[Synopsis]: After his grandfather passes away, 30-year old Kawachi Daikichi (Tsuchida Hiroshi) visits his family’s home to attend the funeral. Once there, he encounters a young girl named Rin (Matsuura Ayu) who is said to be his late grandfather’s illegitimate child. With her guardian now deceased and her future uncertain, Rin is left in an awkward position until Daikichi offers to care for her despite his inexperience. As time passes, the two grow close to one another and Daikichi gradually discovers what it means to be a parent.
Given its brief 11-episode run, Usagi Drop employs a fittingly small cast of supporting characters that serve to progress and reflect upon Daikichi and Rin’s developing relationship. In line with the general tone of the show, its supporting cast is heartwarming and features a handful of other parents and children that contrast and accentuate certain familial aspects of the show’s main duo. Other characters rarely come to the forefront of the story but you feel their presence all the same – they aren’t particularly memorable or distinct but they are none the less important to the show as well as to its atmosphere and themes.
Rin’s characterization reflects heavily upon the kind of show Usagi Drop sets out to be. At first she’s reserved, untalkative, and shy but she quickly comes out of her shell after moving in with Daikichi. She exemplifies some good, childish characteristics but also features a fair share of complications that set her apart from other children. Having gone through the process of losing her parental figure, she has a fear of being left alone as well as a general anxiety surrounding death. It’s well founded within the story given her situation and both are wonderful details that legitimize her somewhat subdued persona.
In some ways, Rin embodies a child who has had to grow up faster than they should have – forced to come to terms with the loss of her guardian, being abandoned by her mother, and making the transition to living with somebody new. She’s very cute and has childlike tendencies and desires but also possesses a light maturity about her, all of which feeds directly into her humor and relationship with Daikichi.
Daikichi himself, being the 30-year-old man that he is, quintessentially exemplifies this fact by being kind of measured, awkward, and haggard all the while genuinely caring for Rin. He doesn’t possess as sharp of a character arc as one might expect of somebody learning to be a parent for the first time but he does certainly change subtly over the early episodes of the show. A lot of his time is spent learning and making small mistakes in his attempts to foster Rin.
Between its vibrant palette and soft visual design, Usagi Drop‘s visuals are pretty distinct. The bright colors and whimsical aesthetic of the show play directly into its subject matter – of children, growing up, and parenthood. Visually, its very charming and warm and matches the atmosphere provided by the show’s characters and narrative very closely. Usagi Drop also presented rather fluid and emotive character animation that visually emphasized Rin and Daikichi’s respective character traits. Rin was bubbly and excitable in how she moved around while Daikichi was more awkward and deliberate. The show looked good and its aesthetic qualities were a perfect fit for its relaxed and pleasant mood.
The show begins in somewhat of a dramatic fashion given the first episode’s subject matter of the funeral and Rin having been left alone. It offers enough of an emotional hook into the show while still developing the lighthearted and charming tone that quickly becomes the standard feel of Usagi Drop. The show is pretty mellow and follows Rin and Daikichi as they adjust to each others company as well as their daily activities. Upon taking Rin into his home, Daikichi is immediately confronted with the problem of sending her to a proper school, making sure she has clothes to wear, and various other conflicts. All the while, he has to incorporate these things as well as Rin herself into his work life which challenges him greatly.
While Usagi Drop might be sweet and visually charming, the show itself is fairly adult-oriented. This is to say that it’s a show focused more on parenthood than childhood. Through Daikichi’s struggles and learning experiences it asks key questions – How do you balance work with the responsibility of a child? What do parents have to sacrifice in order to raise their children? And what does it mean to be a parent? It’s quite grounded and realistic in this way and at times it doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of raising a child. Daikichi isn’t able to maintain the same life he once led. He’s forced to give up things and make compromises in order to care for Rin but he isn’t soured by this – he grows as a person, if only subtly. He throws himself into his new task of raising Rin and while their relationship doesn’t undergo all that many significant changes, they are very delightful characters to watch.
Perhaps Usagi Drop’s only tangible issue is in its appeal. It’s heartfelt and cute but due to its realistic take on family and its grounded characters, it can come off as feeling very plain. It’s emotionally subdued and opts to be affectionate rather than evocative. This isn’t an actual fault of the show yet its approach may only lightly engage some viewers. Usagi Drop doesn’t attempt to move you but instead seeks to impassion you with the prospects of raising a child and the real life ramifications of doing so. It’s cute and relaxing but doesn’t stretch itself to become much more than that. How far the show’s appeal goes will depend greatly on the viewer in this way.
The soundtrack is likely the most dramatic element of the show and really emphasizes the endearing qualities of Rin and Daikichi’s relationship. While most cute shows tend to present a fairly bouncy, energetic soundtrack, Usagi Drop elects for a more calming and melodic backdrop which fits the show well.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Ultimately, given the show’s various themes and focus on parenthood, Usagi Drop was more adult-oriented than I would have initially thought. It gives plenty of insight into Rin’s childish characterization and all the passion and excitement that comes with the territory however it’s more about Daikichi’s act of supporting her than it is about her growing up.
I gave Usagi Drop a 6 because of its wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, lovable duo of main characters, and vibrant visual presentation. It offered some sobering messages about what it means to raise a child and while this measured approach may have left the show kind of bland in places, it was pleasant to watch all the same. Daikichi was an endearing parental figure and Rin was charming and adorable with additionally well-founded character traits.
Above all else, Usagi Drop is a slice of life show and anyone looking for something mellow and sweet is sure to have their expectations met. Unlike other similar shows, there isn’t much in the way of outright comedy in Usagi Drop so be wary of that going in. The show is likely to find its most invested fans in people looking for a show about parenthood and it delivers on this in a very earnest and thoughtful way.