Review for Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That’s just as true for anime, especially given the ridiculous titles that some shows adapted from light novels get. I have to say that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid certainly didn’t inspire me, and neither did some of the imagery. A busty maid with a dragon’s tail and horns tends to put me in mind of a different kind of show, a Monster Musume kind of show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that I already have Monster Musume. It was only earlier last year through by now well-known tragic circumstances that I learned that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is more of a slice of life comedy, made by the brilliant Studio Kyoto Animation. I was quick to place an order for the US version from Funimation (it’s yet to see a UK release).
There is a drinking culture for Japanese office workers, which takes its toll on Kobayashi. She wakes up with a killer hangover to a knock at the door of her apartment. There’s a girl, dressed as a maid, with a tail and horns, ready to move in. As Tohru explains, after the previous night, Kobayashi had offered to let her stay at her place, and be her maid. Sure enough, the memory fades back in, of somehow winding up halfway up a mountain in a drunken stupor, and running into an honest to goodness dragon. Living with a dragon seems like a bad idea, and Kobayashi is about to refuse, when she realises that she’s late for work, and it becomes impossible to refuse Tohru when she quickly and terrifyingly flies her to work. But living with a dragon maid is just the start of Kobayashi’s problems.
Thirteen episodes of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Funimation. There are also an OVA and some bonus shorts. This combo release also presents the show on 2 DVDs.
1. The Strangest Maid in History, Tohru (Well, She is a Dragon)
2. Second Dragon, Kanna! (We’re Totally Spoiling Here)
3. Start of a New Life! (That Doesn’t Go Well, Of Course)
4. Kanna Goes to School (Not That She Needs To)
5. Tohru’s Real World Lessons! (She Thinks She Understands It Already)
6. Home Visit! (And Homes Not Visited)
7. Summer Staples! (The Fanservice Episode, Frankly)
8. New Dragon Elma! (She’s Finally Appearing, Huh?)
9. Sports Festival! (There’s No Twist of Anything)
10. Troupe Dragon, On Stage! (They Had a Troupe Name, Huh)
11. Year End, New Year! (No Comiket Bit This Time)
12. Tohru and Kobayashi’s Impactful Meeting! (We’re Raising the Bar on Ourselves)
13. Emperor of Demise Arrives! (It Was the Final Episode Before We Knew It)
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. It’s a solid presentation, clear and sharp, with rich colours and strong detail. There is a smidge of shimmer on the finest detail in a couple of scenes, and the odd moment of banding, but the transfer does the KyoAni animation justice, along with the great character designs and the smooth animation. There’s a touch of the Nichijou style with the title character, but the rest of the cast conform to the cute stereotypes you’ll have come to expect from a slice of life show, especially one from Kyoto Animation. One thing to note is that the manic opening sequence is crazy intense enough to make the Blu-ray surrender. I remember when Haruhi Suzumiya’s opening became a pixellated blur on DVD. This show’s opening will make you want it on UHD.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. The audio is fine, the actors are suited to their characters, and the action and music comes across well in the stereo version that I watched. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
You get 4 discs in a BD Amaray case, 2 Blu and 2 DVD, held on two centrally hinged panels. You get an o-card slipcover which repeats the cover art and blurb.
The discs present their content with static menus.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Interview with Monster Girls.
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Gintama and holds the extra features.
There are plenty of extras with this release, beginning with the OVA Episode Valentine’s and Hot Springs (Please Don’t Get Your Hopes Up) which lasts 23:42.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Something offers 7 short animations which run to 22:02, and has fun with the characters in a running gag, exploring alternatives to maids for the dragons to be.
You get the textless credits, albeit with player locked subtitles.
Finally there are trailers for Koro Sensei Quest, The Morose Monokean, Monster Hunter Stories Ride On, and Fairy Tail Zero.
