The Infinite Zenith

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

Valentines and Hot Springs!: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid OVA Review and Reflection

“When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love.” –Horace Slughorn, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

On Valentines’ Day, Tohru is unsuccessful in giving Kobayashi chocolates spiked with a love potion. Kanna receives chocolates from her classmates and Kobayashi shares chocolates at work. Later, Kobayashi accidentally consumes the spiked chocolates from Tohru and becomes drunk. Makoto invites everyone to a hot springs; after a busy day spent relaxing and doing the sorts of things one might do at a hot springs, Tohru gives Kobayashi regular chocolates. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a unique entry among my “Terrible Anime Challenge” series in many ways – besides being an absolutely engaging and enjoyable series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid also has an OVA that accompanied the seventh BD volume. Par the course for an OVA, it’s an opportunity to have the characters play off one another in romance, and further becomes a thinly-veiled justification to put the characters in a hot springs; traditionally, episodes such as these contribute very little to the narrative. However, this is not to say that OVAs are devoid of value, and my enjoyment of OVAs typically come from presenting characters in a much more relaxed, or even whimsical moment that shows different aspects to their personalities. In Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Fafnir is given more exposition: despite his disdain for humanity, that he goes along with customs such as Valentines’ Day and hot springs trips in reasonable accordance with Makoto indicates a degree of begrudging respect for the things that humanity does.

A mile wide and a mile deep, is how I described Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in my original review: there was enough by way of themes in the thirteen episodes dealing with acceptance of new culture, the importance of family, shifts in perspective through immersion, not taking things for granted, et cetera, such that audiences could relate to various aspects of the show in their own manner of choosing. Without deliberately and forcibly pressing its messages, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid presents ideas through everyday events, having the characters learn and discover things naturally. All of this is encapsulated in comedy, making the characters more relatable. The OVA does the same in its shorter runtime – it is a miniaturised Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, condensing the style and sense of the entire series into a single episode and providing the unique brand of humour the series is known for. In particular, Tohru’s attempts to seduce Kobayashi using a love potion, and Kobayashi catching on was quite amusing. It should be no surprise that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid utilises its world well to set up humour, and the jokes seen in the OVA have lost none of their potency.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Twenty screenshots for a single OVA is usually the norm for a full-fledged series that I’m writing for, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is no exception. Had I done a more conventional review for this series, I would’ve likely given things a thirty-screenshot talk. Even now, I’m impressed that what looked to be a frivolous series could cover so many interesting topics adequately over so short a run.

  • It’s no surprise that at this point in time, Kobayashi has known Tohru long enough so that she immediately suspects that there’s something funny in the Valentine’s chocolates. While Tohru might be a dragon more powerful and terrible than even J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ancalagon the Black, Kobayashi always manages to rein in Tohru with naught more than a glance. During the screen capture session, I managed to obtain a hilarious frame of Tohru pulling the chocolates away from Kobayashi, declaring it to be a defective batch, after Kobayashi warns her about spiking the chocolate.

  • Misunderstandings involving Kanna are always defused quickly in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and after Riko wonders why everyone is so quick to give Kanna chocolates, Kanna asks for Riko’s chocolates, as well. Despite not receiving any chocolates in return, Kanna’s chosen approach, to eat the chocolate straight out of Riko’s hands, sends her into a bliss.

  • Back home, Kanna’s want for chocolate leads her to find the chocolate that Tohru’s hidden away. This is the chocolate spiked with love potion: chemicals that alter one’s brain chemistry to induce sexual desire certainly exist (aphrodisiacs), the love potions of fiction are liquid medicines that can induce feelings of love. J.K. Rowling writes that no artificial substance could recreate something as complex as love: her love potions only induce infatuation over short periods of time. Given Tohru’s reactions while adding love potion to the chocolate, one would suppose that she’s aware of this.

