Tag Archives: Anime Drama

The Usagi Drop Effect Part Two

 

Now that another impressive noitaminA adaptation has come to an end, and an incomplete one at that, I’d like to share a simple wish. And it isn’t like this is a desire for a complete overhaul of what remains of the anime industry in its broken, tattered form. But rather a striving for more than what is expected. Perhaps even by reverse-engineering  expectation, answers may come in something more deceptively simple than merely packing together several decades worth of cliches. And after finally having the available time to finish Production IG’s straightforward summer offering, Usagi Drop, it feels clearer to me that a lot of what happens to plague current anime is a general lack of the simple, without overstatement. Complexity, without clutter. In an all-too brief eleven episodes, we are offered a glimpse into the lives of not merely a would-be surrogate dad, and the astute & resourceful child he has tasked himself with raising, but also of those surrounding them to create something of a tapestry of kinship, be it through blood relation, or merely by taking up the responsibilities inherent in forging a future. It is rare when a medium such as anime takes the time to explore such a deceptively simple thing, which is granted even more sweetness and poignancy by the very fact that it is animated. Even at its brief running time, it is something not to be taken lightly.

 

Upon the first section of my review, the halfway point of Daikichi’s first year raising Rin had seen their bond grow as Daikichi struggled to redefine his life, as well as grapple with his own feelings regarding not only the status of her name, but of her erstwhile mangaka of a mother, Masako. His lack of understanding Masako’s at-times inscrutable nature is understandable as it seems that the lady’s mind seems a bit too immature to even handle motherhood, let alone being a full-fledged comic artist. But seeing as how she left Rin in the care of the man who was Daikichi’s late grandfather, there are clearly revelations far from view, even at the end of the series. So when summer approaches, and the pair decide to visit grandfather Souichi’s grave, we are given just a little extra in the way of Masako’s progression, which is very much in keeping with not only her nature, but of Daikichi’s own deep concerns about this clearly withdrawn & insecure person.

 

Which leads me back to Daikichi himself. One of Usagi Drop‘s biggest assets is in how it portrays the developmental lack of early years since virtually adopting Rin at age six. His wishes to be the best guardian for her, not only brings about the best in him, but it also reveals imperfections and suppositions on his part. Everytime it seems like the show tends to make him out to be the perfect dad-figure, they also offer speedbumps here and there, reminding us of that loss of time, when he wasn’t there for her, allowing for certain amounts of doubt and anxiety to creep in. Thankfully, this is also balanced out by several characters throughout the show, including his section co-workers (mostly dads), his cousin Haruko, and of course, Yukari Nitani, single-mother of Rin’s precocious classmate, Kouki. Even more characters are introduced at the tail end of the series, but all serve to help Daikichi discover the manner of father-role he is building for both he and Rin, who clearly has grown to see him as family.

 

Which leads me to perhaps my favorite element of Unita’s manga, and the animated version; a clear-sensitive appreciation for the small moments. From fooling Daikichi into worrying about his weight on the scale, to losing Rin in the grocery store, the show is jam-packed with life-based details, almost all lovingly rendered with (again) deceptive simplicity. Moreso than most anime, the series takes what little time it has to illustrate the daily lives of the characters and actually lets them play out, often without dialogue to water it down. So many moments seemed destined to serve up yet another tired wild-take, or gag, and the show avoids those traps with admirable determination. And seeing as how head writer, Taku Kishimoto briefly assisted for Ghibli, it is perhaps telling in how a lot of Usagi Drop is spoken in action & sensitivity for environments. Many of the show’s settings retain an earthy feel, with its soft-tone color scheme, and almost watercolor presentation, it often feels like a favorite stationary set with a heartfelt narrative, and strong performances throughout.

 

 

About the only time Usagi Drop feels wobbly, is almost-naturally, in it’s final episode where Daikichi begins to take in the year that has passed, and contends with jump rope competitions and loose teeth. The problems are twofold, as the previous episodes left far too much for one episode to undo, and barely enough time to allow Daikichi’s reflections to not come off as anything but didactic. The writing of the episode, while rife with some truly affecting little moments, never feels natural within the confines of the show that had led us to this point. Which is to say that since noitaminA shows often end at eleven episodes, this was perhaps unavoidable in sojme respects. But even if the episode ended with simply the onset of winter, their visitation to Daikichi’s parents, and the tooth-loss, it perhaps would have been just enough. After all, these are more glimpses into life. Cramming that occurs here is almost forcefully reminding the viewer that this is merely another show with an atypical finale, when a simple closing of the curtain as life goes on would have sufficed. A conventional ending when the story we are witness to is strangely anything but.

 

So when I impart a certain wish upon the world of Japanese cartoons, I’d like to go ahead and just hope that in time, storytellers will actually get back to actually sharing glimpses of lives , rather than making us choke on familiarity. Escapism is fine, but without an ability to relate at the human level, then what is the point to everything happening on screen? Personally, I found this to be so good that I cannot even conceive of another season picking up where this left off. It is fine as a glimpse, and perhaps works far better in this manner. And to think, that something as simple as raising a child can become so compelling, it is clear that anything can make for a good story. It’s just in the execution. Usagi Drop as a series, and as a look at the joys and pain of parenting, feels like a trip to the garage, and a most joyous, welcome one at that.

