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.
When Daikichi's grandfather dies he leaves behind a young daughter named Rin. However, as most of the family is embarrassed at the idea of a 79-year-old man having a six-year-old child, they can't seem to figure out what to do with her. Disgusted by this behavior, Daikichi decides to take care of her himself, but he's a bachelor, has no idea how to raise a child, and isn't even all that comfortable with kids! Now, Daikichi must do the normal things a parent does such as enroll her in school, buy her clothing and teach her about the life and world around her. But more importantly, he must also help her deal with her father's death and decide whether or not she should try to find her mother. Together, the two begin their unlikely relationship as father and daughter, navigating each of life's bumps along the way.
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.