Violet Evergarden – 02

The second episode of Violet Evergarden begins with a flashback to four years ago, when Gilbert first “met” Violet. I use quotes, because his brother suddenly presents him with Violet like she’s a new weapon for him to try out, rather than a human being to meet.

As we know, Gilbert would come to think a lot more of Violet than merely as a trusty tool, be it a comrade in arms, a sister, or even a lover. But witnessing the simple moment they met serves to underscore what was lost when they were suddenly separated at the end of the war.

I imagine Violet and Gilbert were quite inseparable for all of the four years that followed, but now they’re apart, and Violet is trying to make the best of it. More importantly, she wants to learn what the last three words he said to her meant.

For her, that means learning the secrets of the women who write letters that properly express the feelings and intentions of their clients. But there’s a problem: Violet may be able to express love—for Gilbert, mostly—but since she doesn’t understand love, she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

As such, despite her speed and precision at the typewriter, she has a rough go of perceiving or transcribing the clients’ wishes. She’s always lived by cold hard facts and logic. The nuances of words and the concept of tact are as foreign to her as her metal arms are to her new co-workers Cattleya, Erica, and Iris.

When a customer is so angry he prepares to walk out without paying, Violet restrains him with ease, showing she can be an asset to the business (in addition to accurately typing addresses and records). But she’s not going to learn about love by simply doing the grunt-work.

Unfortunate circumstances lead her to writing a “love letter” from an interested woman who doesn’t want to come off as too easy to her admirer, and it goes about as well as you suspect. I actually really felt for the poor customer who had the bad luck to entrust Violet with such a coorespondence.

But I also felt bad for Violet, who has no idea (not yet at least) why her letter was so horrible. We can only hope she’ll apply that military discipline and sticktoitness to learning the finer points of interpersonal communication…and tact. I felt worse still when she thought she saw the back of Major Gilbert’s head, and her crestfallen face when it turned out to be a stranger.

The fellow Auto Memoir Doll who gets the most exposure this week is Erica, who was struggling to write letters that satisfied her customers before Violet showed up. In Violet’s blunders she sees her own shortcomings in this very tricky business, albeit different shortcomings.

She later learns from Violet (in a gorgeous end-of-the-rain scene where the sun starts to pour on their faces) why Violet is so adamant on persisting with the job even though she’s not well-suited for it: to learn what “I love you” meant.

Erica often walks past a store window with an early typewriter, whose inventor built for his blind wife so she could keep writing novels. It was a tool build out of love. The wife’s novels inspired Erica to try her hand at writing, and she intends to stick it out just as Violet does.

Erica (and Iris for that matter) are well aware not everyone can be Cattleya, who is the company’s popular (and money-making) celebrity. She likes Claudia Hodgins (so named because his parents wanted a daughter), but he can’t treat her to dinner because he spent his month’s pay to retrieve the brooch Gilbert gave to Violet, which was later stolen and placed on the black market.

Once Cattleya dolls Violet up a little to give her a look better befitting her regimental aura, Hodgins presents the brooch to Violet as a surprise, and her reaction shows every one present there’s a lot more to Violet than she’s revealed to them thus far.

When Cattleya asks Hodgins about the “Gilbert” Violet mentioned, he tells her, gravely swirling his drink (creating patterns of undulating light on the bar) and as Violet, in her quarters holds her brooch up to the light: Gilbert is from the rich and famous Bougainvillea family.

But still unbeknownst to Violet, he’s Never Coming Back, in one of the more effective episode title drops I’ve ever had the privilege to see. Violet bites the brooch, no doubt believing she’s now a little closer to meeting Gilbert again. In reality, that brooch is all that’s left of him.

It’s a truth Hodgins is in no apparent hurry to reveal to her, and who can blame him? The way she is now, Violet would either not believe him, and possibly undertake a desperate, futile quest to find him, or believe him, and lose all will to live one moment longer without her Major.