The Usagi Drop Effect Part One

So perhaps this is as far opposite as the anime timbre needle can reach? Could Usagi Drop be the penultimate symbol of a medium reaching the end of the reflex line in regards to how it is presented, and sells itself to the masses? Admittedly, not having not spent a lot of time with the Summer anime season, a part of me was ambivalent at best by considering even watching my way through an entire series. As much as the studios have been racing to seek out new conceptual niche(Ie- giving Shinbo more work), and otherwise spinning away at their remix machine(Shinbo, again..), it is telling that Production IG opted to adapt Yumi Unita ‘s popular manga for the animated screen. In many ways, to envision anime as a place where we could be host to a world, and situation not unlike those in real life, where single-parent living is a large functional reality in the lives of so many is something that not only tells us how strange a zeitgeist we are currently within, but also of very real dreams, concerns, and perhaps even laments that a modern urban Japan is going through. If so, the anime version of Usagi Drop is something of an effective, yet doubly melalcholic yearning for  a new breed of beginning in a landscape awash with change.

When Daikichi and family make the bombshell discovery of a six-year old daughter left behind after his grandfather’s death, the 30 year old salaryman eventually takes to the unusually independent, yet alone Rin Kaga, and begins a journey that will likely change both forever. Of the many new life choices Daikichi must make in order for his transformation to begin; including  a new commute habit, watching his health, and downgrading his sales job for the sake of Rin’s schooling, we are witness to a man who having grown up the only boy among sisters , is unexpectedly adept at being what could very well be akin to an adoptive father. There are many challenges, and speedbumps natural to assuming this role without having known this little girl through her earliest years, many of which involve his need to better understand Rin’s role, and her regards toward her new circumstances. The ways in which both characters shape and alter one another’s lives is at the core of Usagi Drop, noItaminA’s summer offering that serves as an exciting respite from the all-too-familiar barrage of tropes for their own sake tv anime culture one expects from the season. A few episodes in, and it becomes clear that the source of such excitement comes from characters played with the right pitch, and storytelling with unerring patience, and faith in the sublime.

Upon reflection, the show’s initial episodes do a pretty solid job of establishing the domestic world as something rife with moments worth illustrating, all the while whisking us through a universal tale of single-parenthood. There are nearly entire episodes that eschew the all-too convenient cliche of voice over in order to inundate us with often confusing and superfluous musing. While voice-over eventually does happen, it tends to carry a more utilitarian function. But when this isn’t so much in need, there are sections that actually show rather than tell, which is going to sound strange, but refreshingly retro. As Daikichi’s life begins to crystallize into something more than that of a mildly successful trader, we are privy to his world prior, his relationships with co-workers and family, and even his own personal quirks before facing one new facet of the guardian life after another. We even witness Rin’s contrasting nature to that of other children her age(most telling, is by watching Daikichi’s niece, who in many ways resembles a 1970s comic brat, exaggerated mouth, twin-tails and all). There are touches that are directed, rather than spoken away in a confusing line or two. For the show to take the time to visualize what far too many anime skip with voice over, creates an environment that trusts the audience and it’s ability to relate, instead of giving in to short cut solutions. So when he has to contend with co-workers & family members agape at this very sudden lifestyle shift, as well as simpler day-to-day concerns such as school admissions & potential bed-wetting, Daikichi’s life has become an endless trial by fire that he seems to have been born to brave. The show’s first half leads us to the revelation of Rin’s up til now unseen mother, and Daikichi’s burning concerns regarding the future of Rin’s name. Along with his meeting of the unexpectedly young Masako(played by-SURPRISE. Maaya Sakamoto), and his understandable frustration at the young mother for seemingly abandoning her daughter for the sake of her career, it is made clear that her role has only begun to reveal itself. With all the hints that episode 5 leaves for us, there is room to understand that even her character will receive a decent amount of humanization before the 11 episode run comes to an end. All the while,  Rin’s growing affection for Daikichi, and yet noble nature are having a profound effect on both leads.

Now having read the previous, it is clear that I have a certain affection for this series, and what it has offered thus far. And while I am aware of where the story goes in the manga version of events, I hardly see what comes next as any kind of trouble, lest the storytelling takes some kind of unforseen nosedive. The animation’s novel watercolor teaser sections are reminiscent of Horuou Musuko, and grant the show a classically unique flavor that accents its modern world encompassing nature. The aural/visuals of the series are quite lovely in places, and often feel more like a live action film mix than an anime one. Performances have been quite effective thus far, with Hiroshi Tsuchida’s performance driving the piece as a man, seemingly facing what seems to be his lifelong destiny, joy and pain in a beautiful package. So much sensitivity is granted in the writing, the requirement that his range be quite wide, yet real is high priority, and it comes together quite well here. Matsuura’s a great Rin, but also falters due to obviously having a register much older than the character. That said, she is up to the task. Much of Unita’s visual humor, and attention to daily minutae is terrific without seeming typical of what many have dubbed Slice Of Life anime.  There are so many warning signs that could allow Usagi Drop to become just another animated drama from Japan.  But as of this point, this is a solidly written and directed series that stands nicely apart, true to the classic noitaminA thrust. If this is where anime reaches the apex of its more domestic side, I’m more than willing to explore it as long as there are stories worth telling, and characters worth following in the name of something new & sincere with our animated entertainment. And much like our two leads, I’m apprehensive, yet eager to see what happens next.

To Be Continued..

Jokes, Caprices, and Coincidences (Durarara! Thus Far..)

They were being driven to a prison, through no fault of their own, in all probability for life. In comparison, how much easier it would be to walk to the gallows than to this tomb of living horrors!

-Nellie Bly

Finally strapped myself in, and took a nice deep dive into the hellish wonders of Durarara! And for this reviewer, it can be shared with no uncertain issue, that it is easily one of the most consistently interesting series this year. As much as I’d love to spend the whole of this post to merely puncture myself to incessantly gush at any who’ll gawk about my positive feelings about the series, it only felt right to at first give a smal glimpse into what it is precisely that keeps me transfixed, drawing me further into its surreal comic nightmare.

Continue reading Jokes, Caprices, and Coincidences (Durarara! Thus Far..)