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Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9 | Episode 10
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“I would have liked to have seen the show slow down like this more often…”
I believe it is fair to say that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has prioritized entertaining viewers with cute characters and comedic situations above all else. While it has gone out of its way to develop themes as well, outside of a few scenes early in the series it has seldom found the time to slow down and soak in a particular mood. Episode 11 immediately differentiates itself by foregoing the usual Dragon Maid structure, excising any sense of setup or plot to focus exclusively on the cast lounging around at the beginning of a New Year, and it’s lovely.
While it doesn’t have as much dedication to depicting the mundane as the infamous “Someday in the Rain” episode of the first season of Haruhi (undeniably one of my favorite parts of that series), Dragon Maid 11 spends much of its runtime focused on a single kotatsu. Basking in its warmth, the Kobayashi family spends most of their New Year’s engaging in the traditional holiday pastimes of eating mandarin oranges and watching nothing much on television. It’s very easy to get drawn into the same relaxed headspace, extinguishing thoughts of obligations and deadlines to enjoy the pleasantness of doing absolutely nothing.
Part of what makes the experience so immersive can be attributed to the excellent sound design. I can’t say for sure whether this episode in particular has notably improved audio or if the series simply had not had a situation that brought my attention to it before, but the atmosphere it quite unlike anything else I’ve felt from Dragon Maid so far. The short sequence depicting the events of December 29th is the highlight in this respect, free from any spoken dialogue or music and thus entirely textured by environmental noise and sound effects.
Unfortunately I don’t think the music selection had as much attention put into it, as there are a few songs that feel at odds with the slow pacing of their respective scenes. I do generally love the soundtrack, but I assume it was composed primarily to fit the general energetic tone that characterizes the rest of the series. These lively tracks will occasionally disrupt this episode’s careful mood, though it isn’t too big of an issue for the most part.
Despite being so near the end of the series, Dragon Maid 11 is a welcome change of pace. Kyoani has always excelled in purely atmospheric pieces and I am glad to see they’ve still got it. I would have liked to have seen the show slow down like this more often, but this late in the season I doubt it will find another opportunity.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“…let’s talk about a smaller aspect of the show worthy of praise: hand animation.”
Let’s not talk about the episode, because it was bad. Instead let’s talk about a smaller aspect of the show worthy of praise: hand animation. There were quite a few scenes I was really impressed with; it’s kind of surprising that the best pieces of animation this episode where less than a few seconds in total length. Nevertheless, hands are an important part of character acting. They are some of the first things we as humans use to interact with the world, and as such they express in the same way a face or even a voice can.
The first of these shots really shows the approach that Kanna and Tohru take to the lotto in the shopping district. You have to ignore the medium shot after the cut, as it has some pretty stiff and robotic arm movement that undoes the subtlety of the first second of animation, but putting that aside, there’s some great information to be gleamed from the closeup on the hands. The nature of the relationship between Kanna and Tohru, and older sibling guiding a younger one, is perfectly captured in how Tohru’s hands envelop little Kanna’s. The slow and gentle approach builds the apprehension and sweetens the possibility of winning the prize. Emotion is built just by a shot, and all that was shown was a pair of hands.
This next shot perfectly accents the awkwardness in Kobayashi’s voice. There’s something that lingers in the fingers, like she wants to say more, like she hesitates the let go of the cup. Even when she goes to put her hand back under the kotatsu, it lingers for just a split second longer than normal. Here, Kobayashi is speaking with her unintentional hand gestures, or at least, it captures the emotion. The subtlety in the animation is what makes it so believable, lending a deeper sense of humanity to the Kobayashi’s intentions.
Perhaps the more anatomically correct of these is the orange peel toss in the latter half of the episode. The movement in the wrist is smooth and fluid, but not too loose. It would be too easy to make Kobayashi’s wrist seem like the hinge of a saloon door, snapping back with too much force, or worse yet, making it too stiff to really give the throw a sense of weight. Tatsuya Satou achieves the Goldilocks sakuga standard, not too much, but just right – no small feat by any stretch of the imagination. But even better than that is perfectly capturing the crushing defeat of missing, knowing you have to walk half way across the room to pick up your missed basket.