Weekly Motion Cannon: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Episode 2

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ibcf (@_ibcf_)

“…this seems like a reflection on the beauty and transience of life”

One of the things I admire most about KyoAni is its ability to create rich, lifelike worlds within its shows. The studio never skimps on background details or incidental character animation, which makes their settings feel grounded in reality. The mundane environment acts as an anchor, helping us accept bizarre, fantastical events and simultaneously emphasizing how absurd they are. This especially benefits a show with a premise as ridiculous as Dragon Maid’s. Perhaps even more than Nichijou, the story and characters in Dragon Maid are defined by the juxtaposition between reality and unreality. The surreal visual of massive dragons soaring above the city skyline is convincing partly because it’s well-animated, but also because the city itself is so believable.

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A good chunk of this episode consists of Kobayashi’s dragons trying to adapt to the modern human world. We start with a sequence in a colorful shopping district that provides us with both fun action animation and a sense of routine life in the city. Tohru actually handles social interaction quite well until she uses her dragon abilities to run down a thief in cartoon fashion. The bystanders are startled and the expectations of our world’s reality suddenly hit her, leaving her scared and mortified. In the next scene, Kobayashi escorts Tohru down a sidewalk as well-integrated CG cars pass by in the background. This animation isn’t just there to show off: it conveys an active, bustling town populated by living beings. It also underscores the thoughts in each characters’ mind—Tohru’s fear of not fitting in and Kobayashi’s fear for humanity’s survival with dangerous dragon girls on the loose.

In the second half of the episode Tohru gives new dragon girl Kanna the grand tour of the city. We get some lovely backgrounds of the streets and neighborhoods, with a bright watercolor look that is both cheerful and realistic. There’s a perception of the passing of time as the colors shift to orange and violent hues, and we see people leaving the train station. Like in K-On!! and Nichijou, this seems like a reflection on the beauty and transience of life, especially as Kanna remarks on how peaceful the world is. These dragon girls exist outside the plane of human experience, but they recognize that humanity is a precious and fragile thing.

Of course the main attraction of this episode is Tohru and Kanna’s apocalyptic-scale “playing,” which is a nice counterpoint to the peaceful scenes. It’s a lot of fun, but it also serves a narrative purpose by illustrating the terrifying power of the dragons. Action animator Shinpei Sawa debuts as episode director, and his love for over-the-top movement and explosions clearly shows. There’s some killer poses and phenomenal electric, fire, and smoke animation. The rest of the episode is peppered with smears, impact frames, silly faces; the whole package. I really like the shot where Tohru’s arm and fist rise towards the camera in perspective for a couple of frames, making you really feel and anticipate the force of the subsequent punch. Once again, the KyoAni artists demonstrate that they can outdo just about every other studio’s action/effects work when they want to.


grant-wmcGrant (@grantthethief)

“The number one request I had – context please! – was mostly granted in this episode…”

This episode felt like a marked improvement from last week. The events this time are relatively simple: Tohru and Kobayashi go shopping together, and upon returning to the apartment are approached by Kanna. There is a bit of a heated discussion where Kanna attempts to get rid of Kobayashi, only to break down and accept Kobayashi’s invitation to live in the apartment. The three take a trip to the park where they take an afternoon break for fun, and finally Tohru and Kanna go out for a bit of exploration in the city.

Overall I much preferred this to the first episode. A lot of my issues stemmed from knowing next to nothing about the characters, meaning the comedy missed more often than it hit for me, and making the cast feel hollow. Episode two dedicates a fair amount of screen time to Tohru and Kanna, and manages to deftly insert exposition in a way that feels like natural conversation, unlike the info dump most shows use. There was a greater deal of world-building that expanded on the few brief glimpses from before, which not only gives the “monster” angle more meaning but also serves to underscore Tohru’s desire for kinship and belonging – with the latter element particularly helping my viewing. This puts a different lens on Tohru’s head-over-heels affection in a way that made it more positive and understandable, rather than seeming forced.

