vucubcaquix: I’ve heard rumblings that the ending to the anime of Usagi Drop came off as weak, however, I don’t think that it was. With its focus on loose teeth and where an adult’s free time goes to once they become a parent, Usagi Drop ends with the same light touch that was characteristic of the adaptation as a whole. With this light touch and its subtle characterizations, the show lent itself to long discussions late into the night over various forums about the actions, decisions, and attitudes of its various characters. I will have to note here, that we may touch upon the manga that Usagi Drop is based on, which means addressing the controversial ending. Here’s a spoiler warning for those who don’t wish to be affected by the manga’s ending.
ajthefourth: The anime series has a light touch, as David said, focuses on characterization, and the plot begins as one of a man struggling to raise a child on his own. As the series progresses the plot expands to encompass different presentations of parenthood, raising children, and family dynamics. It’s not a stretch to say that this is the anime series’s focus: the successes and struggles of being a parent. This is also the focus of the first four volumes of the manga, which end in the same place: Daikichi reflecting on his first year with Rin.
Here’s where the plot gets a bit hairier. At the beginning of the fifth volume, a time skip has taken place, fast-forwarding the story ten years into the future where it suddenly becomes more about developing romantic relationships and dealing with those ever-popular teenage years. The manga concludes with Rin and Daikichi deciding to get married, using the oft-relied on, “We’re not actually related by blood,” loophole to somehow make it more legitimate. In my mind, this is completely discongruous with what made the first part of the manga, and the anime series, so successful.
vucubcaquix: The ending was pretty badly written. I’m not much of a writer, but I did perceive the manga and story of Usagi Drop to be that of Daikichi’s experiences at being a father and commentary on parenthood in modern Japanese society. What the ending did, however, was completely re-contextualize the story into a chronicle of a Hikaru Genji romance that I didn’t quite feel was forecast properly if at all. If the story continued on strictly with the themes it presented about parenthood, then it wouldn’t have missed out on a wonderful opportunity with its timeskip to talk about one of the final milestones in parenthood: seeing your child go to college.
The Tale of Genji is purported to be one of the first widely read novels in Japan, and was written sometime in the 11th century by a woman whose real name may be lost but is known as Murasaki Shikibu. It is a story about a son of the Emperor of Japan who was considered too handsome for his own good. He rescued a girl from a life of poverty and raised her as her own, for the express purpose of marrying her and making her his Empress. It is a story that is pretty deeply ingrained into Japanese tradition and mythology based on its age, but is also one that I’m not comfortable with as an idea.
Usagi Drop the anime was wise to stick to one cour, as I don’t think the abrupt change in story would’ve settled well with the wide audience it was trying to reach by being a part of the noitaminA programming block. Where this anime shines is in it’s characterizations and the deep well of interpretations that we mined from it. I know for a fact that the several supporting female characters were rich sources for discussion.
ajthefourth: Yes, it’s the various female characters that really shine in this series, from Haruko, to Masako, to Yukari. Even bit players like Daikichi’s co-worker and his mother all represent different female perspectives on parenting. If I remember correctly, it was these characters that also caused a bit of contention between the two of us, David, especially Masako and Haruko.
vucubcaquix: The characters in Usagi Drop are all incredibly fascinating for one reason or another. The nuance that this show presents them with allows in turn for very nuanced interpretations, which means that we can have very different reactions to them and the situations they find themselves in. One of the core themes that was nascent in the show through the depiction of these characters was one of seeing your decisions through to the very end. Daikichi opts for a demotion at his job in order to stabilize his schedule, and quits smoking and drinking to excess. It may strain suspension of disbelief a bit for me to see him make such life-altering decisions without the depiction of massive struggle on his part, but seeing as how there’s little characterization given to him prior to his encounter to Rin, we have to take Usagi Drop at its word that Daikichi is indeed the type of man who is self-sacrificing enough to follow through with these decisions for the sake of his charge.
