As I get older I sometimes think about adding a new member to our little Super Otaku Busters club. Seeing shows and movies about how terrible children are usually delays my longing for a bit, but every once in a while a series comes along that makes me wish I had a little otaku of my own to teach.
Title: Usagi Drop (Bunny Drop)
Original airing: July 8th, 2011 to September 16th, 2011
Studio: Production I.G.
Duration: 22 mins per episode
Genres: Josei, Slice of Life
Source: Usagi Doroppu Manga by Yumi Unita
Where I watched: Crunchyroll (Subbed)
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions
Daikichi Kawachi is a 30-year-old bachelor working a respectable job but otherwise wandering aimlessly through life. When his grandfather suddenly passes away, he returns to the family home to pay his respects. Upon arriving at the house, he meets a mysterious young girl named Rin who, to Daikichi’s astonishment, is his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter!
The shy and unapproachable girl is deemed an embarrassment to the family, and finds herself ostracized by her father’s relatives, all of them refusing to take care of her in the wake of his death. Daikichi, angered by their coldness towards Rin, announces that he will take her in—despite the fact that he is a young, single man with no prior childcare experience.
Usagi Drop is the story of Daikichi’s journey through fatherhood as he raises Rin with his gentle and affectionate nature, as well as an exploration of the warmth and interdependence that are at the heart of a happy, close-knit family.
Looking back at the anime I’ve watched this year, you can see I’ve done my best not to go heavily toward a certain genre and viewed a wide variety of themes. A fantasy RPG , girls driving WWII tanks, an all boy’s host club, demon butlers, a reluctant cannibal, a time travelling mad scientist, and a homeless god – just to name a few of the more unusual ones. If you told me at the beginning of the year that I would be watching an anime about a normal guy raising a normal six year old girl, I wouldn’t have believed you. But then I would have proceeded to watch it.
Slice of life stories certainly aren’t out of my realm of interest, as my recent reviews of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, Orange, and Toradora! can attest to. The thing about those anime is that there was another element, usually comedy, that gave the series some extra lift. Orange was the exception, and it proved to be a tedious watch at some points. Usagi Drop has moments of comedy but uses little more than the relationship between a young(ish) bachelor and his six year old ‘aunt’ to tell its story. Its genuine portrayal as one of the most realistic slice of life stories I have come across, however, makes it far more appealing to watch than it sounds on paper.
Usagi Drop opens with a sketched image of a man walking through the park, hand in hand, with a young child. The scene fades, shifting to a middle-aged man, Daikichi, being startled awake from this foreboding dream. The following morning, Daikichi returns to his familial home for his grandfather’s funeral and encounters a shy little girl. Her identity is revealed, to his and much of his family’s surprise, when they learn his ojiisan has fathered an illegitimate daughter named Rin.
After witnessing a family disagreement over who will take responsibility for the young girl, Daikichi resolves to care of Rin. Despite being a bachelor and having no experience raising a child, he is steadfast in his determination to care for the six year old girl who is effectively his aunt. While searching for Rin’s mother, Daikichi must adapt to suddenly becoming a ‘single father.’ Naturally, he struggles, like most new parents, with trying to juggle his work and parental roles. This results in some humorous, albeit insightful moments such as: the process of registering a child for school, learning what children prefer to eat, and how to respond to their inquisitive nature. Though this makes for a slow narrative, it gives viewers the chance to see the growth of an unconventional family.
With regards to unconventional families, the social stigma of being a single parent, or coming from a non-nuclear family, is hinted throughout the series as well. Rin is questioned by her peers about Daikichi’s role, when she explains that he isn’t her father. This prompts more questions about parents, divorce, and death. Similarly, there is a situation involving Daikichi’s cousin grappling with the idea of separating from her emotionally absent husband. The concern arises that she, and her daughter, will be criticized for their broken family and perceived negatively by others as a result. The series however, counters this stigma by representing a diverse mix of families. Some of these supporting characters, like a single mother of one of Rin’s classmates, embraces solo parentage with no apparent worry as to how her situation appears to others.
