[Script] From Page to Screen: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Adaptations are as varied as anime itself. The art of adapting a work from one medium to another requires a series of careful decisions. By looking at how individual adaptations turn out, we can examine the priorities of the staff as well as the way in which different mediums interact.

As with many KyoAni works, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid changes quite a bit from its source material. The entire plot structure is totally rearranged, a large amount of material was added, and the show is just generally refocused in order to emphasize different aspects.

Specifically, while family and finding a place for yourself is a theme that’s present in the manga, the anime almost entirely focuses on it. In order to do so, it approaches the manga in a unique order. By switching the time at which certain events occur, it manages to create a complete arc for its characters while focusing more heavily on the way in which they become a family. Now let’s look at the individual episodes to see how things were changed.

Episodes 1 and 2 are pretty straight adaptations. There are some new moments here and there, but both episodes adapted four whole chapters so there wasn’t a ton of room to add material. That said, it becomes clear even from these two episodes that the staff at KyoAni, led by director Takemoto Yasuhiro, had very different priorities from mangaka Cool Kyoushinjya. Most notably, the comedy is toned down while the quiet, atmospheric moments are more heavily emphasized.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call the manga a gag series but it’s certainly comedy first and foremost. The anime, on the other hand, is more of a slice-of-life, where the comedy is used to endear us to the characters more than it’s used as the main selling point. Here, the big payoffs are not the jokes at the end of the chapters but the soft moments where Kobayashi and Tohru bond, or where Kanna warms up to Kobayashi.

Episode 3 is when the show really starts diverging from the manga. The entire “new apartment” thing is totally anime original but it works really well. First, it ties together a number of one-off chapters focusing on the apartment and where they live. Second, it increases the focus on the family theme. By having the three of them get a new apartment, the show emphasizes the fact that Kobayashi’s family is expanding with the addition of Tohru and Kanna. Once again, while comedy is present here, the show makes an attempt to focus more heavily on the warmth of this newfound family.

Another important aspect when looking at episode 3 is that it shows how the anime is structured. In the manga, new character introductions are all somewhat haphazard. In the show, they’re built so that they come at somewhat regular intervals, then allowing any results of the introduction to be addressed quickly. In episode 2, Kanna arrives and in episode 3 they have to get a new apartment. This is a trend across the episodes; as soon as new characters are introduced, the show explores the ways in which their introduction will affect the plot and the life of their family.

Episode 4 is notable for being the first episode to adapt only two chapters. To do this, it creates the entire ‘preparing for school’ scene out of nowhere. Given that this makes up a significant chunk of the episode, it’s quite relevant. Even more importantly, this scene directly states one of the core themes: the way our differences can divide us and the importance of accepting those differences and attempting to forge bonds. Even little moments like Kobayashi getting Kanna the trinket she wanted was, while present in the manga, given more focus here, making it a more important emotional moment.

The other thing that episode 4 does differently is adding another chapter with Saikawa right after Kanna attends school. The meaning of this change is pretty blatant: Saikawa is an important person to Kanna who’s given significantly increased screen-time in the anime, so the show attempts to demonstrate this by having her reappear immediately after her introduction. In the manga, she’s less important and doesn’t even show up again until the next volume.

Episode 5 is once again an episode which changes relatively little but the tone is still quite different. Here, I’d like to call to attention the differing art styles between the two works. The manga has Cool Kyoushinjya’s signature rough characters and relatively minimal backgrounds. The anime, on the other hand, has very soft characters courtesy of Kadowaki Miku. In addition, the background art is remarkably simple in its beauty. Unlike many recent KyoAni works, this show declines a heavy usage of effects in order to go for a flatter approach which serves to emphasize the warmth of the family. These little changes in art drastically alter the mood between the two works.

Episode 6 is mostly the same, though it combines two chapters in order to focus on the other families in the series. In doing so, it adds new material, particularly the content focused on Makoto and Fafnir. I’m especially thankful for their decision to add this, as the conversation wherein Fafnir declares Makoto to be ‘a hit’ only serves to emphasize the importance in finding family to an even greater degree.

Episode 7 is mostly played straight. The one thing it does change is to add more characters to the beach chapter. All in all, this part is almost unchanged, though it serves to demonstrate the much greater importance that Kobayashi’s newfound friend circle has to her. The anime is very focused on Kobayashi’s character arc. While the manga does cover that, it does so in a different way and isn’t anywhere near completion. KyoAni’s focus on her slow opening up to others is an effective choice that demonstrates their skill in adapting content even when it isn’t over.

Episode 8, as an introduction to Elma, contains 4 chapters. As such, it has very little new material and doesn’t diverge all that much from the manga. That said, it still comes across as a very different work, primarily due to the episode direction of Yamada Naoko. Her focus on Kobayashi’s discomfort with physical interaction is excellent, using her masterful understanding of human body language perfectly. This is really an area where the manga never could’ve hoped to compete. It’s simply nigh-impossible to nail body language in a manga the way KyoAni’s character acting can.