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The comedy also greatly benefitted from this new framing. By simply giving Tohru an objective, the comedic beats landed more consistently. Her mission to teach Kanna about the world they now inhabit and find what powers Kanna did or did not still have gave just enough structure to make the little moments feel connected and meaningful.

The animation continued to be a highlight. The most obvious instance is easily the battle sequence in the park where Tohru and Kanna exchange apocalyptic blasts with gusto, only for Kobayashi to find out that they are merely rough-housing. The scene is bookended by some stellar idyllic scenes of wind and grass, followed by a quiet moment shared between the three leads. It was as a truly tender scene that acted as a bit of a cooldown from the frenetic battle sequence beforehand, and helped segue into the more even keel of the remaining runtime.

Of course I did not enjoy everything about this week’s entry. The scene where Kobayashi is confronted by Kanna in her apartment and they hash things out had some vibes that I was not particularly comfortable with. It was not on the level of unease that the first episode’s bar scene gave me, but I still was not keen on the power dynamics or imagery being used. However, it must be noted that I did enjoy the still shot of the three pairs of shoes at the entryway of the home, a great way to establish the new household “family” unit with silent simplicity.

Problematically for me, Kobayashi also continues to be something of a non-entity. Her reasoning for wanting Kanna to move into the apartment is not particularly clear, and her character beats are basically the same from last episode. One short sequence featured her discussing Kanna and her style of dress with her coworker, which felt really out of place. I hesitate to say that it broke the fourth wall, because it was certainly a possible dialogue between these two individuals, but it definitely felt more like a discussion that the audience would have rather than actual characters in the narrative.

In the end, I mostly I found myself enjoying this episode, especially in comparison to last week’s offering. The number one request I had – context please! – was mostly granted in this episode, while still playing to its basic strengths of strong animation and boisterous characters. While I continue to have qualms with Kobayashi, the show has shown that it is willing to fill in the gaps, so I assume more of her background and motivations will be.


wyattJimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)

“…what makes it a truly worthwhile watch is the genuine heart that beats underneath.”

While the premiere of Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon had bouts of momentarily impressive action animation, episode two absolutely revels in it. This is due in no small part to the directorial debut of Shinpei Sawa, a top-class action animator who has rapidly developed into greater creative roles after graduating from the Kyoani School. Following the same path as his mentor Noriyuki Kitanohara, Sawa utilizes his passion of eye-catching movement to direct an episode that brings out the best in its animators, himself included.

Practically all of the gags in this episode are punctuated by some sort of detailed movement, be it big or small. While the flashy effects of Tohru and Kanna’s absurdly destructive horseplay are sure to draw the most attention, other overlooked bits of animation are just as brilliant. For example, the bubbly movement of Kanna’s tail as she pulls it from an electrical outlet is only a minor visual gag in context, but the loose drawings and cutesy sounds make it more effective and funny than entire seasons of less inspired comedy series. I said before that its execution makes Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon work, and this episode only cements that truth.

However, the big surprise this episode didn’t come from the jokes or the animation, but rather the heartfelt character moments that were interspaced between the outrageous action scenes. There’s an unexpected sense of bonding between Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna this time that gives more nuance to their interactions and makes emotional scenes feel justified and meaningful. These more touching moments are accented once again by Takemoto’s storyboards, which ground the show in a warm, familiar aesthetic that prioritizes the relatability of the characters over all else. This establishes a format that pays off well: the more extravagant scenes usually highlight what makes the dragon girls different but are punctuated by heartwarming moments that reveal a deeper, more relatable nature within them.

There’s always a certain sense of humanity to Kyoani productions that’s so rarely found elsewhere, and this series is no different. Their talented staff have worked hard to earn the studio its reputation as one of the best in the industry, capable of delivering both climactic action and moving drama. Here we see both in equal measure, and though much of the appeal of Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon comes from its technical brilliance, what makes it a truly worthwhile watch is the genuine heart that beats underneath.


jaredJared (@savevsjared)

“It’s nice to see KyoAni cut loose on this show…”

With its second episode, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid firmly established itself as the sakuga fan favorite for this season. Right from the opening scene we’re treated to a beautifully dynamic action shot when Tohru decides to try cooking with her dragon fire, and it only improves from there, culminating in a almost ONE style dragon on dragon brawl about halfway through the episode. I can only imagine that as the cast of dragons continues to expand we’ll see even more opportunities to indulge in incredibly well animated scenes. It’s nice to see KyoAni cut loose on this show and I hope we see more going forward.

