Overcoming Disaster: The Return of KyoAni and the Chorogons

umrguy42
umrguy42
Dec 20, 2021 · 9 min read
Image source: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S (season 2)

In the Winter season of 2017, Kyoto Animation, arguably one of, if not the, top anime studios in Japan, released their adaptation of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, based on the manga by “Coolkyousinnjya”, the creator of I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying, a cute little romantic comedy that got its own anime adaptation with seasons in 2014 and 2015. KyoAni took Maid Dragon and gave us the story of a computer programmer who gets drunk after work one night, ends up in the woods, and rescues a dragon — who then shows up on her doorstep promising to be her live-in maid in order to repay her. And as KyoAni does, this adaptation blew us away as if we’d been hit by a dragon attack ourselves.

Welcome to “12 Days of Anime 2021”, a writing challenge in which I look to have an article a day for 12 days leading up to Christmas, all centered in some way on anime or anime-related topics. You can find last year’s stories at this link over on Anitay, as well as re-posts of my 2018 and 2019 series here on Medium. Big, big thanks to Stanlick for creating the header image outline template.

In the first season of Maid Dragon, we were introduced to Kobayashi and an expanding cast of dragons, including Tohru, her maid (who also wants to be her lover); Kanna, who decides to live with Kobayashi and Tohru and experience life as a human child would; Fafnir the dragon, who has become addicted to online games and lives with Takiya, Kobayashi’s coworker; Lucoa, a former divine being who is now “just” a dragon, and has chosen to become the familiar of Shouta, a young aspiring mage, whose father happens to run the company that Kobayashi works for; and Elma, a dragon from a faction opposing Tohru’s, who came to Earth to try and bring Tohru back, but fails and then winds up staying and becoming another of Kobayashi and Takiya’s coworkers. This first season sets up the dragons (the “chorogons”, or easily-won over dragons) establishing new lives on Earth, and adapting and learning about the human world, while Kobayashi, Takiya, and a select few other humans around them, for their part learn and adapt to having this new dragon family in their lives.

The first season was well-received and well-rated, and in February of 2019, production of a second season was announced. Then, in July 2019, a man attacked Kyoto Animation’s Studio 1 in an arson attack, killing 36 people and injuring another 33 (plus himself). Amongst the lives sadly taken by this attack was that of Yasuhiro Takemoto, director of the first season of Maid Dragon, and planned director for the second season. Along with the loss of human life, talent and experience, studio space, and current projects, this loss left the status of Maid Dragon’s second season in limbo for some time. Alongside the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the recovery from the attack, it was a pleasure to find out that Kyoto Animation’s first new series since the fire would in fact be the second season, now in the capable hands of director Tatsuya Ishihara (with Takemoto credited as “series director” both in honor of his memory and in recognition of his pre-production efforts and planning for the series). The cast and much of the other key production members also returned.

The second season, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon S (Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S), was highly anticipated, both in general, and also to see how much KyoAni had recovered, and how they would do on their return to a seasonal anime series. The season aired during the summer season of 2021, and I think an appropriate summation of it would be “overwhelming success.”

First of all, Kyoto Animation’s production of the show — the design, the details, the animation quality, everything — was easily at the same high level, if not perhaps even higher, than their usual output. Credits and production notes that were released also indicated the influence of the late Takemoto’s planning efforts being utilized by Ishihara and the rest of the staff. While each director might have their own “feel” on the shows they produce, here, I don’t think that in any way hurt the second season. KyoAni may be more thought of for comedies and slice-of-life shows, but here they showed (not for the first time) that they can also animate epic fight sequences with the best of them.

Also epic maid cafe sequences.

And really, you could probably fill three articles just full of the little details that KyoAni and/or Coolkyousinnja tucked in to this series alone (like, I seriously think one of Kobayashi’s tshirts is supposed to be a very subtle reference to the movie Full Metal Jacket of all things). From the studio that animated each episode of Haruhi’s “Endless Eight”, it might not even seem all that much, but after all they went through, it’s great to see that they haven’t lost that touch.

