The Gist: Kana watches human children go to school and feels left out. Seeing no harm in integrating her into human society, Kobayashi files the appropriate paperwork off camera and, along with Tohru, the three go shopping for school supplies. Wacky antics ensue.
Kana’s friendly-shy personality and physical abilities quickly earn her friends at school. Additionally, Saikawa Riko, the class’ unpopular princess with a shiny forehead, becomes her rival and comic relief. Antics involving older boys and domination of the dodgeball court ensue.
The Verdict: As a reviewer, I regularly ask myself “is this an original concept or a gimmicky re-skin of a conventional story?” Dragon Maid feels like it is trying to be the former, with its andro asexual professional single female protagonist, but the simple fact is Kobayashi is just a male archetype with a female voice. Similarly, the misfit dragons are like any other alien/demon/magic user/foreigner/outsiders trope about fitting in (or not, wackily) with Japanese culture + harem elements.
This doesn’t mean Dragon Maid isn’t funny, nor made poorly. While mid-shelf in quality, the action sequences are engaging. This week’s volleyball sequence was especially dynamic. Similarly, the writing is often funny and each character’s kindness is appealing in a harmless sort of way. This week’s trip to buy supplies, where the dragons don’t know how things work, but everyone acts like a family and has fun, provides a solid example of that comfort-food enjoyability.
What puzzles me is when Dragon Maid appears to be trying to make larger social commentary. Take the value Kobayashi puts on uniforms and uniformity, as a way to reduce Japanese peoples’ natural fear of differences OR her shock at the cost of basic school supplies (Kana’s standard book bag was $100) OR the group’s response to the supplies available for purchase at the local shopping arcade, which were drab and unappealing to children, yet surrounded by elderly shop owners and signs appealing to shop-local. Tohru is even afraid of the mall, because it reminds her of a castle, which is a dangerous place for a dragon to land.
The entire shopping sequence is littered with commentary about consumerism and community, and it’s interesting…but, given Dragon Maid’s scene structure, which flows more like a sequence of short self-contained gags, this commentary feels out of place. Perhaps it actually makes the scenes without commentary feel lacking by comparison? Either way, puzzling pros and cons.