Another interesting touch of realism is how well the Japanese culture is present throughout the series. At the start of Usagi Drop, viewers witness a traditional Buddhist funeral. In keeping with tradition, the service is held in the familial home with only close family in attendance (ref). In another episode, Daikichi explains the custom of how his mother planted a tree for each of her children after birth. In almost every episode, viewers are privy to a glimpse of these sorts of cultural references; serving to add even more to realism to the series.
Though Usagi Drop accurately portrays situations that mirror real life, some liberties have been taken. To maintain focus on the heartwarming narrative, an almost too idealistic setting was created. For example, Rin comes across as extremely well-behaved for her age. Given that she is in elementary school and recently been uprooted from everything she knows, I could only image how a child would likely act out. There are hints of being affected by this sudden change; she begins to wet the bed and has a fear that Daikichi will leave. I may be trying to analyse the story too critically at this point, but her maturity (compared to her peers) may be attributed to the elderly age of her biological father. Rin likely had to learn early how to help take care of both her father and herself. This would certainly account for her more sophisticated behaviors.
Despite encouraging a complex situation to be viewed through ‘rose colored lenses,’ these added idealistic elements don’t distract from the overall series. As the story unfolds, the characters’ lives become a sequence of enlightening discoveries; spurring self-reflection and growth as a result. Rin’s unwavering trust coupled with Daikichi’s eventual refusal to give her up creates an unbreakable bond that both remarkable and endearing.
It is has been stated over and over that slice of life narratives are driven by well-developed characters. The characters in Usagi Drop are realistically and accurately represented, especially regarding the ease of their interactions. Although I mentioned previously how some of the characters are a bit idealized to enhance the story, none are without flaws. On the surface, Daikichi Kawachi is the typical Japanese salary man and bachelor with a straightforward approach to life. Being driven to excel in his career, with little time (or motivation) for much else, Daikichi now faces his thirties alone. This solitary existence is quashed after a surprise encounter with his pint-sized aunt, Rin.
As the illegitimate daughter of the family patriarch, Rin Kaga is an emotionally detached child. Displaced from her home after her father’s death and abandoned by her mother, the young girl is slated to become another victim of the adoption system. That is, until her middle-aged nephew, Daikichi, selflessly agrees to take responsibility for her. As can be expected, the loss of her father has left Rin apprehensive about death and abandonment. This manifests into nightmares and bedwetting; very plausible responses to sudden change in children. Over the span of the series, though, she gradually warms up to Daikichi; whose patience and reassurance alleviates her fears.
What is refreshing about Usagi Drop is how the essence of a childlike wonder is truly captured through Rin’s character. She find pleasure in the smallest things: choosing her own breakfast cereal, planting a tree, and wearing her hair in pigtails for the first time. Adding to this is the overwhelming joy Rin expresses when loosing her first tooth and learns to skip rope for the first time. Likewise, her inquisitive nature and zest for life is invigorating. Rin’s natural intrigue has her pondering everything from how to prepare food to what happens when someone passes away. This makes her growth as a character all the more enjoyable to witness.
The personal growth and transformation of these two main characters is gradual and well executed; making for an enjoyable, satisfying viewing experience. Daikichi’s patient and gentle, though awkward, nature contrasts well with Rin’s shy, apprehensive persona. By his own admission, Daikichi is ‘not very good’ with handling women or children, which makes watching his missteps, reactions, and growth all the more endearing. Through his struggle to balance his career and new responsibilities as a father, viewers witness Daikichi’s priorities begin to shift towards nurturing and protecting Rin above all else.
The series goes on to provide several contrasts to Daikichi and Rin’s situation, and I cannot conclude this section without mentioning a humorous, scene stealing character, Kouki (a classmate of Rin’s). Along with his single mother, Yukari, these supporting characters present another example of the single parent model, but with different challenges. Although Rin is well-behaved for her age, Daikichi struggles as he learns to care for her as a single parent. Comparatively, Kouki is a mischievous, rambunctious little boy whose nature is to push the boundaries and annoy those dearest to him. Despite having her hands full, Yukari seemingly juggles being a solo guardian well. Add to this the sweet dynamic of Kouki being protective of Rin and overt flirtation between the adults and you have a recipe for some well written supporting characters.