Secondly, the story arcs covered by this season were fantastic. The first episode introduced another new dragon, Ilulu, who appears first as an antagonist who doesn’t understand why Tohru would stay with humans, and who then winds up becoming yet another member of Kobayashi’s growing family. A certain plot arc involving her and a magic spell cast on Kobayashi was also handled well — while still relatively “adult”, likely moreso than some watchers anticipated, it was in fact toned down a bit from the original manga version. But more importantly, Ilulu’s character is well-developed and well-explored, especially her desire for friendships and relationships that she’d been forced to shut away behind a “dragons and humans must be enemies” hard shell. Ilulu eventually goes to work in a candy shop nearby, where her enormous assets and occasional disregard for human modesty tend to fluster the teenaged grandson of the shop’s owner.

She’s got huge… tracts of land.

Additionally, we also get some great expansion on Tohru’s backstory, starting with her previous relationship with Elma in the dragon world, showing us that there is much more there than just simply “Tohru is a Chaos dragon, and Elma is an Order dragon, so they must fight.” We also learn how Tohru ended up injured and on Earth originally. We also see more of Elma this season. Besides the fleshing out of her prior relationship with Tohru, she has even more interactions with the “main” cast over time, including an episode where she brings up a number of proposals to try and improve the working conditions at the company, proposals which Kobayashi and Takiya find themselves drawn into helping with despite themselves.

Fan favorite Kanna gets several of her own moments to shine, particularly in the middle of the season. We see more of her interactions with her classmates — not just with the sometimes-disturbing Saikawa, but with several others, as they go on hikes, explore the school for ghosts, and other things. We also see her run away, all the way to New York City, after having a fight with Kobayashi. While there, she ends up meeting an American girl, and eventually revealing her dragon status to her.

Also, by god, does the new girl have Saikawa’s number.

After spending the time away, we find that Tohru has actually been keeping an eye on Kanna in NYC the whole time [side note: That KyoAni attention to detail? Yeah, if you go back and check the original scenes, you will be able to spot Tohru in at least most of them], and they both head home so that Kanna can make up with Kobayashi. Later, Kanna and Kobayashi spend a wonderful relaxing day together, relaxing, doing odd tasks, then going for a walk together. Like, this segment could practically be an entire iyashikei series just on its own.

The series also provides some good screen time for some of the “side” characters such as Shouta, and Saikawa’s older sister Georgie. For example, we see Shouta attempting to find a way to “control” Lucoa, looking for advice on how to be a “cool adult,” and striving to make the perfect Father’s Day present for his dad (Kobayashi’s boss, and also a powerful mage himself, and with the creepiest eyes of anyone in the show so far).

He also happens to have become a friend of Tohru’s Chaos Dragon Emperor father.

Late in the season, Kobayashi begins to wonder if, after all Tohru’s been through, Kobayashi is even worthy of her love — especially now that Tohru has become such a part of not just Kobayashi’s life, but the entire neighborhood. When Kobayashi expresses her doubts to Tohru, Tohru replies with the simple truth:

The season ends with a big flower viewing party for the whole crew, with fun and games, food and companionship, all leading up to a madcap final ending sequence.

My only real disappointment with the series (other than the over-the-top reactions of Saikawa towards Kanna) was feeling that some of the Takiya/Fafnir interactions felt a little underdeveloped/under-resolved. But that’s about the only point I have to knock the story on.

Earlier, I mentioned the little details KyoAni put into the show. One of my absolute favorites was a TV in the background showing the music video for Season 1’s opening song “Aozora no Rhapsody”:

This season’s opening theme is again provided by fhàna and is just as catchy as the previous one. As far as the series itself, the first season had an excellent soundtrack — so much so, it’s one of the few shows whose soundtrack I listen to beyond just the opening and closing themes. First season musical composer Masumi Itō returned for the second season as well, and the “chorogon” cast members once again provide the closing theme. As a result, the music is just as excellent from start to finish as it was in the first season.

Plus the voice cast did both this cover of the first season’s opening in cosplay as their characters, AND a cosplay video for this season’s ending theme.

So, when the question is asked, how did Kyoto Animation do producing a sequel to a much-loved first season, AFTER experiencing a major tragedy that took the lives of many promising talents including the series’ director (and having to deal with all the issues with the COVID pandemic during said recovery as well, just for that added level of difficulty)? The answer is, they nailed it, thank you very much — this second season easily matches, and probably surpasses, the first season. When the question is, should I watch it?, well, if you enjoyed the first season but for whatever reason haven’t seen this one — you should definitely watch it. If you haven’t seen the first season either, you should consider watching that, and then watch this one. It’s a great story, beautifully animated, with a fantastic voice cast and an excellent soundtrack. In my opinion, it’s a show that is well worth your time, and one of the best shows to air this year.

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