The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid
How would you rate episode 1 of
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid ?
What is this?
Long, long ago (sometime last week) in a faraway land (in the mountains outside Tokyo), a mighty dragon fell in love with a beautiful princess (a drunk and disgruntled careerwoman). Ever since that day, the carefree dragon Tohru has dreamed of reuniting with her lady love, Miss Kobayashi, but it seemed like there may be no place for a ten-ton scaly beast in the city. So Tohru finally decided to become a maid, offering to clean and guard Miss Kobayashi's apartment in exchange for the honor of living by her side and sharing her bed. (Although Kobayashi isn't interested in sharing things in a sexual sense.) Can Tohru fulfill her duties as a maid without burning the apartment to the ground? Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Wednesdays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
The original manga of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is tied with My Girlfriend is a T-Rex for my favorite monster girl series. The premise is just daffy enough to be different, as is the fact that Tohru the dragon has attached herself to a woman, programmer Miss Kobayashi. (Oddly enough, we don't know her first name, although her coworker gives his.) The plot, that a drunk Miss Kobayashi somehow stumbled upon a dragon and invited her home only to find that the dragon took her seriously, does hit on a lot of established genre standards, but in this case that isn't really a huge detraction. Largely that's because of some of the visual choices the series makes. Tohru, who goes between human and dragon forms throughout the episode, is noticeably bigger than Miss Kobayashi – not just in the chest department (she's a D for “dragon,” we're told), but in terms of her entire build: Tohru is stockier than many females in anime in terms of her entire body, and she's taller as well, with her especially thick tail giving us some hint of her size as a dragon. This all makes her pigtails and maid outfit somewhat incongruous, but Tohru is dedicated to her chosen role.
That's what implies that there may be a bit of heart to this story as well. Manga readers may remember Tohru's real reason for coming to stay in Tokyo, but the anime hasn't spelled it out yet. However, we do know that Tohru has lived a long time – she has nightmares about facing off against knights in armor and she references several dragon friends who are no longer living. We know that she has two buddies, Fafnir and Quetzalcoatl, but the fact that she calls them on the phone rather than visiting them implies some distance. It seems very possible that Tohru is simply lonely and saw a way to live a happier life as Miss Kobayashi's name. In that respect, her proclaimed sexual love for her employer may be something similar to how a rescued animal adores the person who saved them, although if the feral kitten I just rescued two days ago has sexual feelings, I don't want to know about it. On the other hand, this series could be providing us with something we don't often see in monster girl stories: a lesbian relationship.
All seriousness aside, Tohru's attempts at being a maid make up most of the humor in the episode. Her insistence on doing the laundry by putting it in her mouth so her “special saliva” can do the stain removal is pretty gross (and gets more so as the episode goes on), but her idea of cleaning by fire and cooking her own tail for dinner are pretty good. One of the best scenes is when she foils a robbery by turning into a dragon and just staring at the would-be thieves; there's a lot of humor that can be had via unexpected dragon transformations.
The English dub is looking like a strong one. That's in large part due to Leah Clark's Miss Kobayashi, who has a wonderful deadpan delivery that makes her sound overworked and tired not just in the situation, but as if those things are part of her very being. It's as if her voice is dragging itself out of bed each time she opens her mouth, and that suits the character very well. Sarah Wiedenheft's Tohru may be a bit more of an acquired taste, although her delivery is very good – the high-pitched tone and occasional squeak do fit the character, but it sounds at times as if she's trying too hard to achieve the same pitch as her Japanese counterpart, Yuki Kuwahara. We don't hear too much of the rest of the characters in this first episode, though Garret Storms' Fafnir sounds like he's going to be excellent, and Jeff Johnson's Takiya seems to hit the right laid-back note. At this point we know enough of both Jad Saxton's and Jamie Marchi's work to extrapolate from their brief lines as Kanna and Lucoa respectively that they're going to be good, and thus far the writing feels close enough to the original that it doesn't feel rewritten while still making a couple of adjustments to sound more like natural English.
Of course, that also comes with pitfalls – there's already been one line choice that doesn't sit well with everyone, where Kobayashi responds to Tohru's avowal of sexual love/attraction. In the sub, the line is translated as, “But I'm a woman,” while the dub switches it to “But I'm not into women,” which on the surface seems harmless enough but could also be interpreted as a rejection of the homoerotic themes that do take hold later in the series. This is troubling, given that part of the appeal of the show is that it features a potential lesbian couple (and having read the first two volumes of the manga, there is real potential for actual coupledom), but even if you aren't looking at it from a representation angle, it could be interpreted as contradictory to the series' basic premise. Hopefully it's an issue which will be fixed when the series is released on disc as being due to the pressure of getting the simuldub out and not a sign of how the characters' relationship is going to be treated by the dub.
Whether or not the show can keep things moving will depend on how much the plot relies on actual events versus Tohru doing weird dragon things. With several new characters in the offing and a whole history to explore, I'm fairly hopeful that things will continue to be fun.
