Recently, I’ve been on a Kyoto Animation spree. It probably started after I realized that continuous rewatches of Chuunibyou were probably not good for my productivity or my long-term enjoyment of anime. But I was infatuated with the irresistible charm of their storytelling. It’s really a testament to how well an animation studio does their job when they can produce a whole episode of two characters talking to each other in a classroom in a way that’s genuinely captivating (see episode nineteen of Hyouka). And ultimately, you’re left wondering if any other studio’s animation can stand up to the incredible force that is Kyoto Animation.
In any case, it’s not exactly a competition. But over the past few weeks, I’ve watched (and rewatched) two KyoAni shows in particular: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, since season 2 is on the horizon, and Tamako Market, since I saw some fun clips on Youtube a while ago. The two shows contrast like apples and oranges (or, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie). Kobayashi features a host of talking isekai dragons with magic powers who disguise themselves as humans and infiltrate our world. Tamako Market, on the other hand, features a talking bird and mochi.
Lots and lots of mochi.
(All those are just from the first episode.)
Still, both shows are residents of the wonderful metropolis known as slice-of-life. And as residents of that city, they’ve picked up the local dialect—they speak in small moments. Kobayashi might have isekai dragons, but they’re isekai dragons who cook normal Japanese food, work at software companies, go to school, grind MMOs, and play dodgeball. Tamako Market might star Dera the talking bird, but he’s domesticated within two episodes, and the show’s mostly about the daily happenings of the market anyway. Also, while small moments can be interesting in themselves, they become more interesting when referred to the people who experience them. Cooking is fun, but it’s more fun to watch Tohru, Kobayashi’s dragon maid, learning to cook—and more compelling to watch her change, with each meal she cooks, from hating humans to respecting and even admiring them.
In fact, many of the small moments that Kobayashi and Tamako Market share revolve around food and the table. And seeing as Thanksgiving is here, I think it might be interesting to see what these moments have to tell us about the way we should approach the holiday. Obviously, Thanksgiving looks a little different this year because of the pandemic. Our houses are going to be a little less full, our meals a little smaller. But I think these shows can give us a greater understanding and appreciation for the small moments we can share around the table.
One of my favorite scenes from Tamako Market, for example, comes from the third episode. Through a series of unfortunate events, Shiori, one of Tamako’s classmates, happens to find herself visiting Tamako at home. At first, she emanates a cold aura; she’s quite uncomfortable about the visit, and resolves to leave as soon as possible. Tamako, however, insists that she at least sit down for a snack: Tama-ya’s new cherry blossom mochi. Shiori ends up staying at Tamako’s for dinner and a bath, and thus begins their friendship—at the table.
What’s so special about the table? Not much in itself, even if the mochi is really good. No, it’s Tamako herself who makes the table special. Later, we find out that Shiori struggles to express emotions; she’s fond of Tamako, but she can’t find the words or the courage to tell her. Still, Tamako pursues her with extravagant kindness; she invites her to dinner despite her cold face. And because of Tamako’s love, her table becomes a sign of acceptance for Shiori. She’s welcome at Tamako’s house. She doesn’t have to put on an act of amiability to join the family; she doesn’t have to change. No matter how distant her expressions are, the table will always have an extra chair. Tamako will always be there to welcome her.
The dinner scenes from Kobayashi also have their unique flavor. One scene in particular comes to mind. It’s the evening after Kanna’s first day at elementary school. Kobayashi, Kanna, and Tohru are eating dinner when suddenly, Kobayashi produces a small paper bag from her pocket and presents it to Kanna. She opens it to be greeted by a familiar trinket: a small blue rabbit keychain. Kanna had been eying the keychain while the trio went school-supply shopping the day before, but decided not to ask for it after she saw the total price on the register.
“Congratulations on entering school,” Kobayashi says, smiling.
Again, in this scene, there’s nothing special about the meal; it simply serves as a stage on which small moments can unfold. Kobayashi’s gesture here is adorably thoughtful, revealing her kind heart. But more interestingly, this small moment reveals something about Kanna; she’s changed notably since the beginning of the series. Then, an exile from the dragon world, she didn’t want to be close to anyone in the human world because she feared the threat of being exiled again for her eccentricities. Now, a resident with Kobayashi along with Tohru, she’s close enough to Kobayashi to be brought almost to tears by a small gift. What happened? A hundred meals, a hundred small acts of kindness at the table—these are the sorts of small moments that change people, often for the better.
Two sharply contrasting shows—two sharply contrasting takes on what it means to sit down at the table. At Tama-ya, when you sit down at the table, you’re welcomed as a member of the family, which means you’re accepted for the person you are: no modifications necessary. On the other hand, when you sit down at Kobayashi’s table, be sure you’ve read the fine print, because you won’t get up as the same person—for better or for worse. Modifications are part of the deal. To be clear, neither take is less kind than the other. Tamako and Kobayashi are each loving and thoughtful in their own ways. Still, they’re different, and it seems like the differences are irreconcilable. Kobayashi’s joy is so beautiful because it values growth and gradual understanding, but what if you like where you are? Tamako’s joy is so beautiful because it’s constant, but what happens when you want to move on? How can you find a better table while still sitting at the same one?
The answer came at a table two thousand years ago, located in a spacious upper room somewhere in the side streets of Jerusalem.
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’ (Luke 22:14-20).”
On that humid evening in Israel, the disciples huddled around Jesus in confusion and anticipation and hunger and awe, and what Jesus told them at that table would change them forever. Though they wouldn’t realize it until much later, Jesus was laying the foundations for his church in their midst. For as he broke the bread and poured the cup for them, he was extending his love to them for who they were: a rowdy, dysfunctional bunch of Israelite laymen, including one who would soon betray him. And as they ate of the bread and drank of the cup, they received this love, and it would change them: they would become bold witnesses of Christ, ready to die for him. These two identities come together at the communion table because they both come together in Christ, who both accepts us and calls us higher. We can find a better table while still sitting at the same one because Christ is transforming these earthly tables into heavenly ones.
So if there’s anything that these shows have to give us for this Thanksgiving, it’s this: be thankful for the small moments we can share around the table.
Be thankful for Tamako, and the people in our lives who pull up a chair for us in our best and worst moments.
Be thankful for Kobayashi and the people in our lives who lead us, in small ways, to become better people.
And be thankful for Christ, whose body broken and restored transforms us, in every small moment of our lives, to become more like him.