Welcome again, ladies and gentlemen. I am back with for another anime review, this time for a series called Usagi Drop:
Before I begin reviewing Usagi Drop, I’ll like to start with the whole manga controversy and get it out of the way. Although technically a spoiler, at this point I believe it’s pretty much impossible to avoid hearing about the the following:
- That there is a time-skip that occurs halfway through the manga; and
- That there is a controversial ending with very mixed reactions.
To the anime-only audience who are not interested in following the original source material, this won’t matter much as it will not effect your reception of the Usagi Drop anime. However, to the audience who are reading through, have read or are interested in reading the original source material, the following points must be mentioned.
Firstly, this review will be an anime-only review. Secondly, adding on from the first point, any material or discussion past volume 4 of the Usagi Drop manga (time-skip occurs at the start of volume 5), will be omitted. Although I am personally disappointed with the approach and ending taken in the second half of the manga, I have made sure that this was not a factor in regards to reviewing the anime-only version. I am hoping my fellow commenters do the same :).
What is Usagi Drop?
Usagi Drop is a slice of life/social commentary revolving around the theme of parenting. It is the anime adaptation of the josei (aimed at adult female audiences) manga of the same name, originally created by Yumi Unita. The anime was produced by powerhouse studio Production I.G, which is famous for series such as Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawlers, Eden of the East, Kimi ni Todoke and Sengoku Basara. It was directed by Kanta Kamei, whose notable involvements include the directing of the Tales of Vesparia: The First Strike animated movie and the series composition for the Bungaku Shoujo: Memoire OVAs.
It was part of the summer 2011 lineup and was 1-cour (1 season) in length. It aired on the reputable noitamina timeslot on channel Fuji TV, following in the footsteps of previous mature slice of life titles like Honey and Clover, Paradise Kiss, Hataraki Man and Wandering Son.
Story/Plot and Style
The story revolves around a 30 year old bachelor, Daikichi Kawachi who is a full-time working man. One day, whilst attending his grandfather’s funeral he discovers that he had a illegitimate child, Rin Kaga with an unknown mother. The rest of his family is shocked and embarrassed about the finding whereby they do not want anything to do with the little girl. Outraged at the family’s stance on abandoning Rin, Daikichi decides to adopt her himself. In doing so, Daikichi learns the joys and hardships of single parenting, whilst balancing his work life.
Among the vast array of slice of life anime out there, Usagi Drop manages to very much stand out. It has made me realize a particular element is severely lacking in the anime medium. That thing, is subtlety and genuinity. Usagi Drop does not rely on excessive comedy or melodrama, nor does it rely on tropes or cliche plot mechanisms. It does not try to make you cry, or laugh out loud. In other words, nothing feels forced and as a result does not try too hard. It is a slice of life in its purest form without unnecessary artificial coating.
A viewer may speculate that this would cause the series to be boring. Afterall, Usagi Drop does not have any whiz-bang action, intellectual thrillers to speculate, to baww over dramatic moments, or cute middle or high school girls to get giggly about. However, this is a strong misconception, as the series is packaged in a way that invokes one’s pathos naturally rather than forcibly.
Never have I seen small moments like taking your daughter to kindergarten and then dashing off to work, attending parental guidance sessions, shopping for your daughter’s needs, visiting your grandparents done in a non-dramatic manner without making it seem boring or excessively dramatifying it. This takes a great amount skill and precision to which full credit should be given to the production staff who were able to masterfully achieve this balance. It was a blast to see both Daikichi and Rin, mature in their father and daughter relationship and share their moments to the audience in a heartwarming way.
However, Usagi Drop isn’t all “fluff” (if that argument is even used in the first place) as it does have its more meaningful events. These events include Daikichi’s quest to find Rin’s biological mother, the issue with Daikichi’s sister (Haruko) and her family troubles, Rin getting sick and the potential romantic development between Daikichi and single mother Nitani. However, even in these more high-key moments, Usagi Drop managed to evade drifting away into melodrama land, keeping it simple, subtle and genuine. Ultimately from the very first episode to the last, it stayed true to its roots.
Characters and Voice Acting
The characters in Usagi Drop are some of the most genuine characters present in the anime medium.
In an era where teenage males dominate the anime scene, Usagi Drop presents a 30 year adult male protagonist in the form of Daikichi. That’s right, we actually have a grown adult for once. For once, depending on the viewer’s mileage, they do not have to tolerate the hotblooded shounen archtype, indecisive harem archtype nor the angsty archtype. Daikichi is simply seen as an admirable and humble male figure who is able to care about his own career and lifestyle but also the livelihood of Rin, who was merely an unfortunate victim to family squabbling. Such a character is a rare sight.
Similarly, in a medium where cute little girls (lolis) are abundant, Rin stands out among the crowd. She is not sexualised into some otaku fetish and her cuteness purely comes from the same way a parent finds their children cute. Furthermore, it must be applauded that a child actor voiced her character. Too many times have I heard older seiyuus try to sound too cute in their voicing of prepubescent girls and hence come out as artificial.
Aside from the two main cast, there were plenty of support characters that were also well portrayed. For example, the anime did a good job in avoiding the trap of making Rin’s biological mother as a villian, but rather portrayed her as a flawed human – she was simply not ready to be a parent when she gave birth to Rin. Similarly, Daikichi’s somewhat immature sister Kazumi, was portrayed in a similar way – she is not ready to settle down to take the adult life. There are also other characters like Haruko, another one of Daikichi’s sisters who illustrate the more struggling side of parenthood – with her whole issue about her husband overworking and divorce.
However, perhaps the most interesting side characters were Nitani and her son Kouki. Like Daikichi, due to circumstances she is also a working single parent and many comparisons between her and Daikichi can be made. Despite being somewhat of a brat, the interactions between Rin and Kouki are always a load of fun, and it is usually in conjunction with Kouki, that we occasionally see Rin let go of her more mature idealized self and give action to the phrase “kids being kids”. In addition, it is also a nice touch that the anime seems to play a romance development card between Nitani and Daikichi.
Animation and Audio
Usagi Drop is a beautifully animated piece of work. Its watercolor artstyle is reminiscent of a similar noitamina work, Wandering Son, that aired earlier in the year. The animation frames were smooth and there were no moments that showed a clear sign of budget cutting.
On the audio front, it was also very nice done in adding to the overall atmosphere of the series. The opening song, Sweet Drops by Puffy and ending song High, High, High by Kasarinchu fit in very well in enveloping both a lively and relaxing mood respectively:
Background music were also nicely timed, alternating between upbeat, dramatic and sentimental:
In the slice of life genre, Usagi Drop is a near masterpiece. Not relying upon gimmicks, tropes or trying too hard to incite laughter or one’s tear-ducts, the enjoyment from the series comes naturally rather than forced. The characters are genuine and fun to watch and its visuals and audio are pleasing to both the eye and ear. Unless I am mistaken, it is the only anime in recent years that tackles the subject of parenting in a serious manner rather than a gag. It is the best anime from the summer season alongside Mawaru Penguindrum and would stand up to be one of top animes of 2011 so far.
It is a must watch for slice of life fans and highly recommended to any anime viewer. Heck, you could get non-anime audiences to watch it as well without them looking at you funny as there is nothing offensive. In other words, it could prove to a great gateway series for upcoming viewers in the slice of life genre. Usagi Drop remains faithful to the traditional notions of the noitamina timeslot and one can hope such anime will continue to be produced in the future.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Suggestions to Usagi Drop: Aishteruze Baby