I can’t believe I wrote a thirty-five-hundred-word video about Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and never even mentioned the presence of lesbians!
I won’t get too much into my long-standing and deep-seated obsession with yuri here, as that’s another video for another time, but suffice it to say that its presence in this show was more than welcome, and that I really appreciated how forthright the series was about including it. Right in the first episode, Tohru explicitly states that she is interested in Kobayashi not just romantically, but “sexually.” This is just another of the things that I love about manga artist Cool Kyoushinja–he is never one to shy away from the sexuality of his characters; and in this case, to make sure that there’s no questions asked about what Tohru is hoping for in this relationship. Granted, Kobayashi never actually reciprocates this sexual attraction in the course of the series, and at one point finally explains why she has difficulty with even grasping it; but because we know right from the start that Tohru is sexually attracted to Kobayashi, it’s never a question of whether the story is withholding this relationship because it’s unwilling to follow through on realizing its yuri undercurrent–instead, it’s purely a matter of one of the characters just not being up for it.
A lot of the experience of watching Maidragon for me, not unlike I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying before it, was just this nonstop chain of things that I obsess over being brought to the forefront almost at random; as if just to say that, “yeah, I also think this thing is cool.” For example, I can’t believe that of all the videogames they could have shown the characters playing, they chose motherfucking DARK SOULS–the game series which occupies almost the entirety of my favorite games list, and which I could talk about literally all year, every year. I don’t even know who was responsible for this–if Dark Souls wasn’t in the original manga, then it means that the staff who adapted it was just as much on my wavelength as the original author.
But it’s not like every single thing which is a big deal in Maidragon is something that I also care about. For instance, I’ve never actually had much interest in maids, especially on an aesthetic level; but thankfully, this show is pretty critical of the idea of the maid as an aesthetic trend anyways, regarding Tohru’s style as merely cosplay and maid cafe wankery, as opposed to the true fashion of a traditional service woman. In concept, I certainly would not mind having a maid around, but it’s not something that I think about or have any passion towards in the way that Kobayashi does. (Granted, there are many, many things which I could rant about in exactly the same way that she does–like Dark Souls, for instance!)
I’ve also never had a particular interest in dragons aesthetically; though it’s what being a dragon brings to the table in this series wherein my interests and the author’s begin to coincide. This story takes the approach of dragons being all-powerful endgame bosses, any of which has the power to end the world, transform at will, travel between realms, restore objects to their former state, and basically do anything that the story could possibly call for them to do, with only a handful of very specific limitations depending on the character.
In this way, dragons in this series are presented somewhere between the way that particularly powerful vampires are often represented, and just outright gods. My favorite aspects of this are that the dragons are immortal, that they are highly destructive, that they could bring about the end of the world, and that they have their own culture with its own political factions–and I’m going to try and explain why each of those things is cool as best I can.
First of all, immortality is cool as shit, because an immortal life allows you to accumulate such a massive number of experiences. While Maidragon doesn’t dive too deeply into its dragons’ past, there’s this ever-present suggestion that each of them has a long and complex history, and with it an enormous wealth of knowledge about things which just aren’t relevant to the human world and their current interactions; but which can occasionally be of use when dealing with issues in the present. Granted, the series plays these for laughs more than anything, and there’s only a small handful of elements from the characters’ pasts which are important to understanding the ways that they behave now; but the fact that these rich histories are even suggested, and that we’re allowed to imagine and speculate about them, is pretty cool in and of itself.
One of the major conflicts in Maidragon comes from the fact that Kobayashi’s life will ultimately be a blip in the incredibly long life of an immortal dragon, and the series explores this issue in some pretty interesting ways. My favorite of these moments comes when Tohru asks one of the attendees at comiket what makes this event so special, and he responds that it’s something which will only ever have happened in this place and at this time. It’s an event whose value is intrinsically tied to its transience, and this revelation has a huge impact on Tohru in that it directly correlates to the time which she can spend with Kobayashi. It’s such an interesting take on the idea of an immortal’s relationship with a mortal that I’m surprised I can’t remember having seen this kind of comparison been made before.