Advertisements

Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 10

The Gist: It’s the Christmas episode and Tohru is asked to put on a holiday play for seniors by the shopping arcade association. Everyone but Kobayashi is involved and, after some foreshadowingly unproductive discussion, they agree to put on a version of ‘The Match Stick Girl.”

Of course the Dragons don’t really understand human culture, and everything they plan is overly specific to their own hobbies or just straight up weird. It’s wonderfully bizarre when it comes together, with an Anxious Kobayashi providing commentary and watching from the back of the room ready to spring in and stop things if they get out of control.

And even though things do get out of control, the seniors are happy and everyone has fun. So much so that Kobayashi settles down a bit and her love and appreciation for Tohru grows ever so slightly larger.

This applies to everyone else too. Lucoa and Shouta interact more naturally (read: less rapey), Riko’s lust for Kana is a little less frequent, and even Elma gets acceptance among the group.

After the after party, Tohru and Kobayashi share a snow filled dragon ride through the sky and exchange gifts.

The Verdict: Dragon Maid owes much of its success and limitations to its reliable comedic formula. That formula was a bit more obvious than usual, as several jokes used the same setup “Oh, dragon misunderstands the point” but they were still well timed. The creativity is in how weird the jokes get, and the general strength of the episode depends on how much charm and warmth the cast can generate around those odd jokes.

This week checked off the warmth marks, obviously, and the weirdness stayed creative too. I wish there was a stronger narrative thrust or purpose to all of it, but the show still deserves your attention without that.

16rating_8

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 09

The Gist: Kana’s school is hosting a field-sports episode and it takes a few quiet but thoughtful character developments for Kobayashi to choose to attend. The day itself sees Shouta consistently win because of Boob-dragon-chan, Riko orgasm at almost every moment of contact with Kana, and Kana’s team ultimately wins through group spirit.

Meanwhile, Elma can’t decide which food/drink she wants in three short segments and Lord Fafnir isn’t even in the episode.

The Verdict: Dragon Maid lands another successful slice of life outing framed loosely by the trappings of the school-sports-day/fair cliche. The fact that it teases out some emotional growth from Kobayashi in the process, while keeping Kana both childlike and understated, was pretty impressive.

On the Downside? It’s also pretty good for a late pre-final conflict arc filler episode… but it’s still a pre-final conflict fill episode. There’s no indication that we will learn anything about Tohru’s grim-dark backstory, nor is any conflict set up to be resolved.

Still, subtle feel good vibes go a long way in it’s favor.

16rating_8

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 08

dragonmaid8c

The Gist: Kana is going on a field trip and needs someone to make her a lunch… so Kobayashi and Tohru have a food wars style kitchen battle to see who is a better lunch preparer. After three rounds, Tohru is effectively disqualified for using food from the other world (like the kissing fruit monster thing pictured above) but it’s all good: Kobayashi feels they can fight so seriously because they’ve become such close friends.

Shortly after that, Elma slips through the gate Tohru used to reach the other world… and proceeds to be the shortest lived rival in anime history. Not because she is killed — Dragon Maid is not that kind of show! Rather, after two very short encounters, Elma joins the ranks of human society and moves on. She even strikes up an office friendship with Kobayashi, though that has as much to do with needing help with the computer and Koba being a softie as giving up her grudge on Tohru…

dragonmaid8b

In a reversal of roles, Tohru becomes envious of Elma for her casual relationship with Koba, but even this doesn’t last so long. Tohru and Koba simply have a heart felt conversation and get over it.

Meanwhile, Lucoa continues to child-molest Shouta in his sleep. Fortunately, these scenes are incredibly short and couched in Shouta’s dreams. Still… wtf Dragon Maid?

dragonmaid8a

The Verdict: Dragon Maid finally lands a solid slice of life episode. A lot of this has to do with Elma being part of Koba’s work, and functions more like a human than the other dragons, which lets us actually experience their interactions in a less narrative way.

