I am rather taken aback by how Usagi Drop‘s final episode appears to be all over the place. The anime only briefly deals with Yukari’s illness. In the end, custom and propriety keeps Daikichi from ever getting too personal with the woman of his dreams. Instead, the episode quickly goes from jump roping to losing one’s teeth, microcosms for a growing and maturing Rin. Finally, the story finishes by having the entire family plus Rin pay their respects to the deceased patriarch, i.e. Daikichi’s grandfather, yet again. In a way, the anime comes full circle, but in another way, the narrative feels unfulfilling.
I’m disappointed that the Daikichi-Yukari relationship never goes anywhere. It also feels as though Masako has been completely forgotten by the show. Yes, I did write that her character is a dead end, but that’s only because the anime is so fixated on the relationship between Daikichi and Rin. In any case, the story doesn’t feel as though it has reached a satisfying conclusion. Usagi Drop, as an anime, is just a series of positive vignettes about how awesome parenting can be. There’s no sense of finality, which the open-ended conclusion in the last episode seems to reflect.
If the anime does have any message, what is it? Few are going to agree with me on this, but the way the anime constantly trumps parenting as this be all and end all of adult existence is a little uncomfortable at times. The anime can border on propaganda when dealing with this particular issue. “But c’mon,” some of you will protest, “what is wrong with pushing parenting? It is a wonderful and rewarding experience!” After all, proselytizing parenting must be like climbing the pulpit for fresh air!
Well, in the final episode, we suddenly find out that Daikichi’s sister is about to get married. Unfortunately for our soon-to-be wife, she is not keen on her future husband’s insistence on having kids right away. Of course, I’ve been taught to think that if a woman doesn’t feel like having kids, well, she shouldn’t. After all, it’s her body and it’s her life. But maybe it’s different in Japan; maybe we could just chalk it up to cultural differences. Maybe.
The way Daikichi responds to Kazumi brought back memories of how the anime resolved Haruko’s situation. As a refresher, Haruko was unhappy about her home life for a multitude of reasons so she ran away to Daikichi’s place with her daughter Reina in tow. To make a long story short, Haruko eventually decided to bear her depressing situation at home for the sake of her family, especially Reina. Likewise, Daikichi’s “comforting” words to his sister echo a similar sentiment: “If you put your mind to it… Sometimes you just have to manage…”
It’s not just the way Daikichi seemingly tells his sister to settle down and bear it with a smile that leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable. The way the anime portrays Kazumi makes her come off as selfish and flighty: “Are you kidding me?! I wouldn’t be able to go out drinking or go to concerts or go on trips or eat delicious food… I wouldn’t be able to do anything anymore!” Daikichi looks exasperated as he listens on. There’s a sense of “If Yukari can do it — hell, if I can do it — why can’t you?”
Child-rearing just isn’t for everyone and maybe it isn’t for Kazumi either. I feel as though the anime pushes the positives of parenting far too hard without giving any consideration to its negatives. Some people just aren’t fit to raise a family, and forcing a square peg into a round hole could court disaster. And if we’re going to judge other characters for being irresponsible, e.g. Masako, we should also take a close look at how the anime might be irresponsible in its own way. Raising a child is not as easy as raising Rin. Let’s face it — Rin is an anomaly; most children are not as easy to raise as her. Of course, you might say, “Nobody’s dumb enough to watch this anime and think he or she is ready to raise a child.” Well, maybe.
And if we look across the broad spectrum, we see Yukari held up as this goddess for how she can be a single mother and still care for Kouki (mostly) on her own. Likewise, Daikichi’s co-worker is a great woman for sacrificing her career for her son’s sake. Haruko “grows up” by returning to a home where she is unwanted by her in-laws. On the other hand, we have the immature Kazumi and the damned Masako. They both reject parenting in their own ways, especially the latter, and they are both rendered in a negative light.
It’s also interesting to note that the anime rarely confronts any of a father’s potential flaws and/or weaknesses. Daikichi is such a Mary Sue character that he raises Rin with no apparent problems whatsoever. Here’s a single man who instantly makes the transition to fatherhood within a year without so much as an existential crisis — how bizarre! Some guys just freeze at the thought of settling down, much less raise a kid. If Daikichi ever missteps, however, it’s due to his inexperience. You never see him worry about his personal dreams, his social life, and — dare I bring it up — his sexual needs. Similarly, his “father-pals” have no depth of character. They are introduced into the story rather late, and gosh, they seem like such happy-go-lucky fellas!
There’s no doubt that some of you will come away from this post with the idea that I didn’t like the series. I can assure you that this is far from the truth. Usagi Drop is one of the year’s better anime. The show’s strong points, however, are quite obvious. On the other hand, I find its potential missteps far more interesting. First, we have the fact that the ending lacks impact. When the credits finally rolled, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Is that it?” More importantly, however, is Usagi Drop perhaps being too critical of women who are less than ideal? Is the anime advancing a subtler form of the “good wife, wise mother” model for a 21st century Japan that finds its young women all too unwilling to settle down and raise families for the good of the nation? The show has good intentions, but you know how the saying goes….