Secondly, the dragons all being so ludicrously powerful allows for the series to showcase some over-the-top and badass action sequences, or even for a lot of spectacle in the more heartwarming home-life scenes. I’m always of the mindset that if you’re going to have a show full of super-powered characters, then you might as well go all out with it and have them constantly notching up to eleven just for the fun and spectacle of it, and this show seems to agree.
But even cooler than mere destruction is this constant suggestion that these dragons can, and indeed are often tempted to, just end the entire human world as we know it. There’s almost an element of Lovecraftian horror here, as the only thing keeping, say, Fafnir from ending all of human life, is that he’s gotten way too addicted to MMORPGs. It’s not as though the series is necessarily trying to keep us on-edge, since as viewers we can be pretty sure that the world is not going to end in the middle of our light-hearted slice-of-life comedy series; but that this constant pressure is always at the back of my mind anyways. Who’s to say that the world isn’t going to randomly end tomorrow? What if the Yellowstone Supervolcano just decides it’s finally time to erupt and buries half of my country in ash? What if someone says Cthulhu’s real name and kills the universe? We just gotta kinda roll with it and hope that it doesn’t happen, which is how Kobayashi goes about dealing with the various dragons in her life.
But perhaps my favorite thing about the dragons in this story is the sense of epic tragedy that comes from learning about their histories and culture. Dragons are, after all, incredibly violent by nature; and thanks to their mythological backgrounds, most of them have suffered some kinds of curses or punishments, or been exposed to prolonged periods of suffering as a result of some biblical-scale events from their past. And yet, something which the series does amazingly is to take these massive and otherworldly problems, and to ground them in such a simple, easily empathetic package that we can connect with.
The best example of this comes in the first episode, when Tohru is having a nightmare about a time when she was attacked by an army of nights. A battle between ironclad warriors and a mighty dragon sounds like something out of a video game or a fairytale so generic that we’d hardly take it seriously–but put into this context, it’s actually sort of emotionally gripping, because it’s a source of something akin to post-traumatic stress for Tohru. When she describes the dream to Kobayashi, Kobayashi takes it not at face value for the content of the story, but at the emotional level of a bad dream which is haunting her friend, and comforts her as such. In this moment, we are given to empathize with a wholly different kind of creature and its problems which go beyond the scope of anything we will ever experience, by understanding how the emotional effects of those problems relate to the ones that we do experience on a day-to-day basis.
This kind of lens is later applied to our understanding of dragon culture, and to how dragons view their relationship with humans. The way that Tohru speculates on how her parents would react to her being with Kobayashi is a pretty obvious analog to racism, or classism, or any other classic form of bigotry. The dragons simply perceive themselves as so fundamentally different from humans that they can’t possibly relate to them–ironically proving just how similar to humans they really are, given how much of humanity feels that way about other humans. It is not at all surprising that, in reality, humans and dragons can get along just fine if they set aside their differences. Hilariously enough, the dragons even have their own two-partisan political system, with one faction dedicated to “chaos,” and the other to “order.” I love this distinction, simply because the idea of a political faction literally being in favor of chaos is where we make the leap in values from human to dragon, even if those values are basically understood in the same terms by both species.
Speaking less in broad terms and more about Tohru specifically, what I felt really brought her character to life was the way that she has a certain kind of wisdom about her which is unique to her experience as a dragon; and how, in spite of so much of the show’s comedy being about her fish-out-of-water experiences in the human world, Tohru is anything but stupid. She may favor brute force as a means to get what she wants, but this doesn’t mean that she’s incapable of critical thinking, or even of straight-up book smarts. If given the means to understand something, Tohru is quick on the uptake, and can even be a source of solid life advice. While she is ignorant of many aspects of the human world and its culture, her dragon wisdom is of plenty of value both to other dragons, and to humans as well from time to time.
