Scattered Thoughts on Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A sentiment I see expressed increasingly often in discussions on “slice-of-life” anime is a general disdain for the tropes and trends that have become commonplace for the genre, and it’s one that I can hardly judge. Before delving into the anime medium, my misconception of it as being full of obnoxious tropes was one of the things that kept me from experiencing what it had to offer for the longest time. In light of this, it makes sense that some of the most loved and critically acclaimed slice-of-life/drama shows within anime fandom are the ones that avoid these tropes entirely, or attempt to subvert or deconstruct them in a fresh and original way, which is why I’m surprised, intrigued and oddly pleased by the fact that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has become one of the most popular shows of the Winter season.

Of course, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. This is Kyoto Animation we’re talking about, a studio with a successful track record of creating satisfying and critically acclaimed shows within anime fandom with the exception of only a precious few. However, especially after watching the trailers, one could hardly be blamed for not taking it seriously. After all, they made it clear that Dragon Maid was going to be as trope-y and stereotypical as your average run-of-the-mill slice-of-life. However, what I found interesting after watching a few episodes was that the show didn’t just include the tropes and cliches associated with the genre, it practically embraced them. Except that it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill slice-of-life show. It was good. Even with all of the tropes of the genre that a plethora of anime fans would look down upon in derision, it became one of the seasonal favorites with “casual” and “hardcore” fans alike.

Perhaps the best answer to this peculiar phenomenon can best be explained by the concept that “the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Dragon Maid does have its fair share of fanservice and cliches, but they alone are not what define the show. However, it is neither defined by its strong characters and world building. It is these multiple elements married together in paradoxical matrimony that make Dragon Maid so unique. When I see tropes and cliches like those in Dragon Maid elsewhere within the anime medium, the impression I’m often left with is that these scenes and cheap gags are efforts by the creators to make up for what the series lacks elsewhere, which is how we end up with shows such as Sword Art Online, The Asterisk War, Izetta: The Last Witch and the plethora of seasonal throw-away shows that the community silently and unanimously decides not to talk about. However, Dragon Maid doesn’t have any incentives to implement such mediocre attempts at compensation. It’s characterization is genius and its world building is splendid. None of the characters are defined by their stereotypes despite the show’s blatant self awareness that they are, in fact, stereotypes.

When Kobayashi’s colleague meets Kanna for the first time his comment is something along the lines of “I like the loli goth thing.” The show recognizes in the dialogue that Kanna’s character design is, in fact, a common archetype. However, she is not a loli goth character. Despite her stereotypical appearance, as we see in her actions throughout the show, Kanna is just an ordinary little girl with the same needs of validation, acceptance and individuality that all humans experience. Likewise, Fafnir is the goth butler who hates humanity, but over the course of the show slowly assimilates into human life and attempts to come to an understanding of their nature. Tohru is introduced in the trailer making a pun about the size of her breasts and also serves as the token lesbian character pining for the unattainable affection of the individual she’s infatuated with, an archetype that has become prominent in “cute girls doing cute things” shows. However, we learn later that Tohru is still dealing with a traumatizing past and has as much to learn from her time with Kobayashi as Kobayashi does from her. Speaking of Kobayashi, her characterization and personal development as she begins to allow more people into her life and see them as members of her family, despite her ambivalent and apathetic relationship with her immediate family, has made her one of my favorite characters of the season. The family dynamic between all of these characters is handled with such care that it feels like a welcome breath of fresh air.

Suffice it to say that Dragon Maid didn’t need tropes and cliches in order to appeal to a broad audience. I haven’t even begun to touch on it’s subtle world building or gorgeous animation. It has plenty going for it. So what’s with the inclusion of these stereotypes?

