Revisiting Usagi Drop

     Welcome, all.  I want you to know that it is my intention to review both current and past anime offerings in this blog.  And while I will inevitably focus more upon current shows, I’ll begin by reviewing a series which I’ve previously reviewed on both other sites for which I write.  Why?  Because Usagi Drop remains my favorite series, set within my favorite genre (slice-of-life) of my favorite medium.  And that’s a lot of favorites!  There is a timeless beauty to its themes of love, loss, and nurture.  Meanwhile, the story-telling itself is quietly passionate but very expressive, exploring a year in two separate but joined lives.

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Daikichi is a 30-year-old bachelor called to his maternal grandfather’s home for the old man’s funeral.  But among the relatives whom he was expecting, he discovers a young girl unknown to him.  Imagine his surprise to learn that she is his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter!  Abandoned long ago by a mother she never knew, 6-year-old Rin was kept secret from the family by her elderly father, who rightly anticipated her rejection and his censure.  But she pays the price after his death, a child coldly ignored by these angry strangers who have come to bury her father.  These invaders look through her but not at her; they speak of her but not to her.  Her father is dead, but it is Rin who is turned into a ghost haunting her own house.

But if Rin is hurt and confused, then so is Daikichi.  These people are his family, whom he knows as loving and compassionate.  Where did all that go?  Embarrassed and scandalized as they are, how can they blame a child for the situation of her birth?  Rin is discussed; Rin is ignored; Rin is bullied and bereft.  And Daikichi is exasperated.  Only he asks her if she’s OK.  Only he shows her sympathy and offers comfort, even allowing her to sleep against him as he sits watching the incense and altar at night.  And so it’s no surprise that when grief finally breaks her down to tears, it is to Daikichi that she goes.

But where will she go permanently?  As the family prepare to return to their own homes and lives after the funeral, the question of Rin’s future becomes unavoidable.  How can the family quietly rid itself of the shame she represents?  But when the idea of an orphanage is proposed, Daikichi can no longer stomach the hypocritical machinations of his elders.  Tenuous as their gestures towards each other have been, a connection has been made, and Daikichi is unwilling to watch Rin suffer further.  Angered beyond the reach of his family’s anger, indignant at cruelty so casually heaped upon an innocent child, Daikichi calls to her and offers himself as her new guardian; and upon this pivot, whole worlds turn.

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True, Daikichi is the only one present who has shown her any kindness or concern.  But Rin has only just met him days before, and knows virtually nothing about him.  For his part, Daikichi is a dedicated bachelor with absolutely no clue how to rear a child.  So each has every reason to be terrified of the offer made.  Now watch the subtle nuances of expression on Rin’s face as the idea sinks in, the mix of desperate hope against abject fear.  And then feel that sudden crunch in your gut as you realize that, yes, this really is the first time that one of the adults has called to her by name.

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Viewers are ultimately rewarded with watching a family construct itself basically from scratch, a process of slow and delicate growth in which love is given but trust must be earned.  Luckily for its audience, Usagi Drop remains grounded enough in quirky realism to provide both insight and humor.  What do young children eat?  How do you register a child for school?  For that matter, how do you size children for clothes?  Daikichi and Rin have a lot to learn and a lot of adjustments to make.  The fun is in learning with them.

Some final observations:  Enjoy this series as its own artistic achievement.  The manga upon which it is based covers a far greater span of time and proceeds in some unsettling and–in my own opinion–thoroughly distasteful directions.  This is one time when ignorance of the source material is a real blessing!  Secondly, do not, as I initially was, be put-off by the unfinished look of the artwork.  I came to interpret that look as a subtle commentary upon how a life being lived is always somewhat unfinished.  (Rather clever of them to sneak that in.)  Finally, I encourage you to relax and allow yourself to be swept up in this story.  Its quietude and simplicity mask a depth of emotion, into which you might dive only to emerge refreshed.  Come witness this rare beauty common to both pain and joy.  Come see just how great an anime series can be!

 

 

Author: David

Southern gentleman of Irish heritage. Family man--proud husband, father, and grandfather. Wiccan with a dose of residual Catholicism. Background in food service, military (US Navy), and law enforcement.

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