Haruko is interesting. Emily and I had a discussion about the difference between sympathy and empathy, with the difference being that sympathy describes how one can imagine and identify with a feeling or emotion or situation, whereas empathy denotes being able to understand a situation or emotion much more fully. Haruko comes from an incredibly stifling situation where she feels that she receives no sympathy from her husband’s family where she lives. There are pressures that build upon her on a daily basis from different angles, being daughter to an abusive mother-in-law, wife to a detached husband, and mother to a difficult child. I’m no stranger to the feelings of being overwhelmed and I don’t consider myself to be the most robust of people in this regard, so I sympathize with her need to just get away from everything for a moment.
But my sympathies only go so far, honestly. In the episode where she goes to Daikichi to seek solace, she has her daughter, Reina, in tow. Despite the accusations that Haruko laid on her husband and his family about their treatment of her, I don’t remember the show taking a stance one way or the other with regards to their treatment of Reina. I think that’s what kept me from being openly empathetic with Haruko’s character, since through the majority of the episode I had a nagging thought at the back of my mind: if she hadn’t told anyone where she went and had proceeded to spend a few days with Daikichi, couldn’t what have happened with Reina have been construed as kidnapping? Haruko and Reina spent two nights at Daikichi’s, so it wasn’t a significant measure of time. If it had been, then it would have spoken to the characters of her husband and his family had the police not been notified immediately. This would have reinforced her description of them as being abusive and/or neglectful. For a show that does a really good job of presenting nuanced characters in nuanced situations, it’s just hard for me to believe that Haruko’s husband is that neglectful of his wife and child that he wouldn’t be worried about their whereabouts. I guess I feel that if I was in this situation, knowledge of the location of my wife and child would be tantamount to all else. Despite the failings of Haruko’s husband, I couldn’t help a certain measure of self-insertion into his imagined perspective that prevented me from completely sympathizing with her actions.
ajthefourth: I’ll be the first person to admit that my reaction, which differs severely from yours, also involves a degree of self-insertion. I too have been a neglected partner in a romantic relationship, and although I do not have a child, the emotional effects were a bit devastating. It’s miserable to wake up every day and have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind when your partner does not pay attention to you, or find you attractive anymore, or speak with you as an equal about things. There’s a degree of disconnect that I feel occurs in such situations where, unless something horrifically violent is happening, people tend to disregard situations like this entirely, or write them off as one party being overly dramatic. However, I digress, and will touch upon this again later. This was simply to establish that my point of view is slightly biased.
You don’t remember the series taking a stance on Haruko and her husband’s treatment of Reina; however, I would disagree. The entire character of Reina is a stance on their treatment of her. The first time we see Reina within the series, she is an obnoxious brat whom the majority of the audience wants to disappear (or figuratively punt). Her disrespectful behavior at the funeral is so over-the-top that it’s almost comedic. Initially when viewing, I had thought that Reina’s behavior was to present her as a foil to Rin, and although this remains true in the series, Reina is a completely different character when she visits Daikichi and Rin with her mother. She’s a lot more calm and composed. We finally see her act beyond her from-a-box bratty attitude, and it happens when she’s in the presence of only her mother. Reina even mentions to Rin how she pretends to be asleep when her parents often fight. The viewer gets the sense, from both Haruko’s testimony and Reina’s attitude, that both women have to fight for their husband’s/father’s (respectively) attention. As an aside, thank goodness that the series doesn’t pit them against each other as rivals. If Reina’s bratty behavior is a ploy to get her father’s attention, or for that matter to get Haruko’s attention away from fighting with her husband, then it becomes a direct reflection of her parents’ treatment of her. Again, this isn’t to say that they treat her badly; however, the emotional impact of their constant infighting has obviously affected how Reina acts. Reina’s personality is the result of how they treat her.
In addition to this, let’s turn the attention on Haruko’s husband for a moment. While it’s true that we don’t see him for a large amount of time, his actions certainly don’t reflect well on his character, or rather, one could say that they hardly contend with the case that Haruko has built up against him. When he arrives at Daikichi’s, his first instinct is to apologize to Daikichi for what a burden his wife has been. Daikichi’s intial reaction, “I’m wearing the wrong clothes,” is a reflection on how he sees Haruko’s husband, and how Haruko’s husband initially presents himself: a man who is overly concerned with appearances. Yes, he does greet Reina with a moderate amount of enthusiasm; moments later we see him checking his watch in the car impatiently waiting for Haruko and Reina to say their goodbyes.