Overall, Dragon Maid has a great flow to its scenes. They come in varying lengths, which gives each episode the flavor of several mini-episodes bundled at the edges of two half-length episodes. While other shows like Konosuba are also experimenting with multiple hard transitions within each episode, each of their segments tend to be more consistent in length. This gives Dragon Maid a unique feel and, when the episode is actually good (read: not RAPEY) that uniqueness elevates the quirky flavor.

16rating_8

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 07

dragon7a

The Gist: Kobayashi, Tohru, Kana, Lucoa and Shouta go to the beach. While the dragons are gung-ho about having fun, showing skin, and working out, the Humans are fairly restrained. Slapstick, incomplete tangents about Koba’s past, and some melancholy ensue.

Until Koba asks to ride Tohru, that is. With everyone relaxing on their yacht-sized friend (and Koba fishing) the mood lightens. And even though everyone is close by, Koba and Tohru have a chance to talk to each other more directly. Tohru is homesick, a little, and wants to introduce Koba to her parents, but that can’t happen because they would kill a human on sight. Then we transition to Comiket

dragon7b

Unsurprisingly, Takiya is has his own manga for sale and Koba and Tohru are right there to help him manage lines and take payment. As the line stretches on, Tohru realizes other creatures from another world are in attendance and, when talking to them, learns that events like this are their rare chances to be normal amidst humans.

It is all quite touching, really, with Tohru getting a sense of belonging. Or, at the very least, a sense of enjoyment from being a part of a specific and special time and place.

Meanwhile, poor Fafnir’s book of curses doesn’t sell well. Although, that’s probably for the best…

dragon7cSPOILER! Kana eats the crab.

The Verdict: If you ignore the running gag that Lucoa has giant breasts and likes to flaunt them, this week was a return to Dragon Maid’s standard form. That is to say, it was harmless, populated by charming characters, with a bit of well-timed surprise humor sprinkled on top.

It’s nothing remarkable, but special credit is due for the beach episode actually developing the core characters (and for spending a surprisingly short amount of screen time at the actual beach).

Bonus Bonus points for Kana eating many things throughout the episode, including the bugs she was supposed to collect for her summer homework.

16rating_7

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 06

dragonmaid6_2

The Gist: Amidst the Spring rain, four dragon x human couplings blossom. Riko, whose older sister is also a maid-otaku, invites Kana and company over for a playdate. While Kobayashi and Riko’s sister bond over maids (and Tohru feels left out), Riko introduces Kana to Twister and, as their loli bodies entwine, Kana introduces Riko to lust.

Kana’s objectives are a little vague here. She knows her strengths make her popular in class, but it doesn’t feel like the friendship she see’s between Kobayashi and Tohru. However, she doesn’t seem entirely invested in Riko, dspite Riko offhandedly saying she would gladly marry Kana, and despite Kana mounting Riko and pinning her to the floor…

dragonmaid6_4Ah Twister, the loli’s gateway into awkward Yuri action…

The entire Kana x Riko section is played for laughs, which is a little creepy considering the laughs are about proto-sexual interactions between elementary school-age children, but not nearly as creepy as Lucoa’s relationship with Magatsuchi Shouta

Shouta is the descendant of mages and about Riko’s age. While trying to summon a demon, he ended up summoning Lucoa, who is now living at his house, taking baths with him, and sleeping with him clutched in her arms. How his parents are not involved in this is unclear and beside the point. What is clear is that Lucoa’s only value to him is her physical body, and no matter how much she rubs her breasts in his face, he doesn’t even want that.

Like Kana x Riko, this section is played for laughs. We’re supposed to find it funny that Lucoa, who is the level-headed dragon, is flustered by her lack of value to her partner. We’re also supposed to find it funny that a mature woman is making sexual advances on a young boy, who is obviously aroused by it but has no tools to cope except to call her names and shout objections. In short, we’re supposed to find child molestation acceptable, if not funny, because of the gender norms in play. Nice!

dragonmaid6_1Lolz a clueless sexual predator won’t leave this little boy alone lolz / wtf?!

The final section is devoted to Fafnir and Takiya, which is book-ended by KanaKobayashi and Tohru enjoying the rain. While Fafnir and Takiya are naturally awkward characters, this section is anything but.

