Opening remarks: I originally intended this piece to be a particularly academic-driven one…digging deep into the likes of Mark Lochrie & Paul Coulton’s article on shared viewing experiences or ‘Social TV’ and ‘Second Screen Devices’, and Alice E. Marwick’s paper on ‘Imagined Audiences and Context Collapse in Microblogging’. Elements of these studies are still retained in the final product, but I decided to keep discussion more centred on Dragon Maid and my own experiences in watching it…and ultimately deciding that it is an absolute new favourite.
Since its airing, I’ve watched Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid episode eight no less than seven times, three times through the filtering of reaction videos. The initial two times were cold, uninterrupted runs, with me staring at the TV screen with no distractions other than a cool drink in my hand. Then it was another two times with me scouting for screenshots of my favourite cuts (which inevitably ended up on Twitter…different than ‘livetweeting’, which I will get to later).
There is a lot of consumption ‘modes’ or…filtering of media when different individuals consume texts within their social contexts and personal environments, and the so-called third media revolution only made this even more multi-layered, complex…and yes, very much interesting. Not only does it present a potentially brimming topic that embodies the nature of subjectivity, it offers an alternative viewpoint for me to…hone in on the ever so difficult-to-explain triggers a show like Dragon Maid possesses, that make me enjoy watching it on so many wildly contrasting levels.
(Quick prelude example: regarding the first shot…its value does not lie in the shot itself, but the surrounding sentiment.)
What Dragon Maid Preaches & What The Audience Perceives
The key word ‘context’ – as always – nudges the conversation towards a climate of discourse that preaches opening oneself up for rainbowed interpretations of seemingly identical copies of text. Sigmund Freud’s basic tenets of psychoanalysis – a term he coined for his own school of thought – places particular emphasis on how individuals’ development (i.e. ideology, interpretive thought, personality, etc) and how they may perceive or respond to a text are primarily driven by past, personal experiences. Context.
To suggest that any individual’s interpretation of a text is entirely separate from immediate emotional filtering, or that emotional responses is sorely caused by the text-in-scrutiny and not in conjunction with long-term memory data, is problematic sorely on the basis that; no, an individual is fundamentally unable to separate the event of consuming a text from its surrounding contexts and all previously processed data. In other words…the audience’s experience of a TV series and perceptions of it as part of individualised canvases of filtered memories, textual and emotional interpretations, are all diverse streams of data, ripe for further harvesting. And yes: objectivity be damned, in that it is a pipe dream.
As a side effect: a desire to merge with a select few of the diverse streams of individualised data is driven by the human’s primal, ‘social animal’ construct: to throw oneself towards streams that flow in seemingly familiar currents that suits one’s own tempo.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is of a particular focus on my part in this discussion, because of its presentation, as well as its occupation in the genre spectrum: it would be an easy case to make, that comedy in particular makes great social television. But in Dragon Maid’s case specifically, the specks of supplementary depth and raw endearment makes said social viewing platforms that much more interesting to observe, since this blurs away the obvious ‘main content’ (as in specifying which element of the show is the ‘main’ point), and allows reactionary channels to more easily diversify. Gag-hungry audiences will catch onto the intricate timing and cuts that make the punchlines land, while the more sentimental viewers will swoon at the chance to dig into the honest and loving relationships between the various coupled characters. Multi-filtered interpretations of the show’s entertainment or commentative value lies in the centre of social TV. And as the discussion will later bring up: this communal relationship with media transcends linear texts such as films and TV.
Listening In Near The Water Cooler
An adorable expression that survived the analogue purging, ‘hanging out at the water cooler’, has taken upon new imagery in the digital age. A once popular social ritual amongst co-workers, as individuals took advantage of their lunch break to talk about the latest twist cliff-hanger ending in last night’s 7pm drama, has now evolved into a series of social media antics that takes advantage of the interconnected internet selves. Hashtags, the secondary phenomenon ‘searchable talk’ and the ability to align oneself to certain topics through this deceptively powerful system, has allowed social experiences of TV to be engaged through the second screen – the secondary media channel. A literal representation of this would be the act of holding an smartphone or tablet while watching television.
