In the self-proclaimed fan-service episode of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon), we get a helluva lot more than Lucoa and co. in skimpy swimsuits. Ideological considerations mesh with warm animation in another stellar step forward for the anime.
Kobayashi tags along to the ocean with her dragon lover and friends because her boss asked her to babysit Shouta, and while she’s not a big fan of the beach, things take a turn for the contemplative as her groups decides to get away from the beach crowds.
The first mention of Kobayashi’s family this season draws out dark memories from Tohru’s head. We only see a gnashing silhouette of the the jaws of Tohru’s father, but it’s not hard to imagine what kind of bruised and hostile existence he occupies in Tohru’s home world.
“I’m sure they’d kill you,” Tohru whispers into Kobayashi’s head.
‘I’m sure they’d kill you,’ Tohru whispers to Kobayashi
So when Kobayashi tells Tohru about her once tremendously supportive, now slightly more distant family relationship, Tohru can’t help but move to accept humans in broader strokes. To her, Kobayashi is living proof that good can exist in the species, even though that conflicts with the edicts her father drilled into her of humanity’s innately evil nature.
As Maid Dragon has done all season, it weaves these considered emotional explorations between excellent moments of movement and comedy.
The show takes pains to over-animate the sequences of moving excitement, to bring out the personality of its cast. Sometimes it does this in a single cut with multiple characters on screen. As Kobayashi surfaces from an ocean swim in her dragon form, we see the reaction of Kanna, Kobayashi, Lucoa and Shouta all at once riding on her back. Kanna is bemused, Tohru’s human programmer of a girlfriend is struck with wonder, and Lucoa is more concerned with keeping a grip on her child companion.
Conveying human reactions is always appealing
It might seem like a no brainer to animate these emotional swells as often as possible, but not every anime does it, for a variety of reasons. From my anecdotal perspective though, part of the reason Maid Dragon is seeing so much success in the west is the same reason Ghibli films have captivated audiences around the world for decades. Conveying human reactions that draw you in as the viewer is always appealing.
This is best illustrated in Kanna’s visual place in Maid Dragon. She tries to steal the show in every episode she’s in. It’s not that the evolving dynamic between Tohru and Kobayashi isn’t extremely pleasurable to watch and consider, it’s that the contrast between Kanna’s absurd power and her cute exterior is priceless.
From the repetition of her childish requests (“I want to play now”) to her drawn out staring contest with whatever living or inanimate object she’s about to swallow whole, it’s nearly impossible to watch a cut with Kanna in it and not crack a smile or burst out laughing.
It’s impossible to watch a Kanna cut and not crack a smile
Which is why it’s a little sad that Kanna gets left behind from some summer Comiket shenanigans this week, under the pretence that some things at the event can’t be shown to children. This, despite the fact that Kanna’s probably been alive longer than most of the adult exhibitors at the show. It’s a silly conceit, but it does open up the second half of the episode to some of that emotional exploration I mentioned.
When thinking about the sadness in her discussions with Tohru, Kobayashi thinks to herself that the weight of the conversation “drives home the difference between “‘understanding words’ and ‘understanding each other.’” We see this introspection in fiction from time to time, and when we do it’s usually effective at helping us understand where a character is coming from, but you don’t often see or hear the real people in our world going through the process.
So while Maid Dragon continues on with an entertaining episode where Tohru experiences another new part of human culture for the first time, that musing from Kobayashi also sits with us. Tohru tries to understand the attracting power of the art and culture that brings hundreds of thousands of visitors together at Comiket twice a year, and in doing so, I think she helps us consider why we are alive — why we choose to do what we do.
It’s “something thats only in the moment right now,” a cosplay photographer tries to explain to her, and a few vignettes from Tohru’s memory seem to further solidify her feelings for Kobayashi as she recalls some of the in-the-moment fun they’ve shared.
Tohru helps us consider why we are alive, doing what we do
Her broader ideological acceptance also grows when she spots some other-worldly species passing as cosplayers at Comiket. Here still, the sharp comedy and visual gags persist in pulling us from emotional beat to beat, but the laughs are far from the only thing Maid Dragon will be remembered for.
If every frankly labeled fan-service episode used swimsuit scenes in conjunction with the kind of critical thinking Maid Dragon’s characters do here, I think the trope wouldn’t have as bad of a rap.
Looking ahead, there are still new cast members to be introduced, and one of those dragons, Elma, will debut next week. Depending on her character, Maid Dragon may struggle to show her personality the same consideration that it shows everyone else, but I’m not worried that it will detract from the great ground this anime has already covered.