Review/discussion about: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon
In Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon, Kobayashi herself writes code for a living. She seems to use a language akin to Python. Fine and dandy. But where it’s really at is C++.
Lambdas. Iterators. Queues and deques. The “auto” keyword. Pointers (and now smart pointers). Sure, the language is more verbose than a dictionary, and it can be a pain in the butt with all the object files and explicit data types floating around. But it’s such a fascinating, complex, and strong programming language otherwise. It’s the best one out there. To me, anyway.
Dragon Maid isn’t the C++ of the anime world, but it constructs enough fun objects to make for a very entertaining time.
Kobayashi, an adult woman of the working world, gets up per usual to head off to yet another rigorous day at the office. However, when she opens her door to leave, she’s not met with a bright-blue sky but rather a green-scaled dragon – the size of her whole apartment complex. It doesn’t take long, though, for the monstrous beast to turn into a sexy maid. She calls herself Tohru and commits herself to Kobayashi, thus beginning the aptly titled Dragon Maid.
When first starting this show, it’s easy to mistake it for nothing more than a straight-up comedy. Tohru’s antics, Kanna’s cuteness, and Kobayashi’s drunken tirades are clearly designed to get the audience laughing at the slice-of-life silliness that this peculiar situation centers on.
Said situation has a lot to leverage in terms of comedy too. The premise – dragons living among humans – not only makes for a strong contrast but also gets used to a reasonable extent. One scene will have Tohru calling Fafnir on the phone where he suggests killing all the filthy humans, and in another scene the whole gang will completely annihilate a group of bullying teenagers in a simple game of dodgeball.
The other half of the anime’s title, namely the “maid” portion, also sees dividends. Tohru “washing” Kobayashi’s clothes with her specialized drool is both oddly sweet and pretty disgusting. She also takes care of the grocery shopping while simultaneously reprimanding a burglar with a sudden burst of speed. And one cannot forget how Tohru would be nothing short of thankful towards Kobayashi for stamping her as her personal property. After all, maids serve their masters.
While neither extravagant nor amazing, the dragon and the maid jokes get the job done. However, not all the comedy serves the audience well. Despite Dragon Maid’s more mature presentation, the different sexual asides don’t always work. Lucoa’s huge boobs are wonderful yet overused, and Saikawa’s squeals of joy, while funny, are tough to explain away when the people involved are literally children.
Although perhaps the show’s biggest comedic misstep comes from arguably its main running gag: Tohru’s tail. Tohru constantly tries to get Kobayashi to eat her meat, and Kobayashi constantly turns her down. A prime setup for eventual payoff – but the anime never follows through. That built expectation of Kobayashi finally giving in doesn’t go down, leaving its most memorable joke ignored and their relationship just shy of that next major step.
That’s probably getting a bit too nitpicky, but it does present a nice segue with the word “relationship”. For, beyond Dragon Maid’s comedic material, the anime cares quite a bit about exploring a theme on how family and people (be they dragon or otherwise) improve one’s life for the better. However, where the comedy stands more positive than negative, these sincerer scenes often lack that necessary execution.
In the anime’s defense, it can get there, but such scenes are rare. For example, episode seven, the show’s self-titled “fanservice” episode, ironically contains one of the best moments throughout the entire season. After Kobayashi briefly talks with Tohru about her life and growing up, everyone heads out into the ocean (atop Tohru in dragon form) for a bit of fishing.
While they relax, Kobayashi asks Tohru about her homesickness, and Tohru in turn explains how her current actions of living among the humans isn’t “common sense” for her kind. Kobayashi’s narration treads into overt-exposition territory, but, with thoughtful phrases like, “It drives home the difference between ‘understanding words’ and ‘understanding each other,’” as well as an exchange about independence and adulthood, the scene becomes a heartfelt aside. All capped off with a tiny bit of comedic relief.
To reiterate, this scene is Dragon Maid at its absolute, non-comedic best, meaning not every grounded experience reaches the same level of execution. In fact, it’s often the opposite, the anime struggling to present something both emotional and worthwhile. Simply because it does not have the proper writing capabilities.