  • According to Pottermore, the countermeasure for a love potion involves, Wiggentree twigs and Gurdyroot mixed with castor oil. I’m willing to bet that magical substances in the twigs and Gurdyroot must interact in some way with the triester of glycerol and ricinoleic acid in castor oil to neutralise whatever agents are in the love potion. The love potions of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid work differently, and although some claim that the ethanol “cancelled out” the love potion, from a chemistry perspective, this is incorrect. The ethanol present would have been altered in some way (decomposition, or replacement) so that distinct ethanol properties (e.g. inducing drunkenness) would no longer be present. Instead, I’m guessing that the ethanol acted as a catalyst for another reaction with one of the ingredients Tohru added, or else was a non-player in the reaction that neutralised the love potion. Either way, it results in some comedy of the likes not previously seen in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.

  • The OVA consists of two distinct acts, with the second being set around the group’s hot springs trip. They reach the onsen by means of the shinkansen. It typifies anime for depicting various aspects of everyday life in Japan with high faithfulness, and one of the stories I frequently hear is that people often will visit Japan with the aim of recreating their anime experiences, right down to riding trains and the like. For me, riding the trains of Japan were no different than the MTR of Hong Kong, or the LRT back home.

  • When I was in Japan last year, one of my favourite experiences was indeed the onsen. While I live fairly close to the Rocky Mountains and the hot springs of Banff, the geothermal waters of our national parks are actually quite mild in temperature. By comparison, the waters of an onsen were perfect, and I melted in the warm waters of the pool. I had the place to myself that evening, and one thing I noticed was that the (female) cleaning staff seem to have no aversions to continuing their work while I changed.

  • Watching Elma enjoying her food in bliss is most relatable: according to meterologists, we’re significantly colder than seasonal, and the past three weeks that I’ve been back home were characterised by non-stop overcast misery, gloom, and snowfall. Coupled with the chilly weather, I succumbed to a cold and spent several hours of each day in the past week sleeping. Despite this, I’m still getting my work done, and I’m on the mend now. Yesterday, I stepped out for dinner under moody skies: having recovered a fair bit, I decided it was prudent to enjoy myself but not eat too much, so I had a chicken steak sizzling plate with mushroom and red-wine sauce, corn, egg-fried-rice and fries at the local bistro. Dark chicken meat is my go-to meat of choice when I’m not at my best – highly nutritious, it’s also tender and tasty.

  • I often feel that, if I had a sauna at hand, I could spend a quarter hour in there upon feeling the onset of a cold. One of the classic methods to lessen the severity of a cold that my parents employ, is to drink 盒仔茶 (jyutping hap6 zai2 caa4, known more commonly as Kam Wo Tea), a bitter herbal tea with centuries of history. I’m personally on the rocks about its efficacy in stopping a cold, since I always end up requiring a day to rest regardless of whether or not I take it, but as far as relieving a sore throat goes, Kam Wo Tea does eliminate it within a day if taken right when one feels a cold incoming.

  • One way or another, with this cold largely behind me, I’m going to return to my routine very soon. I’ve noticed that blogging output for this past month has dropped by half: things have been remarkably busy of late. With this being said, as we move into October, and the fall anime season, posts will come out at a slow and steady rate. A few shows have caught my eye and together with the continuation of my CLANNAD review at the ten year anniversary, I think that this blog will continue to endure for a little while longer.

  • All of the dragons have a noticeable bust, and because my previous Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid post did not do so, I’ll capitalise on this post to feature one of Elma. Her constant bickering with Tohru, weakness in foods and interactions with Kobayashi are fun to watch. Earlier, a short skit in the OVA shows Elma trying to make chocolates of her own, but fails to create anything to give away, as she ends up eating all of the ingredients. Far from Tolkien’s clever and cunning fire-breathers, or Rowling’s untamed beasts, the dragons of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid are much more human in nature despite their origins being both fallible and adorable.

  • Kobayashi’s decision to chill with Kanna draws ire from both Riko and Tohru, after Kobayashi wonders why all dragons manifest as attractive humans. When asked about what she looks like, the images of Kobayashi in dragon form are not particularly illuminating. It is common practise to drink cold milk after a soak in the hot springs, but during my trip to Japan, I did not bring any change with me for the vending machines, only having small bills the machines did not accept. However, I did have a bottle of cold water, and downed this in the blink of an eye, so I can attest to the refreshing properties of a cold beverage after exiting the onsen.

  • Because I was on a schedule, my next move was to hit the hay so as to be rested for the next day’s itinerary. The cast of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid have home field advantage: their vacation is the onsen, so they make use of the inn’s amenities, and play ping pong here. After a spirited match between Tohru and Elma, Riko and Kanna play a much slower match that Kobayashi enjoys watching.