It’s astounding how Kyoto Animation can take something, which on paper is really quite mediocre, and still manage to create something special and heart warming. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has quite a lot going against it on paper. After all, the premise isn’t original, that of fantastical beings living mundane lives in ‘our’ world. The Devil Is a Part-Timer is the exemplar of the genre, and more successfully executed than this. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is also a fan service show, and not quite as wholesome as it appears at first glance. The dragon maid in the title falls in love with Kobayashi, and she isn’t the only dragon that shows up. There’s a baby dragon who winds up going to elementary school, and who gets a best friend that obsesses over her. And there’s the extremely voluptuous dragon that obsesses over a young boy. The character clichés abound, with the little grey-haired girl, the otaku, the officious one, and so on and so forth. Were it any other studio, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid would be a second-tier title. But in the hands of KyoAni, it’s a show that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Kobayashi is an office worker who lives a humdrum life alone in the city, distant from her family, and whose sole release is to get drunk with her co-worker Takiya when their collective otaku tendencies come out, and they can wax lyrical about their shared interest in maids. One night, a little worse for wear, Kobayashi misses her stop, and winds up in the mountains, drunk, face to face with a dragon. Tohru has escaped to this world following a battle that has left her injured, and she’s understandably not fond of humans. Drunk, or dreaming, Kobayashi doesn’t behave like other humans, and helps Tohru, and wind up inviting her to live at her apartment, to be her maid.
So the next morning, when she’s hung-over, there’s a knock at the door, and there’s a girl, with horns on her head, and a large reptilian tail, dressed in a maid’s outfit. And so their new life together begins. It isn’t long before more dragons show up. Kanna is a young dragon that transforms into the little grey-haired girl. She’s been missing Tohru, and moves in with her and Kobayashi, forming the family unit at the heart of the story. Lucoa is the voluptuous dragon who becomes obsessed with Shouta, a descendant of a dynasty of mages, who’ve been living in this world. He’s a young boy who is overwhelmed by this older woman who prefers to be scantily clad. She thinks he’s adorable, he thinks she’s a demon and keeps trying to exorcise her.
Fafnir shows up around the same time, a stuffy, male dragon that has the personality of an anti-social shut-in, and he winds up finding a kindred spirit in Kobayashi’s friend Takiya. They wind up living together, spending their nights playing RPGs online, and generally being otaku. Finally, Tohru’s sworn enemy Elma shows up, determined to defeat her and take her back to their original world, but instead finds a cheerful maid living happily with Kobayashi, rather than a dragon terrorising humans. She decides to stay to keep an eye on Tohru, and winds up working at Kobayashi’s office, and getting obsessed with food.
Where the show really works is that it gets to the heart of the relationships in the show. With good, strong character writing, it makes you care about them. Kanna winds up going to school, and on her first day, she encounters the class princess, Saikawa. She’s the usual haughty type, self-centred and officious, and understandably has no friends in class, and along comes this cute little girl with an odd perspective on the world, and takes attention away from her. But instead of competing, Kanna just wants to make friends, and she sees through Saikawa’s artifice. Once Saikawa sees Kanna treating her like just another person, she falls for her completely, and they’re best friends.
This is doubly true for Tohru and Kobayashi, the love story at the heart of the show. Kobayashi shows Tohru kindness, not fear, even invites her to live with her, an invitation she goes through with even when the alcohol wears off. Tohru falls in love with Kobayashi, and often tries to express that love by feeding Kobayashi her tail-meat (not a euphemism as dragon tails regenerate). The kindness results in devotion, overpowering at first, but as is the case in stories like this, the characters find a level of comfort in each other, which is only tested when it seems their relationship will break up (typically left for the final episode). Fafnir and Takiya’s friendship finds a geeky kind of comfort zone, and even Shouta starts to panic when he thinks that the overbearing Lucoa has vanished from his life.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a surprisingly delightful slice-of-life comedy in which cute dragons do cute things. It’s surprising in that the premise doesn’t indicate that it will be quite as warm and involving as it is, and the frequent bouts of fan-service can be a little distracting. But it has a wonderful sense of humour, that outsider observation comedy that you might expect from a quintet of dragons discovering our modern world. The narrative in each episode can be broken up with little observation vignettes which are quite charming, and it’s not just in the character designs that there is touch of the Nichijou. I’m still not too convinced with the Lucoa character’s obsession with Shouta, as it skirts the edge of creepiness, while the Elma character is pretty much disposable. But the heart of the story lies with Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna, and with these three characters, the show doesn’t put a foot wrong.