Tag Archives: noitaminA

Psycho-Pass: Dead On Arrival?

Seeking The Real

 

A lot of words have already been shared regarding Production IG’s big return to dystopian sci-fi, PSYCHO-PASS, so a part of me felt like there was little else I could truly contribute to the conversation — That is, until a number of things began to collectively gnaw at me over the course of watching it. In the weeks before the first episode aired, and thereby began streaming, much noise was made about this being the return of writer Gen Urobuchi (this time with Blood C movie’s Naoyoshi Shiotani as director). Coupled this along with the team taking on what many (on the internet) had labeled a hardcore cyberpunk cop show. With such a word being so liberally attached, it seemed inevitable that one would have to see just how close the show came to capturing the spirit of such a relic of its time, and a personal favorite place to visit in book form. And while mentioned, I was quite ready to be taken in by the world of the series, it may troublesome that I report that Psycho-Pass is about as cyberpunk as a bowl of noodles, and nowhere near as involving.

 
Set in yet another dank, and hyper-technological future Tokyo, society is now largely governed by an all-knowing form of artificial intelligence known as SIBIL. The supercomputer has gained enough control over the lives of the citizens that it is capable of determining not only the roles in which we play in the world of employment, but it can also monitor the individual psyche, watching over it to the level that it may deem thoughts and behavior dangerous, or at the very least, borderline. The form of law enforcement that ensues is not unlike the world of Minority Report, where the police are tasked with preventing violent crimes before they happen. And the shared method by which all citizens are checked within this system, is by way of their Crime Coefficiency, which is essentially reflected in their Psycho-Pass, a card that is meant to maintain a clean and healthy blue, otherwise placing those in possession in danger of capture by the CID-a police agency that has the unique function of working as handlers for what are known as “Enforcers”. Often former captured violators, and borderline cases, they do the dirty work of what used to be the realm of officers and detectives. In pursuit of new, potentially dangerous perpetrators, the final judgment comes almost DREDD-style, on site by way of the supercomputer networked sidearms of Enforcers known as Dominator. These modular, multi-purpose guns can deem a suspect worthy of numerous types of judgments that range from “apprehend” to “kill” upon target-sight recognition.

 

 

New Apple Prototypes?

 

 

As the show begins, the CID has received a new recruit in the form of Akane Tsunemori, a seemingly ordinary young lady now appointed to the role of Inspector. We are swiftly introduced to her assigned team of Enforcers, ranging in ages and genders, but the quiet, almost sullen Kogami Shinya seems to bear something of a troubled past that haunts and attracts Tsunemori, as she becomes better acquainted with the world of preventative psycho-crime fighting. Her beliefs are constantly put to the test, as the criminals and the program itself come to challenge some of humanity’s most basic attributes & instincts. This is the urban hellscape of Psycho-Pass, and it is in little way of what the internet claims it to be.(And, no. Making backhanded references to Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, as well as the domestic use of the Eye-Phone and VR gloves, do not a cyberpunk show make.)

 
Something was bothering me from the opening moments of the series, and continued throughout until they finally began hitting me like a tactical strike. After several episodes, I have come to the conclusion that Urobuchi tends to focus more on the emotional immediacy of a situation, rather than the logic of it, which is something of a strange choice considering the world and the story he is attempting to tell. There are patches of dialogue here that reflect something far more akin to fantasy, or atypical anime.

 

 
“I realize you’re strangely connected to him by fate.” – Yeah, this has something closer to fantasy in mind that anything. As non-cyberpunk as it gets, really.

 

 

Even for Production IG, a studio famous for producing dense, yet entertaining hard science fiction, this is something of a steep slip downward, as the contradictions of subject matter and approach are loud enough to render a lot of what occurs within the majority of the series pretty toothless. If Urobuchi is attempting to comment upon contemporary Japan’s seemingly inevitable role in Kurzweil’s Singuarity, then it’s not serving anything but an alarmist’s position, which is de-facto for most mainstream takes on our co-existence with technology. And I guess that’s the central culprit in what doesn’t work. For a proper system like this to function, there has to be the human element that manages matters on higher levels, as opposed to letting SIBIL handle everything. (If this is indeed a point that is intentionally being made, then it is a pretty hamfisted way making a condemnation of our current relationship with technology managing our daily lives.)

