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which is very much in keeping with not only her nature, but of Daikichi’s own deep concerns about this clearly withdrawn & insecure person.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.