Daikichi is a single thirty-year-old man whose elderly grandfather has just died leaving behind his secret, illegitimate six-year-old daughter, Rin. When his family treats the girl like a leper and considers giving her to the state, Daikichi, disgusted at their behaviour, announces that he will take her in and raise her himself; thus begins his journey on the road to parenthood. I won’t lie, not a lot happens. The show simply follows Rin and Daikichi in their first year of living together as they face each new trial that comes their way, be it enrolling in nursery school, coping with a fever, or solving bed-wetting problems. However, Usagi Drop is a master class in subtlety. This series is all about the development of its central players, and each everyday hurdle that comes their way facilitates the next stage of their evolution. Nothing hurries along at the speed of light, forces its way into the narrative, or thrusts itself in your face, instead the plot moves forward at a realistic pace, with plenty of fuzzy, heart-warming moments that make the anime all the more engaging to watch.
Outside of the two protagonists’ development, the anime begins to explore several other sub-plots, such as locating Rin’s mother and exploring her motivations for abandoning her child, or the burgeoning relationship between Daikichi and another single parent at the nursery school. However, at a mere eleven episodes in length, Usagi Drop doesn’t really resolve all of the threads it explores, and since it only covers four volumes of the manga, this isn’t too surprising. The arc of this season covers the “settling in period”, reaching a comfortable conclusion as Daikichi accepts his new life and responsibilities so as not to leave the viewer feeling unsatisfied. Likewise, while the central focus of this series is quite closed – in mainly being about Daikichi and Rin – that there are still unanswered questions at the finish, the anime leaves the path open for a continuation that could potentially expand beyond their tight-knit family and venture into a wider world of relationships.
With a style of colouring akin to that of watercolours and a slight flickering effect, the opening moments of each episode look as if each individual frame has been hand-painted. These visuals are absolutely luscious and more like the sort of imagery you’d find in independent shorts such as The Diary of Tortov Roddle. Unfortunately, when the main part of the episode kicks in this effect disappears in favour of more standard animation. That being said, however, Production I.G. has nailed a suitable design for the show’s tone. Using a muted, but far from dull, colour palette full of lighter hues the series has an altogether soft appearance that mixes well with the fluffy and comforting content. Sure, the show suffers from the inevitable pitfall of a looser animation style and boasts some iffy proportions or just plain dodgy drawing at times (one scene depicting Daikichi from behind makes it look like his ears are halfway down his neck instead of on his head), but overall the visuals work well and serve to enhance the anime rather than hinder it.
The background music for Usagi Drop is ideal for the series’ tone. The various piano based melodies scattered throughout perfectly reflect Rin’s charming, cheerful innocence while others emphasise the show’s overall nurturing nature. The latter quality is particularly noticeable during the scenes where Kouki’s mother is tending to a feverish Rin where the gentle harmony warms the heart as much as a bowl of healing rice porridge.
The voice acting is also top-notch. Ayu Matsuura’s performance of Rin perfectly suits the character and conveys both her naivety as well as her more mature side with ease. Likewise Hiroshi Tsuchida's inflections manage to allude to Daikichi’s rough-around-the-edges nature while imbuing the voice with an increasing softness that can only come with being a loving parent. The secondary vocal cast also perform just as well with Nao Sakai nailing Kouki’s boisterous attitude and Maaya Sakamoto exploiting Masako’s immature mannerisms.
This show would be nothing without its characterisation, and in particular that of the two central protagonists. As an individual, Rin is perfectly pitched. She manages to exude an aura of absolute adorableness but without becoming too cutesy, sickly sweet, or flat. Certainly, had she failed to be so damn cute, Usagi Drop wouldn’t work half as well as it does. The viewer needs to like Rin and sympathise with her and the series manages this flawlessly. By portraying her loneliness and sorrow in the opening episode then proceeding to depict her coming out of her shell, the anime manages to avoid making her into a tragic case or an emotional brat. Instead, it manages to balance her carefree and childlike nature with her insecurities and sadness in a way that ensures she’s wholly endearing.
While Rin may take centre stage a lot of the time and tug at every woman’s maternal instinct, for me the real star of the show is Daikichi and the development of his character is absolutely stellar. At the beginning he’s a bachelor through and through and isn’t particularly good with women or children. However, as the series progresses and he spends more time with Rin, he realises that he has to grow up, make sacrifices, and can no longer live purely for himself. Gradually his focus shifts more and more towards Rin, and it’s small details such as his quitting smoking that make his evolution seem all the more real. That Daikichi goes from the man who will bribe his relatives’ children with sweets just so that they’ll leave him alone, to a responsible parent holding a sick child’s hand all night, and that the viewer goes on this journey with him makes watching the series truly worthwhile.
