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“…for myself I think the ship has sailed.”
We are well into the twilight episodes of the season, and this show and I continue our love/hate relationship. After a string of rather lackluster episodes with re-used jokes and little of the visual flair that marked its opening beats, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid returns to form and then some with one (very) large caveat.
Finally, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part, there is a sustained effort at world-building. The early portion of the episode is a deep-dive into Tohru’s day while Kobayashi is at work, showing us her daily routine and the visitors that pepper her mornings with brief reprieves. During Kobayashi’s commute home in the evening she dozes off and takes us back to her initial meeting with Tohru on that fateful evening so many moons ago. We then get a small vignette with Fafnir, and round things out with Tohru discussing her time in the other world in a segment that is both wonderful and frustrating.
The “maid” portion of the episode is not particularly enthralling, but neither is it upsetting or eye-rolling. It is a pretty mundane depiction of someone cooking, cleaning, and shopping for groceries with some genuine care put into the animation for these segments. Nothing particularly flashy or earth-shattering, but a real attention to detail that gives the world a great deal of verisimilitude, even when most of the cast are extra-dimensional shapeshifting dragons.
The real standout section for me was the flashback sequence and delve into Tohru’s past. While the new details surrounding Kobayashi’s drunken excursion into the woods are not completely earth-shattering, they do fill in some blanks in her relationship with Tohru and add much-needed depth. While I understand the benefit of doing a dramatic reveal this late in the game, I cannot help but wonder how different the show’s tone would have been if they had lead with this information. I think I would have had less qualms with the power dynamics between the two leads if this were the case.
I only had one real gripe with this episode, but it was such a problem that it looms over the rest of my otherwise enjoyable experience; that moment being the conversation between Tohru and the bandit in the mystical realm. The bandit girl says, without hesitation or qualification, that she would much rather be enslaved than live freely. That… oof, yeah, wow. Look, I am not qualified to tell you what is or is not acceptable and what crosses a line in terms of representation or character agency (in fact, I would love to see the talented writers at Anime Feminist tackle this to hear their thoughts). But I will tell you that this made me incredibly uncomfortable. I will certainly admit that this may have been a poor choice of words on the part of the translator, or that cultural views on terms like ‘slavery’ might differ and that I may be completely ignorant of a lot of subtext. Nevertheless, as a viewer I was immediately repulsed by this exchange. While before this, one could make the argument that Tohru only “served” Kobayashi in the sense that she was both grateful and in love with her, this discussion paints their entire relationship in a sort of willing enslavement that I frankly find even more upsetting than ‘dragon from another dimension adopts maid costume/duties out of ignorance in the hopes of growing closer to her human companion.’
Perhaps for you this sequence was not a bother, or maybe endearing, or merely made you roll your eyes and move on with the episode. I am not going to dictate what anyone’s response should or should not be to media, it is subjective and we all bring different biases and expectations to a given work. For myself, this was one of the most egregious moments in the entire season, smack dab in the middle of an episode I had thoroughly enjoyed until that point. I sincerely hope others are finding something worthwhile in this show, because for myself I think the ship has sailed.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“…that seems to be the goal in Maid Dragon, to find joy and happiness in small things.”
This episode was a proper return to form with sincere moments highlighting the dynamics of the relationships between the characters. Fafnir and Takiya’s bromance is sweet, and Fafnir’s borderline tsundere-ness never ceases to bring a smile to my face. The same could be said of Tohru and Kobayashi’s relationshi: whether you think it is gay or not, you cannot deny that there is love there. Tohru spends all day focused on making the perfect omelette for Kobayashi, and while it may seem like a fairly frivolous venture the relationship these two share charges the endeavor with enough energy to carry the episode. It’s not the omelette itself, more what the omelette represents.
As standard fair, there was also some wonderful animation this episode. Perhaps what made the episode so ‘sweet’ as I called it was the animation that set the tone of the episode – Tohru’s cleaning and the warm vibe it exudes. The secondary animation in the clip above, the full range of motion from the arms to the tail while the pigtails sway back and forth, all of it teeming with excitement. It’s character acting without the face, but anatomy and the timing of the movements create a body language that we can easily understand, one that we can feel.
The cleaning scene has perhaps birthed the most realistic and textured duster I have ever seen. Even though it isn’t drawn with much detail, the shading and subtle line work emulates a physical sensation that can be related to. The word I’ll keep coming back to is “texture”. The way this one duster moved was so impressive to me, I felt like I could reach into the screen and feel each microfiber – it’s something so subdued and clearly not the focus of the show, but I found it a honest gem of animation. Creating texture though visuals alone – that is a pinnacle of sakuga.
