The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Terrible Anime Challenge: Human Lessons and Dragons in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

“Thor Odinson, you have betrayed the express command of your king. Through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war! You are unworthy of these realms! Unworthy of your title! You’re unworthy!…of the loved ones you have betrayed. I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!” –Odin, Thor

Kobayashi is a software developer who encounters a dragon in the mountains one night after becoming intoxicated, and when she removes a sword from the dragon, she earns the dragon’s gratitude. Introducing herself as Tohru, the dragon decides to become Kobayashi’s maid. While Tohru has the power of the dragons backing her, and she becomes highly efficient with housework, she struggles to understand human customs and values. Over time, other dragons Kanna, Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir and Elma show up: Kobayashi takes things in stride, doing her best to look after Kanna and Tohru while introducing them to human society and keep up with the dragons’ wild antics. Kobayashi moves to a new apartment to accommodate her new roommates, Tohru becomes familiar with the shopping district’s merchants, and Kanna goes to elementary school, befriending classmate Riko. The unlikely roommates celebrate human customs, and as they spend more time together, come to regard one another as a family. Tohru regards Kobayashi as a lover and clashes with her father, the Emperor of Demise; the devotion that Tohru shows Kobayashi also inspires Kobayashi to revisit her own family, after she accepts that she’s become quite distant from them. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon) ran during the winter 2017 season for thirteen episodes – with Kyoto Animation helming the series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was counted as a superb anime for its unique characters and their colourful interactions, striking a balance between the comedic and the introspective.

As it turns out, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid delivers more than superb character growth and interactions: during the course of its thirteen episode (and one OVA) run, the anime covers a wide range of themes. Seemingly unrelated moments in Kobayashi’s life and various experiences come together to create a powerful payout for viewers – as Koabayashi spends time with Tohru, she learns to look back on her own life and appreciate her blessings, while Kanna’s presence also brings out a more motherly side to her personality. The changes in Kobayashi’s life lead somewhere tangible and meaningful: slice-of-life comedies often present light-hearted misadventures with limited purpose, and while they can be quite successful, that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid goes a step further to show that these adventures can lead to a profound change in one’s life for the better. Kobayashi had settled into a status quo in not spending time with her family, focusing on her career, but the introduction of disruption gradually nudges her to think otherwise. Meanwhile, the destructively-inclined Tohru slowly comes to understand humanity to a much greater extent than she had previously, showing that immersion and exposure provides a perspective on things that cannot be acquired in any other way. Each of Kanna, Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir and Elma similarly find a part of human society worth appreciating, and the magic in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is thus – covering enough topics with the depth that it warrants, while at once dealing with a wide breadth of themes that viewers can relate to. The show is a mile wide and a mile deep, featuring something for everyone, and therefore, it is quite unsurprising that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was so well received amongst viewers.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tohru is presented as having romantic feelings for Kobayashi even early in the anime, as seen with her soppy expression here while handling one of Kobayashi’s shirts. While Kobayashi seems blissfully unaware of this, her treatment of Tohru goes from being that of someone to look after to an equal and a peer was one of the best transformations through Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Character development and growth is the central strength of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – things proceed at just the right pacing, with characters having a chance to bounce off one another and also take in quieter moments.

  • The title for this post is actually a bit of a misnomer: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is certainly not a terrible anime by any stretch, and under normal circumstances, would’ve earned a strong recommendation from me. The reason why it was made into a Terrible Anime Challenge post was because I accidentally watched the episodes in the wrong order and found myself buried. I decided to wait until the series ended before continuing, and my usual habits of procrastination kicked in. A year-and-a-half later, I realised I’d still not watched this yet, and so, decided to start from the beginning. With the series in the books, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is something that easily falls into the category of “it’s as every bit as good as the reception out there describes”.

  • Kobayashi has no given name, and I imagine that she is intended to represent the everyman. Described as lacking womanly features, Kobayashi is probably designed in this manner to represent an ordinary individual who finds herself with two cohabiting dragons taking human form. Her down-to-earth and hard working personality is offset by a few quirks, such as a love for maids – many viewers will relate to different aspects of Kobayashi’s character and find her a suitable perspective to observe Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid from.

