting go despite Tohru’s sheepish embarrassment.
The love Tohru holds for Kobayashi is more than gratitude or passing friendship. The mood is downright spousal between the two while they deal with the appearance of Kanna, Tohru’s childlike acquaintance. Like a married couple training their new dog, the subsequent treatment of Kanna by Kobayashi introduces us to what will likely be another of Dragon Maid’s enduring strengths. The show uses fast-cut, sketch comedy sections in between beefier dramatic sequences with critical character development and introductions.
For example, Kanna’s pouty tantrum in an attempt to get Tohru to return home with her is cute and funny, but it’s followed by a heartwarming scene with strong direction and writing that touches on themes like familial structure and sense of place. Ending it with three pairs of shoes lined up in the apartment entryway was an especially nice touch here.
Scenes like this are the meat an potatoes of a slice of life show. In these moments, Dragon Maid’s original soundtrack steps up its game in typical Kyoto Animation fashion, too. And things keep moving because of the levity that the frequent style shifts — between dramatic and sketch — contribute to the composition.
When Kobayshi first agrees to live with Kanna, we cut to her tossing chocolates to the child dragon with verbal queues usually reserved for a domestic pet. Another sketch puts a happy period on the episode after a quieter sequence — one that would have left a melancholy feeling simmering between episodes.
The creative decision sets a tone that is a delicately considered mix of comedy and slice of life. And the blend is splendid. Even more so when every other scene receives the beautiful animation touch we saw in the fantasy cuts from other Kyoto Animation shows like Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!, Myriad Colors Phantom World, or Beyond the Boundary.
KyoAni’s beautiful fantasy animation is here in full force
The biggest jaw dropper is the the little “roughhousing” that the dragons call exercise out in a deserted field. The big, topsoil-shifting explosions and fiery shouts that could raze a city block look fantastic and fluid.
The animation really stands out against some of the calmer dialogue sections, like Kobayashi stoically lounging around her kitchen table, complaining about her disdain for exercising, before getting abruptly cutoff by the two transformed dragons hurtling through the sky with Kobayashi in-claw. It makes for a great joke, but it wouldn’t work as well if we didn’t see the speed of the slipstream over the dragons’ wings.
Both the varied dragon designs and their distinct human forms are a pleasure to look at, too. Kanna’s ability to plug her tail into a standard 100 Volt domestic power outlet and recharge her magical energy is surreally cute. Mostly because the scenario is so silly, but also because, like other character building scenes, the action is animated in such detail. And even before we hear Kanna’s childish voice in the episode, we see her cherub face, pompom-tipped tail and pristine undamaged horns, a sign of her youth or inexperience in battle perhaps.
Kobayashi’s character design has also really grown on me as the insert position for your average working adult. Whether its her practical no-fuss ponytail, her untucked button-down work shirt, or the light sweaters she pulls over top everything to keep warm, it’s all very relatable. So is what she’s thinking.
At one point, Kobayashi briefly contemplates what would happen if the dragons were hostile, but she never explicitly voices these concerns. And the trust between Maid Dragon’s characters is solidified by this. As easily as the clouds blow by in the wind, Kobayashi moves away from apocalyptic thoughts and instead plays shiratori while lying in a field with the two transplanted dragons from another world.
As more dragons are inevitably introduced to the cast — if the opening and ending themes are any thing to go by — it will be a treat to get to know them, so long as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid keeps handling its material with such tact and grace.