And then we have these smears. We’ve seen a lot of different animation techniques employed to show Tohru’s tendency towards frantic movement, and sometimes the simplest is the more endearing. Rapidly repeated frames with smears serving as transitions from pose to pose displays a sort of focused intensity while maintaining the comedic aspect. Notice again how Tohru’s back is to the camera, in a similar fashion, we are forced to extrapolate from body language. And that seems to be the goal in Maid Dragon, to find joy and happiness in small things. After the slog of the last few episodes it’s nice to get back to that.
“It’s no easy feat to make a huge, realistic dragon expressive, but the animators pull it off with ease.”
Just as I was starting to actively dread watching this show, it springs out an episode that does just about everything right. The beginning feels fairly standard, with Tohru carrying out her usual maid duties, trying to feed Kobayashi her tail, etc. But then Lucoa shows up at the door—wearing actual clothes! And she keeps her presence brief, and doesn’t do anything obnoxious. At that moment I knew I was in for something special.
We finally get to see how Kobayashi met Tohru. Their first encounter is wonderfully executed, easily the highlight of the episode and perhaps the whole series. There’s one of those great layouts where a character stands in front of an enormous monster’s face that fills the screen. Tohru convincingly comes off as both a goofball and a serious threat. Ironically, she plays the straight man to Kobayashi’s drunken antics. Both characters benefit from Chiyoko Ueno’s energetic animation direction, with stretch, squash, and silly faces galore. It’s no easy feat to make a huge, realistic (as it were) dragon expressive, but the animators pull it off with ease. The sequence beautifully establishes the characters’ personalities and sets up their relationship for the rest of the show. It seems a bit strange that they put this at the end of the series instead of the beginning.
We also learn what Kobayashi and Tohru’s lives were like before they found each other. Kobayashi’s old jerk boss appears again in flashback, still screaming and gesticulating in entertaining fashion. Tohru’s flashback is especially interesting. She reveals the full extent of her bitter, grumpy side, and actually comes across as a complex character.
Rounding things off are the present-day interactions between the supporting characters. Lucoa, Shota, Fafnir, and Takiya all get small scenes that manage to capture their personalities and charm. However, my favorite bit is with Kanna: Tohru says her name to ask her a question, and Kanna immediately responds with a perfectly timed “no.” It’s one of those rare, startling moments that seem to reflect observation of real people rather than other cartoons.
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“…it manages to be a thoroughly entertaining and well-animated experience.”
Taichi Ogawa and Chiyoko Ueno team up again this week to deliver the most narrative-driven Dragon Maid episode we’ve had in quite. This one’s just as visually creative and energetic as their previous collaboration, but with a caveat: it’s not cohesive to itself or the show as a whole. Still, it manages to be a thoroughly entertaining and well-animated experience.
The first bit is one of the usual self-contained setups that we’re used to seeing by this point, but particularly well executed. Tohru attempts to create the greatest omelette rice for Kobayashi by gathering ingredients from the dragon world, which leads to some charming visual gags. Weirdly, this scene is interrupted by Kobayashi dreaming of her life leading up to her initial encounter with Tohru, which had only been shown in ambiguous flashbacks prior.
Personally I feel this scene was rather redundant, especially coming so late in the series, but it also happens to be the best part of the episode. The animation is absolutely top-notch, full of stretchy and expressive character acting as well as more grounded and realistic cuts, and the fast paced direction accommodates the drawings nicely. There is a rather ridiculous scene of Kobayashi pulling a giant sword from Tohru’s dragon body that seems a little out of place, but the emotional payoff of one of the most romantic scenes in the series is worth making explicit. Cutting back to a giant omelette rice punchline after all of this doesn’t flow at all, though, making me think it would work just as well inserted anywhere else in the series.
Afterwards there is another flashback squence that’s similarly redundant and out of place involving the first human Tohru ever found affection for. It’s a pleasant scene with gorgeous visual effects and backgrounds, but I took issue with parts of it. First and foremost, there’s no narrative reason for the scene to exist. Tohru doesn’t need further justification to consider being a maid than Kobayashi inviting her in a drunken stupor, which was reiterated in this very same episode. Adding this additional contrived flashback is entirely pointless in the end, and the way the little human girl talks about wanting to become a servant is questionable at best.
I will say that by some miracle there was a good Lucoa scene this time. In fact, all of the side characters got short clips that did very well to characterize how integrated they’ve each become to human society, but Lucoa’s is notable for being the first time one of her segments hasn’t devolved into something awful. This moment between her and Shota may not be earned, but it’s appreciated anyways.
The episode ends with a foreboding dragon appearing from the skies, which I presume will give us the necessary conflict to wrap things up next episode. While I am not usually a fan of this kind of end-of-the-show surprise, I have faith in Takemoto to deliver a satisfying finale.