Maidragon comes to an end with a spectacular episode, so it’s time to congratulate its director Yasuhiro Takemoto for multiple reasons.
Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Episode Direction (演出, enshutsu): A creative but also coordinative task, as it entails supervising the many departments and artists involved in the production of an episode – approving animation layouts alongside the Animation Director, overseeing the work of the photography team, the art department, CG staff... The role also exists in movies, refering to the individuals similarly in charge of segments of the film.: Yoshiji Kigami, Shinpei Sawa
Animation Direction (作画監督, sakuga kantoku): The artists supervising the quality and consistency of the animation itself. They might correct cuts that deviate from the designs too much if they see it fit, but their job is mostly to ensure the motion is up to par while not looking too rough. Plenty of specialized Animation Direction roles exist – mecha, effects, creatures, all focused in one particular recurring element.: Tatsunari Maruko, Kohei Okamura, Shouko Ikeda
Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.: Hidehiro Asama, Sae Sawada, Aoi Okuno, Chiharu Kuroda, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Tomoko Yoshimura
Yoshinori Urata, Kota Sato, Naoya Nakayama, Ryo Miyaki, Sayaka Watanabe
Seichi Akitake, Hiroshi Karata, Kunihiro Hane, Taira Yamaguchi, Nami Iwasaki, Sana Suzuki, Shiho Morisaki, Kyohei Ando
— Maidragon comes to an end on April 5th, a significant date because it’s also the birthday of Series Director: (監督, kantoku): The person in charge of the entire production, both as a creative decision-maker and final supervisor. They outrank the rest of the staff and ultimately have the last word. Series with different levels of directors do exist however – Chief Director, Assistant Director, Series Episode Director, all sorts of non-standard roles. The hierarchy in those instances is a case by case scenario. Yasuhiro Takemoto – please congratulate him so that he isn’t sad anymore. My intention was to briefly cover this episode and focus on the series as a whole, but those plans crumbled under the weight of this incredible episode. The tone was quite unlike anything that preceded it so I can imagine some viewers will suffer a bit of a whiplash, but thematically the progression was perfectly coherent. And beyond how we got to this point, Takemoto’s execution was unbelievable. This is the second time this season after Masayuki’s LWA TV #3 where I’ve felt a Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More went well beyond what TV anime is supposed to be. A master class in flow and striking framing (oh you, Takemoto), but also in conveying feelings like Kobayashi’s crushing loneliness after Tohru’s departure.
— Takemoto’s boards are so dense I don’t even know where to start dissecting them. Perhaps the smart usage of motifs to portray the passage of time, as well what the characters hold dear. Maybe the increasing disorder in the household once Tohru leaves, which tells us about the events happening beyond the camera’s reach. There’s also the Layouts (レイアウト): The drawings where animation is actually born; they expand the usually simple visual ideas from the storyboard into the actual skeleton of animation, detailing both the work of the key animator and the background artists. that aren’t only rich, but also allow us to quite literally get into Kobayashi’s shoes to feel her pain and fear. And what about the final confrontation between two individuals who finally look at each other in the eye, both sporting similar wounds. This is the kind of Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More you have to personally experience, something you have to watch multiple times if you intend to find every near detail. What a tremendous episode.
— The animation was similarly ridiculous. All the dragon action – no wonder an action crew with Kigami and Sawa was put in charge – will catch people’s attention, and perhaps the passionate character acting as well. But what I feel makes this episode special is the lack of restraint when depicting any minor action: no shortcuts for seemingly inconsequential cuts like typing or a water splash. This is of course the kind of animation that some fans deem wasted, which feels like a stubborn refusal to engage with the work. This elaborate sequence of Tohru expertly brewing coffee isn’t pointless, but rather a way to create a contrast between her dexterity and Kobayashi’s failure. And beyond the cuts that have clear narrative significance, it’s the accumulation of their precious daily life moments that made their loss so painful. The fact that the soup is actually animated isn’t important per se, but the care put into the scene is. I usually recommend people to pay attention to how characters interact with the world as a way to gauge the quality of the animation beyond isolated flashy cuts; the way they hold objects, eat food, or physically interact with other people often say a lot about the strength of a production. And in this case, those tell you nothing but good things.
