I’ve worked with Kobayashi-san

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: Kobayashi-san at work

I’ve worked with Kobayashi-san. Not literally of course, but with women like her, testers and developers in an overwhelmingly male workplace, often the only woman in a department or team, sometimes pioneers. In the almost twenty years I’ve been working in IT I’ve seen a fair few of them and while the numbers of women in IT has crept up, my current team of fourteen still only has two female developers. Sometimes it seems IT has actually regressed in this regards, software development becoming more male dominated rather than less.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: our typical IT workplace

As we’ve seen throughout the series so far is that Kobayashi-san doesn’t dress very girly, shall we say. At home she wears comfortable, somewhat slobby clothes, jeans and sweaters. At work she dresses like her male colleagues, shirt and tie, not overly formal, but good enough for IT work. She gives the impression of not overtly caring about how she looks, other than being neat enough for the office. It stands in sharp contrast to the usual office lady we see in anime, dressed in a work uniform or at the very least in skirt and blouse; Kobayashi-san must be deliberately dressing as one of the boys, to not stand out or perhaps to not be mistaken for a secretary. You wonder what her co-workers make of her behind her back.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: being asked for advice

In episode five Tohru goes to visit Kobayashi-san in her workplace, giving us the first extended look at her work life. What struck me immediately was that she seemed slightly older and more experienced than her co-workers. She’s acknowledged as such too by the people she works with. Takiya ask her for help with his own projects and a little bit later we see her advicing two other co-workers, not to mention that she has to take over the project of a co-worker off sick in order to solve a problem that cropped up in production. Her expertise is at least unquestioned, but at the same time her nominal boss sees her as an easy target, expecting her to do his work, demeaning and belittling her and blind to the more important work she’s already doing. Not that Kobayashi is defenceless: we later find out that somebody dobbed her boss in with his superiors about his work ethics, getting him fired…

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: bullied by the boss

The mangaka behind the original manga apparantly drew inspiration from his own work experience in IT, which tells me some experiences are universal, because everything I mentioned above I’ve seen with female co-workers of mine. AsI said, I’ve worked with a fair few of slightly older, much more experienced and knowledgable, tough as nails women like Kobayashi-san. Not always appreciated them, but still.

Another reason to prefer subs

Sometimes a small, seemingly insignificant change can make you lose all trust in an adaptation. Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon recently got an English dub courtesy of Funimation, but when the first episode aired it turned out a small, but important line was altered.

In the original Japanese dub (and English subtitles) Kobayashi-san says, in answer to Tohru’s declaration of love: “But I’m a woman though”. Which, as MayaScientist demonstrates on Twitter, is an old, old Yuri cliche, when a woman is first confronted with another woman’s love for her. in context, what with Tohru’s unfamiliarity with modern life and Kobayashi’s overall appearance, it also makes sense for her to say something like that, to drive the point home to both herself and Tohru.

The dub changes this line to “I’m not into women or dragons”. Which is an outright rejection of Tohru, rather than a gentle confirmation that Tohru knows what she’s doing. Worse, it turns Tohru’s displays of affection from amusingly over the top to downright creepy.

In the original manga and the anime series so far, though Kobayashi never states it outright, it’s clear she accepts Tohru and her love at some level, that it is more than just friendship. The entire series is as much about Kobayashi coming out of her shell as it is about funny dragon antics, as Andrea Reventon argues in the series of Tweets linked to above. Yet you cannot get there if you start with her outright rejecting the possibility of being lesbian, of falling in love with another woman. That’s why this is such a bad change and such an important one, as it means that Funimation will probably change more things in the anime, erasing the queer (sub)text of it.

First impression: Demi-chan wa Kataritai

A biology teacher with an obsession for demi-humans gets his long cherised wish of having a harem full of demi girls.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai: vampire

Well, that’s a very cynical take on this show, but not entirely incorrect. Takahashi Tetsuo is a biology teacher who had wanted to do his dissertation on ajin or demi-humans — who had only recently been revealed to exist — but who hadn’t managed to find any. Cue the first episode of the series and he immediately runs into a vampire. Takanashi Hikari, a first year student, is energetic, cheerful, likes garlic and thinks crosses are unfashionable, doesn’t really drink blood other than the monthly boold pack she gets from the government and in all is a bit of a troll. Her biggest problem is sunlight, as she feels the heat quickly, which is why she agrees to have regular chats with Tetsuo so she can stay in the cool, shaded biology class room.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai: dullahan

Machi Kyōko is a dullahan, somewhat shy but with a good head on her shoul^w^w^ in her hands. One of only three dullahans in the world (the others being Celty and Lala) she has somewhat more trouble in her day to day life with her condition than Hikari has. Obviously having to carry your head everywhere is a bit of a handicap and that’s exactly how the series treats this, a condition that has some disadvantages and difficulties to overcome, but can also be an advantage to have your body at home while your had goes shopping. It’s one of the ways in which the anime improves on the original manga, by putting a little bit of thought in how these characters would work in the real world.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai: succubus