They have a routine, if sorts, with the day starting and ending with Takiya making meals for them to share, and lots of online gaming in between. I love that Fafnir always asks if the flavor is ‘mild,’ no matter what type of dish is served. I love that they are making a game together and are planning to sell it at Comiket. I love that their relationship is almost completely inverse of Tohru x Kobayashi.

But what really sells it as a complete and interesting set of scenes is the tiny amount of time we actually spend in Fafnir’s head. He sees humans as hit or miss and finds the amount of effort to decide if a person is a hit too much. He’d rather limit his exposure to the easy misses—the humans who raid his lair for gold—than put himself out there. Except, without explaining what he means, he tells Takiya a hit and lets Tikiya call him Faf-kun.

That added a charming layer to what would otherwise be disposable side-character antics.

dragonmaid6_3

The Verdict: Episode 6 presents a significant challenge in the ratings department. While Fafnir x Takiya’s story provided an unusually thoughtful, well paced experience, and Tohru x Kobayashi’s time watching the rain had a similar effect, the overall experience was just ‘watchable.’

Additionally, I respond poorly to the use of sexualization for exploitation’s sake, and this week’s Kana x Riko and Lucoa x Shouta used it for even less. Introducing Shouta this late in the season with no clear purpose doesn’t help things either.

In the grand scheme of things, those scenes didn’t make the episode hard to watch, though I would argue it did make it worse. Worse and I suspect they will become a recurring theme for some reason, which greatly reduces my interest in reviewing it.

16rating_6

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 05

dm5_1

The Gist: Tohru follows Kobayashi to work and gains a better appreciation for Kobayashi’s reliable nature and indifference to pressure. (Even so, Tohru dispenses some righteous justice on Kobayashi’s abusive boss)

For her own part, Kobayashi comes to realize that she’s changed a bit over the past few months. She’s happier and more relaxed and knows she owes it to Kobayashi. She can barely remember what she was like before they started living together. Strangely, she never expresses this point to Tohru

Meanwhile, Kana and Riko have a few short and utterly forgetable scenes at school, each of which ends with Riko climaxing at Kana’s touch. (though the climax is trimmed shorter and shorter each time)

Finally, Fafnir tries to get an apartment but, after failing some basic aspects of being human, moves in with Kobayashi’s coworker.

dm5_2

The Verdict: If Little Witch hadn’t just zapped me with a methodically uneventful episode, I may have enjoyed this this week’s Dragon Maid a bit more. Unfortunately, the uneventfulness of the plot barely held my attention.

Sure, Tohru’s surprising appearance on the TV magic show as a payoff to the not-learning-magic plot was expert level joke-craft, and it’s somewhat funny to see Fafnir crop up in two unrelated animes this week, but the sum total of events this week equal: Fafnir moving to the human world more permanently and Tohru telling him she is in the human world to stay.

Sprinkle in some longing looks and the as-yet-unrevealed why Tohru is obsessed with Kobayashi and that’s neither character growth or eventful plot developments to cling to.

Ultimately? It’s watchable, pleasant, and a bit more engaging than this week’s Demi-chans, but not as visually striking as Little Witch, nor as frenetic as its own previous outings. Hopefully, something more will develop soon…

16rating_7

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 04

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-5-50-36-pmCome on baby, brand me one more time…

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.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-6-11-33-pm

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.

16rating_7

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 03

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-32-28-pm

The Gist: this week features another string of vignettes, anchored by a longer telling of the team moving into a larger apartment. We get glimpses of Kobayashi’s childhood as they pack, information about dragon bathing habits, the frustration of commuting back to the wrong apartment after a move, we meet three new neighbors, and, finally, a party where we meet two more dragons.

