Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon is a 2017 comedic slice-of-life anime adapted from Coolkyoushinja’s manga series of the same name. The anime features the life of Miss Kobayashi once she meets a group of dragons, one of which becomes her maid.
There’s a serious oversaturation in the anime industry with senseless moe, erotic fanservice, and absolute mediocrity. I’m not afraid to say that, of those three, mediocrity has to be the worst. There are plenty of anime made for the sole, cynical purpose of pumping out endless streams of episodes and merchandise, and, to that end, are ensured to include cutesy moe moments and/or hot and steamy ecchi scenes. However, an anime that is just completely forgettable — absolutely devoid of any memorable aspects — that is where the interest in me dies. With these interesting anime that pander with moe/ecchi, you can at least criticize it, in hopes that it will somehow elicit improvement in the industry, whether it be that series in particular or any creator who happens to resonate with your criticism. These recurring aspects of anime will never end, which is why I think it’d be important to evaluate anime that have gotten a bad rap.
Even if you haven’t seen Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon, you’ve definitely seen memes of it floating around the internet. This is one of the problems with anime like Kobayashi. Moe/ecchi aspects of anime like Kobayashi will be boiled down to memes or jokes within or against the anime industry: “LOL anime is so weird.. look at these scenes from this show. dragons that are maids!?! as expected of that strange weeaboo culture.”
There’s no doubt there are questionable aspects of the anime industry, but to minimize it all into a joke about lolicon, tentacles, or whatever would be doing an enormous disservice to the masterpieces being produced in the anime industry.
Though, that isn’t to say that Kobayashi is a masterpiece. What I’d like to do here is dispel the idea that Kobayashi is a meme, and give it its fair shake as an anime with something to say.
While watching Kobayashi, I noticed an interesting pattern of anthropological concepts. Do I think the show is supposed to stand as an anthropological allegory? Not in the slightest. However, what I am saying is that the means by which the show portrays the dragon’s integration into human society isn’t arbitrarily strung along, but adheres to an anthropological logic.
One of the first indications I noticed was Tohru’s criticism of school supplies. About to begin their shopping for Kanna’s school supplies, Kobayashi explains to Tohru that certain supplies are required by the school, to which Tohru responds, “That’s collusion.” Kobayashi remains unconvinced by this. Tohru, an outsider to human society, was not raised to accept the requirements of school supplies as a way of life. Because of this, she is (more) able to criticize it objectively. In anthropology, this is called “cultural critique”, more specifically, etic cultural critique (critique of culture/society from the outside).
In this same scene, Kobayashi reflects on the uniformity of school dress and supplies. She was able to accomplish this largely because of Tohru and Kanna’s presence as outsiders to human society. Kobayashi points out that differences in a social group (in this case, a school setting) are minimized through school dress and supplies. This can be considered emic cultural critique (critique of culture/society from the inside).
Another small thing I found in Kobayashi was the development of the dragons’ violence into competition. It would be expected of dragons to be extremely violent and destructive, which is seen in Tohru and Kanna’s sparring toward the beginning of the show. Not long after, however, we see the dragons very passionately participating in competitive, yet non-violent, games such as dodgeball, cook-offs, and video games. Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism is a famous anthropological documentary following the introduction, acceptance, and evolution of cricket in the Trobriand Islands. Ritual wars were performed on the Trobriand Islands, but gradually fizzled away, following the introduction of cricket — a new channel for that competition. We can see that phenomenon in Kobayashi, where the dragons engage in actual battle less than they do in competitions amongst themselves (e.g. the dragons’ games of dodgeball, Kobayashi and Tohru’s cook-off, and Fafnir and Takiya’s battles in-game).
Part of that documentary showed how the Trobrianders evolved the rules of cricket into an arguably different game. This can be connected to the dragons’ production of a play of “the Little Match Girl”. Almost completely deviating from the source material, the dragons construct their own story calling upon different ideas and inspirations. In this way, they have used their status as outsiders to human society to take existing ideas and evolve them into something new.
Putting “cultural evolution” aside, the dragons were quick in immersing themselves in human culture. Throughout the show we can see the Kobayashis putting up teru teru bouzu, Shouta and Lucoa celebrating Setsubun, Tohru, Fafnir, and other creatures’ participation in Comiket, Fafnir’s taking to otaku culture, and the dragons’ association with Japanese cuisine. These are good examples of exposure to foreign cultures because of how accessible they can be to people: traditions, holidays, pop culture, and food.