But as much fun as it is to watch Tohru and Kanna and even Fafnir, the dragons are not exactly the most interesting characters in this show. That honor would go to the one to whom I dedicated an entire video to earlier; but another guy who shouldn’t be slept on is Makoto Takiya, Kobayashi’s work buddy and an incredibly good-natured hardcore otaku, who ends up letting Fafnir move into his apartment and becomes his best friend so naturally that it’s like it’d always been that way.
Takiya to me represents all of the best aspects of otaku culture, and reminds me of no shortage of experiences that I’ve had with my fellow otaku in the past. What’s great about otaku is that what matters to us more than anything else is our sense of shared passion. Perhaps because we have something that the people in our everyday lives don’t understand, we cherish the opportunity to surround ourselves with people who get where we’re coming from, and will readily share with them and find reasons to be around them at whatever cost.
I think there’s something in the way that an otaku like Takiya just isn’t particularly interested in, or at least not in a position to entertain a normal, sexual relationship, that leaves this aspect of his life open to having a friend with a shared passion there. Like, the idea of moving someone into your house because you want their companionship is not at all strange, but most people would imagine a spouse in this role as opposed to a gaming buddy–yet that kind of relationship makes just as much sense, because you’re still getting to share a passionate activity with someone who’s into it.
The imagery of Fafnir and Takiya having computers set up in the same room where they play MMORPGs together is extremely familiar to me–my friends have done setups like this over countless weekends in my house whenever we got addicted to some new game; and my brothers and I would have rooms set up like this for weeks sometimes, where we all moved our computers into the den so that we wouldn’t have to use voice-chat across the house. I’ve had an otaku friend put me up for a month at his house in the Philippines, wherein we spent all our time analyzing anime together, and bringing over other otaku for Lucky Star drinking parties. I’ve shared no shortage of hotels with borderline strangers for conventions, and invited other bloggers to stay at my house for conventions near me as well.
Obviously I don’t think that this kind of kindness is somehow inherent to otaku or anything; as Fafnir puts it in a later episode, this world is full of hits and misses when it comes to people, and Takiya happens to be a hit. But he’s a hit in a way that I totally get, and which I feel like I’ve experienced in my own life. Even just recently, when I hung out in Atlanta with fellow anime youtuber Ninouh and his friend who was a former commenter on my old anime blog, and we all drove around bumming cigarettes and food off of one-another, I got some of that feeling–and being reminded of it in this show made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Running out the rest of my notes, I have to at least mention how much I love watching Kanna eat all kinds of random objects; not only because it’s adorable and hilarious, but because I am very passionate about eating, and anything that focuses on characters eating is always a win in my book. I don’t think I have to explain why eating is cool and good, but eating random shit is especially cool and good because it shows that Kanna has a truly expanded palette.
I also just generally enjoy the way that this show is so willing to roll right into high-minded conversations without making a big deal out of it. These characters are mostly adults with pretty worldly perspectives, and it’s not unusual for them to go from everyday-life stuff like what’s for dinner, to analyzing their places in the world or just solving some kind of domestic issue in a clever, grown-up way; and all of those things seem normal happening in the same scene. We don’t have to change the music and go into an extended monologue for a character to present a more complex idea–there’s a level of faith in one-another’s intelligence that they’ll just get it.
That about covers my notes on the themes and characters in this show, but I still have like three pages of just gushing about how amazing the presentation is, so I’m afraid that we’ll be breaking that off into a third video! But before I go, here’s some food for thought: does Kanna understand that Saikawa is in love with her? And if so, does she like Saikawa back, or is she just taking advantage of Saikawa’s crush in order to have her around? Let me know what you think in the comments below, and be sure to share this video to anyone whom you think it would interest. Support me on patreon if you’d like to help me to make more videos in the future, and check out my other channels for more frequent uploads. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!
Yasuhiro Takemoto certainly knows what the hell he’s doing when he directs an anime. He’s probably KyoAni’s best series director IMO.