Many anime fans are quick to criticize shows of this kind for their inclusion of such redundant cliches that I can’t help but wonder if the creative minds behind the show didn’t take it as a challenge, this show being their way of saying “We’re going to make a show with all the tropes you say you hate, but we’re going to make you like it.” If that was their intention then they certainly succeeded, a huge number of anime fans having fallen into their trap. I believe that it is this duality and the sum of its whole that makes Dragon Maid and it’s stunning popularity so interesting and unique. The concept of cliches and substance working so well together is one that normally exists only in the imagination and is rarely found within the medium, yet Dragon Maid pulls it off extremely well.

Now, I can’t say with certainty that I’d enjoy the show more without some of these gags and cliches, and despite how good they work within the show there are still a handful that I find tasteless and unhelpful. However, I can’t help but appreciate their place in making this series so self aware and intriguing. Surprisingly, even while being full of tropes, Dragon Maid ended up being a more heartwarming and pleasant viewing experience this season than Interviews With Monster Girls, a show that avoids these stereotypes entirely, which leads me to wonder if the general sentiment that “tropes equal mediocrity” is a deeply flawed one.

And that concludes my current train of thought.

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Brief Blog/Life Update

rsz_caffeinated_telescopes_logo_5First off, it’s good to be back to regular posting after that brief period of inactivity! So here’s a few quick updates on what I’m working on right now and hope to accomplish in the next couple weeks.

First off, I’m currently working my way through Winter 2017 anime which has been an….interesting experience thus far. Sangatsu no Lion is a masterpiece, ACCA is pretty cool, Demi-chan wa kataritai is bland and generally lacking in style and substance but is still charming in its own way, Fuuka is as bad as I remember it being, Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon is close to being anime of the season and Kuzu No Honkai is currently sending me into a catastrophic spiral of nihilism and depression.The only ones left that I plan on watching are Little Witch Academia, Masamune-kun’s Revenge and Youjo Senki (I might also try a couple ones I missed just for the heck of it, like BanG Dream or Gabriel’s Dropout). I’m currently debating whether or not I should do a seasonal roundup next week to discuss all the shows I watched in a bit more length. I do have some thoughts on shows like Kobayashi and Demi-chan that I’d like to share, but perhaps not enough to warrant the creation of short form essays. Would that be something you guys would enjoy reading? Let me know.

Secondly, I was planning on starting my Youtube channel this month, but due to my current academic schedule I will have to place it on hold until the school year ends. Just know that I’m not abandoning it. I have a new long-form in the works that’s going to require a lot of time and research but I feel would be best presented in video form, so I’ll get back to it very soon.

Finally, here are my plans for the next week or two! I’m currently working on a big post on Sangatsu no Lion that I’m really excited to share with you guys, a long-form compare/contrast post, and a couple short-forms on Little Witch Academia. Depending on where my mind wanders concerning Kobayashi and Kuzu no Honkai later this week, I may start working on a couple posts about them as well.

That’s all I’ve got for today! Thanks for reading!

ACCA’s GENIUS Details (and Less Genius Generalizations)

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It was the cigarette detail and others like in the first few episodes of ACCA that first captured my interest. When Lotta tossed Jean his pack of cigarettes in the first episode, I think not only considered it to be a great addition to the show’s aesthetics and setting, but was also elated to discover that it played a crucial role in understanding the show’s world.

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A while back Under The Scope Reviews did an excellent video on world building, specifically on the importance of details, and it is details that ACCA specializes in and why I was able to remain interested in the story despite it’s leisurely pace and occasional scenes of exposition.

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Flip Flappers: Magical Girls and Thematic Presentation

Flip Flappers is one of the most well constructed shows in its thematic presentation that I’ve seen recently. Everything about it’s conception and structure are brilliantly designed to communicate its ideas and messages. Even the most fundamental element of its complex infrastructure is in service of one of its core themes. If you strip away the references to classic anime, literature, tropes and conventions spanning across a wide variety of genres, Flip Flappers is, at its core, a magical girl show. Even as the two lead characters traverse through the psychedelic call back to Alice and Wonderland, the barren landscape of Mad Max, the haunted Yuri school, the futuristic sci-fi mecha parody and many more, this foundation is always present. So why magical girls? Out of all the genres the series explores and pays tribute to, why settle on this one as its core element?