Here’s a small list of examples. In episode two, Tohru means well when she snuggles her nose with Kanna’s, but the whole conversation happens too early in the season to hit home. In episode three, Tohru’s grating teeth ruin Kobayashi’s quiet words (comedic relief or no). In episode eight, Tohru’s feelings of selfishness get resolved a bit too quickly. In episode twelve, the flashback about the carefree human girl who befriends Tohru (and incidentally influences her maid tendencies) jams itself into her background and tries too hard to conclude.
Even if one ignores these grievances, the final episode sticks out as arguably the biggest outlier.
It involves Tohru’s doubts and introduces her father, the Emperor of Demise. To put it bluntly, this thirteenth episode makes for a very weak finale. Tohru’s whole (both literal and figurative) out-of-body experience comes rather suddenly since the implications of her situation with Kobayashi (that Kobayashi will pass away long before Tohru does) were only ever rarely referenced. I.e., weak foreshadowing leaves her inner monologue without gravitas.
And the whole plot here with her father isn’t handled too well. It does have some basis given that prominent theme on family, but the series of events here lacks cohesion. Tohru gets taken away and comes back without the audience seeing her side, none of the other dragons come to defend Tohru despite the time they shared together, and the entire sequence is way too dramatic in comparison to much of the rest of the anime.
Altogether, it comes off as the show not knowing how to finish the season in a meaningful manner. Presenting instead a tonally dissonant ending sourly bittersweet for what was designed as a happy, cheerful tale.
Dragon Maid steps up its execution when its art and its animation become the focus.
Especially so for the lady dragons and their designs. On a general level, the small details add up. Rounded faces make for a more comedic presentation. Colors will shine bright for the eyes and shift spectrums for the hair. And the variance in details, like the different horns, tails, and builds, keep their dragon selves in mind. On an individual level, Tohru’s maid outfit, Kanna’s pink tribal garb, Elma’s work attire, and Lucoa’s clothing choices make for some combination of cute, sexy, and fun between them.
Looking at the artistic direction more closely, the anime also pays extra attention to small details that improve the visual experience. Kobayashi’s cheek will slightly bulge when she rests her hand against her face. Twinkling stars will surround Kanna when she’s particularly gleeful. Saikawa’s heart practically jumps out of her mouth whenever Kanna’s cuteness overloads her circuits. The occasional caricature bubbles bring a brief stint of comedy, and more imaginative scenes, like when Tohru explains the caste system of her world, up the chances for the show to branch out.
It also takes extra care with its comedy-driven scenes. A flurry of black words on a white background whiz behind a character when they don’t know what to say. Tohru warps Kobayashi’s phrase about making a tasty meal for when she returns home to the point that Tohru remembers the scene as something out of a shoujo manga. Both Kobayashi and Georgie turn shadowy and maniacal when they will not let Tohru escape from their discussion on maids. Even just the tiny scene transitions, with the yellow canvas and the series of five black symbols, make for similarly tiny chuckles when they appear.
All these examples about the artistic and comedic directions just scrape the surface of what Dragon Maid does. Furthermore, they speak nothing of the cinematography techniques like lighting choices, shot composition, and changed perspectives. Each of which are of a high quality without suffocating Dragon Maid’s style.
Said style consists not of rigorously detailed backgrounds but instead of a softness that goes along with the show’s slice-of-life story. While the locations don’t change much, a shot of the outside of Kobayashi’s apartment, a view of the whole city below, and everywhere in-between are places light on the eyes and aligned with a soft outlook.
And, for the most part, the anime’s actual animation remains consistent, interesting, and sometimes impressive throughout the season. Tohru and Kanna’s “playing” make for an animated spectacle, but it’s the more lowkey scenes that demonstrate the show’s prowess. Saikawa rummaging through her basket to find a game to play. Elma looking every which way as she stresses out over the confusing computer before her. Lucoa bouncing and bobbing forward with a dodgeball in hand. Movement appears just about as much as it can throughout the season.
