Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was one of those animes last season that it took me a couple tries to get into, but when I finally did, I could see why so many people were gushing about it. Written and illustrated by Coolkyoushinja — with a spin-off manga by Mitsuhiro Kimura — the series was picked up by Kyoto Animation for the anime adaptation. Most famous for Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyoto Animation manages to implement a distinctly moe style that enhances the moments of action through contrast. But its animation isn’t the only going for it. Kobayashi also creates empathy and moments of relatability through some truly heartwarming moments.
The story behind Kobayashi follows the life of computer programmer Kobayashi who suddenly finds herself face-to-face with a dragon one morning after a long night of drinking. Taking the shape of a young woman, Touru informs Kobayashi that she is her new maid. Touru quickly integrates herself into her new master’s life, taking care of day-to-day concerns as well as introducing Kobayashi to a few new dragons friends who are both curious and wary of humans.
I’ve talked about moe before is some of my other reviews particularly why an artist may choose that particular style especially for something that may have mature or serious undertones. The use of the moe style in this series mirrors other shows such as I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying in that it uses its cute designs as a way to subvert our understandings of what can be considered as for older audiences. Moe, much in the same vein as other cartoons or comics, uses a style that one would associate more with a show geared towards a younger audience to discuss serious aspects like sex, relationships, and emotional issues you may not find in children’s shows. I don’t think the clash between moe and message clashes as much as in the series I mentioned above, but it can lessen the expectations of what the show will ultimately be about at first glance, allowing for some surprise when the show does begin to touch on more serious subjects. However, one could also say that this is just a product of kawaii culture that has permeated everything in Japan, but that deserves an article all to itself.
Overall, though, Kyoto Animation did a great job with the series. The character designs are interesting, each dragon having their own unique style that seems to relate to their general personality and origin. The distinct moe style is frequently interrupted by fantastically animated action sequences which provide enough contrast to really make them stand out. I particularly liked the clash of Touru’s dragon form when displayed next to Kobayashi’s character design. I think it started to remind me a little bit of The Devil is a Part Timer in how they used the differing animation styles to portray moments of magic or otherworldliness. I don’t think this show has as clear of a divide as that one did, but it’s enough to highlight those moments of magic and action and really bring them to the forefront. But that also doesn’t mean that the other scenes are any less in comparison. Kyoto Animation gives these everyday scenes a fairly nostalgic vibe, creating a great background from which the stories more heartwarming scenes can flourish.
And there is no shortage of heartwarming moments leading up to a great finale episode that honestly made me shed a few tears. One of the greatest parts of this anime, though, is how they have structured each scene to tell the most about a character with as little exposition as possible. The scene composition surrounding Kobayashi alone was enough for me to get a very good look at who she was as a character. I wish I had the time to deconstruct some scenes for you guys, but there are many other people who have done and do it better than I ever could (eg. Mother’s Basement and The Pedantic Romantic on Youtube). I’ll leave the heavily in-depth analysis to them, but I wanted to point out the kinds of non-verbal storytelling that Kyoto Animation uses in this series. If you wind up watching even rewatching this series, I highly suggest you pay attention to the kind of eye-contact and body language that Kobayashi uses in relation to the characters around her. The ways that she interacts with the other characters in these ways shows a lot about her personality as a loner and someone who doesn’t have a lot of social experience. The moments when she makes eye-contact and the moments when she looks away help establish the boundaries she sets for herself in terms of personal relationships. She’s awkward and doesn’t quite know how to get close to people or express her emotions, and all of this is shown in the simplest yet most relatable ways.
But what I think sells this series for me as a lover of romance is how the writers treat the relationship between Kobayashi and Touru. This is essentially a yuri show with the romance being an element that is heavily downplayed but winds up being an important feature. It gets wrapped into the show’s other plot of building a family as Kanna becomes a steadily stronger character. This is, in a way, refreshing as someone who has never really been able to find a yuri show that didn’t use it as a gimmick of some kind. The fact that the romance is downplayed is an important aspect of the show as well since it relates to how Kobayashi has trouble becoming closer with people. The romance increases only moves forward when Kobayashi makes the choice, and the fact that she doesn’t show Touru enough affection is an important aspect of the show and their relationship overall.
When we look at how Kanna fits into their relationship, we see the slow building up of a sense of family. This is important in that each character in this makeshift family have issues with their true families. They see in each other people that can understand what they’re going through and a chance to build the kind of support they never had. This again becomes evident in the small moments — the human moments — such as when they Kanna shopping for school supplies or when Kobayashi works overtime just to make it to Kanna’s sports day. These are all moments that deepen our understanding of these characters both as individuals and as a family. And while the show does employ the gimmicks of maids and dragons to get you to watch, it really keeps you watching with how deep the writers have delved into the main cast of characters.
There’s a lot more I can and want to talk about with this series like Fenrir and Takiya’s relationship or Kanna and Saikawa’s relationship but I’m going to have to end it here as I’m still catching up on shows from last season. If you liked this show or if this review prompted you to check it out, let me know in the comments below! Be sure to hit that follow button, or follow my Facebook page for updates on when new reviews post.