Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon) finale is an excellently paced conclusion, charged with spectacular animation that compliments its nuanced and progressive themes.
Week after week, Kyoto Animation proved it could consistently tell a heartfelt episodic story about these loveable dragons and their human companions, and the development of serious conflict in Maid Dragon’s final episode stays true to its track record.
The tone is set by overcast skies and muted colours throughout the opening scenes, and the serene continuation of Kobayashi, Tohru and Kanna’s morning breakfast ritual. Every thing still feels happy at first, but the cooler colours and sparse music add a sense of discomfort to Kanna playing with her natto, or Kobayashi flipping through her phone.
Maid Dragon also plays the lifespan-card from episode five here, but this time it’s even more devastating. A TV program comparing the lives of humans and mice catches Tohru’s ear as she’s out shopping for dinner, and it stops her dead in her tracks.
The surrounding world fades into greyed-out stillness, and Tohru’s doubt is visualized as her dragon form physically forces her human-maid self to face the longterm reality of living with Kobayashi.
While other than the cloudy day, it’s a little unclear why these thoughts chose to grip her so hard in the moment, the overflowing emotions she shows are crystal-focussed. Tohru grips the scarf Kobayashi gifted her, and the frozen grey world crumbles from the force of her convulsions as she imagines her partner’s death.
When she comes to, she’s floating high in the sky, torn out of her reverie after sensing a presence so strong that it turns the heads of all the disguised dragons scattered throughout the city — her father.
‘This isn’t where you belong,’ Tohru’s father decrees
“This isn’t where you belong,” he says to her. She crumples into a ball of self-doubt and he swiftly whisks her away with a chomping scoop of his massive wing-like robe, but he does so not entirely against her will.
The dramatization of her father’s introduction and her earlier visualized misgivings make for a powerful scene. As she considers the value of fleeting happiness, it’s easy to understand her struggle.
We catch Kanna’s child-form flying towards Tohru just a few seconds before she disappears, and the sight of her small white wings that we’re shown for the first time really emphasizes how fast she tried to get to the disturbance she sensed.
It helps add weight to Tohru’s disappearance and it makes her the perfect person to tell the oblivious Kobayashi what happened… Her shocked reaction to the news that Tohru’s gone home is fittingly mature, but also heartbreaking. She appears frazzled and in disbelief, and the subsequent transition into an early ad-break sets up a long fallout for the rest of the episode.
When we come back, it’s like Kobayashi is just trying to escape into busywork. It’s a natural looking pain, making her loss hurt even more to watch.
The way Takiya notices her detached behaviour solidifies him again as a great friend. And when he barely reacts to her admission of Tohru’s disappearance, it doesn’t come across like he doesn’t care, it feels more like another mature reaction. He’s afraid of what the change might mean for Kobayashi, but he also knows her well enough that going for a drink would be better than prying into it during work hours.
Kobayashi’s life is completely changed without Tohru in it
The overcast sequences continue with dozens of tangible parallels from earlier episodes showing just how completely changed Kobayashi’s life is without Tohru in it. She spills Kanna’s milk from the microwave, not used to the heat of the cup, and clothes pile up around her apartment as meal-prep and crucial chores eat into her time.
Even amidst this, Dragon Maid sprinkles in a bit of the wonder and discovery that makes it so fun to watch. In particular, Kanna’s gawking at the marvel of a rice cooker adds some humour to the dour story beats of the sans-Tohru montage. For each bit of coping happiness though, there are mirrored emotions. It’s rough watching Kanna curl into a ball at a sleepover with Saikawa, because Kobayashi has to work late.
Maid Dragon takes this depressing storyline very seriously. It never feels like a joke, or that Tohru’s guaranteed to come back. Obviously, that’s what anyone watching wants to happen, so when she finally returns with a beaming smile, Kobayashi’s stunned reaction is more than warranted. She’s just spent days trying to adjust to life without the woman she loves, so seeing her maid return leads to especially conflicting emotions when Tohru’s dad comes calling at her apartment again.
Maid Dragon shows just how nuanced its characters are
His entrance through a portal in the sky blocks out the sunshine that had momentarily reappeared. His beady red eyes, thick beard, and red cloak strikes an ominous figure, but again, his initial appeals for Tohru’s return feel like the genuine requests of a reasoning father to his child. It’s here that Maid Dragon shows just how nuanced its characters are, when their motivations could easily have been simplified in a lesser production.
So when Tohru’s father lashes out with near-lethal force at Kobayashi’s attempt to join the discussion about his daughter staying or leaving, Kobayashi’s reaction is again spot on. His magical laser clipped the side of her face, snapping an arm off of her glasses. She is visibly shook. But she stands up and keeps going. She extols Tohru’s great personality (a point that her dad comically agrees with) and she lays out in plain terms why she cares so much about her maid.
That claim of ownership, while gripping the tearful Tohru’s hand, pushes her father over the edge. You can see the veins in his face bulge as blood literally rushes to his head. But as he winds up for a real magical attack, Tohru responds with bulging veins of her own in a defensive spell prepped with her hand.
The animation here is superb, and it’s only a taste of what’s next in Maid Dragon’s climax. Tohru’s dad, recognizing his daughter resistance opens another portal to a deserted field, so that their conflict won’t level the entire city block.
Their fight is a metaphor for everyday family conflicts
The dialogue between the two dragons as they transform to their full size is focussed, but reflective. Tohru’s rebellion and her father’s rejection of her being with a human could be seen as a metaphor for familiar conflicts seen in families everywhere. You could substitute “human” for “gay woman,” “gay woman” for “poor, lower-caste citizen,” and so on. It doesn’t change the fact that her father, well-intentioned or not, is wrongfully discriminating and doing so against her wishes.
“I’ll decide where I belong on my own,” she tells him. Then, the two literally and figuratively butt heads. The explosion particles are detailed, the magic effects look powerful, and the massive dragon bodies dodging through the air have a furious sense of speed that really feels like a highpoint.
In a excellent display of continued agency from its entire cast though, Maid Dragon lets Kobayashi catch up to the battle with the help of Kanna’s dragon form. And her intervention is a profound one.
‘Knowing you’re different is only the start’
“Knowing you’re different is only the start,” she says, lecturing the two fighting family members. “You grow closer or more distant again and again, while realizing those differences. And then you start finding the aspects you like.”
She delivers this line while walking right up to the paternal red dragon’s hulking frame. Her small body stands in a huge juxtaposed wide shot that’s timed well with the orchestral music that also shapes the entire episode. Then, super close ups of their eyes show emotion in both his scaly face and in Kobayashi’s, with a bruised temple underneath cellophane-repaired glasses.
The entire scene feels loaded with internal rationality, relevant to each character’s perspective. So when Tohru’s dad finally concedes, the victory feels like a shared one. It also renews Kobayashi and Tohru’s commitment to each other, and the closing montage of Kobayashi bringing her new family home to mom ends their story in the perfect place.
One crucial litmus test I have to qualify masterful creations is in the possibility of alternate conclusions. I can’t imagine Maid Dragon ending in any other way that would feel more cathartic. And any show that can build to a point like this in such a consistent way, deserves to be lauded as a masterpiece.