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Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“ I’m glad to see the staff at Kyoani have the range to produce all kinds of wonderful animation”
Only a scant few weeks after Sound! Euphonium 2’s finale we’re blessed to have another Kyoto Animation series airing, though Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is quite a change from their previous venture. This gag-comedy falls somewhere between Nichijou and Amagi Brilliant Park in its momentary bursts of overly-detailed animation and conspicuous sexualization, and the balance works out rather well. While the material itself is still rather conventional, it’s the execution that really makes the difference.
This premiere was led by episode director Haruka Fujita and storyboarded by series director Yasuhiro Takemoto. It’s quite a notable opportunity to Fujita, who has been developing rapidly and could be poised to take on a series or movie of her own in the next few years. Her work on this episode has a good sense of timing and pace, both hugely important aspects for a successful comedy. On top of this, Takemoto adds his usual idiosyncratic flavor in a way no one else at the studio can, particularly in the blue-and-orange dyed flashback scene.
On the animation front there’s quite a lot to talk about. The setup is fairly similar to Takemoto’s previous series, Amagi Brilliant Park, with Miku Kadowaki acting as character designer and Nobuaki Maruki filling the role of chief animation director. Both of these two act as animation directors for the first episode along with a newbie AD Tatsunari Maruko who just recently made his debut in Euphonium 2. As expected the episode looks absolutely marvelous, and there are some scenes where Maruki’s corrections really up the detail in otherwise unassuming shots.
The key animation list is headlined by the incredibly talented Yoshinori Urata, who was just recently writing about studying the movements of reptiles and birds for an upcoming project on his blog. This research must have paid off through his exquisitely natural and believable dragon animation, easily the highlight of the premiere. Besides Urtata all of the other KAs are new, so perhaps Dragon Maid will turn out to be a huge staff-raising project for Kyoani.
Honestly it baffles me how incredible this show is. I’m not usually a fan of this brand of comedy but Dragon Maid is so well crafted that I can’t deny its value. It manages to be surprisingly tasteful in its overt sexuality and the gags can be genuinely funny. As much of a fan as I was of Euphonium last year, I’m glad to see the staff at Kyoani have the range to produce all kinds of wonderful animation, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle future episodes this season.
Pat ‘Suri’ Price (@Suribot)
“I’m eager for more and curious how they intend to adapt the rest of it.”
I discovered this manga series about a week before the anime adaptation was announced, and thus can claim to have liked it before it was cool. I would like to request some undeserved praise for this hip display of being ahead of the times.
Kidding aside, Dragon Maid is a fun little series and seeing that Kyoto Animation was picking it up for a series was a pleasant surprise. So far, they haven’t disappointed. The tone feels correct, Kobayashi herself sounds appropriately tired, and Tohru cannot read the room even slightly. I’m eager for more and curious how they intend to adapt the rest of it. The first episode is just about 1:1, but I can see room for some creative work in the adaptation, if they choose to go that way. This is the first time I’ve actually been familiar with a work before KyoAni went to work on it, so I’m curious to see how it goes from this end.
To speak to one stand-out moment, I adore the sequence with Tohru’s tail. The excessive and almost-but-not-quite gross detail on the cooked slab sells it for me. It LOOKS like a delicious overly-detailed piece of meat, but the slightly-off colors sell it as a transgression against good taste. Tohru’s monstrous silhouette going to town on the slab in a bizarre fit of autocannibalism is probably my favorite segment from the episode. With a few other scenes in mind, I’m eager to see more of this show in motion.
I will confess, though, that I am a little worried about how it will carry itself as it goes on. The manga isn’t done yet, but the series is light-hearted enough that it doesn’t need a rigorous plot recreation. I’d just like to see them do a bit of their own thing rather than slavishly recreate the manga and trail off near the end. Where we stand, I’m quite hopeful. Worried that it will taper away into a non-ending, but hopeful. This is definitely something I’d suggest keeping up with, if the comedy hit you the right way.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“I want to see more of this wonderful goofball comedy.”
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a show that works on a couple of different levels. If you’re looking for a simplistic comedy, this will do the job, but if you are also looking for a show that’s well made from a technical level, this will also fulfill that need. Even though this is a fairly simple set up, both visually and storytelling wise, there’s a lot under the hood to be impressed with on both accounts. The set up for the series involves a young woman named Miss Kobayashi drunkenly agreeing to hire a magical dragon named Tohru as her maid. While Miss Kobayashi writes off the experience as an alcohol fueled dream, she’s surprised when Tohru appears on her doorstep dressed in a tacky maid outfit. Kobayashi reluctantly agrees to hire Tohru out of fear of hurting Tohru’s feelings and thus begins the zany shenanigans.