  • Shouta immediately hits the hay after growing flustered upon seeing Quetzalcoatl and Elma. The same age as Riko and Kanna, Shouta is portrayed as being typical of boys his age – he is not so good with teasing, and earlier, storms off after Quetzalcoatl asks if he’s interested in a souvenir. Makoto has the sense to understand that Shouta was interested in the sword keychain and buys one for him.

  • While Riko and Kanna are fast asleep, Tohru and Kobayashi share another moment together. Compared to Kyoto Animation’s other works, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is comparatively simpler in terms of artwork; the impressive lighting and visual effects of things like Hibike! Euphonium or Violet Evergarden are absent, and the anime is more in line with the likes of Tamako Market in its design. However, the animation itself remains of a solid quality, and I imagine that Kyoto Animation carefully picks the appropriate level of detail for each anime that it does.

  • This is not to say that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has poor artwork: a look at the town by night shows that even while working in a simpler environment, Kyoto Animation nonetheless presents it in a rich, appropriate manner to best capture the emotions of a particular moment. The warm lights of the town here stand in contrast with the cool of the night, and sets the mood for a romantic exchange between Tohru and Kobayashi.

  • It turns out that Tohru had made chocolates properly for Kobayashi, and this time, Koyabashi decides that Tohru is being honest with her feelings in this exchange. Audiences will have also picked up on the differences – the Tohru trying to give the spiked chocolates away was more sly and mischievous, whereas here, Tohru exhibits the same nerves that might be seen when giving chocolates to one’s love interest.

  • Kobayashi accepts the gift and munches on the chocolates, before holding her hand out to Tohru and offering to walk back together to the inn. I realise that I am not particularly well-received in some places for my so-called refusal to address yuri in my discussion, and I’ve explained this previously – social and cultural ramifications are not quite as important for me when it comes to addressing this topic, and I only handle it if it is immediately relevant to a show. In shows where romance is present as a central part of or as a natural development in the plot, I will discuss it. However, where it is strictly used as humour (e.g. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? and Harukana Receive, for instance), I will typically not go into further details.

  • It was a riot when Tohru asks Kobayashi whether or not this is the part where they breed. It’s the most open attempt from Tohru yet, and while Kobayashi is quick to shut things down, there is no exasperation or frustration. It is doubtful that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid would ever reach that level, keeping things PG and only hinting at Tohru’s want to take things up a notch for humour, but this is quite okay.

  • On the way, back, Kobayashi speaks with Makoto, thanking him for having organised the tour and feeling that with everyone together as often as they are now, they’ve become friends. It is true that since Tohru’s arrival, Kobayashi’s life has become rather more colourful and exciting: for the challenges dragons bring, they also introduce company and joy that has a nontrivial impact on Kobayashi. With this post as my last for the month, I note here that I’m now six posts away from reaching my next major milestone of one thousand posts, and that I’m opening October with a return to CLANNAD, kicking the party off with ~After Story~. Following my conclusion of the first season, I remarked that I would continue to write about CLANNAD if even one reader expressed interest.

One aspect of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid that I did not cover in great depth was the overt attraction Tohru has for Kobayashi: I do not give romantic love between female characters much consideration unless it is present in a way that affects the narrative. In the case of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, the absence of this romance would mean that notions of family and discovery would not be as straightforward. Often, the strong feelings in romance drive profound changes in individuals, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is convincing in using this as a reason for why Tohru and Kobayashi change over the course of the anime. Further to this, a lack of romance would deprive the series of its ability to convey humour: in its absence, many moments would feel much drier. With this being said, it is quite unnecessary to read too deeply into this; past discussions on romance from an academic perspective have proven to be, quite frankly, a waste of time that yielded little more than hurt feelings. I’m in the business of watching and enjoying anime, not persuading closed-minded people to stop attempting to treat every series as a work demanding literary analysis and comparison with classical Japanese, after all. We step away from this matter and note that the OVA for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was released a shade more than a year ago, and with this OVA in the books, I imagine that this is the last time I will be writing about Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in the foreseeable future.

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