I found this episode incredibly disturbing. Oh, you guys will tell me that I’m reading too much into things or that I’m missing “the point” — we all know how this dance goes.
Haruko has run away from home with Reina in tow. Essentially, Daikichi’s cousin feels alienated in her own home. With no other family to turn to, Haruko decides to stay with Daikichi for the time being.
At first, I enjoyed Haruko’s characterization. Often times, parents in anime tend to blend into the larger familial pastiche. They act and talk like parents, but they don’t have personalities of their own. Haruko breaks through this mold, confessing her private thoughts and concerns to her cousin. She’s a mother, but now, she’s also Haruko. Before, she was only the former who we would sometimes refer to as the latter — if that makes any sense.
Why is it important for Haruko to stand out as her own character? Well, have you ever noticed those blurbs about the author at the back of a book? “So-and-so likes to drink tea in the park” or “He walks his dog on the beach in his free time.” You could be reading a book promoting Nazism, but there would still be this cheesy bio painting the author in the most humanizing terms. That’s the key right there: humanization.
Like I’ve said above, parents in Asian dramas can often fade into the background as the collective values take center stage. “All for the family!” “Family first!” Blah blah blah. Parents are just cogs and wheels within a larger family machine. And with Japan’s birth rate being so dangerously low in recent decades, now’s not the time to let up on any anti-family sentiments!
This is why I was so surprised at first to see the anime humanize Haruko. She steps out from the shadows of the family machine and voices the concerns of many Japanese mothers:
- The husband who’s rarely home: “…my husband doesn’t look at me anymore….”
- The over-bearing mother-in-law: “I wonder if peaceful cohabitation between a wife and her in-laws even exists….”
- A life of conformity: “Ever since I got married, I’ve been living with my feelings bottled up!”
Too often, people would look at someone like Haruko and dismiss her concerns and worries as selfish, arguing that there’s something larger at stake, i.e. the family. Mothers like Haruko aren’t arguing for the destruction of the family, however; they just want their plight to be legitimized and voiced. Maybe if more stories would humanize young mothers like Haruko, things could be different for those trapped in domesticity.
But alas, there’s something quite disturbing in how Haruko spills her guts. There are some tears and some anguish, but for the most part, Haruko brandishes a smile as she confides in Daikichi. The soundtrack at the start of the anime, for instance, juxtaposes Haruko’s troubling revelations with some light-hearted menagerie of sounds, suggesting that the mood is somewhat comedic and not-quite-so-serious. There is thus an ironic distance between Haruko’s words and how the anime portrays her dilemma.
The horror soon becomes all too real by the end of the episode, when Haruko explains to Daikichi that she will bear her domestic problems for the sake of herself but mostly Reina:
“Besides, I’ve been putting up with it for years now. I’m sure I can keep at it. As long as I try not to feel anything, I can hold out, more or less.”
In the end, the family machine re-subsumes Haruko, the person, and she returns to being just another mother in a landscape of troubled households. Any individualism is just a passing fancy. After all, family is absolute. Much of my dismay could be allayed if there were any hints whatsoever that Haruko’s family life will improve when she returns home, but I don’t think that’s what we get.
When Haruko’s husband arrives to pick her and Reina up, this is the first time in a long time — as implied by Haruko — that the husband has left work early. Notice, however, that the young couple doesn’t even embrace. He doesn’t even offer to carry his wife and daughter’s luggage to the car. While he did first hug his own daughter, the next thing the husband does is apologize to Daikichi: “I apologize. Haruko caused you so much trouble….” Honor is apparently far more important than your alienated wife. Meanwhile, a slow piano solo seems to suggest a hopeful mood. Hm.
At the end of the episode, Daikichi thinks back to when Haruko was just a young girl; he remembers how she used to be such a crybaby (in an affectionate way). As we watch the adult Haruko leave Daikichi’s home — her eyes wide with conviction — we naturally are meant to think that she is now such a brave and strong woman for re-assuming her wifely responsibilities. There’s a nagging feeling deep down, however, that her family life won’t improve whatsoever.
Daikichi, the Gary Stu
Oh Daikichi, can you do no wrong? Midway through the episode, Daikichi calmly informs his cousin that he has called her home to quell any potential worries. He seems to know just exactly what to do, doesn’t he? Daikichi’s such a perfect guy, it’s almost unbelievable.
There’s the slightest hint that Daikichi might be interested in Yukari, but gosh, he’d never be forward about it since the now-single mother and Kouki have been through so much. Here’s a 30 year old bachelor with a chance at a pretty woman and he’s so even keel about it, it’s almost bewildering. It’s okay, Daikichi, to think about sex every once in a while.
Speaking of Daikichi and Yukari…
Oh, what’s this? Yukari’s bonding with Rin and Daikichi’s bonding with Kouki? I haven’t read the manga. I’ve only spoiled the ending for myself. So the extra scene at the end is probably in the manga for all I know, but oh how I do wish it was a sign of things to come. In other words, let’s not adapt the manga’s ending, shall we?
The new and improved Reina
To be honest, Reina has improved ever since she acted as a spoiled brat in the first episode. The little girl couldn’t have been more annoying, drawing a contrast between her and Rin at the start of Usagi Drop.
Once we’ve moved past the beginning, however, Reina has suddenly turned into an endearing, little girl. When characters’ personalities suddenly change for no explicable reason, this is what I mean when I say anime can sometimes feel contrived or manipulative.