I’m sure the others on the site will go into this a lot more than I will, but the animation in this is really well done. There’s a lot of good Momentary Editing, great attention to detail in the animation and a nice use to colors to establish mood. I really love Tohru’s character design. Even though she has this giant green tail poking out from under her maid outfit, you can tell she’s not human from simply looking at her eyes. They’re a beautiful ruby color with pupils that are a straight black silt down her eye. What makes them stand out even more is how all of the other human characters have very small irises. It’s a nice detail I like about the character design. Plus I dig how Tohru’s horns look like Shenron’s from Dragonball.
While this set up might appear to be another introvert/extrovert pairing, there is more to these characters than just being an Odd Couple pairing. Tohru makes it very clear from the get-go that’s she’s a mighty and powerful dragon who knows little of the modern world. While she is quirky and outgoing, she’s also very argent and prideful. She makes no hesitations about calling humans the inferior beings that they are. She’s only stooping herself down into a position of servitude because she’s madly in love with Kobayashi. Kobayashi on the other hand is a quite and humble office worker. While she’s reserved, she does have a rambunctious side to her that comes out whenever she starts to drink. She’s secretly obsessed with maids and likes the idea of cute, well-dressed women tending to her every need, but she’s aware of that depiction of a maid is a fantasy and keeps those thoughts to herself.
Basically, these two characters are in a Sub/Dom relationship. You have Tohru, a mystical being with enough power to bring about the apocalypse falling into the position of a Submissive role. While Kobayashi, the humble office worker, is the Dominant partner who can control her plaything in any matter she sees fit. While Kobayashi might not currently know just how much power she has over Tohru, it’s very clear from scenes like the one in the bar that Kobayashi is the one who’s holding all of the cards. Now the conflict in the show revolves around weather or not Kobayashi wants to be in this type of relationship and put up all of the wacky dragon hijinks. I want to see more of this wonderful goofball comedy and I recommend taking a look for yourself.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“Moments of superb animation play like a melody over a chord progression of character designs in a sweet chorus.”
The visual focus in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is awe inspiring. Part of that is because it has to be in order to overcome a rather weak and pedantic premise. This is a show that is carried almost completely by its visual presentation. Narrative pacing ( I use the term loosely because I do not foresee an epic tale being weaved out of this one) is dictated and carried by the heavenly wind of visuals that only Kyoto Animation is capable of producing. But Dragon Maid is not KyoAni’s typical style. At least, it’s not indicative of prior aesthetics such as K-On!, Hyouka, or Nichijou. This is not to say that Dragon Maid looks alien to the studio, but there is a tamelessness to the way it approaches aesthetic.
The naturalistic curve and pudginess that defines most of the studio’s productions gives way to a more simplistic design dependent on more basic shapes. Line work is minimal, with depth primarily portrayed through shading (clothes hardly wrinkle for example), which lends stylized effects animation with busier lines more room to play. Details are wisely distributed above the waist, driving attention to the most expressive and communicative areas of the body: the hands and face – and in Tohru’s case, her tail. The lack of lines lends drawn emotions a greater candor, while a modest charm exudes from the ease of movement. But what makes this different from the KyoAni style is not the final result, but the method.
With fewer lines and a reliance on shading, the second most notable aspect of Dragon Maid is how much open space is available for color to fill, swimming in richer tones and more vibrant hues than it predecessors. Yuka Yoneda’s color design guides the eye to what grabs attention and defines the character. Tohru is like a magnet for the eyes with her emerald green tail that defies color palette and unbalances shot composition with tameless appeal. In shot’s without the tail the gradient coloring on her eyes and hair is mesmerizing as the eye tries to sort out where one ends on the other begins.
Effects animation benefits greatly from this as well. Colors are more free flowing without separation, and lines hold greater gravitas when they do make distinctions and draw boundaries. These effects harmonize with the punctuated character animation that KyoAni is well regarded for. Moments of superb animation play like a melody over a chord progression of character designs in a sweet chorus. Really, Dragon Maid is best described as a symphony of sakuga.
“Let’s not play around: I do not care for this show.”
The premise: a magical girl (Tohru) shows up on the doorstep of cloistered nerd (Miss Kobayashi) and offers to serve in body and soul. In a twist that is only shocking if you watch shows without reading their titles, Tohru is actually a dragon who can change shape at will (as well as a number of other mystic powers). Kobayashi has gained the service and overtly-stated sexual desire of Tohru by a good samaritan act performed in a drunken outing the night before. While initially Kobayashi attempts to send Tohru away, she soon accepts the offer of the dragoness and they will live together in Kobayashi’s apartment.