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On the narrative side we meet Kanna this week, a small and super adorable gothloli that turns into a vaguely catlike dragon (and I must say, I’ve loved cat-like dragons since the days of Lunar). It appears that the dragons in this show likely take forms that reflect not only their age but also their personality. Tohru’s dragon form is ferocious while Kanna’s is more meek and cute.

The comedy continues to hit the mark, though if you prefer sophisticated humor you may find yourself disappointed. Dragon Maid’s comedic delivery falls very much into the gag manga or TV sitcom side of the spectrum. Still, it remains a fairly entertaining show, and combined with its wonderful animation I’d recommend it as one of the stronger anime of the season.


cj avatar circleCJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)

“I really like how Kanna mixes up the cast.”

This episode we are introduced to a new dragon girl named Kanna. Kanna’s a young, child-like dragon with thunder abilities who got lost in the human world while looking for Tohru. It seems that both of these monster girls are from another reality where magic is common place, and most have assumed Tohru dead after she went missing after a battle. So Kanna sought to go looking for her on her own, much like a daughter looking for her mother. When Kanna discovers that Tohru has started a relationship with Kobayashi, Kanna instantly hates Kobayashi for monopolizing Tohru’s time and affection. The creators handle this scenario like a child meeting her mother’s new girlfriend.

I really like how Kanna mixes up the cast. She’s not really interested in Tohru romantically, she’s just a little kid looking for affection from an authority figure. This gives the series a chance to give more dimensions to Tohru and Kobayashi’s relationship. Tohru fulfills the role of the “fun parent” who indulges Kanna’s childish needs of rough housing and taking trips to explore their new environment. Meanwhile, Kobayashi has to play the role of the authority figure who has to enforce ground rules and establish boundaries. While there are dozens of anime titles featuring lesbian couples I’m struggling to think of one where the couple were parents, so I do enjoy seeing this show trying something different with this kind of relationship.

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The animation in this episode is also extremely well done. While I’m sure everyone else on the site will be talking about the Dragon Ball-like battle between Tohru and Kanna, I want to focus on one single still-shot that spoke to me a lot. After Kobayashi welcomes Kanna into her home there’s a single shot of three pairs of shoes sitting in the doorway. I really love this image. It’s a quiet, uplifting shot that tells the viewer that Kanna has been welcomed into this wacky little family. It shows that there are three people living in the apartment now, and even though all three pairs of shoes are each very different from each other they all belong in this little home.


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4 Comments

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  1. >While there are dozens of anime titles featuring lesbian couples I’m struggling to think of one where the couple were parents, so I do enjoy seeing this show trying something different with this kind of relationship.

    I mean, I can name two couples right off the top of my head and they are only two of the most famous sets of Anime Lesbians there are.


    (I have no earthly idea what markup these comments accept…)

    Good article overall though. That just sorta leaped out at me because its actually more common than you’d think. Heck, Precure just finished a season with this as one of its major concepts.

    Like

    • To be fair, most of my Sailor Moon knowledge comes from the DiC Dub. Also I’m not sure what that first image is from. Interested in watching it though. And I don’t follow Precure. Nothing against it, just a lot of anime with so little time. Which Precure was it?

      Like

      • That first image shows Vivio and her mums, Fate and Nanoha, from the Mahou Shoujou Lyrical Nanoha series’ third season. It’s about the most famous “well, canon says they’re just really really good friends, but they sleep together in one bed and adopted their daughter together who established her own harem of magical girls” lesbian couple in anime.It takes a while to get to that point, with Nanoha spending the entire first season “befriending” Fate while both are still in middle school and it takes another series plus a ten year timeskip to get to them living together and adopting Vivio.

        Like

      • @martin

        Man, fuck that Nanoha shit.

        Like

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