I think if someone had only told me the premise of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, I would've just rolled my eyes and sighed. Maybe I would've bemoaned our endless fascination with maids. I certainly wouldn't have expected to like it as much as I did, nor laugh as much as I did. Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is legitimately funny, balancing a mix of bawdy humor and deadpan absurdity. The scene where Tohru recounts with stone-faced seriousness all the ways her dragon friends have been slain made me snort with laughter. The scene works really well in the moment, even though later Tohru has a pretty dark nightmare about being stabbed by villagers. I guess that's for later episodes to unpack.
Much of what makes this show work as well as it does is that the object of Tohru's naïve infatuation (the shot of her in dragon form happily munching on Miss Kobayashi's undies is strangely cute) is a woman, and a surly office worker at that. It's just nice to see the script flipped for once, and it also changes the dynamics of their relationship. Tohru is enamored with Kobayashi not because of some sexual urge (usually meant to transfer directly onto the viewer), but because she's so pleased at having been invited to her home. Yeah, her adoration manifests itself with twinges of lust, but there's an innocence to it. And Kobayashi just likes maids, though more so the Downtown Abbey kind, and less so the ketchup-hearts-on-omurice kind. Because of all this, the viewer's relationship with Tohru is changed as well. We become observers in their relationship, rather than recipients of Tohru's love via traditional escapism. It's refreshing and different, for sure.
Having a maid that transforms into a dragon also allows for a unique take on the ol' "this girl is bad at housework!" shtick because there's just so much to work with. Tohru's answer for everything is hilarious and bizarre, from doing laundry with her mouth, to serving up her own tail as a roast. I rewound and watched that scene twice, because it's just so weird and good, especially the sight gag of Tohru eating it herself as some monstrous beast.
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid doesn't exactly have a lot of substance just yet, but it's a pretty fun watch. Tohru's stints in dragon form are cute and delightful, and I'm really looking forward to meeting her other dragon friends. The promise of that alone is enough to get me to tune in to the next episode.
Man, I don't know what it is about monster girls that results in such enjoyable entertainment no matter the genre or tone, but anime riffs on this concept seem to strike gold time and time again with me. (Okay, I thought Actually, I Am… was crappy if you even count that one, but otherwise!) Monster Musume was a top-tier ecchi show, Interviews with Monster Girls has gotten off to a strong start for slice-of-life, and Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid made me really happy as a goofy comedy with maybe just a little meat hiding under the surface.
First of all, how well Dragon Maid's humor will work for you is largely based on how you would answer these two questions. Do you find gross weirdness for its own sake funny? And do you find intentionally stupid punchlines funny? Dragon Maid isn't a gross-out comedy by any means, but most of its laughs come from deliberately off-putting aspects of its otherwise adorable maid protagonist, whether that be the big chunky lizard tail flopping out of her dress or her endeavors to do the laundry by coating them in her stain-removing saliva. (My personal favorite joke in the episode came from Tohru lopping off her own regenerating tail like a gecko and serving it as "roast beast" dinner to Kobayashi. The real punchline comes after Kobayashi's rejection: "But I worked so hard to remove all the poison!" Are dragons related to blowfish?)
While most of Dragon Maid's humor is fairly creative in that bizarre sort of vein, the rest of it is almost purposefully stupid. (She made her human form a D cup in breast size because D stands for Dragon, you see.) But beyond all the yuks, the real thing that elevates Dragon Maid from just another slightly irreverent anime comedy (like this season's totally-just-fine Gabriel DropOut) is its stellar production values and surprising little nugget of emotion snuck in at the end. Kyoto Animation has returned to its more cartoony bent seen in shows like Lucky Star and Nichijou with this one, resulting in wonderfully fluid silliness that works well as both fanservice and comedy. Even if the show doesn't make you laugh, its impressive visuals make it extremely easy to watch until the unexpectedly heartwarming conclusion, where Kobayashi and Tohru begin to establish a deeper connection as the little dragon faces some of her past fears with a slightly renewed faith in humanity.
Anyway, I dug this monster girl comedy a lot more than I thought I would, and it looks like there are even more types of dragons on their way to Kobayashi's apartment, so I'd definitely recommend giving this extremely silly little surprise a try!
The KONOSUBA sequel looks like it's going to have some serious competition for the title of the season's funniest series. And it's airing on the same day, too.
When Interviews with Monster Girls debuted a few days ago, some wondered why they couldn't have a gender-reversed version of the concept. This new series meets them halfway, as it still features a monster girl but this time the other protagonist that the monster girl is doting on is an adult woman. The result is a saucy little series loaded with plenty of both expected and catch-you-off-guard jokes and an equally surprising bit of sincerity at its end.
The key to everything working is Tohru. Her chipper, chirpy personality in humanoid form so starkly contrasts with what she actually is that the amusing irony is pervasive, but there's a lot more to it than that. She's delightfully frank, such as how she specifically clarifies that she likes Kobayashi “sexually,” and can toss off some truly stupefying things in casual conversation, such as casually replying that she's strong enough to initiate Armageddon when Kobayashi asks her how strong she is or insisting that she's “size D for Dragon!” when Kobayashi asks her about her breast size. She also has some jaw-droppingly bizarre ideas about what being a proper maid actually is, including the notion that her saliva can function as a laundry detergent and the utterly unbelievable business about her tail. (Seriously, you don't want to be drinking anything when they go through the sequence where Kobayashi is explaining to Tohru what a maid's duties are.) The bit with the would-be burglars is also priceless. Kobayashi is no slouch as her straight woman, either, as she has her moments, too; let's just say that her drinking heavily is a really, really bad idea. Kobayashi's male co-worker/drinking partner also shows some promise as a possible love rival, though whether or not he actually has any romantic interest in Kobayashi isn't yet clear.
