[Review] Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – episode 1

Miss Kobayashi, a developer, wakes up one morning to discover she invited a dragon to come and live with her as a maid while blind drunk the night before. The dragon, Tohru, can either appear as full dragon or mostly human with just a hefty dragon tail behind her, and must adapt to such human customs as “washing laundry without using your own saliva” or “cooking something other than your own tail”.

I really, really enjoyed this show. It was headed straight for my top three of the season – until I hit one scene, which is so problematic I need to break it down in detail.

SPOILERS: detailed discussion of scenes and moments from the first episode

Kobayashi stands at the front door of her apartment in trousers, a shirt and tie and a duffel coat, holding a laptop bag. She holds the hand of Tohru, who looks shy with long blonde hair and a frilly maid's outfit with a full-length skirt and a dragon tail protruding from under it.

Let me start with the good stuff, because I really did enjoy it and I want you to be informed about its worst moments without necessarily being put off by them. The fact is that this is a rare anime starring a working adult woman. Not only is she a working adult, she’s a white collar professional with a sought-after skill set in a male-dominated industry. The only comparable character this season so far is in ACCA, and currently a minor character only.

Kobayashi is a rare character aesthetically too. She wears men’s clothes, is treated as “one of the guys” by her coworkers and is voiced by an actor who obviously gets a lot of work playing male characters. Her character design is not cute. It’s not sexy. She doesn’t work in customer service, and you get the impression she wouldn’t be very good at it even if she did. This is a very, very unusual protagonist in anything, but particularly in anime.

Kobayashi reads as masculine, but not gentlemanly. She immediately takes Tohru up on her offer of becoming a maid and tests her against Victorian maid standards, which Tohru tackles with enthusiasm and fails immediately every time. I love that she doesn’t fail for incompetence, but for misguided zeal. When Kobayashi asks her to do laundry she doesn’t get confused or overwhelmed by washing machines, she just insists that her saliva does a better job. A lot of the humour comes from Tohru, who looks very feminine, doing something completely disgusting because to a dragon it would be the most common sense option.

Tohru in the background sips on her non-alcoholic drink, blushing as she looks fondly at Miss Kobayashi, who is laughing loudly as she drinks beer. Subtitle: "Miss Kobayashi's so cute!"

From this confidence she tells Kobayashi early on that she is in love with her, clarifying that she means this sexually. Kobayashi is unimpressed, reminds her that she is a woman. Tohru says that Kobayashi saved her and she wants to repay the favour with her entire body, offering to carry Kobayashi to work in her dragon form. So it’s rushed past pretty quickly in that exchange, but in the rest of the episode Tohru thinks of Kobayashi as a crush would.

There is a chance that this could actually go somewhere. In the closing moments of the episode the two fall asleep in bed together, something for which Kobayashi gives explicit consent, and Tohru has a bad dream. Only it’s more likely not a dream but a memory, of being run through in a battle. She wakes up upset, and Kobayashi notices, saying a few words which calm her down. It was an unexpected moment of emotional connection after solid comedy, suggesting this series won’t be all gags all the time. It looks like this show will give me the more substantial and linear story plus more situation-specific jokes which would have made Gabriel DropOut more engaging for me.

However.

Close-up of Tohru's terrified and tearful eye as Kobayashi shouts "Show us what you're made of!" at her. Subtitle: "H-Humans are terrifying!"

There is one scene which I thought was hilarious, and was screencapping every exchange – until it hit the moment where a drunk Kobayashi forcibly removes Tohru’s clothes and berates her while she is naked. Her tipsy male coworker is also in the room, though avoiding looking at Tohru. “Acting embarrassed when you’re stripped is part of proper behaviour!” Kobayashi yells at her until Tohru tears up, scared.

I would have put this show in my top three, right up there with season stand-out Interviews with Monster Girls. Sadly, this interaction completely ruined that.

Close-up of Tohru's breasts in  tight pink top that clings to them, a cutout of Kobayashi's face looking annoyed and the word "Tight" in the background. Subtitle: The chest is..."

The other thing I need to mention is some low level fanservice around Tohru’s chest, which is large, perky and prone to Gainaxing. It wasn’t frequent or overtly male gazey enough to put me off when I thoroughly enjoyed so many other elements, but I understand if others find it eyeroll-worthy.

Actually, a great deal of this episode would have been eyeroll-worthy had everything been exactly the same but Kobayashi been a man. It makes me wonder if the manga artist originally drew her as a man then genderswapped her for whatever reason. Either way, it makes for a refreshing protagonist and a potential couple of the year. I absolutely hated the stripping, but I absolutely loved the rest of the scene it’s in. I want so badly to enthusiastically recommend this, but it has to be with a pretty huge caveat.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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  • GreyLurker

    Beyond being inappropriate the stripping scene doesn’t make any sense. Later in the episode we are told that the maid outfit isn’t really clothing, it’s part of her shapechanging spell and it is effectivly her scales. Someone should no more be able to remove it than you could rip off someone’s skin with your bare hands.

    • Just another reason to dislike this scene intensely!

    • kieron George

      Tohru casually removes and cooks her own tail for Kobayashi, she also removes her maid outfit for Kobayashi and puts on the outfit that was bought, pajamas also. I believe she did actually try the clothes on rather than shapeshifiting her scales to match as the shirt was too small which wouldn’t make sense in the shapeshifting case.

      A reptile removing it’s scales is natural and the default. All reptiles shed their skin.

      Also the “you have no shame when naked” is a reference to the fact that Tohru is a dragon and being shamelessly naked is her default state. Her outfit being her scales means she was already naked, being stripped naked isn’t the scary part of the equation here.

      Also Tohru is a GD Armageddon-capable dragon, and her relationship is entirely voluntary and consensual, she’s the one in the position of power here. Kobayashi exherting control over Tohru’s body isn’t what scary to Tohru.

      The point of the scene was Tohru being in a position of weakness when it comes to knowledge. They build up to it with all the programming talk, and move onto the discussion on maid culture which notably interrupts Tohru mid-dragon mode and metaphorically fling her around like a gale force, and in the end it’s intellectual grandstanding that Tohru is afraid of.

      Really the scene is about how mansplaining is awful.

      • Well, different people will get different things from a scene, and I certainly got “being stripped and shouted at in public is scary and humiliating” far more than “mansplaining is awful”. Tohru is technically stronger, but in the power dynamic between them Kobayashi has had the upper hand from the start and knows it. For her to abuse that in this way would have been reprehensible when sober, and it’s still hard to watch when she’s drunk. We may just have to agree to disagree on this, but I found it deeply unpleasant to watch.