Review: Usagi Drop

42. picture1You know, I can usually find at least one thing to criticize about anything I watch. No matter how much I like the story, no matter how high the production qualities are, there are always one or two issues, however niggly, that I can address in a review. In all honesty though, there was not a moment of Usagi Drop that I didn’t find absolutely, unquestionably, one hundred percent adorable. (Which isn’t to say that Usagi Drop is ‘objectively perfect’ in every way – just that I personally found it to be as flawless as it’s possible for an anime to be.)

Our tale begins when thirty-year old businessman Daikichi returns to his family home for his grandfather’s funeral, where he suddenly learns that his grandfather had an illegitimate six-year-old daughter named Rin. Looked upon as an embarrassment to all his relatives and treated with cold disapproval, Rin is not only painfully shy but also appears to be emotionally underdeveloped. When it becomes clear that nobody is willing to take the girl in, Daikichi stubbornly decides to adopt Rin himself, despite the fact that he lives alone and has no experience raising a child. The subsequent episodes are mostly about Daikichi adjusting to life as a single parent, and about Rin as she gradually learns to trust in Daikichi while discovering more about the world and her place in it. The narrative is hardly complex, but viewers of Usagi Drop will be rewarded with more substance than can be said for many of the more plot-driven anime out there.

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What first struck me about Usagi Drop was actually the silence. One of the reasons I tend to be fairly picky about my most-loved anime is that so many titles seem to involve a lot of unnecessary dialogue. It’s like they’re terrified of having too much empty space, so they hurriedly fill the gaps with scripting that adds absolutely nothing to the overall story. (Seriously, go ahead and pick just about any anime series at random. Then watch one episode, and count all the times where dialogue is used when it either isn’t actually important to the plot, or else fails to achieve any kind of significant character development.) Every now and again though, an anime comes along that isn’t afraid of the quiet. I see this quite a bit in Miyazaki’s work (particularly in My Neighbor Totoro), and also in shows like Mushishi. Occasionally, we also get anime that take silence to extreme levels as in Texhnolyze. Usagi Drop is one of those rare examples of anime that doesn’t shy away from having a few scenes where people are just going about their business like normal, but without talking much if there’s nothing important to be said. It’s a fantastic example of a story that shows rather than tells, and I noticed that right from the first couple of minutes.

The other truly excellent factor about Usagi Drop is the realism of its characters. Refreshingly, Rin is a child who actually talks and acts like one; once she opens up a little, she delights in the little things like picking out cereal at a supermarket and losing her first tooth. She’s anxious about being the last one to be picked up from school and clearly has some hang-ups about what will happen to her if Daikichi dies or abandons her, yet bosses him about putting his elbows on the table and holding hands while crossing the road. She wets the bed at night and claims it’s sweat, asks Daikichi awkward questions about divorce, and doesn’t think much of the fact that he isn’t her real father. In short, Rin says and does everything that I imagine most six-year olds would in her position, and in a way that feels genuine – enough to have me (plus a couple of my guy friends, one of whom loathes children) all but dash for the tissue box on more than one occasion. Of course, it helps that Rin’s character is voiced by an extremely talented child actor instead of a high-pitched adult attempting to mimic one (the latter being another of my pet peeves).

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Those with a vested interest in day to day Japanese culture should find this series particularly rich. In the first episode we get to see part of a Buddhist funeral. In episode six, Daikichi and Rin plant a baby tree to commemorate her entrance into elementary school, and Daikichi reminisces about how his mother planted trees for both him and his sister after their births. In one of the specials, the pair makes traditional weather amulets (teru teru bōzu) to prevent rain the next day. Nearly every episode includes several small cultural references of this sort, and it’s a lovely touch to an already realistic show.

All of this is wrapped in a pleasantly simple, obviously lovingly crafted art style, with seamless animation that doesn’t detract from the artwork by being overly flashy. While Usagi Drop’s characters still look like anime figures, there’s a softness about everything that lends it both subtlety and sophistication. In other words, it fits the overall tone of the series to a tee.