Perhaps the most radical development of any character in Kobayashi would be that of Fafnir, who is initially introduced as quick to resorting to violence against humans, but becomes completely invested in otaku culture, playing online games late into the night and even going as far as to selling work at Comiket (albeit that work not even remotely being doujinshi). Fafnir is an excellent example of how even the most “critical” of a culture can come to appreciate it through immersion into it. Japan works particularly well in this case due to anime being dubbed the country’s “greatest export” by academics in the field of Japanese culture, noting the global attraction to otaku culture.
This concept of socialization does not stop with Fafnir. Kanna receives her socialization through school, where she meets Saikawa, who demonstrates to her the nature of school friendships, school life/procedures, and school events (e.g. sports festival).
Tohru represents a more complex group of people in a society. There is an anthropological concept called “the chain of care”, which is the passing of “motherly” responsibilities from first world to third world women — a passing caused by the former’s acquisition of freedom. For example, now that most first world women are not restricted to household duties and child rearing, they are able to find a job, but that leaves a vacuum of responsibility in the home, which is ultimately left to women of the third world. In order to broaden this idea and connect it to Kobayashi, it’d probably be fair to say that these kinds of responsibilities and “dirty jobs” that few people want to do are delegated to people of lower status (i.e. foreigners). In the case of Kobyashi, the dragons would be escaping the dangers of their world for a “normal” life in the human world, taking any jobs available to them.
The significance of Tohru’s care can be seen through Kobayashi’s progression. Kobayashi is seen to be happier and less inclined to drink with Tohru around. When Tohru leaves, however, Kobayashi is clearly distraught and struggling to take care of responsibilities around the house. The importance of the people who fill this and other similar roles in society is shown through Tohru. Additionally, Elma, an extremely minor character, demonstrates this. In her very minimal part of the show, Elma joins the cast and finds an entry-level position in Kobayashi’s office. This is a fairly simple reflection of Japan, to which a steady flow of Koreans immigrate to find entry-level positions.
There are a couple interpretations I find in this.
One comes from Tohru’s question to Kobayashi: Why would a human who was raised normally take in a dragon? This can be considered to be some sort of parallel as to why a person in a given society would accept a foreigner into their community.
The other comes from the same episode, in which Tohru asks why Kobayashi thinks she has become more independent. Kobayashi explains that most people don’t really want to become adults, but do want to cease being a child. This connects to the coming of Tohru’s father, who believes his daughter is too young to make the decision of living in the human world. One idea has to do with the acceptance of outsiders into society, whereas the other has to do with adulthood and its relationship to immigration.
I believe that second interpretation was likely what they were aiming for, rather than the first. However, there are a couple more ideas thrown into the show that can be pointed out. With the dragons’ spark of liveliness in her life, Kobayashi decides to reconnect with her family. The first interaction with Kobayashi’s family happens late in the show, where she receives a call from her mother after sending a New Year’s card. At the end of the show, Kobayashi brings Tohru and Kanna, the new additions to her life, to meet her family.
At this point, Tohru and Kanna have essentially become Kobayashi’s family, albeit an “untraditional” one, which is perhaps another message Kobayashi attempts to convey. By becoming a part of Kobayashi’s family, Tohru and Kanna have successfully integrated into human society. Lucoa points out to Tohru that she and Kobayashi have become so close that they fight every now and then — an occurrence not unfamiliar to members of a family.
If by reading these last few paragraphs, you’ve gotten kind of lost in the messaging, that’s what I’ve been trying to illustrate. There are lots of ideas being communicated in Kobayashi, which is not necessarily a bad thing; however, what I think could have been improved is clarity and focus. There are many series that have multiple themes throughout it and are hailed as masterpieces, but what’s important to notice in those is how they’re delivered. It’s easy to overwhelm your audience by presenting too many ideas at the same time or within a short amount of time (like thirteen 30 minute episodes). I would have liked if Kobayashi picked one or two messages to convey and upheld a consistent thematic arc throughout the show. In a way, it tried to do that with Tohru’s worrying about Kobayashi dying before her, but I thought that this is the weakest message they could have gone for. There aren’t many people engaged in dragon-human relationships out there that will resonate with the message being conveyed here. If it had focused on any two of the other aforementioned themes, utilized Lucoa in a more constructive manner, and minimized its moe/ecchi aspects, Kobayashi would have been a pretty amazing show.
With all this, however, I don’t want it to be taken away that it’s terrible, that it’s a masterpiece, or that it’s the apotheosis of anthropological/immigration-related representation in the anime industry. What I wanted to say with this was that shows like Kobayashi, which are dismissed as moe, ecchi, or meme trash can have its fantastic aspects neglected.