Sometimes, a show’s just so simple it shines through in a matter of minutes into a first episode. But hardly does a show stay consistently good and tug at your heart strings just enough to make you want more feels for the soul with each episode. That’s what Usagi Drop did to me, so much so I had to finish the entire series in a single sitting (putting aside Hyouka, another very addictive series mind you) and leaving such a lovely sweet aftertaste.
Usagi Drop is a charming, sweet little show that went under most people’s radar in Summer 2011. You would’ve probably like me, put it on hold on your list as a show you’d come back to but then eventually forgot to or just had too many other shows to catch. Let me say this for the record. Go watch Usagi Drop now. No matter what mood you’re in, it’s a beautifully touching show (MAL score of 8.62 by 55,435 users tells you something) that just leaves you warm and fuzzy. In fact, this review is belatedly posted after having been reminded of it after watching yet another warm and fuzzy anime – Barakamon.
The story starts with 30 year old bachelor Daikichi (Tsuchida Hiroshi) who attends his grandfather’s funeral. There, he meets the very quiet little girl hanging out all by herself, Rin (Matsuura Ayu), who turns out to be his grandfather’s illegitimate child left unwanted by her birth mother, which effectively makes Rin his aunt. The rest of the family don’t want anything to do with Rin out of fear of having to take her in and be responsible over her upbringing. Seeing the sad plight of things (and Rin looking like an abandoned kitty), something possesses Daikichi to adopt his aunt himself! Rin’s not against the idea too because Daikichi looks just like her father/his grandfather. What ensues is the lovely relationship these 2 have, not as aunt and nephew of course but as though a father and child and their daily interactions around daily life. It’s beautiful watching Rin go from the sullen quiet introverted girl she was, to bloom wondrously as a genuinely happy child. She’s got a mature demeanour about her, probably from growing up with someone so much older – it’s funny how she tells Daikichi off like a mother does when he rests his elbow on the table during their meal and that’s what Usagi Drop’s charm is, the reversal of roles between child and adult as we teach them and they teach us.
There are many themes in this slice-of-life show, mainly revolving around the bringing up of a child and the interactions with children. So Usagi Drop isn’t your typical slice-of-life show in anime-sphere that’s abound with shows set in high school. We’re talking about parenting here so undoubtedly the conversations are more serious and heavy such as the sacrifices people make out of love for their children. But that’s set-off against lighthearted moments when you see Rin’s interactions with other children, with Daikichi (the scenes where Rin wets her bed and insists its sweat; when they cuddle up together – so awww~) and even her step-sister (i.e. Daikichi’s mom). That balance is what makes Usagi Drop a show you can’t stop watching – sometimes serious, sometimes playful and overall just so beautifully heartwarming in the way a young child brings to a family.
Daikichi underestimates the difficulty of being a single parent in Japan and watching him learn step by step (with help from fellow single mother and possible love interest Nitani Yukari (Oohara Sayaka) reflects the reality of single parenthood in Japan, a traditional Asian country that like its counterparts, still frowns upon the non-traditional family structure (divorce, unwed parents, same-sex relationships). It’s tough to be a single parent in Japan – there’s really very little support from society. At work, he finally understands why colleagues have chosen to leave lucrative careers in favour of jobs with fixed hours. At Rin’s school, he makes friends with fellow young fathers who share the same ばかおや(baka-oya – silly parent) love for their children – good comedy angles here. Through this new way of life, Daikichi learns what’s truly important to him (in other words, it’s never ever work that ranks as important) and just how far he’s willing to go out of his way to ensure his and Rin’s happiness. It’s true what people say, that you’ll appreciate your parents when you become a parent yourself and that children teach you more about life than you thought you knew. If that’s not enough of a theme for a slice-of-life anime than I don’t know what is.
I won’t go into too much details about the production staff credentials because Usagi Drop’s got a strong enough story to convince you to watch it in the first place. The art is simple, mostly pastel with liberal use of water colouring type of illustration. Matsutani Suguru is in charge of music and Usagi Drop is his only other anime work apart from his more famous work with Nodame Cantabile. The voice acting is perfect and with real children voicing the roles of children, it’s all much more authentic than having adult seiyuus do the job – Mushishi and more recently Barakamon, are the only other show to have the same arrangement and it works wonders there too. But the most important job of all goes to Tsuchida Hiroshi for voicing main character Daikichi. He doesn’t play lead roles in very many anime and isn’t as high profile as his peers. But I thought he was delightful in portraying the deadpan salaryman Daikichi was and his transformation into a livelier, brighter sounding Daikichi throughout the 11 episodes.
Lastly, I have to mention the manga from which this anime is adapted from; there’s also a live-action movie starring Matsuyama Kenichi of Death Note, Gantz and Nana fame as well as everyone’s favourite (myself included of course) little actress Ashida Mana. Many have said that the anime adaptation stopped at just the right chapter in the manga and I’m inclined to believe them. After all, children grow up into adolescent monsters, don’t we all? So watch the anime and the live-action movie if you’d like but remember if you’re going to read the manga, stop where the anime ends and don’t continue for things get too real (i.e. reality). Perfect for the year end and to snuggle up in winter to so enjoy, particularly if you’ve got withdrawal issues from Barakamon!