Let’s not play around: I do not care for this show. This is an anime with basically one thread – sexual tension. While it gets bonus points for at least setting up a romance that is outside gender expectations for the genre, it does not excuse the fact that Tohru is not a character. In fact, none of the cardboard cut-outs the audience is introduced to in this episode really qualify as people. Tohru is a device, a concoction of tropes cooked up in a laboratory to sell merchandise (we get three separate outfits in under twenty minutes). Kobayashi is a standard self-insert protagonist (nerdy programmer type) whose motivation is essentially, “I must continue to rebuke Tohru’s advances, otherwise this show won’t run for the entire season!” The only other character is one of Kobayashi’s coworkers, a self-confessed otaku whose broad interests include programming and discussion maid-based cosplay trends.
In a deadly one-two punch, Dragon Maid also lacks any real plot or driving force. There is no antagonist, no existential threat, and no suspense. The vast majority of the run time is filled with aggressive box-checking, as the show runs through one non-sequitur after another in an attempt to show… something? It is not particularly clear. While a few of the jokes land (particularly the fire breath cleaning bit), most of the show’s runtime is spent jumping from one disconnected location to the next. What are the characters’ pasts? Their hopes and dreams? Do they have any regrets, any hobbies, or any family relationships? Is there something they hope to achieve? Is there something unique about the world that is outside the norm? The show does not have time to be bothered with such nonsense, and therefore feels hollow.
Now, that is not to say that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is entirely without merit.
There is some truly astounding animation at work in this show. In a moment where Tohru shows Kobayashi’s coworker her dragon form, the camera pans upwards and looms over him from her perspective and there is a delightful warping effect to the visuals that mirrors the transformation Tohru is undergoing.
In one instance, Tohru transforms into a dragon and uses piercing beams of breath to clear the cloudy sky and give Kobayashi a bright and sunny day. This also serves as one of the few truly tender moments that speaks to something more than raw sexual tension. It is a poignant character moment that utilizes the show’s monstrous protagonist in a way uniquely-suited to its premise.
Additionally, there are a selection of fantastic cut-aways and flashback sequences that use their own visual aesthetics to underscore Tohru’s emotions in those moments. In a silly aside pondering what “hold the fort” means in a modern context, she imagines a paper-craft sequence involving a dragon assaulting a castle. In a later bit, Tohru’s reflection on being attacked by a rampaging medieval army is told through still shots of stark crimson and black, while also hinting at a broader mythology acting as the show’s backdrop.
But a few minutes of stellar animation does not a quality show make. While I appreciate the great effort that went into some of the show’s visuals, and something of a nod to diverse character demographics, that is not enough to sustain my interest for half an hour. I desperately hope this show shifts gears and gives me something to latch onto, and soon.
“Premise aside, the show’s solid animation and equally well-timed gags push Dragon Maid into above average territory…”
Hey it’s a new KyoAni show! We’ve traded Euphoniums for Dragons in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and so far it’s better than I expected. It’s pretty funny, even. What’s the intricate setup of this show? Glad you asked! After freeing a dragon from imprisonment while in a drunken stupor, office worker Kobayashi does the only sensible thing one can do in that situation: making reckless promises. The next day, she opens her door one day to find herself eye to eye with the massive dragon…who turns into a maid hell bent on repaying her honor debt to a lesser being. This “dragon maid” (get it?) has no idea how to be a maid, and on top of it all, seems to be in love with Kobayashi. Kobayashi would rather drink beer in peace. This premise appears as sound as your average comedy story, where you just want to establish exactly the worldbuilding you need to set up your jokes and not much more. Premise aside, the show’s solid animation and equally well-timed gags push Dragon Maid into above average territory, at least in its first episode.
I wouldn’t call myself an expert on KyoAni productions by any measure, but Dragon Maid doesn’t look like one of their shows, at least from a character design perspective. Maybe due to the show’s source material being a manga, a comedy manga at that, they decided to eschew the kind of look you’d find in Sound Euphonium or Myriad Colors Phantom World. Instead, Dragon Maid’s designs seem to be largely faithful to the manga with some stylistic embellishments. Beyond character designs, you’d find the usual well-executed animation you’ve come to expect from this studio. I felt the staff did a particularly good job of capturing the immensity and fantastical physiology of Tooru’s dragon form, highlighted by the most well animated dragon eye I’ve seen many years.
In its debut episode, Dragon Maid serves up fairly standard slice of life comedy with a fantasy twist, with entertaining gags and banter between the principal characters. On the surface it seems like Tooru would play the loon to Kobayashi’s straight(wo)man, but I found Kobayashi’s eccentricities as funny if not more in many parts. This show’s off to a good start so far and I’m hopeful it avoids the pitfalls of any unnecessary pandering.