I’m hardly suggesting that Haruko’s husband abuses her or Reina; however, it’s impossible for me to sympathize with him over Haruko. Receiving this sort of air of detachment from one’s partner can be emotionally crushing to the recipient of such non-attentions, and in this case it has obviously affected Haruko and Reina both. I don’t necessarily agree with how Haruko chose to handle it, but I also see your self-insertion as a bit false. Allow me to speak bluntly. I know that you wouldn’t act this way towards your significant other, therefore your reactions to something like this happening would come from a different place, so to speak. The knowledge of your wife and child would be tantamount to all else, yes. However, you would not be concerned with appearances over all else, as I see Haruko’s husband to be. And, upon greeting them for the first time in a few days, I would certainly hope that your initial reaction wouldn’t be to apologize for the trouble they had caused.
ajthefourth: Masako is a bit of a different character, and one who has caused a large amount of contention between various viewers of the anime series and the manga alike. She is easy for me to relate to, being an artist and being more than a bit self-centered. Therefore, it’s hard for me to comment on her character because I can not only sympathize, but empathize with her to some extent (although again, not having a child makes a large degree of difference). After claiming that she was unable to take care of Rin and hold her job as a mangaka, she gave Rin up into what she assumed was a better situation than her own inability to care for her. The point of contention here has seemingly been that Masako should have sucked it up, much like Daikichi did, having a full-time job and caring for a child at the same time. After all, if Daikichi could do it, anyone could, right?
I have no doubt that Masako’s actions in leaving Rin with her father did come from a more selfless than selfish place; she recognized that she herself was incapable of caring for Rin in the way that Rin deserved and holding down the job that she wanted to pursue. However, Masako’s actions were partly a result of her own ambitions. Perhaps what Masako should have said was that she wanted to pursue her career; therefore, she gave Rin up because she realized that her job would get in the way of raising Rin, and she was too selfish to give up her job. Honestly, the backlash against Masako was a bit hard for me to take, because I didn’t understand where the majority of it was coming from. Was it due to Masako’s selfishness and immaturity? Was she really so immature to pursue her job over raising a child?
Yes, she decided to give Rin up; however, it’s not like she abandoned Rin. She left Rin with her father, and subsequently family members who would take care of her. She was selfish, but not to the point where it was detrimental to Rin’s growth and well-being. Rin’s nightmares were a reflection of Masako leaving her at night. Shortly after this, Masako decided to leave Rin with her father, hoping that he would be able to care for her better. While it’s true that Masako was unaware of Rin’s nightmares, I can’t help but think that she realized that Rin would be better off with her father and his family regardless.
vucubcaquix: I was among the many that didn’t particularly take a liking to Masako, though I may not have had as an immediately visceral reaction as others. In fact, I find her to be the most fascinating character of all. You frame the context of Masako’s immaturity as a question of whether or not it’s considered mature or immature to pursue a career or parenthood, but I think the issues are a bit more inherent then that. I feel that despite the presence or absence of Rin, Masako has severe issues concerning self-worth, and every moment of her characterization in the show also has her defined in some way by the relationships that she is a part of at the moment. Whether it’s bumming around in her pajamas with her boyfriend, or pursuing a relationship with an older man who is also her employer. She has issues with this, and seems to shy away from anything that may give her a concrete identity or role that she must adhere to. Her identity and self-worth are of such issue to her, that it manifests in a single line uttered that struck me the most:
“I am a woman, so I don’t have any real attachment to my name.”
There was something about that sentiment that horrified me. Other than life itself, a name is the first thing that’s ever given to you. It’s something that sets the tenor for the interactions that the world will have for you, and how you respond in kind is a measure of your character. According to Erik Erikson, Masako would be in arrested development, having failed a stage sometime in her adolescence. This is the root of her immaturity.
