Even though she’s a dragon, she’s still a child.
Kanna is the ultimate dragon loli. She in equal parts exhibits the strength and intelligence of her beastly form and the childlike nature dictated by her age, two juxtaposed halves that balance one another out. When you look deeper than her undeniable cuteness, Kanna is a lens through which we can derive insight on how youth find their place in society.
All children begin as outsiders to society and that’s doubly true for Kanna, being from an entirely different dimension and of a different species. She has to overcome the unfamiliarity with our world typical in kids her age alongside its stark contrast to the world she already knows. There, dragons are at constant war with humans and an education is unnecessary given their naturally high intelligence. As such, Kanna’s decision to go to school is entirely based in her need to socialize with peers, and to do so she quickly learns that she’ll need to temper her own abilities to fit in. It’s not so much that the series asks its characters to “conform or die” but rather that they learn how to read social situations to live in peace with others or else be seen as outcasts. As Kanna has been influenced by her home world the least of the series’ dragons she makes this transition more easily than a character like Tohru who has been conditioned to hate humanity for however long she’s been alive (longer than her appearance suggests although the series gives no specific timetable). Kanna has no qualms hiding her horns and tail around her peers and never really expresses a severe hatred of humanity, at least when unprovoked.
Kanna’s ability to fit in is best seen in episode nine’s school sports festival. When her human friend Riko explains the event, Kanna visualizes it as humans and dragons waging war, as well as herself standing atop a podium as #1, the victor. This all changes the moment that Riko tells her that parents often attend the event, leading to Kanna wanting to impress Kobayashi after convincing her to come. Of course, Kobayashi has made it clear to her dragon kin that they’re not to use their exceptional abilities in public under any circumstances, something that Kanna takes to heart and puts into practice during the event. She could easily outmaneuver her peers in every way but instead acts as a team player. In fact she has no choice but to do so in events like the three-legged race in which exerting herself would likely cause real damage to Riko. Kanna instead puts her power to work (innocuously) where it matters, such as when she sprints past the other students in the baton pass relay to make up for Riko tripping. Kanna does this to alleviate her friend of the guilt of losing them the race rather than for selfish gain, thus constituting one of her biggest (if most understated) moments of character growth in the series.
This moment where Kanna figures out how to balance her dragon nature and her need to fit into society is made more poignant by an earlier interaction between her and Riko. In a sexually suggestive episode six scene, the girls are playing in Riko’s room. Every shot screams sex, from the game of Twister to that pictured below where Riko is framed between Kanna’s spread legs as she lays on a bed.
This reaches a fever pitch when Kanna throws herself on top of Riko, the two having a moment of pause as they blush. The adults predictably barge in this moment but it’s otherwise played as an earnest sexual advance. I could talk for ages about the series’ willingness to commit to the relationships between its characters but what’s most interesting for the sake of this article are the reactions from the girls that follow: Riko thinks while lying on her bed, “What was Kanna-san about to do to me?” whereas Kanna thinks as she gazes out the window of Kobayashi’s apartment, “I wanted to…”. This implies that Kanna was exerting herself upon Riko knowingly whereas the whole interaction left Riko confused as to her intentions, thus showing their different levels of sexual maturity. This may be due to Kanna being older than she appears much like the other dragons (although this is never affirmed by the series), but regardless, her inability to understand her only-human friend caused a momentary rift between the two. This is why her turn at the school sports festival had such an impact on me: Kanna realized how to read a social situation and situate herself within it rather than acting selfishly to the deficit of her relationships with others.
After-Thoughts: The brilliance of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s pacing
At a glance, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid may seem to grow more mundane as it gets deeper into its run but that’s the brilliance of the series’ pacing: it mirrors the course of Kobayashi and Tohru’s budding relationship. As the couple grow more comfortable with one another they become more… well, normal. Tohru (mostly) stops trying to trick Kobayashi into eating her tail meat, whereas Kobayashi’s work-home cycle re-enters a state of normality. Their interactions start to focus on the day-to-day tasks, such as discussing what to eat for meals. Much of one of the final episodes is devoted to the two and Kanna tucked under their new kotatsu. It’s quaint in spite of being about dragons and works because of it.
It’s for this reason that the final episode is such a letdown. The melodramatic clash between Tohru and her father in which he demands she return to the dragon dimension takes a sharp left turn from the trivialities of everyday life (except with dragons) that the series has reveled in up until this point. From the outset it’s clear that the episode’s goal is to have Kobayashi outwardly express her affection for Tohru but to write in a last-minute antagonist is to achieve these ends denies the series a culmination fitting of its tone up until this point. An example of how this episode could have been done better is as follows: Tohru’s deeply-embedded dragon nature that she’s been suppressing begins to seep through the cracks and she flees from Kobayashi in fear of potentially hurting her. In the ensuing action, Kobayashi expresses herself to Tohru and brings her back to Earth (quite literally as I envision this happening airborne to emphasize the series’ dragon element, Kobayashi riding on Kanna’s back… it’d make for a nice metaphor at least). Such a series of events would still be climactic while keeping the action focused on the characters rather than an obtrusive outside force.
Oh, and Tohru’s father is a real pushover. So much for “The Emperor of Demise.”