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Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“ …there were some good animation bits this episode…”
The episode this week unfortunately still thinks itself funny, giving Lucoa too much screen time, that is to say, any at all. I suppose the sins from episode 6 still plague us. Nevertheless, there were some good animation bits this episode, one of which unfortunately used its powers for evil.
A superb display of the density of human flesh in this shot, and perhaps that’s what makes it so cringy. The realistic elasticity of Lucoa’s hands and the near perfect depiction of the sun-tan oil bring the scene to life. It’s in the exact moment that her hands hit Shota that the scene comes to life. Even the slight sift in lines in Shota’s back depict a living, breathing body responding to pressure applied to it, the excess oil building up against Lucoa’s hands.
One of the things that makes water look realistic in animation is a sense of weight. The weight has to be just right: too heavy and it looks too solid – too light and it looks synthetic. In the above scene, Tohru and Kanna jet through the water at a breakneck pace. However, the whole reason we perceive the very slight movements of our two dragon girls as a depiction of speed is owed to the tangible resistance that water with weight would have. It’s a completely relatable feeling. Anyone who has ever been in a pool, or gone swimming in a lake knows that moving in water provides much more resistance and hinders speed. That experience makes the final explosion at the end all the more impressive from an animation standpoint – it feels real.
Last but not least is the fireworks scene. Tohru’s face goes from being serious and on model to bubbly and with absolute disregard for character designs. But what makes it so good is how the expansion of Tohru’s face builds anticipation (one of the 12 principles of animation) for the outpour of dragon’s breath. And as a special Easter egg, a kanada dragon can be seen within the flame. It was a nice touch, and far better than anything else the episode had to offer.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“This is becoming what I’m starting to call a ‘gif show’.”
Even though this episode is clearly titled as the “fan service” episode, there was a little too much of it. I’m not talking about the type of fan service that would make a Sailor Scout blush, I’m more talking about pandering towards the show’s intended audience: The Otaku Crowd. Everyone knows Otaku love their beach episodes and seeing their favorite characters run around at Comiket. Might as well smash all of those things together into one episode and get it out of the way. The events in this episode feel manufactured instead of an organic situation that these characters would naturally find themselves in on their own. While I buy that Fafnir and Makoto would go to Comiket, I don’t really see Tohru and Kobayashi being so willing to join them. Kobayashi seems like she only cares about maids and nothing anything else from the otaku fandom, and I’m going to assume they’ve completely dropped the idea of Tohru and Makoto being rivals for Kobayashi’s affection because Tohru helping a rival seems odd when she’s extremely possessive of Kobayashi. It felt like they decided to help out because the script told them too.
Everything that I don’t like about this show was pretty much front in center this time around. Dwelling on Tohru’s unnecessary backstory, the shenanigans between Shouta and Lucoa and the blatant fan pandering, all of these things took up a good amount of screen time this week. There where a few good moments here and there, like the scene with the fireworks on the roof was nice and any scene with Kanna is an instant classic for me, but they are short and fleeting. This is becoming what I’m now starting to call a “gif show”. The best moments in episodes can now be seen entirely in the gif images that you’ll surely see popping up on your Twitter timeline. You get the same level of context from these tiny gifs as you would watching it in the show proper, which makes watching the episode in it’s entirety a waste of time. Why put up with 10 minutes of Tohru getting pestered for photographs at Comiket, when you can just repeatedly watch the three second clip of Kanna eating a crab on the beach? I’m not entirely sure if being a “gif show” is a good thing are a bad thing yet, because while those moments are incredibly short they’re still memorable and worth sharing on their own merits.
I’m also curious to see where this bit of drama with Tohru’s father goes. It appears that the show is trying to draw a parallel between Tohru’s fear of being disowned by her father for liking humans and how real people are afraid of being disowned by their parents for being gay. This could make for some interesting drama down the line, but for now it’s a bit too early to tell how this will turn out. After all, this could just be the set up for a gag and not be taken seriously at all. I don’t think the show is looking to tackle tough issues like that, but I will be pleasantly surprised if they do decide to go the distance later on.