One final note: The opening track and ending track visuals deserve some praise. The rotating, flying people in the OP is something that only anime can pull off. And the ED’s use of miniaturized designs for the dragons, cool shots like when the camera zooms out to show the solar system, and how their bedsheets’ patterns match the patterns behind them during their singsong jig and the section of the OP where just the tops of their heads are visible elevate the overall level of detail that much more.
Dragon Maid contains a medium-sized cast that land all over the map in terms of execution.
Take Kanna. Cute, deadpan, and childish, she’s a soft buffer that’s pretty much impossible to hate, filling the space between the overzealous “maid” and the regular human quite comfortably. While Kanna doesn’t necessarily need to do much else for the audience besides making them smile when she says the word “matches,” much of her character is left up in the air. She supposedly pulls enough pranks to get her kicked out of her household. But Kanna never shows her pranking skills during the season, and this potential background conflict never gets resolved.
Tohru reaches a much different level. She’s the bubbly, faithful woman who makes up half the anime’s title, taking on a higher level of importance as a result. A fire-breathing dragon at her core but a maid (in training) in her heart, she does what she can to make Kobayashi’s life an “easy” one. All while learning about the humans (read: lesser lifeforms) that surround her.
Much like Kanna, Tohru’s strength comes through in her characterization, bringing comedy and feel-good vibes. She shows the difference between “dragon” fireworks and dragon fireworks. She drools over photos of Kobayashi as a kid. She understands more about herself through a spoon-bending montage.
More importantly, Tohru acts as the pivot that the anime uses to dive into much of its more grounded material. Given her dragon status, she views the human world through a different lens. A lens that lends itself to contrast and an outsider’s perspective on the ways in which people think, behave, and grow. From a small talk with Kanna about what it means to live among versus live with humans to a sidewalk conversation with Fafnir about cherishing the present despite what the future may hold, Tohru’s thoughtful edge is every bit as impactful as her comedic one.
Some characters don’t have much depth whatsoever. Arguably, Lucoa and Shouta fit this description. Lucoa doesn’t become much more than a walking pair of breasts, and Shouta runs away in the same fashion whenever her chest appears. Lucoa cuts off Tohru bringing up her past with her sister, and Shouta’s name is a meta joke that references the sexual situation in which he finds himself. But these miniscule details do not save them from ending up as useless characters.
The toughest character to pinpoint on an execution level, though, is Kobayashi. A programmer by day and a maid-enthusiast by night, this tomboyish woman quickly finds herself in the company of dragons from all walks (or maybe flights) of life.
And, in a strange sense, that’s precisely the problem. Kobayashi, as the main protagonist, comes off as awfully convenient for the story at hand. She gets angry about some of Tohru’s mistakes, but, for the most part, she takes the whole situation in stride. Essentially, it’s odd how she has all this sage wisdom about life and cares so deeply about these random strangers when Dragon Maid almost never takes the time to expound more on her character. She receives very few backstory details, and she rarely talks about herself. Even something like her adoration for maids doesn’t have much of a basis despite the prevalence of the motif.
This convenience creates a void that shadows her character to an unfortunate degree. Yet, that’s interestingly part of the point. Kobayashi sometimes thinks about how she can’t seem to remember who she was or what she was like before Tohru and the others befriended her. That, since their arrival, she has come to appreciate the more nuanced parts of life. So, in a way, the anime argues that this void isn’t so much a negative but rather a representation for how dwelling on the past won’t lead to newfound happiness.
To achieve this happiness, Dragon Maid continues with its family theme through exploration of a related idea: relationships.
When looking at the whole cast, a consistent detail emerges in the fact that everyone has a distinct pairing. Tohru and Kobayashi, Kanna and Saikawa, Lucoa and Shouta, Fafnir and Makoto. These dragon-and-human pairs not only deliver a dichotomous approach but also back up that claim about relationships creating happiness.
With Tohru and Kobayashi, the two regularly look out for one another while also doing what they can to learn more about each other. Kobayashi usually asks Tohru about how she’s feeling, and Tohru fully loves Kobayashi for saving her life. They understand that they are fundamentally different, but, when they get into a friendly meal-making duel or share presents on a snowy Christmas night, it’s not hard to see that their relationship is happiness incarnate.
