Usagi Drop seems to be the darling of the season, beloved by all who have watched. I mean hell, it got me not wanting to rip out pop group Puffy’s vocal chords for a minute and a half each episode, so you know it’s done something right. Usagi Drop is this year’s main example of distilled joy, something that doesn’t aim to be high art, yet resonates with anybody who’s had to deal with children before. While it doesn’t opt for total realism in an attempt to keep its mostly saccharine portrayal a complete delight to watch, there are more than a few points about parenthood that strike close to home. Yet it never gets too heavy for the audience, retaining a lightness of tone that’s difficult to shake off.
For those not in the know who’re reading this, Usagi Drop is the tale of a 30 year old salaryman who adopts the illegitimate child of his grandfather and his maid. Daikichi isn’t an ideal parent by any means at first glance. He drinks and smokes copiously, has little experience with children, and isn’t in any position to move out of his bachelor lifestyle despite the time fast approaching for him to do so.
On a whim he takes Rin into his home, and at first their relationship gets off to a rocky start. Rin has a bevy of issues under the surface, mostly stemming from familial neglect and her father figure dying early in her life. Daikichi has to make sacrifices in his time and even his job in order to accommodate taking care of her. Once again, what makes Usagi Drop so good is it never loses its whimsy for very long, even in the more somber episodes. For every episode about Rin’s abandonment issues or her getting sick, we have one about her losing a tooth, or keeping her friend on the right path to school. It deftly avoids falling into the trap of having the characters wallow in despair for disproportionate lengths of time, something that takes skill with the prevalent themes of abandonment and sacrifice.
As a result of this unflinchingly light tone, realism takes a backseat for entertainment and sheer cuteness factor. Yes, most of the adults and children are portrayed in a very positive light while retaining many quirks, even Rin’s flighty and selfish mother, but room for artistic license is still made conspicuous. I mean feel free to correct me here, but if there were actually more children who behaved like Rin, I’m sure many of us who loathe the existence of kinder would feel more predisposed toward liking them.
The characters are fleshed out surprisingly well for eleven episodes, none of them having purely positive or negative traits. Once again, Rin’s mother is the one that really stood out for me. While each main character was believable enough, Rin’s mother was a woman who was in no position to handle children. She abandoned Rin early on to pursue a career as a mangaka, and hadn’t once visited since then. Yet she’s hardly contemptible, especially since she struggles along as is without the extra burden of a child adding to her woes.
Kouki, Rin’s neighbor friend and the son of Daikichi’s not-so-subtle crush, is a brash, impulsive, overly energetic kid. Yet, he has one of the best deadpan expressions ever penned, and that has to count for something.
While not retaining a realistic approach by any means, Usagi Drop is well grounded in its characters, developing them well enough to warrant a particular mention.
The animation is another high point, reveling in pastels and muted colors to keep things happy and child-like. Characters aren’t refined, but that plays in the show’s favor. It moves along very fluidly, feeling natural throughout with very few problems. While it won’t make the top of anybody’s list for favorite animation, it plays well with the other aspects of the series. The animations that accompanies both the opening and ending songs are both lively and colored in much the same pallet, keeping with the down to earth, simple tone of the rest of the show. While the opening bits in watercolors can seem a little pretentious or just art for the sake of art, they’re lovely in and of themselves. Everything is intrinsic, plays well with everything else, and deserves the utmost praise.
I can’t count the number of times that the music played a vital role in dictating the mood. When it could’ve gone for more serious, broody sounds to drive home some of the more emotional scenes, it usually kept with the theme and stayed away from the minor keys. The opening and ending songs were both decent, and certainly matched the tone of the show, but neither is particularly worth mentioning. The voice work was excellent, particularly the firm yet flexible portrayal of Daikichi.
So does Usagi Drop end well? I’d say so, in a manner that provides closure while leaving room for a possible sequel that would (hopefully) ignore the manga’s disastrous ending in favor of keeping Rin young and full of curiosity. The mundane ending did it a load of good, deciding to spring for a jump rope contest and two lost baby teeth. It’s mundane, but that’s what made this so enjoyable in the first place—an almost ARIA-like celebration of the pedestrian and ordinary.
In short, Usagi Drop is a fun little show that never stops entertaining. Rin and Daikichi have a good chemistry about them bickering about small things in a way that keeps them enjoyable to watch without getting sickening. When serious issues are brought up, particularly problems with in-laws and the loss of parental figures, they’re addressed respectfully, but not enough to compromise the boundless optimism present throughout. A strong central story’s lacking, but that’s not a bad thing at all and actually does well for what it is. From start to finish, I loved Usagi Drop. As long as you don’t take it as a representation of what childrearing is truly like, there’s a lot to enjoy here for just about everyone.