Initially, I wasn’t captivated with the idea of a silly slice-of-life/comedy involving humanoids with dragon features. It seemed to be a contrived way of following a recent trend of “monster girl” success cases. Also noteworthy is the studio, Kyoto Animation, who have a tendency to express moe to new heights. Look at the cover photo for this anime and tell me it doesn’t look like it’ll be nothing but moe fluff.
The Winter season moved along and I ended up dropping one of the seasonal anime I watched weekly, leaving space for it to be filled. After juggling between this and Demi-chan wa Kataritai, I ended up going with Dragon Maid. That was a great decision.
In an unprecedented turn of events, the one I never even considered became my seasonal MVP. Almost like Kurt Warner leading the Rams to the Super Bowl after going undrafted. Any normal reader of mine will not get that reference at all.
Irony is heavily involved within the first paragraph, as despite its appearance, Dragon Maid has a lot more going for it than moe characters and situations. It reminds me somewhat of K-On!, another work from KyoAni that features a heavy dose of moe with semblances of a deeper emotional bond between characters, effectively giving them more than their base personalities. Dragon Maid is very similar in that regard, with characters being subject to tense or tender moments within the rambunctiousness for the effect of deepening bonds. By series’s end, the closeness between Kobayashi and Tohru, her dragon maid, is more than noticeable.
With that box checked, is there anything else this series does generally well aside from animation and moe?
The Warner comparison is a tad hyperbole, because if this anime were the equivalent to the Super Bowl, the two teams involved would be 9-7 and find difficulty in making the entire game interesting. Dragon Maid‘s dominance over the rest of the choices I made this season wasn’t so much that it was amazing, but it didn’t have a lot of competition. What this anime manages to accomplish in its time frame includes a base amount of entertainment and whimsy with each episode, supported by strong character interaction and cutesy expressions/behavior. The animation is fairly impressive for its genre and one can notice the detail with each movement. Almost like a pre-established hindrance, the genre disallows a lot of further development outside of basic love and understanding.
Oftentimes when two species with little interaction are brought together under one roof, it becomes a battleground of expectations and misconceptions. This is brought to light a number of times, with the issue of a dragon and a human interacting to be a threat to the “balance between worlds.” Obviously, the viewer, assuming they are aware of basic principles of empathy and clichés, knows that there’s no harm in Kobayashi interacting with Tohru and other dragons. Only the stigma of species hierarchy stands in the way of complete tranquility, something this series wishes to be true so frankly. Whenever the issue is brought up, it slowly foreshadows an upcoming dramatic event that could change everything. This is the one thing that prevents Dragon Maid from being Lucky Star with dragon ladies. And as is predictable with something so lopsidedly moral, when push comes to shove, happiness triumphs and everyone is comfortable. Woooo.
The praise that should be given to Dragon Maid is that the effort is there, and on a consistent(ly small) basis. Heartfelt conversations, moments of clarity and appreciation, fond moments of genuine care. It appeals to the inner workings of the audience without preaching it. Its timing appears too blatant at times, though it makes up for it with the soft atmosphere. Better yet, many of the characters receive this attention for affection. Even minor characters that appear as time goes on both give and receive some lovely development. Uneven between the cast as it may be, again, the effort is there.
Otherwise, Dragon Maid is a fairly simple series that doesn’t try to do too much. The heart of the matter is showcasing the simple pleasures of adult life (not that way) with a fantasy tinge. Some manners of cliché sneak in, both through excerpts of comedy and drama (Girl has big boobs, let’s point it out; All good things must come to an end), as is almost typical of a slice-of-life. The amount of moe is also heavily present, but somewhat controlled. It picks its moments well, though at times it can’t help itself (any scene involving Saikawa and Kanna). While for the most part consistent in showing the entertaining sides of normal life through character charm, there are moments of weakness, particularly around the mid-point. The final episode is also not my cup of tea, as I feel it ruins the mood of the series. These segments feel a little too moe for the sake of being moe.
Heart and character charm are enough to boost this series to the top of the slice-of-life charts, lighting a significant fire for series to follow suit. Establishing a bridge between pure slice-of-life relaxation and the goofy charm of comedies, I predict to see a number of future stories try to do what Dragon Maid does tremendously well, albeit at the cost of anything more. Whether or not these stories continue the trend of human-mythical creature hybrids depends on the times. Of course, with the huge success of Kemono Friends in Japan, it’s more likely than unlikely.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.