 
On to the two large blocks that hinder my personal enjoyment of Psycho-Pass:

 

 
One- The Audience Surrogate Is a Problem

 

 
In stories such as these, the more accessible approach is to create a character that represents a window for us to better understand the world of the story, and empathize with their reactions to it. Tsunemori, while clearly made to appeal to certain demographics, does not work in this universe simply because I cannot reconcile that someone this pure and naive about the system would ever be made Inspector. Early scenes indicate that she is not even familiar with the Dominator system, as well as how to handle Enforcers. When she later asserts that she is far more familiar in spirit to her ragtag bunch of street cops, it only makes SIBIL look incredibly dumb. And while the bespectacled Inspector Ginoza informs her that they are short on work numbers, this in no way excuses the clear lack of understanding of the job and what it entails. Being that the show begins “en media res” amidst an incident with a potentially bloody violent psychopath on stims, one might assume here that the show was rushed into production, and a prologue was omitted from an early draft. Because if Tsunemori herself were initially appointed by SIBIL to work in data analysis, only to be drafted into the streets by way of error, this would make a whole lot more sense. As it stands? Either a bad committee idea, or forced move by an angry writer. Either way, it’s patently absurd.

 

 

Even her design screams “red shirt”.

 

 

Two- Dominator Judgment System(and in turn, SIBIL): Counter-effective

 

 

 
Seriously. A established system that has functioned uncontested for years must be so with good reason, no matter how speculative. Especially when dealing with something as far-reaching and for the public good as law enforcement, this is crucial. So when we leave a green character with a perfectly clean psycho pass like Tsunemori to be able to temper something as overt as Dominator’s judgment system without getting a little distressed, it’s a recipe for creating that which you condemn. It isn’t as if the gun’s use of lethal force is clinical, or even efficient. The damned thing fires, ultimately liquifying the target, leaving human parts in a Jackson Pollack-esque splatter on the floor. Call me silly, but to think that such a mess would have zero effect on your enforcement officials is more than a little questionable.

 

 
And these two elements alone lead to what is famously known as “shaky foundation, shaky roof”. It doesn’t matter how much a writer tries to cover up these elements after the fact, these niggling details fly in the face of what could have been something more than a petty Shock-A-Minute, which would have been fine if it had a lot more fun with the premise.

 

 

 
Since the days of The Terminator, it has long been the cliche of many a screenwriter to take the human element out of an essentially human-borne dilemma, laying blame upon technology for our greater ills. Psycho-Pass does what it can to swing the needle in an opposing direction, but in the end, the real villain is the central network that overlooks an often messy remains of civilization. Touches such as the drones who walk the rainy streets bearing overtly friendly holographic costumes over their rolling trash can chassis throws it back into almost “Cool Japan” criticism, being that nothing can be taken as remotely serious by the metropolitan population without being glossed over with a “kawaii” mask to lighten any altercation in plain sight. The need for denial to be cast writ-large over humanity’s less than desirable sides is a nice touch, but is often undermined again by the more obvious problems inherent in the central plot. If the world of Psycho-Pass is to be one where those who mete out a greater need for harmony, then isn’t it imperative that they understand the system before being brought into a clearly dense & dangerous fold? To be fair, the core theme of the series seems to be that technology is inherently bad, because it is a reflection of us. And while that may seem balanced on the surface, it never feels as though the rainy, bloody streets of Psycho-Pass’ Tokyo is any different from the funhouse of mirrors planet of Puella Magi Madoka Magika. It’s a mix that simply doesn’t work as well here.

 

 
Where Madoka existed in a more flexible, metaphorical universe, Psycho-Pass does not, and thus has less excuses to play fast and loose. It’s no secret that many a film scribe tends to revisit similar themes within their work, often with the best ones exhibiting a certain knowledge about the trappings of each world to make the themes click on a deeper level, It just seems like the team behind this show seems to have a lot less grasp on what they are telling. I say this because I don’t want to feel like dropping this completely on Urobuchi’s lap, although it should most likely do so. With this show, it’s pretty clear where his strengths are, and it isn’t here. While there are many eyebrows-raising moments to be experienced in this series, far too much of it feels like window dressing to cover up a certain lack of depth within the world and narrative. In the end, a lot of the package feels pretty shallow.

 

 

 

In the end, the dystopian nightmare presented here is done do with less a reverence for the type of fiction made famous by names such as Gibson & Stephenson, and more a general lack of trust in our collective ability to manipulate it for greater reasons. It is not so much interested in the science, so much as the morality of living in a globally networked world. It is the antithesis of cyberpunk, it is a didactic dystopian fable punctuated by some frustratingly on-the-nose writing, and a lot of forced logic. When characters who are presented as experts in enforcing the law, one would expect certain hazards to be part of the everyday. But within a world where SIBIL exists, it seems like the very core purpose it is hamstrung on nearly all fronts. For a procedural to function, it’s imperative that these rules are well understood by all parties. Apparently someone forgot to tell the writer..

 

 

 

BTW- Did anyone else squee over the casting of Noriko Hidaka as Dominator? I did.

Jazz Hands: “Kids on the Slope,” Jazz, and Me

I really did kinda look like this growing up.

