Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
By Christopher Kinsey
Crunchyroll has become a force in American anime distribution over the last eleven years. It began as a place to “share” anime in 2006 and tapdanced around the legality of streaming at the time. Buying ad space to promote itself, in 2009 it went legit after a heavy investment to procure licenses for many popular titles at the time. Over the years there have been acquisitions and restructuring to make interests in all sides of anime and manga accessible for a small fee. They opened a way to read digital manga, keep tabs on anime news, delved into the DVD production market and they even invest in anime production. So it stands to reason that every season the folks over at Crunchyroll like to focus on a product or two that they can bring to the forefront and parade around with a media blitz to show that Crunchyroll has the entertainment needs for the “Otaku Generation”.
At the moment that product is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. It is certainly not what you want flying if you’re looking to attract anyone who is outside of anime, or is inside of anime and has any sort of self-worth whatsoever.
On the surface this should be a cute, quirky show and I’d even say for the most part it is. You have Kobayashi, who is a working single lady who happens to geek out over maids. One night after drinking heavily with her coworker she stumbles upon a dragon in the forest, helps it out and unknowingly befriends it. The dragon, Tohru, falls in love with that gesture and polymorphs herself into what she thinks is Kobayashi’s ideal form: a maid with horns and a dragon tail. As time goes on they gain a juvenile dragon, Kanna, as another houseguest and surrogate child. The short stories usually involve their relationships and the additional visitors from the other world.
If this was all there was to it I would support this series. Probably wouldn’t be on my radar as a masterpiece, but it would be a fun little show in the vein of other whimsical series based on 4koma. But the original manga began on the web with a fellow using a pseudonym, Coolkyoushinja. While this isn’t a damning origin (It’s how we got One Punch Man) who they tapped to direct the anime is. Yasuhiro Takemoto is known for taking the spin offs and romantic sub series of popular anime and just filling them with moe and a soupçon of high intensity creepiness that make the hardened otaku swoon and the enthusiast balk. His rap sheet includes Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan Suzumiya and F***ING LUCKY STAR!!! So yeah, this should have sent off alarms for me settling into this series.
Episodes tend to run in a format that each has two different stories. Most stories involve Tohru either trying to work out some aspect of human life and getting it wrong, trying to get Kobayashi to appreciate and love her more, or a wacky situation involving more visitors from another world. Oh! My Goddess! handled this kind of story so much better. There are fun supporting cast members, but like many comedy series they quickly become one note gags or someone for the main characters to talk about the other main characters to. Like some sort of anime Bechdel Test. But the anime doesn’t stop at mere 4koma style tomfoolery, it attempts many times to make “the feels” happen. I recall a moment in the episode where they decide to send Kanna to elementary school, so they have to buy her a list of school supplies. Like most Japanese schools they have to buy certain supplies from an approved store, and then it delves into the duality of individualism but at the same time society making you be the same. Because remember kids: if you’re different you get squashed back down. At the same time there are these flashes of Tohru’s old life and how she has to struggle with the fact that, as a dragon, humans are usually her only mortal enemies. Dragons kill thousands of humans and horde treasure just like in your normal D&D game, but rile the humans up enough and they’ll forge mighty heroes to slay you.
But anything we might have gotten out of this series when it comes to commentary on real life through an outsiders eyes or having to contain or defeat your true nature to really fit in with the ones you love is utterly destroyed when you see how much it panders to the otaku set through fanservice, “anime is awesome” messages, and outright pedophilia. There is an entire episode called “The Fanservice Episode, Frankly”. Drawing attention to your beach/hot spring episode doesn’t make it any less pandery. The character Fafnir is a dragon who dresses in finery, looks a little evil and bemoans Tohru’s current idea that humans and dragons can get along. But that’s all thrown out the window because he plays one game on a console and he’s addicted to every otaku trapping. He even stays with Kobayashi’s coworker, who is an otaku for everything beyond maids, and work together to get booths at Comiket. You know: the Otaku No Video approach to success.
But if there is anything more damning to this show is the fact it has these disgusting moments passed off as jokes or relatable moments. I’m not talking about the relationship of Tohru and Kobayashi, a budding lesbian relationship of a grown woman and her dragon maid is fine and dandy. The first comes from Kanna, who in dragon terms is only a little kid. She wants to do little kid things, even if she is 5000 years old. She gains a friend, Saikawa, who has a little crush on her. Like other little kids she wants to do things that emulate adults, and in this case it’s to get horned up while playing Twister and almost attempting some “lewds”. Fun fact about the game Twister in Japan: while it has a sexual connotation in the States, it was outright banned when it was first introduced until they reworked the box art to something less insinuating of entangling your limbs while playing. As such the game has a reputation for kid shenanigans. This is fine if you know, puberty is involved and you don’t depict it in your lovey dovey comedy show for the sake of people who get off on that sort of thing. And then there is the sad case of the side character Quetzalcoatl or “Lucoa” as she’s nicknamed. She’s another dragon who is a bouncy, bubbly gal with just… the largest breasts. No good reason, really other than some good ol’ fashioned Japanese breast gags. That’s not really a problem until these gags are unleashed on an unsuspecting elementary school kid name far too fittingly Shota. Shota comes from a family of mages and summoners (you know, from our real world slice of life anime) and tried to summon a demon to prove his worth to his family. Well that would be really dangerous so Lucoa took it upon herself to show up for the summons rather than a demon. With her general attitude and dressing habits Shota’s family thinks she’s a succubus and she’s not really helping at all because she’s constantly smashing Shota with her breasts or trying to help him only to lead to compromising situations all the time. She genuinely wants to help the lad, but it seems the only way she can think to is by making him grow up way too fast.
So this is what Crunchyroll has decided to present to the world as the face of anime right now. For all the time we take to destroy the image of the violent, tentacle filled image of our past we’re going to replace it with tender tales we can slip loathsome practices in the guise of jokes? We deserve a better ambassador for how great and varied anime really is, and soon.
-The backgrounds are charming and nice
-Well voice acted in both Japanese and English
-DID YOU NOT READ WHAT I JUST WROTE?