However, what truly brings everything together is Daikichi’s interaction with Rin and how they both learn from each other. Daickichi himself admits at one point during the show that he wonders who is raising who, and throughout the series, the parental role flip-flops between the two. One minute Rin will be berating her guardian for not saying thanks before his meal and waking him up for work; then in the next instant it will be Daikichi teaching his ward about cereal and reassuring her that she won’t be abandoned. With Rin’s “parenting” contributing some gentle comedy into the mix and Daikichi’s inciting more than enough “aww moments” to keep a gaggle of broody housewives cooing over him for a week, it’s undoubtedly this rapport between child and adult that makes for the most engaging and heart-warming viewing.
It’s been a long time since I sat and watched a series with a constant dopey grin on my face, but that’s exactly what happened with Usagi Drop. This series ambles along with a quiet and understated grace without relying on any gimmicks. Instead it lets the beauty of human interaction, innocence and development take centre stage and leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
Before I start let me clarify that I don’t care about slice of life shows. I find them to be the second most simplistic and passable genre, with moeblobs topping them by a few miles for going overboard. In this particular case I sat down to watch it simply because the anime became top ten in almost every site in just a few weeks. I wondered “hey how is this possible; it is just another everyday show”.
I read the description of the story and it doesn’t seem like much. Some guy finds out his grandfather had a kid in an old age and decides to raise it after he passed away. Ok, so why is this so great to bother? Some said it was because of the really weird thing that happens in the end of the manga (which I will not reveal since it is a spoiler) and others because it is very good at what is supposed to be about (meaning that you watch it mostly for the feelings it transmits to you). The story is otherwise very basic, the characters are very basic, the ending is not really there, so I am already not seeing this as a perfect show, all in a very objective and undeniable manner.
Other than that I do admit that as far as presentation goes it does a fine job. It really feels like everyday life. More than the usual too. For example, there was an anime I watched some years ago with a rather similar story. It was called Chocotto Sister and unlike Usagi Drop it had a lot of silliness in it, from lolicon, to harem, to ecchi, to female Santa Claus gifting naked girls to teenagers. Its slice of life feeling was fine too but quickly became stupid and the rather low production values made it passable and even forgettable.
Usagi Drop on the other hand does things a lot more subtly and artistic. The visuals are made at times to look like cute pastel-drawn pictures, the characters have lively motions that make them look interesting to pay attention to, the voice acting is appropriate and never overdone. The characters are also behaving in a much understood reason; you won’t find energetic, angsty-filled teenager cop-outs here. The protagonist is an adult working, and the girl needs psychological support. All these everyday aspects of a normal life are very rare in anime and it is quite interesting to see them being given such attention. Most shows would skip all that, give the characters magic money, their hardest problem would be their scores at school and everybody would accidentally bump on one another while undressed. And do I even need to remind you how mature parenthood was portrayed in Astarotte no Omocha?
Usagi Drop avoids all that and focuses solely on portraying realistically what it means to have an actual working life, while having to take care of a melancholic child. It shows all the things you need to sacrifice after you have kids to take care of and it’s not holding back to be sad about it. This unfortunately makes it a show which is hard to be appreciated by anyone who doesn’t like realism in his shows, and by that I mean around 99.98% of any anime, cartoon, movie, dorama, or Hollywood movie out there. Heck, I myself am no fan of too much realism. At the same time the show is far more mature and down to earth that anything else I have watched regarding parenthood. I know for example many who consider the second season of Clannad to be realistic, but the ending alone yells it was just an escapism fairy tale and nothing more. There is another one called Kurenai, which felt realistic in how a young boy needs to take care of a little depressed girl. It also had a fair amount of action, dementia, and even incest. Was it better than Usagi Drop for having action and dementia? No, because the protagonist was a super powerful fighter who was beating crooks every day and yet acted in school like he was a meek wimp and nobody ever questioned his injuries. It became too far fetched after awhile too.
Now before you start thinking I am praising the series too much for it realism, I must still clarify that it also has its minor issues in terms of storytelling. For example, the way Daikichi took Rin under his wing happened very easily. He just took her home and that’s it! She was also accepted to the kindergarten without any paperwork to clarify who, what, where, when. The whole adoption thing happened really easily.
But it is not the story or the development that matter but the feelings it transmits to you. And sure, any stupid fan catering/poser/moe show out there can do the same but none of them manage to succeed by being normal. They are just exaggerated, throwing in lots of sex, violence, death, immorality, and then call themselves “mature” when in reality they are just over the top and eventually poke your disbelief too much. The characters are also good for being basic, without any unnecessary extra, such as being defined by quirks, hairstyles or dress fetishes. They are good at their role and in no need of extra spices. This is what I appreciate in this show; it manages to be simple and quite realistic without being dull right away even if you are not a fan of the genre. And this comes from someone who tried colossi like Aria, Wandering Son, and Yokohama Shopping Diary and found them unbearably BOOORING.