And this is also the beginning of my fascination with her, because through her own recognition of her own immaturity, she makes what amounts to be one of the most mature actions she can perform: securing consistent care for the child. It isn’t the last time where I’ll be impressed with a decision she makes, either. While there’s a certain amount a of fatalism connoted to it, I think I understand on an emotional level why it is that she throws herself onto her work after seeing how her daughter is developing under Daikichi’s care. I confess that a part of me cringed when she expressed a desire to see Rin after having been absent from her life for a bit, since I felt that it would put an unnecessary confusion onto a little girl’s shoulders and an emotional strain onto a mother who has relinquished her care to someone else.
But Masako stopped short of making her presence known to Rin and disrupting her visit to her father’s grave. The sudden longing that Masako felt pulling at her was a feeling that may have been new to her, seeing Rin as a bundle of possibilities and eventualities that she now regrets that she had no part of. I don’t know if I was alone in this, but I saw conflict in Masako’s eyes over her decision to give Rin up. The eventual decision she made ties into a theme in this show that I mentioned earlier in this post, that of seeing your decisions through to the end. It may be self-destructive in some people’s eyes to throw yourself on to your work at the possible expense of your health, but part of me believes that this is partially Masako’s way of atoning for a sin that she feels she’s committed.
She’s given up on the possible identity of being a mother, so she’s embracing whole-heartedly an identity of the mangaka. Just to so she can have an identity.
ajthefourth: This will have to be one of those times where we agree to disagree. You saw longing and conflict, where I saw conflict followed by acceptance. What allows her to throw herself wholeheartedly into her career as a mangaka, as she does at the end of this episode, was the fact that she saw how well taken care of and how well-established Daikichi and Rin really were. He sought her out and reintroduced her to Rin, whom she seemingly had been worried about in the back corners of her mind (even if she’d never admit it). From meeting Daikichi, Masako then struggles with whether or not to actually literally reintroduce herself to Rin and become a part of her life. Ultimately, she decides to pour her time, effort, and heart into her job, reiterating that her initial choice was the best one for both her and Rin. I would argue that it was because Daikichi showed her Rin that Masako was able to move forward with the identity she had chosen for herself.
This comes back full-circle to what you were saying initially, David, that self-sacrifice and the ability to stick to one’s decisions (specifically within the scope of parenting) were key elements of the anime series. Masako sticks to her decision to become a mangaka, and seems, in my opinion, somehow rejuvenated in that decision. In the meantime, Daikichi is fully satisfied with his decision to raise Rin, and is finding every day more enjoyable because of it. With this focus, as well as the focus on parenthood itself, it seems like the manga ending once again misses the mark.
vucubcaquix: The anime presents a variety of characters within the limited scope of eleven episodes and does so with aplomb. I want to make sure that everyone recognizes that my criticisms of certain characters and their actions are in no way a criticism of the show itself. In fact, it’s through the strength of Usagi Drop that we can consider and scrutinize these characters to the extent that we can. The animation has a consistent stylized watercolor theme, and is punctuated by elegant and understated music.
Given that this is a review of the series I feel compelled to quantify my overall feelings into a simple statement. More likely than not, I will never write about a show that I didn’t enjoy on some level, let alone even finish. There are some that I’ll download and delete immediately, some that I’ll download and archive with intentions to share it with friends, and the rarefied few that I’ll download and purchase if given the opportunity where I live to show the highest support I can for the industry.
Usagi Drop is a show that I’d download and purchase.
ajthefourth: If anything, your criticisms of certain characters only speak to how well-characterized the series is. My only qualm about it is that it places parenting on too much of a pedestal. Believe me, I would love it if more people equated how hard it is to raise a child properly to how hard it is to have a full-time job (for me personally, the former is far more daunting and earns much more of my respect) however, Usagi Drop seems to shed too much of a rose-colored light on parenting without recognizing the incredible degree of difficulty and the fact that not everyone is cut out to be a good parent. That being said, I really enjoyed this series, both for its strengths and for the discussion that it created.
My purchasing habits are a bit more…ah…frequent than yours, since I buy series that I may not think of as classics, but that I thoroughly enjoyed and can see myself watching again at some point in the future (I also purchase the classics as well). Therefore, me saying that I would buy Usagi Drop means a bit less than you saying it.
I’ll end by recommending this series to most. Usagi Drop is a series that doesn’t necessarily have a wide initial appeal, but something that I think most anime viewers should at least give a chance.