The idea of magical girls is often associated with adolescence. It’s something that one enjoys as a child but over time is expected to grow out of. It’s acceptable for one to look back at those genres with fondness and nostalgia, but without actively participating them. Since society dictates that genres of this kind are things one is supposed to leave behind as they mature into adulthood, the fact that Flip Flappers, a show specifically dealing with maturity and adulthood, uses a symbol of feminine adolescence to deliver its themes raises the question at hand. The key factor here is that the show never “grows out of it.” Even as it neared completion and began to abandon most of its fantasy aspects in favor of the science fiction genre, in the final two episodes the magical girls make their return, more feminine and powerful than ever before, almost as if the creators were blatantly pointing to it and declaring, “Yes, this is still relevant, pay attention.”

In the first episode, Cocona is introduced as an apathetic and confused middle school student who is being pushed into the adult world when she’s forced to make a weighty decision regarding her future. This is difficult for her because she’s unsure of what she wants out of life and is confused about her identity. It’s hinted at that her parents are absent from her life and that she isn’t very close to the grandmother she lives with. This would seem to imply that in the absence of adult figures in her life to look up to and learn from she’s had to form her own ideas of maturity and identity, and when those ideas are put to the test as she becomes responsible for her own life she becomes confused.

The show gives us a couple hints as to her ideas about maturity. When we first see her room in the first episode, what stands out to me is how ordinary and empty it is. There’s a book and a phone on the table, implying that she’s been studying diligently, a few books, a painting, a cage for her pet rabbit and very little more. In contrast, in the final episode when Cocona wakes up in Sayuri’s home, there are hair supplies, clothes hanging on a line, and anime posters on the walls. What this and some of Cocona’s actions throughout the episode tell me is that she has abandoned her personal identity in an attempt at maintaining a guise of maturity. She’s long since put away any personal interests or casual enjoyments because she’s convinced herself that such things have no place in the life of a mature adult. She appears to be disconnected from all of her classmates except for Yayaka, who she sometimes criticizes for not being serious enough. When Papika comes into her life and drags her into the world of magical girls, Cocona refuses to go with her a second time immediately and without hesitation, symbolizing that she’s she believes that concepts such a childish adventuring, magical girls, and other ideas associated with adolescence, are things she shouldn’t care about. In the few moments that she finds herself having fun, she immediately buries it within herself, returning to her facade of apathy. However, in the end, the magical girl gig is what leads her to an understanding of true mental and emotional maturity and a discovery of her identity. This childlike adventuring that she had been so adamantly opposed to was the very thing that enabled her to grow and develop as a person.

The fact that the show uses the magical girl genre as a symbol for Cocona’s personal journey says volumes about the intentions of the creators and the specific messages the show attempts to convey. Cocona had tried so hard to bury her childhood and personality underneath a guise of apathy that she stunted her personal growth. In order to come into her own as a mature adult, she had to search deep within herself and return to her childhood, a time when preserving her self image by pretending to be mature was something she didn’t care about. She had to let go of her preconceived notions about what it meant to be an adult and learn to enjoy life, abandoning the burden of the identities of her parents that she had carried for so long and learning to accept herself for who she was.

As mentioned earlier, the moment in which Cocona decides to separate herself from the identities of her parents, act on her desires and become her own person is accompanied by another magical girl transformation. Cocona realized that maturity doesn’t mean abandoning who you are and what you enjoy in favor of more “adult” things. The creators couldn’t have made their point any more clear; adulthood and childhood are inseparable, and maturity is embracing who you were, are, and want to become, and when you tie this unique metaphor back into the show’s theme of queer discovery, it becomes even more fascinating and relevant.

Just by being a show about magical girls, Flip Flappers tells us more about Cocona’s personal journey than dialogue ever could.