Throughout all of this, Tohru and Koby’s relationship becomes more comfortable. They play and tease more honestly, and manipulate each other more openly too. (Koby to avoid house cleaning and Tohru to get a thorough washing)

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-51-10-pmThe new dragon’s boobs are absurdly huge…

The Verdict: The strength of this show is its casual nature. We met a ton of characters this week, which culminated in a dinner party where people didn’t entirely get along but there was no crucial narrative turning point here, no confrontation either. Just weirdos hanging out, eating food and playing games.

That lack of purpose would irritate me in most shows. However, Liking this show doesn’t hinge on that mystery and liking its characters doesn’t hinge on them doing anything. Dragon-maid’s choice to push the mystery plot back and just let the characters interact just works.

Call me confounded. Pleased and confounded!

16rating_8

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 02

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-1-28-13-pm

The Gist: Kanna-chan, a blue bird-like Dragon Gothic Lolita with a tribal theme, quickly moves in with Kobayashi and Tohru this week. She’s recently been kicked out of the dragon world for pulling a prank but she’s also here because she was worried about Tohru, who she’d heard was killed.

Much of the episode is spent with her and Tohru wandering around the human world, misunderstanding how things work, but generally being close and enjoying each other’s company. Many little moments, like thinking a see-saw is for catapult training, are framed inside yellow and black segment cards, which gives the entire adventure a vignette feel.

Over all, we learn less about plot and more about how characters interact, and it’s all delightfully shown and not told. And as for showing, there’s plenty of action too! Tohru beats down a purse snatcher, Kanna and Tohru rough-house in an epic magic battle, and the girls launch each other into the stratosphere with the before mentioned see-saw.

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-1-14-18-pm

The Verdict: what an odd little episode? Like Flying Witch, this was very pleasant, despite having no stakes at all. Characters just have fun taking in the world and trying to tease out a little more about each other’s circumstances. If it were not for all the magic and epic action shots, you could even call it… naturalistic in feel.

As with last week, Kobayashi feels like a gender swapped male. In fact, I’m certain this is a harem show with a andro-female protagonist, who’s not really interested in the harem. Coupled with the magic, dragons and everything else, and you’ve got one weird little world. Weird and lovely!

16rating_8

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 01 (First Impressions)

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-2-56-43-pm

The Gist: while drunk in the mountains, Kobayashi invites a dragon to live in her apartment as a maid. Tohru, the dragon in question, happily agrees for reasons not entire clear to the hung-over Kobayashi the following morning. This agreement, including Tohru’s apparent sexual love for her, may stem from a life debt. More on that later…

In the meantime, Kobayashi has to go to work and Tohru, who knows very little about the human world, has to get by with internet searches and calling other dragons on a magic phone. As you would imagine, Tohru doesn’t totally get it right…

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-2-58-15-pm

You’ll probably like Dragon Maid if you enjoy peppy humor, with the hints of a darker story beneath the surface. (Tohru’s nightmares, whatever Kobayashi did to save her, etc.) The visuals are average but pop pleasantly. The dialogue has strong comedic timing and the situational surprises are nice and quirky. (Kobayashi and Takiya being opinionated maid-otaku when drunk was hilarious, Tohru washing Kobayashi’s laundry in her mouth was gross but fun, etc.)

You may not care about Dragon Maid if the whole ‘pretty girl with animal parts’ genre is played out for you. While her ability to fly, breathe fire, and turn into a giant, not-at-all-human looking creature separates Tohru from the average Cat-Girl, the humor structured around her is effectively the same: She doesn’t understand our world and makes odd choices while trying to please her new master.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-3-05-51-pm

The Verdict: I was pleasantly surprised by Tohru’s nightmares, which bumped the show above pleasant but forgettable comedy. Making Kobayashi female is also a nice twist on the convention. Even though she’s somewhat andro, and her coworkers tend to think of her as one of the guys, she is not homosexual, which gives the showrunners more to work with regarding Tohru’s advances.

Go on, you know you want to give this one a watch!

16rating_8

Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 03

hib231

This week both Kumiko and Reina have to have potentially uncomfortable (and in Reina’s case, catastrophic) conversations with people who are by nature hard to approach: Asuka and Taki-sensei, respectively. Reina is open with Kumiko about what she must do, and tacitly seeks support; Kumiko doesn’t tell Reina what she’s up to regarding Asuka and Nozomi.