Other supporting cast are also used in a strategic effort to show various family dynamics, especially in comparison to our main protagonists. Daikichi’s cousin, Haruko, and young daughter, Reina, are products of an emotionally disjointed nuclear family. Initially the comfort and stability of a two parent household seems ideal. As the series progresses, however, viewers’ recognize there is a big difference between being physically present in someone’s life versus emotionally connected to them.
To further illustrate the importance of these connections, Rin’s biological mother also reappears during the series. Though I could argue the addition of her character did little to further the narrative, her inclusion reaffirmed a significant point. For both Daikichi and Rin’s mother, Masako, the highest priority in their lives was to establish a successful career for themselves. The emphasis on this being so considerable that all other things, including relationships, were neglected. As the series progresses, Daikichi begins making adjustments to his life (working fewer hours, preparing wholesome meals, etc.) in order to accommodate Rin. When faced with the decision to take responsibility for her daughter, Masako ultimately decides her career is more important. This is a reflection of the tremendous personal growth Daikichi has had from the start of the series.
Usagi Drop is a wide departure from Production I.G’s normal work, though the result is not at all bad. The best way I can describe the animation is simple, but satisfying. This minimal art style allows the characters to be the focal point by avoiding potentially distracting, detailed scenes. This is suitable if the narrative and characters are well developed and, in the case of Usagi Drop, they are. The scenes are reminiscent of a watercolor painting with soft hues and delicate line work. This serves to add to the child-like whimsy of the series, using an artistic style that adults can appreciate as well.
Despite the simple designs used in the series, there are subtle touches added to emphasize a more realistic environment. For example, the wood in Daikichi’s house appears worn in places from the repeated sliding of doors and the pavement is detailed with stress cracks. If Daikichi is feeling especially weary, stubble begins to appear on his chin from where he forgot to shave. While these little details might be overlooked by the casual viewer, I truly appreciate the extra effort made to show these miniscule details as they go a long way in subtly building the atsmosphere of the series.
The character design are realistic as well. Don’t expect to see exaggerated displays or inflated features to emphasize emotions. There are no characters exhaling huge clouds of air when exasperated or sweat drops the size of lemons beading down their forehead when distraught. Instead, Usagi Drop features accurate, age appropriate characters displaying reasonable emotions. Why is this important to mention? While exaggerated art styles certainly have their place in anime that feature a lot of action or comedy, their inclusion immediately drives away from the series’ realism. How many times have you seen an anime character who you thought was in grade school, but turns out they’re the 30 year old teacher with three kids and a mortgage? I may be exaggerating, but not any more than some anime artists do. Usagi Drop understands the tone it tries to establish, and doesn’t deviate from its art direction even when blatantly trying to be funny.
The music chosen for Usagi Drop echos the same light, heartwarming feelings that the narrative manages to invoke. The BGMs are light and whimsical, invoking a sense of sweetness even during emotional moments, and are subtle enough to allow the characters to keep the spotlight during those scenes. The opening, Sweet Drops, was specifically written for the anime and live adaptation of Usagi Drop. Not only is the melody upbeat and cheerful, but the lyrics summarize the story being told.
What a fragile little girl.
But sometimes strong.
You are home with me – HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!
Those days will be so happy.
So I don’t know why.
Even adults want someone to hold
Some things never change.
Usagi Drop wasn’t the first animated series the female singing duo has recorded for though. Puffy AmiYumi also recorded the theme songs for Teen Titan and SD Gundam Force. In addition, they made vocal appearances in episode 9 of Usagi Drop, as after school caretakers (ref).