Episode 9 only borrows from one chapter, and it’s here that I have to talk about a glaring omission in the anime: Iruru. Iruru is another dragon who shows up at the end of the third volume. To be honest, a lot of Iruru’s early chapters are pretty bad and her design is frankly awful. As time goes on she begins to actually fit in the manga but the anime simply decided not to include her so as to avoid distracting from the show’s core. As a result, some episodes had to be changed a significant amount in order to account for her absence.

Episode 9 is one of these. In the manga, it’s merely parents’ day that Kanna wants Kobayashi to attend. Here, Iruru tries to tempt Kanna into destroying Kobayashi’s workplace so that she isn’t busy and can attend. Obviously, the anime had to throw all of that out. Instead, it gives even heavier focus to Kanna’s frustration with Kobayashi’s inability to come as well as Kobayashi’s attempts to get her work done in order to do so. The sports festival portion is entirely original and wasn’t present in the manga at all.

Episodes 10 and 11 are entirely new. While the manga does have a winter chapter, that became the housewarming party of episode 3. Because these are original they do the best job of demonstrating how the staff saw the show. Clearly, while comedy was a key factor in KyoAni’s conception of the project, they were also very interested in the family dynamics. This is true for the Christmas episode but comes through even more clearly for the New Years’ episode, which also has some focus on the idea of Kobayashi’s family outside of Tohru and Kanna, something which shows up later.

Episode 12 is mostly a straight adaptation. As always the tone is different across the two works and some chapter restructuring took place but what’s more important to note is the placement of this episode. This episode is here in order to warm us up for the finale. It makes it clear just how far Kobayashi and Tohru’s relationship has come since the show began and, in doing so, makes it evident why Kobayashi’s reaction is so strong in episode 13.

And let’s talk about episode 13. It’s adapted from two chapters and frankly, those chapters are not good in the manga. There, it’s a very brisk affair without much flourish or many interesting details. The anime basically creates a whole new experience out of a loose guideline in order to deliver a satisfying finale.

To start, the whole “forget me not” motif is entirely absent in the manga. For the most part, Kanna as a whole is absent in these chapters. The anime put a great amount of effort into increasing Kanna’s role throughout the whole show and that’s even more true here. While the chapter focused on Tohru’s introspection and anxieties is mostly unchanged, it’s given greater weight by the excellent directing and visuals that you’d expect from a KyoAni production.

However, what sees the biggest changes is the chapter where Tohru’s dad actually arrives. I’ll cut to the chase: Tohru never even leaves for the other world in the manga. There, her dad simply arrives, Kobayashi tells him off, and she leaves. There’s no tension, no real emotion, it’s just nothing. I don’t adore the manga but I think this is honestly one of its weaker chapters.

The anime elevates it in every way. First, it showcases how Tohru’s disappearance would effect Kobayashi’s life. I’ve seen some criticisms of her for showing little emotion at her absence but this is clearly untrue. She doesn’t get particularly vocal about it but her body language when she’s told makes it clear how she feels. Instead of openly freaking out, she simply bottles up her emotions for Kanna’s sake, which fits what we know about her.

The entire sequence where Kobayashi tries to manage without Tohru is excellent and, as I said, not present in the manga. Seeing Kobayashi struggle to be a single mother is great but I really want to highlight how Kanna behaves. She’s such a good girl that she tries her best to help Kobayashi out in this trying situation but she’s just a kid and needs support. Her scene with Saikawa here is excellent as it demonstrates how important Saikawa’s love is to her, especially when she’s troubled, something the manga basically doesn’t show.

In addition, the actual confrontation with Tohru’s father is changed. It’s significantly longer but more importantly, Kobayashi is never shown to be in serious danger in the manga. The anime added the scene of her getting shot by the father. This not only increases the tension but makes it more clear how much Kobayashi cares about Tohru, given that she’s willing to risk her life in order to help her. Furthermore, the father is shown to have stronger convictions, given that he doesn’t go away until Kobayashi persists and follows them to their battleground.

Lastly, the anime adds the final scene of the Kobayashi family going to visit her parents. This show’s a further step in Kobayashi and Tohru’s relationship that the manga didn’t come close to until volume 5. As I said, family is much more central to the anime than it is to the manga and ending on this demonstrates that.

I absolutely prefer the anime even though I’m aware that some prefer the manga. The ultimate truth is that they’re very different works. Simply comparing this to Cool Kyoushinjya’s other adaptations demonstrates how differently manga by the same creator can be interpreted. Maid Dragon is still recognizable as having the same base as the manga but it takes that base in totally different directions. Ultimately, adaptation is an art form which takes lots of care to get right. Maid Dragon is an excellent example of how loose adaptations can be made in order to focus on different elements.

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