Case in point: the succubus. Satō Sakie is a maths teacher who dressed in an unflattering track suit and glasses for a reason, to dampen down the erotic feelings she invokes in men that come to close to her. She takes the first and last train to and from work for the same reason, to minimise the risk of contact and has to live in a rundown shack in the arse end of nowhere too. There’s a sharp contrast between how the public sees succubi — sexy seductresses — and her daily reality, which has kept her single and without ever having had a relationship, that’s also present in the manga but given more presence here. Taking a minute or two to show her commute impresses more than seeing the same thing depicted in one or two pages.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai: yuki-onna

If it is the succubus who arguably suffers the most from her powers and nature, it’s Kusakabe Yuki, the yuki-onna, who is the most conflicted about being demi. She doesn’t trust her powers and keeps her distance from others as a result. It’s interesting to see how each of the demis have adapted to their powers, from Hikari who’s basically no more than a normal high school girl with some strange habits to Sakie and Yuki, who either have to adjust their lives around them or are psychologically scarred by their demi nature. There are obvious parallels here with real world disabilities, which lends a bit of realism and grit to what’s essentially a light hearted not quite romantic harem story. Speaking of which, the harem aspect of this is a bit more creepy in the anime than in the manga, just seeing it animated. Which might be enough to put you off.

First impression: Kuze no Honkai

Two emo teenagers can’t make it with the people they have a crush on but are still horny, so start fucking each other.

Kuze no Honkai: hopeless love

Yasuraoka Hanabi is in love with her older childhood friend, now her homeroom teacher. Awaya Mugi is in love with the music teacher. But childhood friend loves the music teacher and music teacher loves the childhood friend Both Hanabi and Mugi cannot have what they want, so they stick together and use each other as a substitute for their real love. If you’re into teenage angst, this is the series for you.

Kuze no Honkai: substitute

A stupid reason to hook up, but teenangers can do much more stupid things like this and the first episode does a good job of selling the idea of their coming together. It helps that these are actually horny teenagers. No dumb drama about whether or not it’s okay to hold hands yet: they kiss and do everything sort of outright fucking in the first episode. All while imaging doing it with their real crush. Over the top? Yes, but it still feels much more real than the usual chaste romance comedy.

Kuze no Honkai: consent

The climax (heh) of the first episode then is an extended sex scene, again much more explicit than the norm in anime. There’s a lot of fanservice and sexy sexiness in anime, but it’s usual a matter of camera angles, unlikely accidental gropings or extended shower scenes. Not so much two people coming together wanting to fool around. Mugi even explicitly asks for consent from Hanabi, after she initiated, whether she really wants to do it.

Kuze no Honkai: big dots

Much has been made of the way the series makes use of inset panels to mimic the look of the original manga, but what I noticed rewatching is the way the show Lichtensteins it up at key moments, mimicing the look of a cheaply printed comic. These are nice little tricks to liven up what’s otherwise a rather mundane adaptation. The other thing keeping it interesting is Anzai Chika’s voice acting, who does a very good job bringing over Hanabi’s frustraction.

First impression: BanG Dream!

K-On season three as another group of high school girls get bitten by the rock bug and start a band.

BanG Dream: Hungry Heart

Really, this starts out as K-On, with a slightly ditzy girl going to her new high school for the first time. She even has a somewhat more reliable younger sister. She’s looking for something new and exciting and sees high school as the start of something new. Obviously that’s going to be music of some sort, but first she has to spent half the episode visiting every club in school to see if they suit her. Though in the process we do get a first look at those who are destined to join her band.

BanG Dream: Point Blank

What I like is how the protagonist, Toyama Kasumi, is actually fairly social and outgoing, quick to be friendly with her classmates and actually fairly decent at the club activities she tries. What I don’t like is how she met her first friend: literally bumping into her while looking to see which class she was assigned to, the camera firmly at butt level. It’s one of those little indulgences that can put you right off a series.

BanG Dream: Thunder Road

The plot only kicks in roughly 2/3rds of the way through the episode, as Kasumi notices a trail of star stickers and follows it to its end point: a pawn shop. She looks into its storeroom, is caught by a girl working in the garden, then persuades her to look at the strange case in the corner, which turns out to contain the guitar she’s cradling in the first image above. For some reason she also persuades her to take her to a live house to play guitar, but instead she gets to hear the band the episode started with.

BanG Dream: she is a rocker

Stars are a recurrent theme here. Kasumi starts the episode by narrating how when she was little she once heart the rhythm of the star beat. When she introduces herself to her new class she talks about her dream of finding it once again and in an extended flashback she reminds her sister of how she took her stargazing one night and saw the Milky Wa and heard that star beat. Not surprising then that the band she saw that gives her the last push to make music herself wears stars on their outfits…