So, last week I talked about a stable trio of characters I thought was basically uninteresting, and then, dagnabbit, the producers of Citrus found a way to make the Eternal Triangle interesting.
Looking across the list of animes I’ve seen, I don’t see a lot of these. That might be due to my choices: I tend to like action stories, and I have to suspect Father, Mother, and Child belongs more firmly in the Slice of Life variety. But even looking at stuff about school kids, like Lucky Star, you don’t see a lot of stable home lives. If the high school character has both parents, the parents are often not in the story. (The step-sisters in Citrus have two parents, but the parents play only a minor role in the story AND it actually breaks down to one child per parent since each parent is in a second marriage.)
One place you see Father, Mother, and Child is where it’s a joke, and one series that does that is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.
WOOF! Talk about screwing with a trope!
First of all, the three main characters, Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna, do fit this structure. Look at their social roles: Kobayashi is the breadwinner who goes to work every day; Tohru cooks and shops and cleans every day; Kanna goes to school every day.
They even sit like Parents/Child, with Child in the middle, and Kobayashi (left) wears the pants in the family…
The neat thing about Father, Mother, and Child is in the internal conflicts within the structure that can be used to drive plot. Father and Mother wish to raise Child, but the potential for disagreement between them, because of their different perspectives, can create conflict. The Child role clearly implies both inexperience with life and rapid social development, both of which can be used to both drive plot and create conflict. For instance, consider Kanna’s first day of school. Well, it’s her first day, so that can drive plot. She meets new people. That can drive plot. Kobayashi and Tohru are both concerned about her. That can drive conflict.
And because the Child is, well, a child, there can be a great many First Events. Kanna has a first New Year’s too, and in the manga she has a First Valentine’s Day and a First Doll Day…
Also because the Child is a child, that character can be used to drive meta-plot. Overcoming the Monster: That can be any of a dozen childhood traumas. And the Quest…well, isn’t every childhood a quest for adulthood?
Of course, in Kobayashi, the writers decided to screw with the trio to see how they could play it for laughs and feels. So Kobayashi, playing the Father role, is female. Tohru and Kanna, being dragons, are enormously older than Kobayashi, who, as the Father, is supposed to be wiser than they. Plus Tohru and Kanna, being dragons, aren’t even from this world. Oh, and Kobayashi makes it plain at several points that she’s a virgin, which makes being a parent an unusual experience for her, to say the least.
They also made Kobayashi disconnected from her own family, leaving her without access to role models in the form of her own parents. That’s the least screwy element of this whole mess. I say that as a person who moved away from home for a job himself. Leaving aside what her parents would say about Tohru and Kanna, it leaves her alone to make her own mistakes as a parent, contributing comic elements.
But even though they’ve screwed with it, they’ve screwed with honestly, at least. There is a genuine affection shared between the three of them, and I have to say that affection is driven not simply by social role but by choice. Tohru and Kanna could bug out any time they liked, but they choose to stay, and Kobayashi doesn’t have it in her heart to push them away even as she has to figure out the process of parenting herself.
Oh, look: another Quest!
A final element that makes Father, Mother, and Child something writers generally stay away from is the power of the connections involved. Most viewers know and love their parents, okay? Maybe not every, but most. If you screw with it, you’re going to evoke powerful imagery. For instance, I don’t know what happens in the Kobayashi manga volumes 5 and 6; through 4 we’ve seen Kobayashi accept the responsibilities of Tohru and Kanna (and several of their dragon friends as well); they say they love her, and although she is a very reserved character, she does things that show she returns their love, even though those things do not come naturally to a person as private and reserved (when not drinking) as Kobayashi.
Now that they’ve created that dynamic, though, what can happen in terms of the meta-plot? If the writers try to drive them apart, it will hurt like hell. So: Where can the story go from here? Structurally they have “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl (very briefly when Tohru’s dad shows up to take her away), boy gets girl.” That’s a Comedy, and it’s where the anime ends, but story keeps going from there…but to where?
This may be why the main Kobayashi manga seems to be on some kind of slowed production schedule while the spinoff Kanna book continues. Is this story going somewhere, and if it is, is this a story we really want to see the end of?
That’s the power of Father, Mother, and Child…you wish it will never end.
Dedicated to John J. D’Alessio, 1917-2005, and Helen M. D’Alessio, 1920-2016.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.