Review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid (Funimation February!)

I’ve already talked about the unique position that Kyoto Animation stands in right now as a truly independent anime studio; if you want more details about that, though, check Ultimatemegax’s post talking about KyoAni’s transition over the years.

Anyway, today’s show is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which I shared my first impressions of back when it began airing. At first, I didn’t actually know it was a KyoAni-animated show; I didn’t think they were animating anything that season, but obviously, I was mistaken. It makes me happy to see how popular the show has become since its airing as well. KyoAni has certainly made a lot of hits, even after becoming producers, but I somehow felt that this show wouldn’t become as popular as it did. I like seeing other people enjoy the same shows I do.

An Introduction

After a night of drinking, our protagonist Miss Kobayashi wanders into a forest and stumbles across a dragon. (Yes, a dragon, from an alternate dimension.) She sits and talks with it for a while, and offers for it to stay at her place.

Thus, the next morning, she opens up the door to her apartment to make her way to work, and is greeted by a giant dragon’s eye right outside. Almost immediately, she transforms into a maid girl (to be more approachable to the lowly human, I’m sure) and introduces herself as Tohru. Tohru’s all prepared to move in and be a maid for Kobayashi… who, unfortunately, doesn’t remember anything from her drunken escapade the night before.

However, we can’t have a plot if the main character says ‘no’, so she lets Tohru in as her maid! Kobayashi learns pretty quickly though that Tohru doesn’t really know much about human society… at all. And so the comedy begins! … With even more dragons quickly being dragged in as well.

The Plot and Characters

This show is a comedy/slice-of-life anime, with the biggest focus on Kobayashi, Tohru, and another young-girl dragon named Kanna. Tohru and Kanna (along with some side characters who get a surprising amount of screen time, I’ll talk more about them later on) are dragons transformed into human girls, living with Miss Kobayashi (or one of her friends). And these dragons are what sets this show apart. These dragons’ differences from humans, especially in culture and perceptions, are used primarily for comedy’s sake, although Dragon Maid isn’t afraid to show us glimpses into their full potential: powerful, godlike beings capable of wiping out an entire city in minutes.

The first episode in particular really strikes this well, I think. After setting up Tohru as Kobayashi’s maid, we see the two of them start to go through what being a maid means to both of them. There are some really funny moments in here, including Tohru calling her friends Quetzalcoatl and Fafnir to ask their opinions, both leading to… unhelpful results. It’s a great and really funny start to the series.

Later episodes see these characters in a variety of settings, scenarios, and situations, usually one per episode – whether it’s celebrating Christmas, moving to another apartment, or the school’s athletic festival – with some extra little scenes in the middle or end of the episode. Due to the end of the episode usually containing an extra scene or two without a “to be continued” or anything, the ending of each episode always comes as a surprise to me… and it saddens me a bit too, since that means the episode’s over.

For most of these later episodes, though, there wasn’t a lot of outright laughing at the funny moments, nor a lot of emotions during the more heartfelt moments. I saw them more as quirky and endearing, respectively, but it was still enjoyable to watch and at the right times, brought a smile to my face. Despite not being the funniest comedy or slice-of-life-iest slice-of-life, this show’s still able to move you, even if it’s just the slightest amount. My favorite episode is episode 11, where we have a lot of quiet moments with the main three for the first 2/3rds of the episode.

The pacing of the show is pretty good as well. Scenes move along at a good enough pace so that nothing feels like it’s lingering, but not too fast where it becomes a bit hard to swallow. There are slower, quieter moments too (such as episode 11) that really allow you to reflect with the characters on their adventures so far, and I definitely appreciate them a lot. However, despite all I just said, episode 13, the final episode, does move a bit fast. I kind of wish it was split into two episodes (either make it a 14-episode series, or drop parts of episode 12), rather than trying to do the entire dramatic ending all in one 24-minute segment. (There is a 14th episode, but it’s an OVA that takes place at a later time.)

Anyway, let’s not ahead of ourselves. We begin the story with only Kobayashi and Tohru, the titular human and her dragon maid.

Tohru is really fun; she’s energetic and hard-working, and she throws herself fully into her new role as a maid for Kobayashi. She can be the source of a lot of funny moments and a couple heartfelt ones too; however, she becomes a bit stilted and plain when she’s delegated to the background for a scene. Throughout Dragon Maid, we see Tohru develop feelings for Kobayashi, although that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Kobayashi fills the “only sane one” role, acting as a voice of reason and the straightman throughout the series. Personality-wise, she seems to be quiet, keeping-to-self, and work-focused; she does seem to have a thing for maids, but this weird gimmick only appears a few times throughout the series. It’s funny to see how she copes with these major changes in her life situation, especially with the energetic Tohru. We see her awkwardly transition into being the caretaker of Kanna (the next character I’ll discuss) as well, which I really enjoyed. With perhaps the exception of the heightened drama of the final episode, she’s the ground for this series and its cast, and it’s hard not to relate to her. Being a programmer myself, I personally also definitely relate to her in her troubles with her profession.

As for Kanna, she quickly becomes the third main character after being introduced in the second episode. She’s a weird 3rd-grade kid-dragon, basically becoming the adorable little kid doing adorable little kid things. Although she certainly has some really cute and funny moments (including some gags that play out in the background), I could honestly take her and leave her. I became invested in this show for the relationship between Kobayashi and Tohru, but Kanna’s addition isn’t much a hindrance. There is a lot of attention on her throughout the series, perhaps a bit more than is really needed.