Of course, even if it wasn't all that funny this title would still get attention because it's a Kyoto Animation production with Yasuhiro Takemoto at the helm. His comedy directorial record includes titles like Amagi Brilliant Park, most of Lucky Star, and Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu?, so he clearly knows what he's doing and that shows here. The artistic effort leans more towards the paler and rougher look of Lucky Star than the sharper and more polished look of Amagi or Fumoffu, but that doesn't stop it from having some great sight gags. It does have some fan service but it isn't pervasive or obtrusive.
Both the opener and the Next Episode preview indicate that more monster girls are coming – because, you know, one just isn't enough. That looks promising, and this season in general is now looking extra-promising for fans of monster girls.
Yasuhiro Takemoto tends to be associated with his drama works, likely because they're so good - both Hyouka and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya still stand as some of Kyoto Animation's finest work. But his direction of things like Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu and Amagi Brilliant Park demonstrate he's just as big a fan of gag comedy, and so on the heels of the gorgeous Sound! Euphonium 2, the studio are diving into something a whole lot sillier.
One of the things that most struck me about this first episode was its restraint. There were a fair number of loud gags and manzai routines, but much of the comedy here came down to the show's general deadpan tone. The fundamental joke here is mostly “an actual dragon in a mundane domestic setting,” and instead of that concept leading to a bunch of dedicated gut-busters, it was more the offhand lines like “stop licking the laundry” that kept this episode funny. I didn't really expect dry comedy from a show about a dragon maid with huge boobs, but between its snappy cuts and Miss Kobayashi's consistent commentary, Dragon Maid has a refreshingly dry comic voice.
Beyond that tone, I also appreciated Dragon Maid's adult cast, as well as the reliably strong animation. Dragon Maid isn't animated as gracefully as most Kyoto Animation shows (if you're looking for a return to Nichijou-level comic heights, you'd better leave those expectations at the door), but it's still full of strong character acting, solid expression work, and a bunch of funny style digressions. The animation of Tohru's dragon form is particularly impressive - it seems clear that the staff studied a bunch of big lizards to prep for this one, which directly facilitates the comic contrast between Tohru's appearance and behavior.
Other than that, there's not much to this premiere. It's inconsistently funny but relatively charming throughout, with a fairly simplistic but also likable cast. My main concern here is that the nonsensical nature of Miss Kobayashi and Tohru's relationship will prevent it from ever having any emotional heft - Tohru's feelings don't have any grounding, so I can't really relate to her concern for Kobayashi. But gag comedies don't necessarily need to hit on that level, and as it stands, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is already fine comfort food.
Given their similar subject matter, comparisons between Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid and Interviews With Monster Girls are all but inevitable. Of the two, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid seems to be playing closer to the usual formula at the moment. It has the familiar premise of a monster girl moving in with a regular human, and its humor is more on the loud and occasionally raunchy side. While it feels a little less inventive, the good news is that it's still pretty entertaining and offers enough small twists to distinguish itself.
As the “Dragon Maid” half of the show's title, Tohru is a little bit dim in a mostly appealing way. Sure, she's not exactly up to speed on little things like not murdering everyone who gets on your nerves, but everything she does makes sense by her own apocalyptic logic. Laundry taking too long to dry on a cloudy day? Spew fireballs into the sky until the weather clears up. Need to make dinner? Chop off your tail and grill it up, it'll grow back. Tohru's uniquely dragon-themed solutions to mild inconveniences provide some of this episode's strongest comedy, and it's easy to enjoy her misguided attempts at being useful.
Every quirky monster girl needs a hapless human to annoy, and that's where Kobayashi comes in. Her deadpan reactions are often right on the money, and it's always nice to have a protagonist with a real job and real coworkers. I also enjoy the sheer simplicity of the reason for her having a dragon maid in the first place: she went out drinking, ran into Tohru, and invited her home. To heck with all the complicated world-building that other monster girl shows do, a half-remembered promise is as good a reason as any to have a dragon move in. While I'm not crazy about Kobayashi's “drunken maid otaku” mode, she makes a good foil to Tohru's harebrained energy.
I wasn't sure if there was room for two of these shows in a single season, but it turns out there's a nice balance on offer. If Interviews With Monster Girls was a little to laid-back for your liking, then Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid should fit the bill nicely. It's more of a straight-up comedy, and its fanservice level is a little higher in case you were missing Monster Musume's raunchy hijinks. It lacks the subtler, more atmospheric hook of its competition, but it's able to cover a broader range of humor. The raw entertainment factor is already there, and there are some early signs that there might be an emotional appeal waiting in the wings.
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