In contrast to the opening theme, ‘High, High, High’ is sung by two male vocalists who form the group Kasarinchu. The ending theme, has a softer, but no less catchy sound. It seems to reflect the bright, peaceful atmosphere of this series well. Aside from Usagi Drop, the duo have also recorded one of the several ending themes used for the popular anime series, Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai).
While there is no English Dub of Usagi Drop, the Japanese cast is made up of some excellent talent. Despite the character having a mellow voice, Hiroshi Tsuchida executed Daikichi’s moments of exasperation and frustration well. Though this was his first leading role in an anime, he has provided voices for supporting characters in several well known series including: Attack on Titan (Grisha) and Naruto (Raido). Additionally, Hiroshi has provided the Japanese voice dub for some popular western series including: Game of Thrones (Beric Dondarrion) and The Walking Dead (Rick Grimes).
Given how talented seiyuu are, soft spoken females are typically cast in the roles of children. So, I was surprised to learn that the character of Rin was voiced by a young girl; Ayu Matsuura, who was ten at the time of production. Viewers can anticipate hearing the genuine expressions of delight, confusion, and sadness that only a child can capture. This pint-sized seiyuu is extremely talented, so fans can likely anticipate hearing more of her work in the future series.
This series also features a tactic that I’m seeing more often in anime, but is still something of a rarity. In general, sound at precise moments is intended to enhance a scene. Eg: the pounding of drums may simulate a racing heart, signaling the viewer to anticipate a threat. With that in mind, the absence of sound can also be telling. Many series use unnecessary scripting to fill gaps in dialogue that add nothing to the story. Usagi Drop uses silence during ‘daily life’ moments, like when Daikichi and Rin are eating breakfast or relaxing in the evening. This encourages viewers to absorb these peaceful moments and appreciate the beauty of the scenes.
Usagi Drop is a heartwarming tale that depicts the mundane, daily aspects of life. The story never really comes to any significant conclusion and (in this case) that’s okay. It is as if viewers are given a peek into one family’s life. After the series ends, viewers anticipate that the characters will continue life as usual. Choosing to end the series with no actual ending maintains the realism that the writers carefully established.
It is easy to dismiss Usagi Drop as a humdrum series with little action, imminent threat, or formidable antagonist. Honestly though, the authenticity of the narrative would be compromised by the addition of these elements. After all, how many heart-pounding moments manifest during your daily routine? The experiences Daikichi faces, like running late in picking up Rin from school, are common disruptions that resonate with viewers that don’t rely on overly dramatic presentation. By concentrating on average struggles, without contriving improbable drama to drive the plot, the well defined characters and gradual, progressive narrative can be truly appreciated.
So what then is the downside of a series that doesn’t rely on exaggerated themes to entice viewers? How about when an anime is void of side arcs to engage the viewer when there are lulls in main thread? The absence of these intriguing story devices, even in a short series like Usagi Drop, will leave some viewers feeling bored. Similarly, I already mentioned there is no dramatic conclusion, which may make some consider this a pointless viewing experience. The developed characters and seamless story, however, allows for no real questionable actions or glaring plot holes. How many anime series can claim that?
While I applaud Usagi Drop as a well executed series, it isn’t without flaws. In the story section, the point was made that an almost idealistic setting was created for this series. Though not as glaringly obvious as Rin’s impeccable behavior, there are a few other illogical situations worth mentioning. Daikichi’s financial position is almost an afterthought when he hastily agrees to take care of Rin. Given that he is a bachelor and salaryman, his income is likely sufficient for his limited expenses. With that said, most people still need to prepare for the financial burdens of raising children. Daikichi does remark on the exorbitant cost of basic necessities (daycare, clothing, etc…) several times throughout the series, but there is no real struggle to cover these expenses. Similarly, Daikichi’s extended family embraces Rin, despite their initial rejection of her, soon after the funeral. Since this is only an 11 episode series, this was likely meant to save time. Regardless, slowly accepting the young girl over the course of the series would have made for a more realistic story.