By this point, it should probably be evident that Usagi Drop isn’t going to appeal to viewers looking for an action fix. Much like other slower-paced, josei-based titles such as Honey and Clover and Natsuyuki Rendezvous, it’s a slice-of-life anime with elements of comedy and drama. However, as a shorter series that generally doesn’t lean towards the melodramatic, the pacing and execution is among the best I’ve seen of any slice-of-life title, regardless of demographic. Simply put, Usagi Drop manages to balance the seriousness of many of the situations being depicted with a deft light-heartedness that makes me want to throw away my natural cynicism and be optimistic about the world. If you don’t like unhurried, down-to-earth anime that showcase the best of human interaction and parent/child relationships, you should definitely look elsewhere. Otherwise? I’m voting Usagi Drop as the best televised anime to come out of 2011.

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Question of the post: What did you think of the Usagi Drop anime? Have you also read the manga, and if so, which do you prefer? Given the somewhat sensitive nature of the story after the 10-year time skip that occurs in the manga, are you glad or disappointed that the anime covered only the first half of the story?

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28 thoughts on “Review: Usagi Drop

  1. Great review. I adore Usagi Drop and I’ve long been of the opinion that Rin-chan is the cute event horizon: any cuter and the universe would collapse. 🙂

    I’ve read the manga up til about volume 7, and I’m reserving opinion of the post time skip manga until I track down the remaining volumes. Overall though I think I’m happy that the anime only covers the first half.

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  2. I’m really glad you reviewed one of my favorites! Yes, I loved the anime, though I’d have to say I preferred the manga mainly because I’d already read it when the anime aired. That being said, the anime still has lots of good reasons for watching it as you’ve mentioned.

    I wasn’t disappointed that the anime only covers Rin’s early years, I feel it stands very well on its own as an individual story. One of the issues I felt that was dealt with beautifully in the first half of the series was ‘sacrifices’. Daikichi’s mom points out early on the sacrifices involved in bringing up kids. While I agree with that, the kind of burden that was implied because of it seemed wrong. It was amazing to see Daikichi break through that mode of thinking and be Rin’s guardian without feeling like he was losing something in the process.

    The second half of the manga challenged me initially too, but in the end I found myself actually wanting it to turn out that way. If there is ever a second season made I’d be keen to watch. Thanks for another brilliant article!

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    • Usagi Drop is absolutely one of my all-time favourite shows as well. I’d happily put it in my top 3, in fact.

      And I agree, I think Usagi Drop stands on its own beautifully. I haven’t read the manga, but I’m glad the anime only covers the first half – not because I’m automatically opposed to the rest of the manga’s story, but because Usagi Drop aleady felt complete to me – why change or add to a story that’s already so gorgeous? And of course, Daikichi played a huge part in that. Eventually I think he came to the conclusion that rather than losing something in taking care of Rin, he was actually gaining something instead – and that was a truly beautiful thing to see unfold.

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      • This is a great review! I watched Usagi Drop during a busy and stressful time at uni, and it was a perfect way to unwind – it was optimistic and sweet and real. I have heard a little about the manga, but I haven’t read it. I agree with your comment above, I think the story concludes well and stands strong on its own, and I don’t feel a need to find out more. Yet. Maybe I’l succumb to curiosity one day, haha.

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        • I think that in some ways, Usagi Drop just goes to show that less can indeed be more. It’s at heart quite a simple and easy to watch series, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and heart-warming. It’s not all that often I see shows like this come around, but in a way that’s probably a good thing since it means that anime such as Usagi Drop stand out all the more for being as lovely as they are.

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      • If you wanted it to end that way, I am very sorry for you. The ending after the time / shark jump was every thing that the Anime was not.. as in enjoyable believable and touching.

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  3. Usagi Drop is one of my favorite anime because of all the reasons you said: simplistic joy, not a lot of fluff, but doesn’t need it. The only thing I didn’t like was that the ending didn’t quite work for me. It was a fine episode, but the series seemed to be leading towards one or two things, but then just sort of ended on a neutral note.
    And I’m with you: why have an adult actor play an unconvincing childish voice when you can have a genuine child actor? There are plenty of good ones.
    In the later episodes of Clannad, there’s a child who’s very obviously played by a child actor because there’s a certain laugh that only a 4-year-old can do, and it brings serious life into the character.

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    • Yeah, I really don’t like it when very young children are played by much older voice actors. I get that there are more adult voice actors than child voice actors, and that many adult voice actors are extremely talented and are able to play often much younger roles. But the laughs especially get to me – it’s just so obvious when it’s an adult laughing as opposed to a toddler, and it’s become something of a pet peeve of mine.

