Usagi Drop (Cert PG)
2 Discs DVD (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 241 minutes approx
It’s often been said by single people that the best thing about spending time with other people’s kids is that we can give them back at the end of the day. For Daikichi Kawachi, the adult protagonist of Usagi Drop, a strange set of circumstances leads to him getting it the wrong way round.
When his grandfather Souihci Kaga, dies, Daikichi dutifully returns home for the funeral where he spies a lone six year-old girl named Rin, looking forlorn and detached from the rest of the funeral party. A huge bombshell is dropped when Daikichi learns that this girl is in fact his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter by his former maid – making Rin Daikichi’s aunt! With the rest of the family disapproving of Souichi’s behaviour and Rin’s mother nowhere to be found, no-one is willing to look after the youngster and suggest she be put up for adoption; appalled by their attitudes, Daikichi steps up and offers to Rin home with him, despite having zero experience in raising kids.
Yumi Unita’s josei manga is a touching look at what it means to be a parent even if the adult and a child share a fairly tenuous link with one another. While it is somewhat romanticised in places to penetrate even the sternest of hearts, Unita has kept the tone light enough for complete accessibility and the situations and learning curves for both principals as true to life and identifiable for the audience as possible.
In Daikichi, Unita has created a rather safe male lead in that he isn’t burdened with any emotional baggage, bad habits or a black mark against his name, sparing Rin’s entrance into his life as a pathway to redemption. That would be too easy; instead the story is about a man who feels duty bound to do the right thing by an innocent child others are willing to ostensibly discard because of their self-righteous attitudes. All Daikichi has against him is that he is used to the single life and works a long, busy hours.
Rin is adorable. A small blonde haired girl with big eyes, she is outcast at the funeral but appears to already be a somewhat independent spirit so she takes it all in her stride, despite being clearly overwhelmed by the situation. Daikichi – presumably as the only other single person at the funeral – is the only who pays Rin any attention so her quick acceptance of his offer to live with him is of little surprise.
From hereon after we follow the path of the two getting to know each other and learning to live with each other. For Rin it means learning to live by house rules and adapting to new surroundings while Daikichi has the hardest transition to make. His job has him working long hours meaning Rin is left alone at the temporary kindergarten till late, which creates an immediate distance between the two. After discussing parenthood with other single parent colleagues, Daikichi requests a transfer to a department with less unsociable hours.
Rin’s presence brings with it new found responsibilities for Daikichi, such as schooling, medical treatments and keeping Rin clothed and fed. Thankfully Rin befriends the rambunctious Kouki Nitani, a restless boy whose mother Yukari is also a single parent. Yukari provides much support and vital advice for Daikichi while Daikichi’s married cousin Haruko is also on hand for other advice.
While this is a light affair in terms of drama it is by no means a flimsy or anodyne tale, since the central themes and occurrences are those which blight the lives of all of us at one point or another. The time span is one year so we witness things like Rin losing her baby teeth (and the unusual Japanese traditions which accompany this), starting junior school, shopping for new clothes and even illnesses. The most important growth that occurs is the relationship between adult and child and how they become a solid, trusting, and above all, loving family unit. This is high lighted in a silly little “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” skit where Daikichi is weighing himself and Rin sneakily steps on the scales behind his back. It’s a cheeky throwaway frame, but it encapsulates how far the bond between them has grown.
There is a subplot featuring Rin’s mother, Masako Yoshii, an aspiring manga artist who abandoned Rin for her career, feeling too inadequate to be a mother. Masako’s presence, we can assume, is there to reinforce the idea that shared DNA is not just a requirement for being a parent, and while she is not portrayed as selfish or ruthlessly ambitious, it is hard to see her reasons for leaving Rin as anything but.
What may come as a shock to many is that the animation duties are handled by the mighty Production IG, noted for their highly detailed and standard setting visuals. This show is the very antithesis of that, with soft pastel coloured palette for the watercolour-esque backgrounds and simplistic character designs. For Rin, to exude maximum cuteness, her face often drifts off model to a simple line-for-eyes, almost chibi style form yet this feels utterly acceptable within the context of this show.
While the youngster is typically precocious as Japanese kids are often presented – cooking, cleaning and dressing herself – Rin is still one of the more believable and familiar kids in anime and Ayu Matsuura’s voice work is very much a part reflecting that as well as creating her personality – although her constant and persistent cries of “Daikichi” does great after a while.
The only complaint to be held against Usagi Drop is that it is too short at eleven episodes and seems to stop dead mid flow. This is without question a deeply effecting, non-sentimental, enriching series which is much broader in its appeal than it sounds. A refreshing change from the usual fare, this is the cutest show you’ll ever see that doesn’t deliberately lay on the moe factor with a shovel.
A real gem!
Disc 2 Only:
2.5 – Leaf Aquarium
3.5 – Dear Santa
6.5 – Full Blossom In The Skies
8.5 – The Road Home
Rating – *****
Man In Black