I recently found myself getting into yet another show via what has weirdly become my second most reliable source of finding new anime to watch: Youtube’s recommendation algorithm. I swear, you watch one cute anime compilation and the machine never lets your forget it.
In this particular case I found 2017’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid popping up several times, of course I eventually buckled under the weight of the cute and decided to search it out. Upon finishing the lone series, I think fantasy slice of life might be the genre I never knew I wanted till now. Well maybe it’s not a massive surprise considering how much I enjoyed The Helpful Fox Senko-san earlier this year. What with the plentiful similarities between the premises of the two anime.
Before I get totally distracted talked about another show entirely though; Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a goofy slice of life comedy in which a typical salary woman is living a pretty humdrum life. That is until she gets drunk and saves the life of an all-powerful dragon from another world. Utterly smitten by the act of drunken heroism, Tohru the dragon begins living with Kobayashi as her new maid/bestie/sex pest.
The first couple of episodes of Dragon Maid really took me by surprise. Aside of being utterly nonsensical in my favourite kind of way, everything about the characters and their stories is just so damn earnest and genuinely cute that I couldn’t help but give in to it and feel like a complete degenerate for sitting there with a stupid smile on my face.
Pretty quickly we find ourselves settling into the status quo, in which Kobayashi’s cold and stoic personality bumps up against the infinitely more cheerful and enthusiastic Tohru; the titular Dragon Maid. While also, simultaneously having to reign her in whenever she decides to display her staggering anime powers as a dragon that could bring about the apocalypse. As Tohru is simultaneously the warmest, most friendly girl in the world, and also a bubbling pot of rage always close to the edge of spilling over.
Speaking of apocalyptic power, I have to bring up the animation. While it only happens pretty infrequently, there are times where Tohru will display her power as a creature of pure anime. Maybe it’s because it happens so briefly and so infrequently, but these snips of action are some of the best pieces of fluid action I’ve seen in ages. There is so much weight and power easily conveyed by the characters actions that I believe this girl in a maid get-up really is that strong. Not that it’s a focus, I just find the sudden extreme destruction hilarious.
It’s easy for me to praise good action, seeing as that’s what I spend most of my time watching. But it’s not just the action, even in the quieter moments, the character acting and subtle movements the animation team put into the characters as they communicate with one another. This is a slice of life after all, and the team do a great job of putting the quieter moments on screen in an effective way. Especially for Kobayashi, who is a pretty stoic character.
Pretty quickly, a third factor is added to the mix: another dragon called Kanna. Another dragon who takes the form of an eight year old child, and acts as such. She’s the kind of character I’d describe as painfully cute… Or weaponized cute. In a show where all of the characters are pretty cute, the animation team makes extra effort to have her stick out as the most adorable. And she is, so much so. Clinging to Kobayashi as a surrogate maternal figure.
From these main three we find ourselves in the main crux of the show. Kobayashi simultaneously becomes the unwitting mother figure to Kanna while also being a husband figure to Tohru, much to her own chagrin when it comes to the latter. I found it interesting that Kobayashi herself is a woman, as most of these shows end up putting a guy in the role of the main character. Although she does have a fair few male characteristics to her look and personality still.
Whenever the show revolves around any of these three characters though, I was positively charmed by it. I never used to think slice of life was a genre I could get into, but seeing these people living their idealised version of a pretty mundane life is weirdly attractive to me. Doesn’t help that everything that happens is as adorable as hell. I could say it’s a result of me being bummed out that I’m living alone right now and the romanticised version of day to day life is super appealing to me right now.
It could also be that it’s a feel good show, and watching something that is entirely good and wholesome and pure is just the thing I need right now to get me through the weeks/months of whatever it is that’s happening right now. Although that isn’t to say this show is without sources of critique.
The one thing that bummed me out about the series itself is how it kind of just falls away from what made it so much fun the further it gets into the series. As the episodes run, we’re introduced to more and more characters, most of which I feel are pretty extraneous. The three other dragons introduced after Tohru and Kanna who also inhabit the human world feel less and less important to the story as they are introduced, and their increased inclusion in events as the series went on ended up taking away from the characters of the show I wanted to see more of.
Not only that, but the ending to the series didn’t really stick the landing. Like Senko-San did when I watched it earlier this year, the anime takes a pretty trivial event from the manga and tries to pump it up into something a little more dramatic. It doesn’t really work. While the bittersweet message the series ends on was effective, the action sequence that preceded it felt kind of weak compared to the animation of the early episodes and ended up making me feel a lot cooler on the show compared to how I felt about it during the first half.
Before I get to my conclusion, I feel like I’d be remiss if it didn’t mention the fact that this show was produced by Kyoto Animation, the animation studio that was victim to an arson attack in July of this year. In which 36 people died, including the series director Yasuhiro Takemoto. While there were plans for a continuation series, in the wake of this tragedy, Dragon Maid might be a one and done series. Either way, a second series would be a long way off. Which might be the worst thing, as the people affected by the fire certainly need to find their feet and get their lives back together first,
Despite feeling a little deflated on the series by the time it was over, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is well worth watching for the first seven or eight episodes alone. It’s utterly charming main trio and their weird growing relationship charmed me to no end. Kobayashi herself is a pretty stoic main character whose actions and growth is small, but great art and animation acting gives her small actions a large impact.
I really enjoying digging into this series from a couple of years ago, and it’s made me less hesitant to go back and watch older shows from years gone by. If anyone wants to make a recommendation of another series like this (preferably one with an episode count less than 50), I’d certainly be up for going back and adding more to my plate of dwindling time.