So is it a good show? Well it definitely is an uncommon one, and I say this in a positive way. It is getting really hard to see something out of the ordinary in most recent anime and Usagi Drop succeeds by being about REAL life and not some wannabe “mature” story. At the same time, I doubt it would be so famous if it weren’t for “that event” in the end of the manga (which was deliberately left out in the anime version).
You liked it and want more? The only similar ones that come close to being good for me are Koi Kaze and Aishiteru ze Baby. There is also Aka-chan to Boku but it is old and it was never fully subbed so good luck on watching it raw. Yet even those are barely as artistic and captivating as Usagi Drop, which for me now belongs in the best realistic anime I have ever seen.
… Not that there are that many of those around.
p.s. Dear NoitaminA, you are doing a great job when you stick to slice-of-life shows. Please keep the frakk away from science fiction, because over there you stink badly.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks nice)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 2/2 (good for its kind)
Visual Effects 2/2 (pastel overtones)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (calm and mature)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 7/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (semi-episodic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich from a social point)
Plausibility 1/2 (so-so)
Conclusion 1/2 (rather open)
CHARACTER SECTION: 9/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (simple but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (simplistic but at least everyone has some)
Development 2/2 (major)
Catharsis 1/2 (left incomplete but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 7/10
Historical Value 1/3 (not much)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you liked its style)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely well made to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 8/10
Simple tale but does great on the emotional level.
Straight up, I ruined this for myself by looking up the show on Google. It was an innocent search! I was just trying to remember some people's names and I accidentally read the ending of the manga. I CAN'T EVEN. It ruined the show for me and, from then on, everytime I watched this, I got pretty reasonably creeped out.
Therefore, I'm not going to do my usual in-depth review because I don't think I can get over the creep-factor just yet. I will say that I powered through this anime, which means it's definitely worth the watch, in my opinion. It's a beautiful story of a man who ends up raising his grandfather's illegitamite child and how he and the child, Rin, grow to form a sort of family of their own.
The animation is beautiful and it's quite different from a lot of the cookie cutter anime that's coming out nowadays (since 2010, really). It's simple with a watercolor effect with makes it a powerful backdrop for this kind of story.
If you're looking for something a bit unusual (I'd never seen an anime like this), sweet and uplifting, then I'd recommend this. I really think it's worth the watch.
Just don't google the manga ending. Seriously.
Raising a child isn't easy, and every parent or guardian knows just how taxing all of the daily tasks can be, the sacrifices that need to be made in terms of work and social life, and the almost constant stream of considerations and worries. The truth is that looking after children is one of the biggest causes of stress and grey hairs (or hair loss), amongst adults, but given that the majority of people in the world are (or will be), parents, it's a little odd that such a major topic is still a rarity in anime.
The again, who wants to watch a show about the trials and tribulations of raising children, especially when the steady diet of fanservice, explosions, brainless muscular heroes, top heavy heroines, nonsensical plots, pseudo-psychology, quantum-hokum, etc, are apparently what passes for entertainment these days. It's a sad fact that in a medium where literally any story can be told, the ones that may actually cast anime in a positive light are constantly overlooked or ignored completely.
Which is why Usagi Drop is such a rarity.
Adapted from the josei manga by Unita Yumi, the story begins with Kawachi Daikichi, a 30 year old salesman who has returned home to attend a family funeral. During his stay he finds out that his deceased grandfather had an illegitimate daughter called Kaga Rin. Nobody knows who the girl's mother is, so the family begin arguing over who will raise her until Daikichi, who has become increasingly annoyed and disgusted by their behaviour, asks Rin if she wants to live with him.
Usagi Drop is one of those uncommon adaptations where the anime has tried to stay true to the source material, and while that does place a number of limitations on it, the series also manages to retain the charm of the manga. The story develops at a measured pace that can sometimes feel a little slow, and there's a surprising lack of over the top melodrama that is so often a hallmark of shows like this. The plot takes a much more mature approach to the issue of parenting than one might initially expect, and while certain problems that Daikichi is faced with are specific to Japanese society, the overall theme is one that will resonate with anyone who has raised children.
Which is also the reason why some viewers may not enjoy this anime, but we'll get to that in a bit.
In addition to the story, the artwork also tries to stay as true as possible to the source material. The characters are depicted in a stylized form, and the rather simplistic approach to emotions is surprisingly expressive. The design is focused on showing each person as an individual not only facially, but also in their build, posture, and even their movements. The animation is fluid, if a little utilitarian at times, and it's clear that attention has been paid to each character's physical traits and personalities. In addition to this each episode is preceded and concluded by short, but rather charming scenes that are notable for the watercolour style palette that is used in them. The dichotomy between these scenes and the style and colouration used in the main body of the narrative adds a nice, almost picture book touch to proceedings.
