Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon) settles into a tonal rhythm this week. It grants plenty of room for its new cast additions to breathe with the same charm it showed off before, albeit without the eye-popping animation sequences.
Kyoto Animation proves again that you don’t need the fluid sakuga in every episode to carry a slice of life story. It can serve as a treat when it does appear, but it’s not mandatory for something as mundane as moving homes.
Moving usually isn’t a fun or fast process, so when Kobayashi and her dragon roomies start feeling cramped in her one bedroom apartment, Dragon Maid frames the busywork as a laid back afternoon experience. The trio decide on an larger apartment in the same neighbourhood with communal roof access that will let the dragons stretch their wings.
Look out for Kobayashi’s new, crazy loud neighbours
Once they’ve settled in, we see Kobayashi washing Tohru’s back by spraying her hulking dragon form down with a garden hose. This situational comedy follows a deeper conversational scene where Tohru washes Kobayshi’s back in the bathroom. The transitions between the two styles is balanced well, and it’s become a regular theme in Dragon Maid.
While not structurally separated from the rest of the scenes as often by transition cards like last week, the gag format returns. Several of the jokes centre on the nostalgic mementos Kobayshi has nestled away on her shelves before the move. The jokes are set up quickly, with just enough time between cuts to get the gist of things, and then the comedic timing sticks for laugh-out-loud moments. There are few things as distracting as uncovering a favourite book or a childhood photo album when sorting through old stuff. Kanna helps tie things together well.
Kanna’s behavioural fluctuations between that of a child, a pet and a smart aleck maintain a nice comedic balance with Kobayshi and Tohru. She’ll hop in with the straight line when one of the main couple outsmarts the other, or she’ll nudge her diminutive figure into the frame of a shot to beg for what she wants. A brief sequence after the move showed Kanna prowling around the new apartment with a pillow trying to find a comfortable spot to nap before finally ditching the pillow and resting her head on Tohru’s lap. Smart Aleck + Child + Pet Dragon = Super Cute.
Smart Aleck + Child + Pet Dragon = Super Cute
Kanna fits the role of a supporting character well, and Maria Naganawa nails her timid voice with the flexibility to act dismissive or surprised enough to fit the character’s three archetypes.
All of the acting beyond Dragon Maid’s well-timed jokes is great too. As Kobayashi and Tohru move through each scene, it’s clear that each is thinking about what’s best for the other. It’s especially evidenced in the first half of the episode by the quiet talk they share about what is and isn’t annoying about their personalities.
The lines in these lingering closeups and two-shots are clean and detailed, and the unique types physical proximity between them make the heart-to-heart dialogue move along. Not every conversation between family happens sitting in chairs at a kitchen table, so the more natural positions Dragon Maid plants its characters in feels genuine. It’s as if we’re really catching the characters at the in-between moments of their day — and it’s a nice wind-down from the gags featuring their new, crazy and loud neighbours in the episode’s first half.
The second half brings us the introduction to dragons Fafnir and Quetzalcoatl, blessedly nicknamed Lucoa. They arrive with little fanfare as they’re invited over by Tohru, but the relaxed atmosphere of a housewarming party fits the tone of Maid Dragon nicely.
Fafnir is as reclusively demonic and stone-faced as his voice on the phone from episode one would have you assume, and with a choice of human attire that’s ill-fitting and skimpy, Lucoa joins Fafnir and the rest of the cast with distinctly striking figures that set them apart from the designs of other slice of life casts. Understandable, given that they are anthropomorphized dragons.
Lucoa’s eyes boast the artistic complexity of a Mayan mural
It’s worth mentioning that in addition to the other character design elements that are keeping me attached to each of Dragon Maid’s players, the design of each dragon’s eyes is exceptional.
Kanna’s icy ghosts beneath her pupils look like she could freeze or thaw your heart at will. Kobayashi’s are miniature eyes of Sauron — just waiting to widen their gaze in a fiery rage, and Lucoa’s eyes, each coloured differently, brandish artistic complexity straight out of a Mayan mural. Quetzalcoatl’s irises here are perhaps the greatest and most pleasant surprise from an eyes-mostly-closed anime character I’ve ever seen.
For his part, in a comedic bit of absentmindedness, Fafnir arrives to Kobayashi’s new apartment in a purplish diabolic state. He looks smaller than the other dragons, but his irritable nature makes for a few big laughs as he clicks his tongue and gets hooked on a Dark Souls pastiche. (And the 3D rendering of the game within the show was spot on, maybe even meeting the graphical fidelity of the original Demon Souls.)
Glimpsing his form and beholding Lucoa’s eyes makes me look forward to any future animation featuring their transformation. We’re unfortunately withheld from seeing it this week, but all is well.
We effectively learn about the Lucoa’s friendly character as the casual and homey dialogue between her and Kobayashi, two adults, strikes a warm chord. It helps explicitly advance the domestic relationship between Kobayashi and Tohru — that is, even more than the sudden and willing decision to switch apartments to accommodate freeloading mythical beasts does.
The two dragons and Kobayshi have quickly formed a family with relative permanence. And the spontaneity of it all just feels good. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid isn’t a show that wants to raise your heart rate and excite us with constant action (for now.) It wants you to tune in and relax as you watch the complex relationships form.
You can find Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon) streaming on Crunchyroll. Funimation will also stream an English dubbed version of the show beginning on Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. ET.