On My Writing Habits, Motivation and Maintaining Interest

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I’ve been writing about anime on and off for about five months now, and have only recently decided to make it an active part of my daily schedule. Writing about anime is, in a sense, a way for me to relieve my frustrations over my works of fiction. Being the romantic perfectionist that I am, the prospect of writing a 50,000-100,000 word novel has always been a daunting one. That being said, my current fictional project is the closest I’ve ever been to seeing a story to its completion. Last November I challenged myself to Nanowrimo and nearly completed the first draft. When looking back on it in retrospect I discovered several aspects of it that I wanted to change and a few bits I wanted to add. Understanding how those bits fit into the narrative has been my present struggle as I slowly progress in my second draft. It’s a big project that requires a lot of time and introspection, especially since the story itself is extremely personal and “close to home”, so to speak.

In the meantime, writing about anime has been almost relaxing. It gives me the ability to write about the things that I’m presently interested in and allows me to learn from them in the process. However, the more I do it, the more I’m finding that it comes with its own set of struggles and complications. For example, you may have noticed that my blog hasn’t been very active for the last week or two. Well, that’s because I’m presently putting the finishing touches on my Flip Flappers analysis, most of which I’ve rewritten about three times now. Unfortunately, I’m finding that I’ve been working on this essay for so long that I’m no longer interested in the topic of the analysis, leading to my delay in finishing it. In the last three days I’ve written four essays to alleviate my boredom and frustration with it, one on a different aspect of Flip Flappers, two on 3-gatsu no lion, and one on writing as an art in general, and now that I’m finally getting caught up on currently airing shows, I’m already formulating new ideas that I want to talk about.

You can tell from my anime watching habits that I have an extremely short attention span. 12 and 24 episode series are usually able to hold my interest, but anything longer has to be extremely special to maintain my interest, and this is reflected in my writing habits as well. When I started writing my Flip Flappers analysis I was captivated by its strong themes and concepts, and to some extent I still am. However, the excitement over that aspect of the show has waned in the last week. Now I find myself captivated by Flip Flappers’ presentation of its core themes, more so than the themes themselves. Soon, my excitement over Flip Flappers might wane even more as more presently concerning shows such as 3-gatsu, ACCA, Little Witch Academia and Maid Dragon fight for my attention.

In a sense, writing about anime has become a race for me; I must immediately write down my thoughts, rewrite the result, spellcheck it multiple times and then publish it before my attention moves onto the next interesting topic that comes along. However, because I’m such a perfectionist, this too is frustrating, because I want my writing to be as refined as I can get it before publishing. Originally I began my Flip Flappers analysis by analyzing the comparison between it and FLCL. However, the more I considered the two shows, I found that they’re so different in their intentions and presentation that the comparison was all but irrelevant, causing me to feel dissatisfied with the state of the essay, prompting me to begin rewriting it. But by choosing to do a rewrite I take the risk that along the way I could lose the interest and motivation required to finish it, which is my present condition. I then decide to take a break from it, telling myself convince myself that I’ll get back to it after I jot down a few notes on something else, but it never stops there. I start by taking a few notes on the show’s presentation, and then its a few notes on 3-gatsu, and then its a few notes on ACCA, and before I know it, even though it’s extremely close to completion, my original Flip Flappers analysis begins collecting dust and my blog remains inactive.

Maybe it’s my ADHD, or maybe this is something all analysts struggle with. I don’t know. What I do know is that if I’m going to continue this hobby of mine, I have to find a compromise. I still intend on finishing and publishing my original Flip Flappers essay within the next week or so, but after that I’ll have to experiment with some new methods of maintaining interest. Instead of creating space between my draft and my edit like I’m used to doing, maybe I’ll jump straight into the editing process. I’ll just have to do some trial and error and see what works for me. In the meantime, I apologize for my inexperience in blogging/analysis, bad writing habits and limited attention span, and I hope to get back to regular posting very soon. The current season is drawing to an end, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about in the coming weeks.