I: One Note Samba

I envied them, the kids in the high school jazz band. I was the misfit pianist in the ninth grade orchestra, a player that didn’t belong: unless it’s a piano concerto, there’s not supposed to be a pianist. They accommodated me anyway, letting my jangling chords ring in the background as the violins, cellos, and brass slid and swooped into the 1812 Overture, the Indiana Jones theme.

Where else was I supposed to go, though? I’d been taking classical music piano lessons since the age of five. I knew my scales, arpeggios, and cadences, and I knew how to read music from a sheet. I tried, and sometimes failed, to follow the metronome in the quest to not only play all the notes correctly but keep them on the beat. “You’re always too fast,” my piano teacher, and my mother, would often complain. I never learned how to play from anything that didn’t have both treble and bass clefs and all the notes written out to tell me exactly where to go. The orchestra was the only place for people with my kind of training, but still, I didn’t quite belong there.

But the pianist belonged in the jazz band. Heck, sometimes he even had a solo. Other times, he filled the rhythm with the bassist and the drummer, diminished and ninth and suspended chords placed just right on and between beats. Fills would slink in from time to time. The reeds and the horns would shout and the sax would croon, but the piano was cool. Understated. Sophisticated.

So sometime in the summer after my freshman year in high school, I asked my piano teacher: teach me to play jazz, so I can audition for the jazz band. Luckily, he knew both jazz and classical, so he started me on a new book, and told me to beef up my scales and cadences. “You’re going to need it.” It’s a different way of thinking, a new world.

Music can be found everywhere.

II: It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

Being early trained in classical piano or violin, of course, has become part of the Asian stereotype. An entire book was just published by a Chinese-American “Tiger Mother” who proudly forced, belittled, and punished her daughters to become musical prodigies. It’s always classical music, never any other kind; the famous Suzuki method is founded upon repetition after repetition of famous pieces by famous composers. The Tiger Mom denied her daughter bathroom breaks until she played a piece exactly right.

What jazz means is something else entirely. It is not as respectable. It is not as suitable, perhaps, on some cultural level. “It’s black music,” my mother once said, with the implication that it wasn’t for anyone else. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the new anime Kids on the Slope is set, jazz had yet to acquire the upscale/yuppie association that it carries today. There was still the stench of urbanness, of drug addiction (reading a list of famous jazz musicians is like reading a list of junkies), of avant-garde beatniks and rebels and dive bars and underground clubs.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) captures this divide perhaps too obviously: Kaoru is the bespectacled honor student who plays classical piano. He encounters Sentaro, the roof-dwelling, free-spirited, delinquent jazz drummer. There is a reliance on shorthand and stereotype here that hopefully will become more complex later, which the careful pacing of the show seems to promise. But for now, the shape of the story is a familiar one: uptight kid learns to relax and live a little through the power of rebellious music, while perhaps falling in love at the same time. Not that great stories can’t be made from stock elements, but it’s not a particularly unique one.

The perceived rigidity of classical training is taken to such an extreme, in fact, that it manifests itself as nausea-inducing social anxiety whenever Kaoru encounters unfamiliar situations. He is the player confronted only with a lead sheet and not a full bevy of treble and bass notes, of exact instructions. Sentaro, on the other hand, finds rhythm whether he’s behind a drum kit or whether he’s just tapping out a rhythm with twigs on a handrail. The music is in his head, not on a page. And when Kaoru tries to correctly play the chords and notes of “Moanin,” Sentaro insists there’s more to the song than just the notes. He practically quotes Duke Ellington: “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” The musical session then abruptly ends, but not before an intrigued Kaoru decides to embark on a new journey, the way all music is really taught: by listening to the masters (on record or live) and by playing along with someone else.

He could be smoking a joint as far as a lot of Asian parents go.

III: Kind of Blue

This is too broad, of course. The classical composers themselves were masters of improvisation, and the best classical orchestras and players interpret the pieces with as much feeling and passion as the great jazz soloists over a lead sheet.

But as I began to learn jazz, I saw just how different not only the playing style, but the mentality, was compared to classical music. One only gets to be individualistic in classical music after one has learned to play all the notes correctly, from memory, and with the exact tempo as written. In jazz, as in all things genuinely American, individual expression is the whole point. Right away, you are presented not with a full bevy of treble and bass notes keeping the hands busy with all the notes to follow. You get a lead sheet with a melody line and chords on top of the single staff. The melody line is played through only twice: at the beginning, and the end. In between the soloists surge forth into the unknown, using the chord sequence as a foundation for their own riffs and phrases. You’re on your own.