— As I said it would happen, the final list of key animators has more people than usual simply because half the studio had no work to do. Seems like the first two unites animated each half of the episode, while the third group did clean-up work. Certain cuts during the dragon fight have strong traces of Kunihiro Hane’s work though, so perhaps the more action-oriented animators did notorious corrections on those scenes. Either way, it’s always funny to see this show’s busiest staff list be below average for right about every other series.
— Takemoto’s ability to adapt existing material is second to none. He engages the works he’s given with respect, keeping their core ideas but unashamedly rearranging events and progression as he sees fit. He doesn’t even need massive narrative changes to create something that feels like a transformative adaptation, yet in the end embodies the messages of the original more effectively than the source material. A show like Maidragon is also a perfect canvas for him, since gradually establishing a sense of familiarity and portraying these warm relationships is very much up his alley. I didn’t expect this show to become such a powerful family series, but I love that it did.
— This was by no means a flawless show. The most glaring problem as far as I’m concerned is an issue the anime has made worse, as an unfortunate consequence of its generally excellent changes: the disconnect between it as a family series and a raunchy comedy. The physicality and explicit sexual desire between Tohru and Kobayashi is great, of course. And I have absolutely nothing against fanservice, but Kanna’s excellent characterization as a child is at odds with the very rare yet annoying instances where her cute relationship with Saikawa has been framed erotically. It’s otherwise a dynamic I’m very fond of, and the source material already exhibited this awkward balance of priorities, but it made me wish Takemoto had gone further and just removed a couple of scenes – or simply shot them in a different way! I have the opposite issue with Shota and Lucoa’s relationship, which I fundamentally don’t like but sort of warmed up to thanks to a couple of moments around the end of the show. Excellent anime as far as I’m concerned, but with some issues that would make me stop and think before recommending it to some people.
— From a production standpoint, Maidragon was the studio’s least impressive offering as of late. The project at the end of their generally 6~9 months production runs tend to fare the worst, and Maidragon was up against titanic animation endeavors, but I feel like it’s worth pointing it out nonetheless. The energy conservation episodes were closer to stiff than I would have liked, and for a series with cartoony sensibilities there was still some restrain. But with the relative issues out of the way: geez, this was still an amazingly crafted series. It got incredible mileage of its large range, so while on an animation level it obviously can’t compare to Nichijou, when it comes to the amount of registers it’s also astounding. About half the episodes would comfortably serve as the directional highlight of a regular show, once again proving that the studio’s current lineup in this regard might be their strongest. Besides Takemoto himself and his delightful take on this weirdly heartfelt series, Taichi Ogawa, Yoshiji Kigami, and Naoko Yamada stood out the most. Shinpei Sawa’s full directional debut was also a clear highlight, showing finesse you wouldn’t expect from a newbie.
— In a pure animation sense, and unlike on a directional and storyboarding level, I feel like KyoAni has seen better days. It mostly comes down to the animation director roster, which is now heavily dominated by young people who still can’t live up to the studio’s stars like Futoshi Nishiya and Chiyoko Ueno. There are some incredibly promising newcomers like Akiko Takase, but that didn’t quite help Maidragon since she mostly had to skip the series. While the show was consistently polished, its animation was by all means uneven; thankfully it didn’t follow the usual TV anime pattern and its U shaped production values curve – rather than just starting and ending strong, it spiked depending on staff and the needs of the show. And even at its worst it maintained a respectable level, to the point I would confidently call it the best animated series of this season by far. Not bad considering it was up against the likes of Little Witch Academia, ahoboy’s Akiba’s Trip, Kikuta’s KonoSuba and even new ufotable and Dogakobo offerings. The delicacy when depicting daily life events didn’t asphyxiate the animation under misguided realism, so the grounded movement coexisted just fine with the bouncy and exaggerated sequences. All in all, definitely not ideal but still quite great. Consider it an A- rather than the A+ I would have loved, if you’re fond of arbitrary scoring.
— I couldn’t end without mentioning the backgrounds, of course – the epilogue felt like a personal gift in this regard. KyoAni’s art department keeps on growing, and this show has convinced me that their recent photorealistic endeavors haven’t made them forget how to craft some excellent traditional and stylized work. Yet another reason why I’m glad this series existed.
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