Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Cert 12)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 310 minutes approx.
In the same week MVM releases Mysteria Friends in the UK about the friendship (and possibly more) between a young human girl and a dragon girl, Manga Entertainment also bring us a show with a similar premise – although I can assure you this is all they have in common.
Kobayashi is a late 20-something computer programmer and a secret maid obsessive – revealed after she has had a few drinks – living alone in a tiny flat. One day as she is about to leave for work a giant dragon is outside her door. The dragon transforms into a young woman dressed as a maid, introducing herself as Tohru and claiming to take up Kobayashi on her offer to stay with her.
As she strains to recall, the night before Kobayashi was on a bender and ended up in the mountains where she met a Tohru in dragon form and removed a divine sword impaled in her body. Kobayashi then invited Tohru to visit and here she is, assuming the role of a maid to serve Kobayashi for her kindness. To say each other’s lives are about to change would be an understatement.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is the creation of the mangaka known as Coolkyousinnjya, whilst this anime adaptation is by the much easier to pronounce Kyoto Animation. It’s an often-raucous slice-of-life fantasy comedy with a deceptively astute narrative about the structure of a family unit, social acceptance, and integration between different cultures, sadly laden with some questionable yuri/fetish overtones involving humans and dragons.
Relax, they don’t go there – it is mostly in good spirits and played for comedy and for Tohru and Kobayashi, it stays on the right side of mutual affection. Before long, others from Tohru’s world come looking for her. First is diminutive dragon Kanna, a laconic, inexpressive bundle of cute. Kanna is bright and yearns to learn so she has Kobayashi enrol her in junior school, where she befriends Seikawa, who develops such a crush on Kanna, that every time they touch she explodes in orgasmic bliss.
Perhaps this is a covert way of exploiting Kanna’s loli credentials without being overtly sexual but mileage will vary, as it is still inappropriate, the only saving grace is Kanna’s utter naivety towards Seikawa’s reactions. One character who is problematic however is Lucoa, with her obligatory, ludicrously oversized chest. Brought to the human world by androgynous mage Shouta, she dotes on him like a mother, and smothers/suffocates him with her massive mammaries.
Lucoa is not just there to provide fan service but also to lampoon it too, the effect of her jiggly jugs being a running gag throughout the show (one admittedly got a guilty laugh out of yours truly) but her fixation towards Shouta remains uncomfortable. Japanese speakers might note a hint of satire in the way Lucoa addresses her young charge as Shouta-kun (Shotacon – geddit?).
Either way, Lucoa is the least essential cast member when others need more fleshing out – specifically taciturn male dragon Fafnir, who arrives to destroy all humans but ends up staying after discovering otaku lifestyle; and Elma, a late arrival intent on settling her feud with Tohru, but, after her swift defeat, runs out of power to return to the other world and stranded in the human world, eventually works at Kobayashi’s office.
Despite the pervasive yuri fetish and askew sexual politics, the central cadre create a fun and endearing chemistry where they all bounce off each other to amusing effect, the fulcrum being their diverse personalities. Kobayashi is placid and responsible but also giving whilst Tohru is capricious and energetic. Both learn to live with each other’s quirks and son the maid-master relationship melts into genuine friendship.
It is no accident Kobayahsi’s plain appearance – serious, short hair, glasses, flat chested, non-feminine clothes – makes her the assumed male of this dichotomy, in contrast to Tohru’s busty, vivacious, servile role, taking some of the sting out of the yuri angle. Yet, in the school sports day episode, Kanna wants Kobayashi there as her parent, likening her to a mother and Tohru as her sister.
The only time there is drama in this show is in the final episode (not counting the OVA in the extras) when Tohru’s father arrives to take his daughter back home. With fleeting hints in the early episodes of Tohru wondering about her homeland, this is surprisingly a plot point that isn’t given more prominence throughout the show to lay the foundation for the dilemma presented in this climactic chapter.
Otherwise this is a straight up comedy, following all the genre clichés, including the beach trip which is cheekily subtitled “The Fanservice Episode, Frankly”. The question is whether a cast of mostly dragons makes a difference to the generic plotting, and actually the answers is yes – most of the time anyway – because that is where the humour lies.
Yet, what ultimately compels the audience is how comfortable we find ourselves with the relationship of Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna, as much as they become comfortable with each other over the course of the series. To call them a family might seem spurious given the inter-species aspect, but the dynamic is certainly palpable, and like any good comedy team, their interactions make it worthwhile.
KyoAni are known for their distinctive art style and easily recognisable character designs, though in this instance they are beholden to Coolkyousinnjya’s vision, which sees a more loose style of drawing for the backgrounds. In the context of the show’s offbeat vibe, this works better than had it been meticulously detailed, and the silliness of the scripts allows for plenty of creative freedom when required.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid might seem run-of-the-mill on the surface but look deeper and a charming comedy about friendship and non-conventional relationships is found, albeit with a slightly dubious ecchi flavouring to it. A second season is due in 2021, and for this writer, it can’t come soon enough!
Japanese Language Dolby TrueHD 2.0
English Language Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Disc 2 Only:
OVA – Valentines and Hot Springs! (Please Don’t Get Your Hopes Up)
Rating – ****
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