Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon) takes top score in an episode about a sports festival, which is not something you’d expect from the track record of the episode trope.
When you compare the moment to moment joy of this episode to similar lulls in other shows from Kyoto Animation, it may seem baffling. Musaigen no Phantom World’s conflicts were present but they didn’t feel real. Tamako Market felt too slow and a central romantic aspect of its characters didn’t mature until a followup film.
By contrast, every moment of Maid Dragon feels just right. Nothing is irrelevant or easily dismissed due to a lack of verisimilitude, and even its transitioning gag sequences serve a purpose while also being genuinely funny.
It’s fascinating how some Kyoani shows can grip you with stylistic choices while the same techniques flounder in their other titles. A large part of Maid Dragon’s success is decidedly it’s progressive family themes. (The upfront romance right from the first episode doesn’t hurt things either.)
Watching Kanna’s excitement about a school festival sequentially built up in this episode’s cold-open and then immediately dashed is another great example of why this show is great. Yet, it isn’t something new. We’ve seen disappointed children in entertainment before, but Maid Dragon is all about execution in even its quietest moments. Every sequence here could be mundane, but Maid Dragon puts humanity into every breath.
Maid Dragon puts humanity into its every breath
If for some reason you were still questioning wether this trio is a close-knit family or not, this episode dismisses any such thoughts — even if some of the characters in the show hold those misgivings.
“This is the first time I’ve seen you worry about something like this,” Takiya says to Kobayashi at work as she agonizes over missing Kanna’s sports festival. Even she didn’t quite see herself as a traditional “mother” to Kanna. When would those worries have crossed her mind as a single, queer office worker living on her own? Never. Now it’s a driving force for her. It’s lifestyle changes like these that underly all of Maid Dragon’s warmth, humour and charm.
From Kanna’s indignant “I’m home” to a disgruntled “goodnight,” she’s is the spitting image of a considerate daughter, taking time to pout over Kobayashi’s workload. I’ve already described several times over the last few weeks why everything she does is irresistibly cute to watch, so maybe it’s not hard to understand the fascination Kyoani creates in this episodes first half, but the second — the actual sports festival — deserves a closer look.
Everything Kanna does is irresistibly cute
In terms of pacing, the festival is broken up by slightly tiresome jokes about how buxom Lucoa is, the ogling attention she draws from others and how embarrassed that makes Shouta, but at least these moments are substantiated by what we know of their dynamic. Likewise, Saikawa’s crush on Kanna might seem a little uncomfortable, but her lust is used in believable ways that have an outcome (positive and negative) on the sports festival events.
Where the episode’s half really excels is in following a dramatic arc that includes all the characters. For example, there is miniature narrative tension within the final relay race. There’s ambition and hubris charged within the characters at the beginning, self conflict as Saikawa drops the baton, and then swelling resolution as Kanna anchors things home.
These moments are significantly aided by the symphonic orchestral music that supports what we see. It doesn’t even matter that we know Kanna is holding back her dragon strength; it’s the social motivation behind her love for a friend that pushes her to perform.
That’s the feeling projected throughout the entirety of the festival, and throughout the rest of the episode, too. Careful framing of hands (Kanna gripping her pyjamas to suppress her emotions) and closeups of faces (Kobayashi’s impulsive, squinting reaction to the white dragon’s consideration) help show that the characters care for each other, even while they’re telling us about it.
When Saikawa squeals into the air at the physical contact with Kanna in the three-legged race, there’s even a heart shaped cloud in the clichéd pan-up to the sky. It creates a more interesting beat within the scene. Cinematically, it pulls us through the moment.
Little touches build on the emotion of its characters
Little touches like this permeate every cut of Maid Dragon, always building on the emotion and themes of characters, even if their not the primary focus of the moment —one has to wonder how many years it’ll be before Tohru’s stops trying to feed Kobayashi her tail.
And even though Elma was just introduced last week, her gag appearances here, which serve as transitions in the episode, build on what we know of her. Her taste obsession manifests in crippling indecision at food stalls in a way that leverages the same great comedic timing and cut framing that’s been all throughout the anime.
Any time Maid Dragon uses gags or cuts away from the action, it makes sure they connect to what we know in some way.
Of the shows I’m watching during this season, Maid Dragon has proved that it’s by far the most consistent in hitting the lofty quality bar that it established early on. At this point, I could easily recommend that you watch again next week, no matter what it’ll be about.
However, after seeing what the anime did with a light family turmoil and a simple sports festival, I can’t wait to see what it does with its dragons under the limelight of a stage troupe in episode 10.