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Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9 | Episode 10 | Episode 11 | Episode 12
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“…it’s intensely gripping and emotional in ways I never expected to see.”
What a finale! While I wasn’t quite sure how Takemoto was going to wrap things up, this episode took me by complete surprise. It is a massive tonal shift for the series which has only alluded to serious conflict up to this point, and it’s intensely gripping and emotional in ways I never expected to see. Suffice it to say the episode sends off Dragon Maid in a wonderful way.
It almost feels as if Takemoto is revisiting his prior work in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. The narrative structure is similar, both revolving around the sudden absence of the plot-driving, energetic main character, and the visual dynamics are astoundingly close as well. What makes this comparison interesting, though, is how the void Tohru leaves affects the structure of Dragon Maid. Kobayashi’s family falls apart.
This is the highlight of the episode as far as I’m concerned. It sucks away the comfort, positivity, and even the color that has embodied the series up to this point, making us long for more hopeful times. It validates the themes of companionship and acceptance by removing them from the equation. It even utilizes somber musical cues that I’m sure hadn’t been used before this point. We get to see Kobayashi fall back into a kind of empty routine that we were never actually exposed to before. Even Kanna is hurt by these circumstances and seeks comfort in Saikawa, leading to a wordless, heartfelt moment between the two. It would be too easy to mess up this particular dramatic shift, but I was thoroughly impressed with how gracefully Takemoto managed to pull it off. By the time we see Kobayashi alone in her apartment, clothes strewn everywhere, sitting in the dark, we’re entirely engrossed in the momentary storytelling.
The final confrontation with Tohru’s father is great too, if only because we get to see Kobayashi escape her timidness and admit her love for Tohru in the face of almost certain death (though not quite certain, a bit of an irrelevant hang-up I wasn’t a fan of). It is pretty weird how she claims Tohru is her’s, continuing the questionable master/servant dynamics that were touched on last week, but the payoff at the end feels earned anyways.
My only other issues come from the length of the broadcast: the episode is too ambitious for its twenty-odd minute runtime. So many events happening in such a short timespan can feel awkward or forced, and though I believe Takemoto makes excellent use of each cut it still feels rather cramped overall.
So now Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is over, and honestly I’m having difficulty judging the show as a whole. It has many things that make me love it a lot, but almost just as many that hold it back. What harmed the show the most, though, was undoubtedly its style of comedy. In the beginning I praised the series for bucking the trend of shallow comedy anime, but it falls into its own rote routines soon enough. Utilizing character relationships as punchlines quickly got old and began to undermine the charm of many of the less inspired episodes. Of course there were exceptions to this, but too few to overlook these glaring issues.
Perhaps I should be less harsh in my criticisms, though. I did enjoy watching the series week-to-week; it is at least a pleasant experience and it does well to differentiate itself from Kyoani’s other series, though it never reaches the same creative heights as their greatest works. It’s a light, easy to digest show that I’m sure can be appreciated by most when approached with the right mindset.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“…despite scenes of brilliant cinematics, I was rather disappointed with this episode overall.”
The scene where Tohru faces her doubt is a wonderful example of why great cinematography is important in a visual medium. Taken alone and without context, the symbol of an enormous dragon skulking around a lone girl invokes clear feelings of oppression and paralyzing dread. The crushing weight of defeat comes as a second language with gigantic claws placed atop a downcast head. The imagery in this scene is striking with the ground giving way, and Tohru, unsupported both physically and metaphorically, falls into an emotional darkness. This is perhaps the clearest depiction of separation anxiety I have ever seen, and truly captures the fear of one day losing someone dear to you.
However, despite scenes of brilliant cinematics, I was rather disappointed with this episode overall. Now I can truly say episode 2 is the apex of the series. Granted, the finale is sweet and warm, but this is a message we’ve seen before with little new to say. It squanders what could have been an excellent opportunity to showcase the physical struggle between Tohru and her father, KyoAni instead choosing to play it too safe and adhere to the source material. Overall, the series is uninspiring and would likely be forgotten were it not attributed to a fan favorite studio. And honestly, that’s the only reason anyone watched it to begin with.
Frankly, I find the ‘yell at the millennia-old dragon’ resolution to be weak. The lone salary-woman lecturing a great wyrm over the finer points of parenting (cross species and culture boundaries no less) was far too optimistic to the point of borderline cheese. Even with the show having decided not to go with a climactic battle, the emotion would have been better served if Tohru’s father felt a very real love for his daughter rather than simply being the big badguy. It was too easy, too simple, and quite lazy. Maid Dragon has been a show to set the bar incredibly high early on only to walk right under it with no attempt at a limbo. At least Phantom World had that.