Also, Reina’s is a simply matter of love. Kumiko feels she has to take an active role in the repair the frayed ends of the band before they get worse. She may have been sparing Reina extra stress, but perhaps she’s also keeping things quiet because she’s still not sure she can succeed.

hib232

After a day of grueling, repetitive practice with short breaks for bathing and eating, Kumiko is already at a physical disadvantage in her long-awaited chat with Asuka (who has far more stamina). But Kumiko remains focused, as she must, to keep their talk on track.

Asuka wants to steer Kumiko away at every turn, but once she sees how committed Kumiko is, she isn’t shy about explaining why she can’t support Nozomi joining the band. In short, because their only oboist, Yoroizuka, wouldn’t be able to play.

It’s plain old logic: you already have some flutes, but only one oboe. So Asuka does what needs to be done for that oboist to be able to perform optimally—and even when Hashimoto says she plays like a robot, she’s still very good.

hib233

Asuka warned Kumiko that possessing this knowledge would only make her miserable: how is she going to keep her promise by telling Nozomi…that? It wouldn’t just be a blow to her as a musician, but also completely upend her perspective on her relationship with Yoroizuka.

Sure enough, Kumiko isn’t in the best of moods, but Reina shows up with sparklers, and suddenly Kumiko has a worthy diversion: taking Reina by her perfectly constructed cheeks and giving her a wordless look after Reina hesitates asking Taki if he’s dating Niiyama.

Proving she’s simply a magnet for personal information and probably has a bright future in talk therapy, after Reina strides off, Hashimoto sits beside Kumiko and lets slip that Taki is a widower; his wife died five years ago and he’s been a “husk” ever since. But he’s happy Taki took the job at Kitauji, and even happier when he asked him to join him.

hib234

When I heard Reina say Taki and Niiyama aren’t dating, I knew she’d sleep soundly that night. Sure enough, she’s blissfully dozing away, but Kumiko is restless, unsure of whether to tell her about Taki’s wife.

Her night wandering leads to her eavesdropping on Yuko and Natsuki, with the later confused about why Nozomi can’t join the band and the former unwilling to let too much slip, partly because she doesn’t want a big mess on her hands.

Yuko saw Kumiko try to hide, and treats her to a juice and a chat of their own. Yuko, like Asuka and now Kumiko, knows the truth about Yoroizuka and Nozomi, but doesn’t want Natsuki involved. Kumiko steers the talk to what Yuko herself thinks of competitions. She doesn’t like them, but if she has to be in one, she wants Gold.

hib234a

Kumiko returns to her futon and a now half-awake Reina (nice job with both seiyus modifying their voices to sound tired, discreet, and like they’re lying on their sides, which they are). Reina’s first thought of where Kumiko was is Tsukimoto, who has a hilariously tiny role so far this season, commensurate to the amount of shits Kumiko cares about him.

After honestly asserting that her childhood friend has “nothing to do with it”, Kumiko changes the subject, asking Reina the same thing she asked Yuko, and getting a predictably different and very Reina response: most people complaining about competitions is sour grapes, and all one can really do is to “get good.”

Besides, she likes playing in front of people, and competitions offer her that chance. For the record, she likes ’em. Then she nods back off, no longer troubled about Taki.

hib235

The episode ends quietly and beautifully, not with another frank discussion on how someone feels about competitions, but with a sleep-deprived Kumiko striking out into the dawn with trusty euph in hand, and coming upon a “strange, warm, lonely piece” being played by Asuka in the middle of a grassy field.

Honestly, it sounded Ghibli-esque to me, like something Pazu might play on his trumpet for his doves. It’s a lovely scene, and a reminder to Kumiko that Asuka carries in her a “myriad of emotions” she releases in her music. While that might make her the opposite of Yoroizuka, well…they still need an oboe, and she’s it.

16rating_9