Usagi Drop is 11 episodes of beauty, laughter, heartache and love. I know that sounds cliché, but it is among the most moving series I've ever watched. As after watching anime like Gantz and Parasyte I became totally emotionless from the trauma, and couldn't even cry at the death of my favorite characters. But, this anime was the kind that so often evoked both chuckles and deep tears from me without ever feeling manipulative.
The story 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.
Of course, since the story has to be appealing, it goes without saying that there is a bit of a rose-tinted approach to the plot; Rin comes across as pretty well-behaved for her age, Daikichi’s financial considerations have minimal impact and becomes something of an afterthought, and his extended family warms up to Rin rather quickly despite their earlier misgivings. This, however, does not hinder Usagi Drop from portraying the demands of raising a child so realistically as to be educational at times; Rin’s peers are a fine example of the trouble children can actually be, Daikichi wings his way through his new role and struggles like many new parents do, and the social stigma associated with a non-traditional family unit in Japan is omnipresent, even if subtly.
The other truly excellent factor about this anime is the realism of its characters. Refreshingly, Rin is a child who actually acts like one; once she opens up a little, she delights in the littlest things like losing her first tooth or buying a kitchen knife. 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 when she dies or 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. 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).
Now, the other one, Daikichi, is 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. Not to say I don’t like my dad, I love him, but Daikichi is the kind of father I wished I’d had growing up. He juggles his new responsibilities well with work and still manages to maintain a good relationship with everyone around him. Standing in as a guardian for your past grandfather’s illegitimate kid probably isn’t easy so I think he deserves a break here and there for his goof-ups. Watching Daikichi is a true breath of fresh air!
TWO other characters that you'll find endearing as they interact with Daikichi and Rin are Kouki and his mother, considering the frequency of Kouki's visits. Aside from his apparent cheekiness, Kouki’s a good kid and it shows in his submissive yet protective behavior towards Rin. Looking at their close friendship and the overt chemistry between Yukari and Kawachi, it’s quite easy to envision them becoming a family in the near future. In fact, beyond the show’s conclusion you could say that they already are a family.
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. In addition to the story, the artwork also tries to stay as true as possible to the source material. 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 also 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.
As for the sound, the OP, "Sweet Drop" by Puffy AmiYumi, is a surprisingly well suited J-pop song that's very much in keeping with Rin's character. In contrast to this the ending theme, "High High High" by Kasarinchu, is more reflective of the overall atmosphere of the series. And the BGM features a variety of tracks that are generally quite mellow or upbeat, but every so often the score is punctuated by a slow, simple piano piece to highlight the more sensitive moments of the story.
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 but just that I personally found it to be as flawless as it’s possible for an anime to be.
Overall, Usagi Drop is an incredibly charming, fun and cute little show that can easily be taken on its own. This anime depicts some of the most mundane aspects of life, and never really comes to a real conclusion. Yet, it is precisely because of this that it is simultaneously a most accurate and heartwarming portrayal of real life, one which might well strike a chord in people going through a similar stage. 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 certainly look somewhere else. Otherwise? I’m claiming Usagi Drop to be the best Josei title, one you just owe yourself to watch as an anime fan!
5 STAR ANIME.