Just one big punchline
Have you ever gotten so drunk that you end up saving a living dragon from potential death, and then said dragon appears at your doorstep prepared to live with you and repay a debt for all eternity? Well, Kobayashi did once, and now this dragon serves as her loyal in-human-form maid (with horns and tail still sticking out!). And Kobayashi’s once relatively normal life is about to get a lot less normal, as this dragon, Tohru by name, and every other magical being in the book contribute to her new, not so normal life. Of course, being a dragon by nature, Tohru has a little learning to do as well if she is to fulfill her duties.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid—a 2017 winter anime adapted from the manga of the same name written by Coolkyoushinja—states its plot right in its title. Pairing the words “dragon” and “maid” together is bound to raise a lot of eyebrows. It feels like the equivalent of turning something as mundane as a mailbox into a legitimate Pokémon (That one’s coming soon, trust me)—a completely out-there concept. I will admit that, when I first started watching this show, I was expecting either a one of a kind disaster piece or a fanservice-laden spiritual successor to the likes of Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls.
But I ended up discovering that, in addition to containing dragons and maids, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid contains a deeply moving emotional core as it quickly brings a wide variety of fantastical beings down to Earth, both figuratively and literally! For all the bawdy humor this anime throws at you—viewers might notice that Tohru has kind of a “thing” for her master—the successful execution of its absurd premise lies in its ability to play its more regular moments completely straight. Issues such as Kanna making friends at school and Kobayashi balancing work duties and making time for her new family members are depicted with sensitivity and care, making it easy for us to believe in and care about these characters, and the almost-husband-and-wife relationship between Kobayashi and Tohru is developed without ever coming off as pandering. Even small moments like Kobayashi working late to take off work for Kanna’s school festival can easily resonate with plenty of people who may have been in that scenario. It may sound silly, but Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid might seriously one of the best shows on parenting I’ve seen in a while.
Of course, with a premise like this, there has to be some room for absurdity, and the anime, for all of its heartwarming moments, remains fully aware of these expectations. The comedy comes at you fast and ranges from ridiculous sight gags to punchlines delayed for the purpose of bigger laughs. There are even a couple cases of “I can believe they animated this just for the sake of the joke” that you could have sworn popped right of a comedy series like Nichijou. Take one look at Tohru and Kanna “playing” in the second episode and you’ll swear you just started watching a devoted action show before you realize it’s all just one big punchline. Even Kobayashi’s character acts as a wide-ranging knockout zone—the indifference of her cold-coding office-lady demeanor makes the delayed reactions she has to the absurdity around her seem insanely funny. And it gets to the point that once she’s fully accustomed to all of the dragons around her that it is now the errors in which the dragons attempt to interact with humanity that pop out to her.
And moments like these, in addition to the great writing, are backed up with bright color palettes and gorgeous animation done by the always impressive team at Kyoto Animation. Additionally at the helm is director Yasuhiro Takemoto, who previously proved to be skilled at handling both laugh-out-loud comedies (Amagi Brilliant Park) and moving dramas (Hyouka), and those skills are on full display in this quirky little anime in the strangest ways possible.
As “anime” as it looks, sounds, and acts, at the beating heart of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a surprisingly moving dramedy of unlikely families and mystical beings trying to adapt in a way that on many occasions feels like the strife of an immigrant who just came from a foreign country. The anime states its case right up front and hits the ball out of the park with its premise. I never expected it to be this good, but I suppose family is all about loving surprises like this, isn’t it?
For a second opinion, check out Ink’s feature on Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid from 2017.