CJ Hitchcock from Wave Motion Cannon headlined his categorising of Dragon Maid as a ‘.gif show’: a reading that functions as an ample example of the different modes of consumption that a text will likely be filtered through (although…it is also admittedly limiting in terms of fully contextualising the show’s ambitions). In framing Hitchcock’s focus on the show’s memetic identity and what the fandom at large decides to…meme-ify, Dragon Maid’s focus on colourful aesthetics, time-based visual comedy that are accentuated by the mediated function of .gifs and screenshots shared in short-form via. social media, very much feeds directly into this culture of automation, endless scrolling and timelines. 30-second bursts of explosive, expressive and extroverted sakuga in the middle of a previously assumed ‘play time’ scene, Kanna crunching on moths, crabs and cicadas across multiple episodes as a compilation of both her childish curiosity (or her endless hunger) and the show’s comedic awareness in fake-out timing (as simple as giving Kanna a net as a feinting device, before initiating on the expected gag anyway), are all memorable snapshots from a comedy series that is confident in its own skin.
And when the internet gets its hands on these snapshots…?
Yasuhiro Takemoto is a visually intense director; his signature antics are in full display when the entire cinematic frame delves into abstract visual puzzles, inverted and/or irregular colour palettes. Dragon Maid’s core relationship between Kobayashi and Tohru is significantly introduced via. a bleak blue & white background scheme, highlighted in memorable simplicity as the two characters were instead steeped in bright orange. Takemoto’s commanding voice in human drama, sassy groundedness and cheeky humour all formed the magnificent facets of this anime adaptation. With so much visual extravagance to decode, perhaps it was inevitable that Dragon Maid made perfect social television. And in a world of broadcasted reactions and instant content…this inevitability could also be observed from multiple fronts.
The Intent of Watching Dragon Maid | Livetweeting & Live Reactions
There are distinct differences between the remixing of content to meme-ify it; the example being the Switch cartridge-eating Kanna above; and livetweeting. One can be assumed to be post-viewing broadcasting, and the other suggests a fundamental break from traditional media consumption: rather than consuming an episode in one unpaused stream, the brain is practically rewired to pause the stream in moments of assumed hilarity or heightened reaction, where the image was screenshot, and uploaded on social media as a secondary/second-channel broadcast.
(Click time-code for thread)
The key here is intent: enjoyment of live, raw reactions and visual analysis? Lust for likes?
Most negative criticisms directed towards livetweeting in the Anitwitter space in the last few months came from the latter angle, as well as concerns that this need to constantly chop up the intended viewing slot of 24 minutes for segregated reactions and interruptions, will negatively affect the collective experience of the *episode* format.
There is no doubt that numerous punchlines and elements in Dragon Maid are intended as almost (or just happens to be, intended or not)…short-form memes: priceless facial expressions, Kanna’s entire existence, Takemoto’s visual extravagance. But then there’s the usual question: why not watch the episode once in its entirety, with no pauses, and go back for screenshots later? Perhaps the exclusive joy of seeing a cut or a jealous-Tohru face for the first time is gone…but does pausing the stream to photograph the moment (this generation’s obsession with capturing/recording everything can also be another discussion point.) really justify obscuring the experience of the performance itself?
And this brings the discussion full circle: live reaction videos.
Much of the initial questions regarding this format of YouTube content creation (i.e. is this cheap, low-effort content with no redeeming worth?) is reminiscent of livetweeting’s criticisms.
In terms of ‘worth’; which is a rather loaded word in this context, a case can be easily made that live reactions videos do, in fact, exert value in the anime fandom: a direct social channel for cross-net interactivity and camaraderie. Which brings me to my experience with watching Dragon Maid through reaction videos.
My ritual regarding this is simple: watch an episode cold and uninterrupted once or twice, then scrubbed through them for screenshots of my favourite highlights. After I’ve done that, I load up an reaction compilation video, which is a mash-up of multiple…reactors (yes, I’m very proud of this one) reacting to a single episode.
My reasoning? Even simpler. I have embedded in my brain, moments I either laughed, reacted out loud or have exerted another type of extroverted reaction. I just wanted to see where in the episode OTHERS reacted strongly to. In terms of analytical depth or interesting commentary…this format of content is not reliable, but waiting to see the reaction of those strangers when Tohru and Kanna ‘rough-house’ DBZ-style is a guilty pleasure that is totally worth it in my book.
(Yes, my right eye did twitch in anger, when I heard the comment ‘I skipped the OP’. WHO DOES THAT FOR DRAGON MAID OF ALL THINGS?!)
This is just one of those unexpected, but simple things in life that I find pleasure in: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a show I fell in love in right from the start. You bet I like it when others do too.
So what do you think about livetweeting and live reactions?