Between these shorts and the story proper lie the opening and ending sequences, both of which are designed with children's paintings in mind. The opening theme, "Sweet Drop" by Puffy AmiYumi (yes, they of Teen Titans and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi fame), is a surprisingly well suited J-pop song that's very much in keeping with Rin's character. In contrast to this the ending theme, "High High High" by Kasarinchu (a pop duo consisting of a beatboxer and a guitarist/singer), is more reflective of the overall atmosphere of the series.
As for the background music, Usagi Drop features a variety of tracks that are generally quite mellow or upbeat, but every so often the score is punctuated by a slow, simple piano piece to highlight the more sensitive moments of the story.
Now it's a trite thing to say that good acting can bring any type of story to life and give it the feeling of something new and different, but in this case it's actually a true statement. The simple yet natural script allows the seiyuu far more room to express themselves than one might expect, and with little in the way of manufactured melodrama, all of the cast (especially the child actors), are able to deliver some truly worthwhile performances.
The most interesting character in Usagi Drop is, without a doubt, Kawachi Daikichi. Part of the reason for this is because much of the story is told from his perspective, but he's also one of the most defined adult male leads in anime to date. From the start he is shown to be a complete individual with his own thoughts, habits and values, and rather than trying to develop him, the narrative is more focused on evolving him through his relationship with Rin, and the problems, worries and sacrifices he works through in order to be a good parent.
On the other hand Rin is very much how one would expect a child of her age to be - inquisitive, precocious, and somewhat withdrawn around people she doesn't know well. As with Daikichi, she doesn't really develop as a character, but instead what the viewer is shown is a little girl who is slowly coming to terms with her new life and coming out of her shell. Now this is surprising as it's a clear message about how resilient children actually are and how they are able to cope as long as they know they have the support of the adults who care for them.
Speaking of support, aside from the two leads there are a surprising number of well written characters in Usagi Drop, both adults and children, and it's their presence in the story that really rounds out the whole thing. The particularly strong friendship between Nitani Kouki and Rin for example, or the slightly befuddled attraction between Daikichi and Kouki's mother Yukari, all add to the overall charm of the series. In addition to this, one of the things that really stands out about Usagi Drop is the lack of angst where relationships are concerned. While there are events like the death of Daikichi's grandfather, these don't cast a pall over the narrative, and this allows for some interesting interactions and dynamics to emerge, the prime example of this being the bond that develops between the two lead characters.
Usagi Drop is a simple, straightforward and charming tale about what it means to be a parent, and while the story and characters are presented in an ideal form, this doesn't really detract from one's enjoyment of the show. It goes without saying that anyone who has experience of raising children will be able to relate more readily to a number of the themes in the show, but it should be pointed out that the plot is simple enough to allow anyone to enjoy it.
Which brings us back to why some people won't like this series.
Aside from the sometimes slow pace, the main theme of the show is one that many younger fans (and even a few older ones), may not like, especially if their penchant is for action, heavy melodrama, etc. On the surface it can seem as though Usagi Drop is nothing more than another lighthearted slice of life drama that's only different from the likes of Aishiteruze Baby because a full fledged adult is cast in the role of parent instead of a teenaged playboy, but there's more to the show than that.
The simple fact is that this anime is one of those rare titles that doesn't use the word "mature" as a marker for violence, gore, sexual content, etc, and this makes it almost unique when one considers the shows that have been released this past year. The emphasis on realism, albeit in an idealized form, may also be a factor as there are a few people out there who want pure fantasy and escapism.
Whatever your opinion or taste, one thing remains true - Usagi Drop is clearly aimed at a more mature audience than the norm. The fact that it doesn't demean the creators with pointless gore, violence or fanservice, or insult the viewer's intelligence by explaining everything that happens, are what sets it apart from many other slice of life shows out there.
Demograph: Very wide, but probably best for those entering or in the adult world (21+)
I disagree with other reviewers who claim that "not a lot happens" in Usagi Drop.
It's almost incredible how much development is involved in the characters. The essence of the show isn't the scenario so much as it is the inner workings of the two main characters. And in that respect an amazing amount "happens".
We watch as the little girl adjusts to a life without her father, managing to stay strong and optimistic for the most part, but still hurt and fragile within. We also watch a guy who has to abandon almost everything about his everyday life to raise this girl. He can't go out with his buddies, can't even do his job anymore.
We see him lonely, diminished, furious, but ultimately calm and responsible. A spark of compassion heartbreakingly grows into the figure of a matured man.
Really, this is a series about becoming a parent. Or even simply an adult, or a husband. It's about change and compromise.
And, along side that is a wave of cuteness. It's lovely, charming, touching etc.
However, I still feel there are some loose ends in the anime which I would rather not have had to wait for a second season for. Also, although it is lovely to watch, it's hard to believe that raising a child could be so easy. I have more trouble simply not impregnating my girlfriend.