Usagi Drop is a breath of fresh air from the copious amounts of fanservice, placid character structures, and excessive moe that permeates anime series of recent times. It’s a rare series (from my limited knowledge) that touches upon issues in a serious and honest manner, while simultaenously having the ability to subtly include right amounts of lightheartedness and humor that prevents the series from adopting too heavy an atmosphere. There exists a synergy and expert balance rare in such a form that weaves an empathizing and heartwarming tale.
The series ultimately follows the interactions and time passing by two characters, Rin (6-years-old) and Daikichi (20-some-years-old). Rin’s father, who happens to be Daikichi’s grandfather, passes away and leaves Rin an orphan. Beginning with the funeral, the series uses the strange relationship between Daikichi and Rin (who met for the first time at the funeral) as a device to bring these two characters together, not as some scandalous drama tool.
What carries the series through every episode is the priceless bond Rin and Daikichi share. Rin is modest, caring, independent, and responsible. She’s very mature but then not without those traits which you find ever-present in kids around her age. Joyful, curious, and downright adorable! Needless to say, her expressions are genuine signs of love and appreciation, even for something like a poor attempt at tying pigtails. How she feels shows on her face clear as a sunny day, and boy does it knock me off my chair. But the most essential role in bringing out all these sides of Rin is Daikichi.
Daikichi’s a very straightforward guy, both in personality and appearance. On top of that, he’s nurturing, compassionate, and protective. A little awkward at times, but it comes with the job. He juggles his new responsibilities well with work and still manages to maintain a good relationship with those around him through his earnest and kind disposition. His fondness for Rin is apparent, but only in a fatherly kind of manner. Though Daikichi is just as inexperienced in caring for a young girl as the next “first father,” what you get is a middle aged guy just trying to do his best to provide for himself and his new little house warmer.
I consider the greatest strengths of Usagi Drop lie in the series’ attention to minute details and micro-decisions that attribute to the overall feel. Usagi Drop definitely is not a show driven by grand plot twists or high production values. Rather, the series comes across as down to earth, easy to relate to, and warm. This is mainly seen through two forms: the artistic form and the background music.
Most notably, soft watercolour-esque scenes start out each episode before the opening song rolls. It’s really a nice way of preceding the bulk of the episode. Character designs are markedly simplistic but there’s no need to fuss over it. With some added touches of realism, it’s nice knowing they do change clothes each day and night and that Daikichi does grow a stubble if he doesn’t shave every day like any other grown man. The backgrounds are subtle yet detailed; from pavement cracks to packaged market meat, everything in view is easy on the oculars.
Music-wise, Usagi Drop expertly deals with various renditions of both the opening and closing songs as well as numerous piano melodies and enviornmental acoustics that constantly match and support many, if not all, occurrences on screen. It is this fundamentally understated role that the BGM upholds that makes it so valuable. Though the BGM is not always the most fun or melodious soundtrack to listen to sans-visuals, composer Matsutani Suguru sacrifices the “listen-to-my-epic-music-like-hans-zimmer” factor to solidly act as sentimental and emotional base for Usagi Drop. The opening/ending songs, on the contrary, are quite different. Both a intrinsically very cheery jingles, where the opening was catchy enough for me to warrant listening to it every time biked to class.
Neither the art or music are really the strengths that propel this series to be so wonderful, though both must be given due credit since they are both significant and great contributors. What really shines through every episode is the dialogue, both in its spoken and written forms. Ayu and Tsuchida’s performances as the voices of Rin and Daikichi leave little more to be asked for. Thanks to them and all the other seiyuus, the talking that goes on in the show becomes one of its strengths. For example, in one episode, Daikichi and Harumi, Reina’s mom, have a serious discussion about Harumi’s marital problems which is eavesdropped on by Rin. But noticing this, Reina takes her aside and shows her how she copes when mom and dad don’t get along. Not something seen every day, you get both the child and parent’s perspectives of when things aren’t going so smoothly at home. Really, kids are keen in times like that and it’s great to see that the anime picks up on this detail. And it’s not only those I’ve listed who have depth of character but everyone has their own charm about them and grows, if just a little, in their own way in the span of only a year.
A live-action version of Usagi Drop was announced recently, and the film’s promotional video admittedly looks good (not only in terms of acting/casting, but also the COLORS, ooooh~). I am curious to see if similar emotions and atmosphere can be achieved with real acting and cinematography. An advantage that is partially (not solely) given to the animated form of storytelling through it’s flexibility and ability to present artistic renditions of any scene. Though live-action productions have that option in set design and character make-up, certain creative choices are limited by the fact that if we stray too far from what we can naturally perceive as “real,” we become emotionally detached from the experience (btw, Mana Ashida is way too cute as Rin).
What truly makes Usagi Drop successful lies in the way it captures life, even with all of its insignificancies. Natural happenings such as waking up irritable and half alert, washing your teeth, brushing your face, and fumbling to find your valuables are daily occurances that are more often than not, omitted in popular entertainment in trying to create an idealized pseudo reality that is far more attractive. These normal experiences, however, are things that everyone can relate to (but are often not shared with others, because who actually cares?). Compiled and mixed with moments in our lives that are boring, we come to appreciate the novel manner in which our lives are interwoven, and how the patchwork of both happy and sad thoughts. Usagi Drop thus personifies ‘life,’ not neglecting the special moments that we treasure, but remembering that special moments are special because others are not. Through this, we as viewers are able to really connect with the characters and their story on a more personal level.
Then of course, spliced in between those bits of irrelevance are the undoubtedly meaningful moments to be remembered. And we want to save those precious moments by documenting them. It’s in our nature to try and preserve the best times of our lives in some form or another.
Disclaimer: I realize that every anime/movie review I’ve posted this far has been positive and has ultimately said something along the lines of “among the rubble, here is a gem of a series/movie,” I’d like to defend my posts by the fact that since my blog posts are subjected to topics that I wish to write about, I hardly find any incentive to write about a mediocre series or film (though, if it’s ghastly horrible, then that might be a different story).
Afterthought: I have noticed that I structure my reviews in very story, plot, art, music formats. Though such a format is definitely helpful in identifying what parts of the series one is most interested in, it creates several gaps in thought that I have great difficulty in transitioning between. In the future, I plan on trying not to follow the standard formula and more or less write overall impressions about the series/movie. Too often is anime reviewed in sections as judges do in competitions.