I couldn’t handle this. As I struggled through my audition piece, the ballad “Autumn Leaves,” I would play the melody line with my right hand and try to play the chords with my left. The metronome ticked. I got the notes right, but the chords seemed plodding, thudding even. I was playing whole three note chords, with no major sevenths, suspensions, or blue notes: the things that actually made things “jazzy.” And I had no swing. I would try to add some flourish here or there, but then everything went off completely. There was so little guidance. These pieces—standards, as they’re called—were supposed to already be familiar, so familiar that you could just take the melody line as a departure point. But I was still trying to learn the melody.

Bit by bit, I improved. It took hours of listening and playing, sometimes with eyes closed. I tried to hear the tap of the cymbals, the slow thrum of the bass player in the silence. I tried to emulate the effortless cool and sophistication of the chords I heard the pianist play in the recordings, but always came up short.

Still, when I played it in front of the band director, I somehow made it in. I started playing in the jazz band in my junior year of high school, 1997.

IV: Giant Steps

There was already a pianist in the jazz band, Chappell. He wore round spectacles and his shaggy, long blond hair flew all around his head when he tore up and down the piano. He was also really into progressive rock, the only other person I knew who knew about the bands I adored at the time: Yes, King Crimson, Genesis.

I was in awe of Chappell from nearly the beginning, in awe of his ability to play classical music just as well as he could play jazz just as well as he could compose his own pieces for woodwinds. The band director told him to mentor and train me in how to become a better jazz pianist, and essentially to be his understudy whenever he wasn’t available for concerts and other band performances.

Kids on the Slope gets this right: the way popular music, as opposed to something like classical music, is really taught and passed down is from person to person. It’s not just the mentoring that listening to good records has, though that’s essential: I still couldn’t play “Autumn Leaves” that well even after I heard the song dozens of times. Someone usually has to show you the ropes. Chappell would tell me: ok, here’s some different scale modes that sound good in this context. See how adding a seventh here or a lowered fifth makes it sound jazzy? Try learning a pentatonic (blues) scale and add a blue note here and there to the solo. Little by little, I began to hear it enough that I could play it, at least sometimes. Chord sequences, not just individual chords, came alive. The right kind of repetition became riffs.

I was learning to not just hear, but to speak jazz.

My guess is that this is the role Sentaro is going to play in Kaoru’s life. He’s going to get him to swing, to put all that dull exercises we all learned as classical pianists to use by showing how they free you, not constrict you. He will learn that all that music theory actually has a purpose, and once it’s not just something to parrot back on a test but internalized, then the solos will come, and they will sound great. He will learn to follow and weave himself in between the drumbeat.

All musical training is ultimately about that, even classical: all artistic training really. You learn the rules so you can know when to bend and break them as a master. For masters there is no such thing as a mistake: it just rolls into the whole and can even be endearing. That’s ultimately the problem with the way music is sometimes taught: the whole point sometimes seems to be trying to avoid mistakes. Be just a little off-rhythm or off note, and it’ll sound obvious. Rote mastery of classical music is suited for those who desire correctness in all things, which is perhaps why it appeals to certain kinds of parents. But that’s not art, that’s mimicry.

Kids on the Slope, then, promises to be a show that talks about how craft can become soul. Perhaps Kaoru will teach Sentaro that precision is important too: even in jazz, you can play off-rhythm or off-key in ways that sound less than pleasant. But for a lot of us who were raised by “Tiger Parents” and for whom our greatest fear was messing up a note during the recital, it’s a welcome reminder that music, art, is ultimately about freedom and pure expression, the kind that even words can’t say. It was that for Mozart (the movie Amadeus portrays this beautifully), for an increasingly deaf Beethoven composing the Ninth Symphony. So it can be for even the humblest player who submits not so much to rules and notes, but to the spirit behind them.

It's close enough.

V: Moanin’

How funny that the first episode is called “Moanin'”. “Moanin'” is also the one song where I have a recording of myself playing jazz in high school.

We were at the 1998 jazz invitational hosted by our local university. Our set was six songs long. I played the first song, “Manteca,” and played and soloed on “Moanin'”; the rest were handled by the far superior Chappell. The credits aren’t marked on the CD, but I can tell when it’s me: when I play, it’s always a little bit off rhythm.

The version of “Moanin'” we played isn’t the Art Blakey one that is featured in the anime; it’s a totally different piece by Charlie Mingus. It’s a messy piece by design, made messier by the slightly off-key way high school musicians play, a jumble of sounds that are barely held together by the rhythm section. Professional, it is not.

When it was time for me to solo, I waited for the sax player to finish, closed my eyes, and took off. This is the result: the whole song (solo begins at 3:18).

It felt a whole lot better playing it than it sounded in retrospect: frankly, it’s pretty bad, off-rhythm and sometimes obviously off-note. I was far from a master then, and I’m still not.

But when we finished, I heard the applause and the cheers. The band director said my name. I stood up and took a bow, and then let Chappell take over for the rest of the set. I’d said my piece.

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..