What continues to surprise me, when I walk down a street at night and catch the corner of a bedroom beyond a window’s curtain, or someone flipping through TV channels from the couch, is the longing I feel for these homes I’ll never be invited into—or, maybe more accurately, for the lives I’ll never live. — Kristen Radtke1
More than the zany antics of Tohru or the endearing naïveté of Kanna, it is Kobayashi’s insights into the aloneness of her apartment that left the deepest impression. After she yields to Tohru’s maid offer, she realizes just how long she had been alone. However, this sentiment is not accompanied by sadness, but pragmatism: she needs a caretaker and a larger space.
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Several years ago, I was living alone in Berkeley. When a new semester arrived, I desperately needed a sublessee to split the rent, and so I found Louise on Craigslist. She was a sociology graduate student with a love for bread machines and climbing; I was an overachieving pre-med busy with academics. Though we had little in common, we would one night bond over a loaf of her moist pot bread. Eventually, we would become great friends, graduate, leave the place, and drift apart.
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When Tohru leaves for the other world—after being confronted with the idea that Kobayashi will die eons before her—Kobayashi’s reaction to the dragon maid’s absence is surprisingly muted. Perhaps she has met the change with incredulity and resignation. Or maybe, her blank acceptance is a sign of someone who has seemingly always been aloof, and who is so comfortable by herself, with a loneliness so deeply integrated into her being. A few scenes portray hints of regret, but none is enough to warrant more emotions. With few adjustments, life simply goes on without Tohru.
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I had been living by myself in Thailand, a country whose culture and language are entirely foreign to me. I would often go through days without any conversation. At nights, I would take strolls and bus rides through this new city. When I returned to my empty apartment, I found comfort in the silence and in owning the space. I loved the solitude.
Still, when my partner finally joined me in Thailand, I missed our intimacy. I missed her.
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Of course, though fine without Tohru, Kobayashi is still delighted to see Tohru return to the human world. Together, they somewhat convince Emperor of Demise that their sense of belonging can last despite some fundamental differences—especially in lifespan—between dragons and humans. In the ending sequence, Tohru acknowledges the inevitability of parting, and is content with simply treasuring what they have now.
For the most part, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is about two loners who find each other and build a life together. But it is also about appreciating the vast, profound loneliness that separates our more intimate moments.