“All in all, a wonderful finale with more heart than I expected from the series.”
KyoAni knocks it out of the park! This is a fantastic ending, brimming with emotion and marvelous visuals. It’s hard to choose what to talk about—the story, layouts, backgrounds, and animation are all great. One of the things that stands out to me most is how perfectly balanced this episode feels. Kobayashi and Tohru go through a lot of moods and situations within a short span of time, yet the pacing never seems rushed or uneven. Each scene is packed with information and is important to the story. In a show that tends to meander, this is a nice change of pace.
The sequence of Tohru and Kanna living alone is likely the most powerful moment in the series. It’s effective because it’s so underplayed; there’s no mawkish crying or sentimentality. When Kanna breaks the news to her, Kobayashi can only reply with “seriously?”, an entirely believable response to sudden tragedy. There’s some great subtle character acting where she repeatedly adjusts her glasses and scratches her head, struggling to fully digest the information. In the following scene, we see her running late for work the next day. Tohru’s absence is quickly felt in the montage of bad coffee and increasing untidiness, yet life goes on without her. It’s poignant how Kobayashi and Kanna try to make the best of their circumstances.
I want to mention how this episode uses atmosphere and color. The sky is overcast in the first half; an almost featureless white plane. At first, it seems to carry a sense of foreboding, as we know Tohru’s dad is about to arrive. The indoor lights and delicately rendered field of flowers offer some respite from the oppressive grayness. However, once Kobayashi learns that Tohru has left, the whitish gray light starts to invade her apartment. The visual effect isn’t so much gloom and despair as it is emotional blankness. It’s a clever way to show what depression feels like.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a KyoAni show without a spectacular dragon battle at the end. The debris, explosion, and laser beam effects are top-notch. However, it’s not quite as graphically exciting as Tohru and Kanna’s battle in episode 2, perhaps due to the difficulty of posing the characters in their dragon form. At any rate, the climax had already occurred when Kobayashi first stood up to the Emperor of Demise. My favorite bits of animation in this episode are actually the mundane activities. The incredible care and attention to detail that goes into the coffee and pot reflects Tohru’s devotion to Kobayashi. I’m also fond of the scene where Kanna attempts to eat natto in a eminently childish manner.
All in all, a wonderful finale with more heart than I expected from the series.
“…and yet, it all feels a tad bittersweet.”
At long last we have come to it – the final episode of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. What did I think? What is my estimation of the closing chapter of a show he has taken to task nearly every week for three months? The culmination of weeks of repeated jokes, shallow characters, and uncomfortable titillation?
I loved it.
Unequivocally my favorite episode of the series, episode 13 finally delivers in a way that I have been begging it to for weeks on end. More world-building? Check. More bleed over between the two realms? Check. More character depth? Check. Less Lucoa? Triple check. After all this time, I can point to an episode of Dragon Maid and say without hesitation that I enjoy it; no asterisks, no footnotes, no need to explain.
This episode finally explores some of the underlying tension that comes from a character who has their foot in two worlds. Tohru faces challenges that are epic in scale but relatable in their scope. On the one hand an ancient dragon from her home dimension has come to bring ruin and desolation if she does not return, and yet ultimately this is a daughter whose father does not approve of her choices. This is precisely the kind of narrative I had hoped that the show would leverage from the get-go. Here the unreal specifics of dimension-hopping dragons are mixed with the all-too-mundane struggle of choosing who you are as a person when your family and your heart tell you different things.
With stellar animation in both the quiet and bombastic moments, some introspective moments that result in revelations about the nature of Tohru and Kobayashi’s feelings for each other, and a tender resolution that feels completely in line with the show’s mood, I cannot help but rejoice that it all comes together so well. Even my prior qualms about Saikawa’s ‘only joke’ and Lucoa’s predatory nature are largely resolved, or at the very least removed from being a primary (or even secondary) focus. What a fantastic way to spend twenty-two minutes.
…and yet, it all feels bittersweet. As a single entry, the excellence on display in the penultimate episode of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid needs no qualification; but it is hard not to look back on the rest of the series and wonder at the show that could have been. Obviously, not every episode can be a hurricane of dynamic animation or world-shattering plot twists; that I understand completely. But the fact that this episode’s optics were so finely attuned to the things I enjoy seeing in my media, free of nearly all the problems I had complained of up until this point, only makes me pine for a more consistent experience throughout. A tale of two lovers from different worlds whose love only makes sense to them, beset by forces without and fears within threatening to tear apart the beautiful – if temporary – refuge that they have found in one another? That is a show worth watching, a tale worth telling. It’s a shame that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was only that in passing.