Though I theorize that this ideal setting was constructed to benefit the short series, there was excessive time allotted to developing a character that, in the end, served no real purpose. Rin’s mother, Masako, was focused on to the point where viewers anticipate her actions to be signigicant. There was even an episode that emphasized her life as a mangaka and how contact with Daikichi was disrupting her focus at work. Masako’s struggle with the decision on whether or not to raise a daughter who barely remembered her and tense interactions with Daikichi had the potential to add some believable drama to this series. Instead, the only possible antagonist fades away without any meaningful explanation for her inclusion in the story.
Summary and Recommendations
Usagi Drop is a feel good slice of life story about a middle-aged salary man, Daikichi, who has never given much thought to starting a family and a young girl, Rin, who has no concept of a ‘normal’ family life.
The portrayal of the struggles and growth of these characters is well represented, though Rin has very few problems acclimating to her new life and surroundings. Daikichi similarly must learn how much a child can take over one’s life as he is forced to shift priorities in order to adequately care for Rin.
A number of family situations are shown to compare and contrast Daikichi’s single parent relationship with Rin. Sticking to the same realistic portrayal that the rest of the series embraces, these various families illustrate the problems that can arise in any family where children are involved.
Simple, yet effective, animation and music are used to paint the series in light tones and scenery. The characters are well represented in a realistic fashion with minimal distracting elements. Music and silence work together to convey the mood of a scene and bring viewer focus exactly where it’s needed.
The lack of an overall narrative or pressing problem may drive some viewers away as this series is slice of life in the purest sense. The appeal of the series comes from watching the characters deal with everyday concerns instead of any overarching problem. For those looking for an authentic portrayal of Japanese life from the viewpoint of two individuals whose life radically changes, you couldn’t ask for anything more genuine or sweet.
Watch if you:
Love heartwarming family themes
Prefer slower paced anime.
Enjoy well developed characters
Don’t watch if you:
Get bored without an intriguing story
Must have a conclusive ending
Can’t stand children
The technical nature of my score fails to capture how truly enjoyable this series is. Don’t let my 4 out of 5 Rins fool you into thinking it’s anything less than amazing.
It’s always interesting to see what genre labels become attached to a series. Popular anime sites like myanimelist.net and crunchyroll list Usagi Drop as a Josei anime; meaning that it’s aimed towards older teens and adult women. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t understand why the series is being labeled this way. It’s a heartwarming about a single man taking care of an abandoned child. This sounds like the premise of a Hallmark Channel movie.
My main argument with attaching labels to anime is that some fans might actively avoid certain series, based purely on “not enjoying” specific genre. My wife and I sometimes debate (argue) over why a series should be included in certain categories and avoid being grouped into others. As I stated in previous reviews, I likely wouldn’t have watched Ouran High School Host Club, if my wife had not encouraged it (mainly because reverse harem shoujo doesn’t sound appealing to me). As it turns out, that series far exceeded my expectations. Likewise, my wife was hesitant to watch Anohana after seeing it listed as supernatural. “Weekend Otaku, why would I watch a rehashed Casper?”
The point I am hoping to convey is that genre labels should be taken with a grain of salt when deciding what to watch. If I shunned every series that is marketed as ‘shoujo,’ then I would’ve missed out on some amazing anime. So if you’re a guy, I encourage you to give Josei anime a try. As for the ladies, can you really say you’ve lived if you haven’t seen a good shounen mecha?
For those of you still slightly disappointed with the lack of heavy elements in this review, check back in a little while as my next series is anything but light.
Haven’t had enough adorableness for one day? Check out these articles from other great bloggers:
Usagi Drop Review by Magnitude Reviews
A great review with a format similar to mine. They take some time to discuss how captivating this series really is, and also have a great looking site.
Review: Usagi Drop by Cauthan
An very enjoyable read that explains the selling points of the anime despite the lower score he gives it.
Innocence: Thoughts on Usagi Drop and Barakamon by LynLynSays
A short but insightful post from a blog I recently followed about children and family dynamics in the case of Usagi Drop and Barakamon.
For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.