  • Early on, Kobayashi is exasperated by Tohru and Kanna’s idiosyncrasies and lack of knowledge about the human world. However, she nonetheless does her best to look after them; after moving into a larger apartment, teaches Tohru the basics of human interactions to the point where she can go shopping without causing destruction, and enrols Kanna in a local elementary school to give her a chance to spend time and learn with children. As time goes on, things settle into a routine, and Kobayashi comes to regard both Kanna and Tohru as family.

  • Once Kobayashi begins acclimatising to her life with two dragons, a new status quo is reached, and to keep things dynamic, new dragons are introduced. Quetzalcoatl (Lucoa) is another dragon who was banished and friends with Tohru. She’s frequently presented as a bit of a tease and enjoys flaunting what she has, to the general embarrassment fo those around her – fanservice in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is noticeable, but for the most part, is not a serious distraction from the more interesting points of discussion.

  • Because of her origins, Kanna is exceptionally skilled with academics and athletics, earning the admiration of her peers. She initially antagonises classmate Riko Saikawa, but innocence leads her to view Riko’s hostility as a sign of friendship. After counting Riko a friend, Kanna spends a considerable amount of time with her and eventually, Riko comes to develop a crush on Kanna, becoming weak in the knees whenever Kanna touches her.

  • While Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is set in a seemingly-ordinary world, Shouta’s “summoning” Quetzalcoatl and his father’s mention of magic suggest that there’s a bit more to this universe than meets the eye. For the most part, however, the anime constrains this to the dragon’s abilities, and beyond this, their world is otherwise quite ordinary; things are focused on the daily comings and goings among the characters.

  • Yūki Kuwahara provides Tohru’s voice, and attesting to my narrow band of interests in anime, I’ve not heard of Kuwahara in her other performances besides Hai-Furi‘s Sumire Kishima. With this in mind, Kuwahara captures every aspect of Tohru nicely, from those moments where she entertains wiping the world out for fun, to doting on Kobayashi and attempting to sneak chunks of her tail into cooking by ways of expressing affection.

  • Depending on the world, dragon meat is either regarded as a delicacy or poisonous, and because Kobayashi expresses surprise at the things that Tohru might find edible, the nature of dragon meat in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid will remain a mystery. Tohru is a lovable character whose taste for wanton destruction is tempered by her devotion towards Kobayashi; that Kobayashi can talk her out of rampages is a sign of the two’s closeness.

  • Later down the line, Elma appears on earth and becomes stranded. In order to support herself, she takes up a job with the same company that Kobayashi works with. Ordinarily quite dedicated to her duties and standing directly against Tohru, she’s hampered by a fondness for sweets and often has trouble exercising restraint where they are involved. Elma is voiced by Yūki Takada, who had previously played as New Game!‘s Aoba Suzukaze.

  • Kanna comes to regard Kobayashi as a mother of sorts over time: having looked after Kanna, providing her with handmade lunches for school and taking her shopping, Kobayashi also occasionally teaches Kanna about the human world and encourages her. The joy of this interaction is that despite having had no experience previously, circumstance naturally brings out this side of Kobayashi. Nothing in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid ever comes across as being forced, and this further augments the experience the anime provides.

  • Maria Naganawa’s performance as Kanna is one that she’s become well-known for: Naganawa was cast as Slow Start‘s Kamuri later on, a petite, soft-spoken girl who greatly resembles Kanna in mannerism and appearance and later plays the platelets of Cells at Work. In general, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is more of a heart-warming experience, but Kanna also adds a degree of adorableness to things.

  • While Kobayashi originally had not planned on attending Kanna’s sports festival, she later changes her mind and makes an appearance. Kobayashi is said to have little interest in visiting her family, presumably owing to some difficulties, but as the events of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid progress, she begins to regard Tohru and Kanna as family. This gradually begins reshaping her own perspectives on what family is.

  • How Kobayashi met Tohru is told in flashback: after removing a sword from Tohru, Kobayashi spends a drunken evening with Tohru and piques Tohru’s curiosity about humanity.

