Usagi Drop did itself a huge favor right from the start: Daikichi isn’t a child.
This tiny, seemingly unimportant fact about Daikichi’s age dictates how the anime will proceed from the very start. Usagi Drop will be the uncommon anime that has both an adult and child perspective. I’m not saying that Daikichi won’t undergo any maturation as a result of his age, but being 30 is a far cry from the emotionally turbulent years of a teenager. Rin, a girl orphaned by her father’s death and her mother’s abandonment, needs her growth to take center stage. Had Daikichi been a young teen in high school, I think his story would just compete with rather than complement Rin’s character arc.
When Daikichi’s maternal grandfather died, he left behind young Rin. Daikichi jokingly remarks to the other family members that they should give the old man props for being able to have a child at such an advanced age, but no one laughed. In fact, the whole family seems uneasy over Rin’s fate. Other than Daikichi, we don’t get to see any of the other family members utter a single word to the lonely girl.
When it came time to decide what to do with Rin, the adults’ true colors come out. Granted, a child is one of the biggest responsibilities anyone can assume in their lifetime, but even so, isn’t the alternative much, much worse? Sure, one of them will have to re-work his or her life to fit Rin into the picture, but if nobody takes the bullet, so to speak, Rin ends up with no family. Unfortunately, it struck me that the entire family was playing chicken. Almost every single adult in the room claimed that they were simply too busy to take in the young girl in the hope that someone else will assume responsibility: “No, no, why don’t you take the hot potato? I insist.”
Suddenly, the bell tolled and one of the old men in the family threw out the nuclear option: why don’t they just have some facility take care of Rin? This set something off in Daikichi as he figuratively stepped up to the plate and slammed his tea down before the entire family. He then approached Rin to offered her to stay with him. As she ran to him and her new home, the anime began to fade as if the episode had ended, but it would have beeen pure fantasy to stop here, wouldn’t it? Had the anime stopped here, our heads would be in the clouds.
As gallant as Daikichi’s act was, the realities of parenting started in right away, but how can the anime show that he had grown up just a little over the course of a single episode but yet being a dad is no easy task? In the following morning, Rin woke Daikichi up by calling him “oji-san. She then indirectly asked for something to eat by saying she was hungry. Right here, I thought the anime pulled the story from the clouds back down to earth; it was a subtle, realistic touch to cap off the first episode.
Usagi Drop’s premise isn’t complicated nor does it have to be. The anime is a character study first and foremost. It’s fascinating to see that although Rin is young, out of all the family members at the funeral, she was the only one to remember her father’s favorite flower. The way Rin wandered about the premises like an unseen ghost by the whole family, it was a little heart-aching when she gave up her cat’s cradle to Reina. She only wanted to make a friend, but this plan didn’t quite pan out.
Daikichi seems to be caught in between worlds. At 30, he isn’t like the older folks, fussy and set in their ways. He doesn’t have a family yet either; there’s a mother too busy chasing her own daughter around to really play any active role in the episode. Finally, Daikichi is definitely not a young child. As a result, he is, like Rin, somewhat alone despite being amongst family. The silver lining, however, is that this position offers him a unique vantage point: Daikichi was the only person in the story to stand back and observe. In doing so, he was the only one who could connect with Rin. Although he didn’t say much to her in the first episode, sometimes, the first step to solving a problem is simply acknowledgement of the problem. None of the other family members connected with Rin because they just didn’t see her. In the end, the two lonely family members found solace in one another.
In saying that the anime is a character study, however, it was good to see that the anime didn’t short change the supporting cast. While Daikichi and Rin are naturally the main characters of the story, the others aren’t just flat cardboard cut-outs.
For example, there appears to be some resentment in Daikichi’s sister (I’m a little weak on the names at the moment) for her brother. She first nagged him for being too busy to visit his own mother. Later in the anime, when Daikichi was merely trying to help, by offering ideas on what to do with Rin, his sister bitterly complained that he was not being realistic nor did he have any intentions to do anything about the situation. When Daikichi kept quiet, his sister rubbed it in: “See? …you can’t even give me a comeback.” I sense some bad blood.
Daikichi’s mother lamented at one point that her father’s illegitimate child is such a shame on the family. Later in the anime, she wondered if Rin is even truly her father’s daughter. It must surely be a shock to discover that you have a half-sister young enough to be your own grandchild, but even so, why is Daikichi’s mother so concerned about appearances? Will it be difficult for her to accept Rin into the family in later episodes?
The only character that I find annoying and uninteresting is Reina, another young girl in the anime. She served somewhat as a foil to Rin in the first episode; she acted as a loud, obnoxious brat but none of the adults would scold her; Reina even stole praise from Rin at one point. The latter is what I find a little over-the-top. Reina is supposed to add contrast, but I don’t know what purpose this serves other than to rankle the viewers’ feelings. Drawing out the audience’s emotions is a good thing, but not in such a contrived manner. The fact that the adults treated Rin as a black sheep of the family should be enough to inspire anger and indignation in the audience; inserting a bratty child like Reina into the picture is a little much.
Overall, Usagi Drop is summer’s most interesting anime thus far thanks to a strong first episode, and I hope the anime stays this way for the remainder of the season. ‘Cause, honestly, the rest of the shows I’ve seen so far have not been inspiring.
• When Rin asked for more rice so that she could make onigiri, it felt like a callback to Ashiteruze Baby, another anime with a similar premise to Usagi Drop.
The latter anime, however, appears to be a more mature, solemn version of the former.
• Another slightly over-the-top moment:
Everyone gawked when Daikichi asked Rin to come say goodbye to her father. The lack of subtlety in this scene stuck out as a sore thumb in an otherwise strong episode.
• Visually, Usagi Drop appears to draw from the strengths and weaknesses of Production I.G.’s previous work, Kimi ni Todoke.
The scenery, from its rustic, sketched lines to the soft watercolor palette, is totally reminiscent of Kimi ni Todoke.
Likewise, however, Usagi Drop shares similar flaws in the character animation.
• The soundtrack of the first episode accompanied the mood and tone of the anime well, but I don’t really have much more to say about this than that.
• I don’t care for the songs, but the OP and ED are gorgeous to look at.
Absolutely amazing. Almost makes me wish the actual anime was done in either of these styles.