With Kanna and Saikawa, their relationship is more along those comedic lines thanks to Kanna’s role in the story. However, they still provide looks into why relationships rock. After her grade-school competition, Kanna values the camaraderie, saying to Kobayashi and Tohru, “It’s better being with everyone else.” And, when with Saikawa, she remarks how she wants the same thing that Kobayashi and Tohru share, envying their special relationship.
With Lucoa and Shouta, they sadly still go under the worthless category since their relationship doesn’t improve or morph much at all beyond its initial introduction. Even so, with Lucoa failing to impress Shouta and Shouta embarrassed by what Lucoa puts forward, these two demonstrate that relationships can get people to bring out unknown sides to themselves.
With Fafnir and Makoto, this duo highlights something much more profound. Where the others (subconsciously or not) define the connections they hold, Fafnir and Makoto don’t really follow the same route. Instead, they only need to say the word “mild” (when describing their curry for the evening) for them to be on the same wavelength. Thus, they showcase that relationships don’t need to be unique to mean something more.
As for Elma, Dragon Maid does not pair her up with anybody, fragmenting the parallelism it so cleanly built between every other pairing. Still, even more so than Kanna, Elma is there purely for comedic effect, so it’s not exactly necessary to build a pairing for her too. Plus, she potentially argues the other way. That one doesn’t always need a relationship to find happiness. Indeed, all it may take is a bit of cream bread or a helping of ice cream to get through the day.
Dragon Maid brings the heat with a few strong voice-acting performances, some soft musical pieces, an uplifting opening track, and a downright fun ending track.
As a lead star of the show, Yuuki Kuwahara as Tohru, in one of her first main roles in the industry, uses a girly voice, inhaling sounds, and various emotions like jealousy and joy to serve comedy akin to the skills of any top maid. Yuuki Takada as Elma, also relatively new to the industry, likewise lets the audience binge on comedy but more so through flustered appeals and nervous asides.
But the strongest performance in show goes to Maria Naganawa as Kanna. Most likely going down as her breakout role, Ms. Naganawa’s infectiously cute, deadpan tone as the child dragon makes it impossible to not like Kanna from the very beginning. Just the way she says everyone’s names is enough to win anybody over.
Similarly strong, the original soundtrack goes for the same dual comedy-grounded feel that the story follows.
For the comedy, the slice-of-life tunes incorporate lots of goofy instruments and off-kilter note structures to get at the wackiness and the simplicity of the anime. “Hatena” includes creaking doors, “Ukiuki Sin Seikatsu” makes heavy use of a toy xylophone, and “Dragon Tanken Tai” brings in the light sound of a tambourine and a weird, whirling sound effect. No matter the case, though, these tracks promise a fun time for everyone.
For the grounded material, Dragon Maid reels everything in, presenting a lot of tracks focused on atmosphere and heart. “Kaeri Michi” takes on an almost underwater vibe with floating piano keys and ambient sounds that gently wash over the listener. “Oyasumi Mata Ashita” uses echoing onomatopoeia noises and a backing violin section to attain a soft, caressing feel. And “Sayounara,” arguably the strongest track of the entire OST, strikes at the core of one’s emotions, the slow acoustic guitar and the prominent cello melding together to support above and beyond those touching scenes throughout the season.
Some of the OST’s tracks are bit more charged for the rarer action-heavy or menacing moments in the show, so they aren’t as worthwhile in the long run. Still, what’s offered otherwise is no doubt strong and a noticeable effort on the show’s part.
Going back to the front, Dragon Maid uplifts the audience before every episode with a semi-groovy, semi-grandiose opening track entitled “Aozora no Rhapsody.” The clapping and the catchy beat at the start leads into a paced set of singing before jumping into the crux of the OP. Background singers, blaring trumpets, and even better vocals raise the song ever higher. The final stretch – with faster lyrics, some bells, and a composition that mirrors the start – ends the whole thing in strong fashion.
