Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid
Complete Series BD/DVD
Miss Kobayashi is relatively content with her ordinary life - coding through the day, getting drunk and rambling about maids after work. Things are plain, but things are easy - that is, until the dragon-turned-maid Tohru shows up at her door. Apparently, one night, Miss Kobayashi wandered drunkenly into the woods and ended up inviting a dragon to live with her. Now things are about to get a bit more strange around the Kobayashi residence, as Kobayashi, Tohru, and all manner of other creatures contribute to a not-so-average everyday life.
There are few word pairs more likely to elicit raised eyebrows than “dragon maid.” The pairing sounds like fandom fetish word salad - like you threw two darts at a board of things the kids are into and landed on “maids” and “I dunno, dragons?” By title and premise alone, I was fairly skeptical of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. But ultimately, this weird little title won me over entirely. Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid does indeed have dragons and maids, but it also has great comedy and a moving emotional core.
It helps greatly that Dragon Maid is blessed with the best production team any show could hope for. Produced by the always-impressive Kyoto Animation, the show marks the return of Yasuhiro Takemoto to directing duties. Takemoto is one of Kyoto Animation's most consistently impressive voices, equally adept at handling goofy comedies (Amagi Brilliant Park, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu) and poignant dramas (Hyouka, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya). I'd place him next to Naoko Yamada at the top tier of directors within both the studio and the industry at large. And here in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, he puts all that talent to work in the strangest way possible.
The premise of Dragon Maid is pretty much all there in the title. Miss Kobayashi is a coder with a bit of a maid fetish, she stumbles across an actual dragon after a long night on the town, and soon Kobayashi and dragon-maid Tohru are living together. Drawn by Tohru's absence, the neighborhood soon gains several more dragons: adopted daughter Kanna, busty friend Quetzalcoatl, sullen Fafnir, and rival Emma. Through a series of loose episodic adventures, Kobayashi and Tohru come to better understand each other, and learn to enjoy their strange domestic life.
The very convincing articulation of Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna's everyday life is likely Dragon Maid's greatest weapon. Though the premise is absurd, the show plays their everyday trials and feelings about each other perfectly straight. Issues like Kanna trying to make friends at school or Kobayashi balancing work duties and making time for her family are treated with sensitivity and grace, making it easy to believe in and care about this found family. Kyoto Animation and Takemoto's general talent for capturing the beauty and humanity of tiny, mundane moments lends a weight and poignancy to the feelings these characters develop for each other. It may sound strange, but Dragon Maid is actually one of the better shows about families and parenting out there - by the halfway point, tiny acts like Kobayashi working late to take off work for Kanna's school festival feel like profound articulations of familial love.
Of course, a show called Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid has to be at least a little ridiculous, and Dragon Maid is pretty good at that stuff, too. The comedy is fast and plentiful in Dragon Maid, ranging from absurd sight gags (Kanna is an electric dragon, so her tail plugs into the apartment's electric socket, obviously) to ambitious, multi-step comedies of errors. The careful direction and fluid animation that elevate the show's emotional moments are equally well-suited to enhancing the comedy, and Dragon Maid actually embraces a looser style of character acting than most Kyoto Animation shows, resulting in plenty of great visual comedy. There are even Nichijou-esque “I can't believe they animated this just for the sake of a gag” setpieces, where clashes between dragons that might stand as the animation highlights of a dedicated action show are here used just to make silly punchlines.
Dragon Maid's music is also quite strong, again bringing Nichijou's diverse soundtrack to mind. The show has a solid stable of dramatic orchestral tracks for the more draconic moments, but more often relies on charming, punchy melodies that echo the show's domestic focus. The sound design is smartly tailored to the pace of jokes, and both the opening and ending songs are quite catchy. The show is a great aesthetic experience all around.
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid most often stumbles when it comes to the supporting cast. Though the main trio of Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna are all sympathetic, multifaceted people, their acquaintances aren't nearly as interesting. Quetzalcoatl's character comes down to two lame jokes: harassing the young boy she's staying with and getting in trouble for wearing revealing outfits. There's a little emotional resonance to Fafnir's relationship with Kobayashi's coworker, but he too is often relegated to a couple of one-note, repeated gags. And once her introduction is done, even ostensible antagonist Emma just becomes “uptight, likes food.”
That weak secondary cast can't really drag the show down, though. Even if a fair number of jokes fall flat, the show is so stuffed with different kinds of comedy that a new joke is always just moments away. And in the end, Dragon Maid is truly defined by its dramatic material - the bonds that form between the show's core family, and the lengths they go to to protect those bonds. I didn't expect Dragon Maid to be one of the best family dramas in recent memory. But I suppose family is all about learning to love these little surprises.
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid comes in a standard slipcase and bluray case, with the show on both DVD and bluray. There are no physical extras, but the discs do include the show's OVA episode, “Valentine and Hot Springs! (Please Don't Get Your Hopes Up).” That title is unfortunately correct on all counts; not only is this OVA split between Valentine and hot springs shenanigans, it's also just not very good. There's a little more fanservice than the show proper generally contains, but the segment is light on both strong jokes and satisfying family-focused material, as well as a bit more visually conservative. It's neither dramatically essential nor satisfyingly indulgent, and the fact that it's not dubbed only limits its appeal further.
Speaking of dubs, Dragon Maid's english track is strong on the whole, with Sarah Weidenheft perfectly capturing Tohru's dorky, exuberant tone, and Leah Clark acting as a convincingly grounded counterpoint. Jad Saxton manages the difficult task of translating Kanna's soft tone to english, but the other dragons fare a little less well; I felt like Jamie Marchi's Lucoa didn't really match her character's somewhat spacy persona, while Garret Storms' Fafnir was just a little rough performance-wise. Overall, it's not a perfect dub, but the truly key performances are all relatively strong.
Along with the textless opening and closing segments, this collection's final extras are the “Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Something,” a collection of self-aware shorts featuring the main cast actively scrambling to think up good extras for their bluray release. The concept they come up with is “what if the cast all just cosplay as something else instead of maids,” and the results are very silly and surprisingly funny. It's all barely-animated chibi skits, but the segment leans successfully on the strong rapport between its main cast, making for a generally entertaining time.
On the whole, this is a pretty standard release of an altogether excellent show. Miss Kobayashi's Maid Dragon finds humor and heart in the silliest of concepts, proving no family is too strange to inspire sympathy and love. I heartily recommend giving this strange, charming anime a shot.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Excellent visual production enlivened by plenty of great comedy and a stirring emotional center
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