Speaking of Kanna, though, I should mention another character… one that rather bothers me: another 3rd grader named Saikawa. She originally starts off as bossy and mean towards Kanna, but quickly becomes infatuated with her and falls over backwards at even the slightest touch. I more liked Saikawa’s original bossy self, rather than acting romantically attracted to Kanna when she’s at an age that really doesn’t understand romance and love. I don’t get anything out of the interactions between Kanna and Saikawa; it’s the same joke over and over, honestly. One time they did extra for the joke, though, was in episode 6, where the show implied that Kanna and Saikawa were quite nearly about to have sex. This was not a scene I enjoyed watching. I honestly think the show would’ve been better off without Saikawa.

I’ll finally somewhat-quickly mention the other major characters:

Quetzalcoatl (often called Lucoa) seemed interesting at first, but she can be easily summed up in four words: “spacecase with big boobs”. Her chest is basically the only source of comedy from her, with jokes that range from unfunny at best to  tasteless at worst. Elma is the 4th dragon in the opening and ending animations, but she doesn’t appear until episode 8; she’s okay. Finally, there’s the two male characters: Makoto and Fafnir. Fafnir, a male dragon, also starts off interesting, but after associating with Makoto, the two turn into otaku nerds; they’re both not bad, but they’re usually pushed aside to focus on the mostly-female cast.

Dragon Maid is a number of things, but “a waste of time” isn’t one of them. Despite some jokes that got no (positive) reaction out of me, there were a lot of good moments in this show – especially with the main three. There’s emotion and enjoyment to find here, the show does not fail to deliver in this regard. I definitely walk away from each episode feeling more positive than I was going into it.

The Atmosphere

Kyoto Animation has definitely been known for its quality over the years, and although I wouldn’t say this show is pushing the envelope of what the studio can do, it’s still definitely good.

Unlike a number of their previous works, their lines in Dragon Maid seemed softer, characters seemed flatter (no shine), and the backgrounds looked very much watercolored. It’s a visual presentation that strays a bit from Kyoto Animation’s standard appearance, and a bit closer towards your standard slice-of-life, but their quality of work still shows through in how they were actually animated. The animation was fluid the entire time, with there never being a noticeable drop of quality in any of the episodes. (This being said, the first and last episode definitely did have some quality bumps.)

I mentioned in the previous section about Dragon Maid really being able to show the dragons as feared godlike creatures, and this is shown in no better way than through the animation and visual effects. Tohru and Kanna play around in a field in episode 2, and their play battle with its giant energy beams and whatnot were glorious and terrifying. How they draw Tohru as a dragon looks realistic and is also animated well (something I feel another studio may not do as well), and they even made a chibi dragon-form Tohru for later episodes as well.

The colors for this show were always bright, all of the time – from the brightly colored characters to the brightly colored backgrounds to the bright yellow transition screen for scene changes. Each of the characters in this show, excepting Elma and Fafnir, have weirdly-colored hair (an anime staple), but their hair (although still bright) is muted to not draw attention to itself – especially in combination with the flatness that is this show’s art style.

All in all, the character designs were good, and embrace KyoAni’s affinity to make everything cute, but are otherwise not too noteworthy… excepting these notes: there are times where Tohru’s tail just looks way too large for her human body… unless she just simply doesn’t have a butt. Lucoa’s design seems like it was made solely for her recurring gag, and I wish we got to see her differently colored eyes more often. Makoto’s design looked very plain, though, almost boringly so, and Fafnir looks like an attempt at making Sebastian from Black Butler.

Music-wise, Dragon Maid tends to rely a lot on the same handful of themes episode after episode… either that, or the various themes just sound so similar. Since most of the focus is on the dialogue and the situations, though, the music repetition doesn’t really become noticeable. The tracks of this show are certainly identifiable (if only because of their instrumentation choices), and they are definitely good background tracks, but only a few of the few, I would actually want to listen on their own (such as the track with a-cappella and strings for more thoughtful scenes).

The opening theme, Aozora no Rhapsody, is very high-energy and cheerful, and I do enjoy it (although Towana’s singing wouldn’t be my first choice for my music listening tastes), and the opening animation is high-energy to match. It’s a flurry and fun to watch… and although Dragon Maid itself certainly has some high-energy moments, part of me wonders if perhaps this isn’t the most fitting opening theme. Perhaps if I looked up the lyrics to it though… The ending theme, Ishukan Communication, is really cute, though, and the animation is just as cute. I have nothing but positive things to say about the ending theme and animation.

I watched the show on Crunchyroll, meaning it was subtitles the entire way. I give props to the main three – Mutsumi Tamura, Yuki Kuwahara, and Maria Naganawa (as Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna respectively) – for their acting, and Daisuke Ono as Fafnir was also good. I’ll be curious to see how the show is with Funimation’s English dub, but I don’t know when I’ll have the chance to experience it.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one part comedy, one part slice-of-life, and one part unfunny-recurring-gags. Some characters and their gags never got a positive reaction out of me, but that’s not all this show has to offer. I really don’t want to underplay all the enjoyment I got out of this series, especially alongside its high quality visual production work by Kyoto Animation.

Some of the friends I showed this series to weren’t that interested… but a lot of them, when I recommended it, told me they’d already seen it! And for good reason. If you’re in the mood for something silly, soulful, and colorful, Dragon Maid has you covered. It won’t be the most hilarious or slice-of-life-iest out there, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here. If for no other reason, you should consider it if you just want something fun.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ Tohru, great animation and visual effects, really fun time
— Saikawa (especially in episode 6), Lucoa’s repetitive gag, I can take or leave Kanna

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