  • The last anime to reference The Little Match Girl was GochiUsa, when Sharo imagined herself as the little girl of the story, who was made to sell matches and succumbed to the cold. However, in death, she is relieved of her suffering. Curiously enough, it was through anime that I heard about The Little Match Girl: this story was something I’d never heard of during my days as a primary and secondary student, and from the looks of it, the story has been referenced in anime. Shirobako and Yuru Yuri both have callbacks to this story.

  • While Riko was initially quite hostile towards Kanna, the transformation is nothing short of hilarious once the two become friends – Riko’s reaction to physical contact with Kanna is a recurring joke that is always entertaining to watch. One aspect about the dragons is that for their incredible power and distain for humanity, they can dial it back and doing meaningful things for people. During Christmas, the dragons put on an entertaining play for the shopping district; despite being fraught with tension, the play itself is successful and well-received.

  • Mochi is eaten during the Japanese New Year for luck, and in Japanese folklore, rabbits live on the moon, eternally pounding mochi. This is derived from Chinese folklore, where the Jade Rabbit aids the goddess Chang’e in pounding ingridients for the elixir of life. It so happens that today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, and while a combination of a busy schedule and inclement weather precluded enjoying moon cakes under a full moon, I nonetheless celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with roast chicken and char siu. It was a relaxing evening, which was much welcomed.

  • Admittedly, it is refreshing to write a shorter post not for Harukana Receive – time makes fools of everyone, and with the summer season drawing to a close, I look into the autumn anime season now to see what shows I am watching. The two shows that catch my eye are P.A. Works’ Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, and Anima Yell!, which I’ve tentatively decided to do talks for after three episodes and overall reviews for. Beyond this, there’s Sword Art Online: Alicization (pronounced “Ali-sa-zation”, rather than “ali-kai-tion” as I originally figured it would be) – this is a big anime, spanning four cours, and I’ll be watching this, but not reviewing it with regular frequency.

  • Tohru’s father is the Emperor of Demise and strictly believes that dragons should not interfere on Earth. In some ways, he is similar to Odin Allfather: he has little desire for dragons to ravage Earth with their war and cares for Tohru’s well-being. Seeing Tohru living on Earth with Kobayashi would be to him what Thor’s actions on Jotunheim resumed a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, lending itself to the page quote. When a one-on-one confrontation between Tohru and her father breaks out, Kobayashi intervenes, managing to convince the Emperor of Demise to relent and allow Tohru to stay. Both Thor and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid similarly involve a higher being become changed by their experiences on and becoming close to someone on Earth, as well; coming out of their time on Earth a stronger individual for it.

  • After Kobayashi stands up to Tohru’s father and succeeds in persuading him to trust Tohru, she comes to the realisation that families of all sorts will have their differences and must work out these differences. This leads Kobayashi to finally visit her parents and, showing the impact that Tohru’s had in her life, Kobayashi invites Tohru along. This brings my Terrible Anime Challenge post to an end: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is certainly not terrible, earning an A grade (4 points on the 4-point scale and a nine of ten): it’s an anime that has deservedly earned its praise, and is also a reminder to me that my usual tendencies of procrastination means that I often put off watching excellent shows for far too long. There isn’t anything I can do about this per se, but the fact is that there are many good shows out there worth watching; Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of them.

Consequently, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an anime that I can easily relate to and recommend to viewers: simultaneously hilarious and introspective, making use of both the extraordinary and the mundane, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid shows that the boundary between the normal and incredible is blurred from a certain perspective because the ordinary can be just as important, not to be taken for granted. The culmination of these messages, with the smooth and consistently high-quality animations that Kyoto Animation is known for, strong voice acting and a generally engaging story, means that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is well-deserving of the praises the anime have earned. With the manga still ongoing, this is a series I would have no trouble in following should a continuation be made, and it is only now that I will remark that the reason I had not watched Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid sooner was because I began watching the series out of order, fell behind in watching the series and then decided to shelve the series until it finished. However, I am glad that the series did not fall to the back of my mind; sufficient excitement in the community led me to pick Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid back up, to see if the series was indeed worthy of the acclaim it has garnered, and now that I’ve finished, I think that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes”.

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