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“Dragon Maid elevates itself above the usual tropes of a fanservice episode by further developing its central theme.”
Quick confession: as uninspired as they can be, I usually enjoy beach episodes in anime. It’s an easy opportunity for fun summer antics among the entire cast with a context that’s easy relatable to just about anyone who has vacationed by the sea. More often than not this kind of setup sees a show at its most playful, though this particular instance in Dragon Maid packs a little more punch and a Comiket segment to boot.
Dragon Maid elevates itself above the usual tropes of a fanservice episode by further developing its central theme concerning the schism between the dragons and humans and tying it together with the warm communal atmosphere. Tohru’s internal struggles of feeling out-of-place are brought to the forefront once again, adding a layer of thoughtfulness and meaning to the cliché premise. Emotional scenes are carried not only by the usual high quality character acting but also striking direction by Noriyuki Kitanohara. There’s an elegant simplicity to his layouts, often highlighting emotional scenes with wide, mostly empty frames.
This carries over into the second half when the gang visits the biannual Comiket doujinshi fair. What’s so immediately striking is how lively they managed to make the convention floor feel. Considering how light most of the episode’s shots are, scenes with crowds feel truly grand as the wide spaces are filled by uncountable otaku. It also manages to keep the careful balance of comedy and purpose, and by the end Tohru actually feels like she’s had some real development over the course of the episode.
The only thing I didn’t particularly like about this one was how Lucoa is still mostly played as a walking gag. This could have been an excellent opportunity to further challenge the standard of fanservice episodes by giving the most sexual character some real depth, but alas, she’s stuck as a one-note character for now. Hopefully that will change before the show has run its course.
“Given the KyoAni artists’ evident enthusiasm, it’s hard to imagine this show merely being calculated smarm.”
And here we have the self-proclaimed “fanservice episode.” Thankfully, the skeevy stuff is dialed down a bit this time. We still get the usual females in skimpy swimsuits and lewd behavior from Lucoa, but they don’t distract from the plot too much. The main focus is on Tohru’s personal issues, and most of the eye-rolling moments are restricted to brief side gags. The funniest parts of the episode have nothing to do with fanservice at all: Fafnir’s and Kanna’s underplayed antics are much more amusing than Lucoa’s over-the-top exhibitionism.
The animation is great as usual, with some beautiful water and fire effects. There’s also a nice assortment of delightfully silly and expressive faces and poses. We get plenty of fun smears and running legs that turn into cartoony spirals. The layouts and backgrounds maintain their high standards as well; with some expansive shots portraying the massive scale of Comiket, and detailed renderings of the distinctive Tokyo Big Site building where the convention is held. I also really like the image of the characters resting on Tohru’s back while out at sea, her wings and horns making for good framing elements.
Like in the previous episode, the story starts out silly and gradually turns more serious and emotional towards the end. In Comiket, Tohru finds a metaphor for her relationship with Kobayashi; both are precious because they are rare and transient. The ephemeral nature of friendships seems to be a theme that KyoAni frequently visits in its shows.
It may seem a little too convenient for the show to use Comiket as a plot device. Indeed, there’s something of an ad hoc feeling to the otaku’s lofty speech. It probably doesn’t help being in the context of a self-declared “fanservice episode” either. Does this blatant commercialism cheapen the show’s messages of family and acceptance? I’d argue it doesn’t. Any commercial art must necessarily compromise with business considerations on some level. Given the KyoAni artists’ evident enthusiasm, it’s hard to imagine this show merely being calculated smarm. And it’s not like the pandering is insincere; anyone coming into an anime called “Dragon Maid” must have some idea of what to expect. The lovely art and pleasant family and friendship themes are a nice surprise in what one would likely expect to be a mediocre series. Perhaps a more salient question is whether KyoAni ought to be adapting this sort of material, but that’s a discussion for another time.