Although, perhaps the crown jewel of the sound department (besides the buoying noises of the ladies’ bosoms, of course) exists as Dragon Maid’s ending track entitled “Ishukan Communication.” The ED flies ahead with “bops” and “imagination,” the female dragons taking turns singing on different days of the week. Their second singing trade-off, where they bob back and forth, is deceptively cute, marking a smile-inducing transition into the second half of the track. Here, the dragons sing together, and the beat carries them along. A “daisuki” here and a repeat of the beginning there make it easy to hear why the ED takes the throne.
Once again for this Winter 2017 season, I found myself hesitant to give an anime – this anime – more credit than I thought it deserved early on. I was worried that the drama wouldn’t resonate, stealing away from the potential comedy at hand.
I was never emotionally invested, and I still (evidently) have my gripes, but the anime grew on me nonetheless.
If I had to choose my one favorite aspect of the show, my pick is swift and easy: Elma. I really like her design (her work outfit with the glasses is so darn attractive). She’s the most fun with her embarrassment, her justice-driven attitude, and her foodstuff dilemmas. And she adapts the quickest to her new environment, proving her maturity and her intelligence. It’s a shame that she is introduced so late and is hardly around in the last couple of episodes. But, when she is present, I am extremely happy.
Kanna takes second place for me based on cuteness alone (and, indeed, the ravioli rule applies). The way she said everyone’s names, her “bug catching” homework, all those pouts, “wicked,” trying to catch a snooze with her pillow, waiting on Santa (which seemed like the perfect chance to make him a fellow dragon), her rain dance. She’s so cute and so fun to say the least.
Tohru ends up in third. I like her crazy devotion, her hilarious reactions, and her general cheerfulness. Her scathing remarks about humans (while also directed at me) got me laughing, and her yuri hots for Kobayashi is something I absolutely approve.
Speaking of the titular character, I jump to the very bottom of my list. Yes, my least favorite character and my least favorite part of the show is Kobayashi.
It’s a bunch of nitpicky, small stuff. I don’t like how she almost always leads her conversations with Tohru with “Tohru….” Petty, I know, but it annoys me how she says it. I also don’t much care for her personality and how she rarely ever says anything wrong. And could she please reciprocate Tohru’s romantic feelings even just a teeny tiny bit? So much scrumptious yuri goes to waste because of her rigid refusals.
I get that she’s the straight “man” around all these crazy dragons, but she isn’t a thrilling main protagonist since she doesn’t do a whole lot. She does earn bonus points for wearing glasses (because I like a woman in glasses), but she irks me too much otherwise.
I only liked Kobayashi when she was drunk. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in the whole show comes from when the anime finally depicts her first meeting with Tohru. She’s plastered out of her mind, and, once she forces Tohru to join in on the alcoholic fun, belching fire and fits of laughter make the whole encounter awesome. Then it’s back to the lame version of Kobayashi.
Altogether, I still had a very fun time, and I hope KyoAni have it in them to make a second season – with an extra helping of Elma.
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon brews a nice cup of tea. While the story’s more thoughtful scenes don’t always get where they want to, and some of the individual character writing lacks depth, the focus on comedy, the importance of relationships, the involved artistry, the high-quality music, and the general level of fun make this anime a dereferenced pointer whose value isn’t null.
Story: Bad, a dragon-centric, slice-of-life tale hits middles in its comedy but lots of lows in its grounded material, exploring a theme on family while suffering from a notably weak finale
Art/Animation: Great, fun and colorful designs, an emphasis on visual comedy, strong cinematic techniques, nice levels of actual animation, and other noticeable details create a worthwhile artistic showing
Characters: Fine, Tohru, Kanna, and the others land everywhere in terms of execution, but an important theme on relationships and happiness keep them all on the right track
Music/Sound: Great, strong VA performances from relative newcomers, a set of goofy and heartfelt OST tracks, an uplifting OP, and a super-fun ED support as much as possible
Enjoyment: Good, Elma wins best in show, Kanna takes second, Tohru for third, and Kobayashi annoys in her lameness
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3