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  4. I loved the Bunny Drop anime, and was shocked when my husband decided to watch the first episode with me–and then continued to watch the entire series. He isn’t interested in family drama anime, and yet he was completely pulled in (as was I) by the character interactions and warmth of Bunny Drop.

    I’m glad the anime only covered the first half of the manga, since it was the strongest part and worked well as a standalone series. The second half of the manga, even before the “controversial bit” was just a weaker story and didn’t work as well with the art either. It lacked a bit of the richness, and the focus on Rin and high school made it feel a lot more humdrum and ordinary. The childhood arc just had more depth to it.

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    • Haha, I know what you mean! A couple of my guy friends watched Usagi Drop at my suggestion as well, and ended up getting just as teary-eyed as I did – even though one of them loathes children.

      Thanks for your input on the manga. If is indeed a weaker story, I’m also glad it didn’t get animated. I’m also just happy with Usagi Drop as it is, and why add more to something that’s a complete and lovely story as it already stands? When it comes to anime, I tend to think that if it ain’t broke then it doesn’t need fixing.

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      • Agreed. To me it seems the author just went to the hackneyed manga conceptof “shock” the audience and plot twist to nowhere.. Loved the Series! Will never read anything by the author here on out.

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    • Cheers.
      Yeah, the common consensus seems to be that the anime is better than the manga, both story-wise as well as in terms of general quality. As for me, given how completely satisfied I am with the anime, I feel no particular urge to know any more about the manga than I’ve already heard.

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  5. The one complaint I would voice about the show (although it’s not really more of a complaint, and more of a “you should realize that”) is that it is an extreme romanticization of childhood. Rin displays maturity far beyond what a normal 6-year old would normally possess. And the anime conspicuously doesn’t deal with any temper tantrums, or otherwise unreasonableness that often characterizes children as a whole as they slowly grow up. Not that it detracts from the show in the slightest, because it’s a beautiful piece of art that I adore with every fiber of my being (and that my mom loved as well, actually!) – just that it’s a very “rose-colored” view of childhood (and adulthood, for that matter).

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    • I’d both agree and disagree with this. On the one hand, I likewise think that this anime shows only snapshots of certain events – children being children, they’re going to have temper tantrums and the like regardless of how mature they are. On the other hand, while Rin certainly shows a maturity that goes above and beyond what most children her age tend to display, Rin has also had a lot of experiences that most children her age wouldn’t have had to deal with. I don’t think it’s any surprise that she therefore acts far more like an adult than a child, given that she lives in a more adult world than her peers. (Based on my own experiences in Japan thus far, I also think that Japanese children are in some ways a lot more mature in general than children from many other countries. But that’s a whole different topic, I guess.)

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  6. You know how much I adore this anime, and I am so glad you recommended it to me! The only thing I don’t like about it is the ending of the manga which if you just watch the anime is not an issue. The manga ending just skeeves me out too much for me to even consider reading it

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    • It’s not so much that the manga ending creeps me out (I mean, I know vaguely what happens but I haven’t read it, so I don’t have any strong feelings on that specifically), so much as I’m already quite happy with the anime ending. I thought it was a finish to an amazing series, so I have absolutely no desire to seek out more of the story – which in my mind is already complete, since I think the anime is perfect just as it is.

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      • Yeah, you are right. I think I would have been disappointed had Daikichi ended up with the single mother as the whole point of the series is the relationship between Daikichi and Rin

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        • to: Artemis, your decision is a good one and I recommend it to all other that have loved the series. Its my disappointment that I did not take it myself.

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  7. I quite enjoyed Usagi Drop, though probably not as much as most anime fans seem to. It’s definitely a nice, realistic story and I really liked how it focused on some themes that most anime don’t really explore, but I feel like it was a bit limited in development. Granted, more than anything it’s about following the day to day life of the characters and there was never really a “set plot” per say following the premise and events at the very beginning, but I do wish it went further with development. The ending didn’t really have a whole lot of closure and I hoped the story would progress more, but with what I’ve heard about the manga’s story later on, I suppose it can’t be helped. I never did read the manga and it seems like the way the story progressed was very controversial (what I’ve heard about the story is a tad unsettling, though obviously that knowledge is very limited) so one day I want to read the manga and see what I think about it all, even if I risk enjoying the series less for it.

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    • I was actually really happy with the ending – it seemed to tie things up nicely – as much as they can be tied up that is, given that Usagi Drop is purely a slice-of-life story. But to each their own. 🙂

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