Colloquium: Usagi Drop

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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.

"Impossible. Girls always have a heavy load to bear."

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.

Masako is another source of contention for viewers of this series.

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.

Recommended Reading:

15 Comments

Filed under Colloquia, Reviews, Usagi Drop, Usagi Drop

15 responses to “Colloquium: Usagi Drop

  1. I was waiting for the refutation that the ending was weak. I never found it.

    I accept the weak end because I don’t think a dramatic contrivance would’ve been better.

    Lightheardedness doesn’t determine the strength or weakness of the finale. Rather than focus on what wasn’t done, I’d look at was was there: the extended montage with Daikichi’s sappy voice-over did not do the show any favors.

    As you said, the show does well with including many elements that provoke though and discussion — most of which weren’t provoked by the internal monologue, and certainly not via montage. The finale came off as if the show stopped trusting itself and the viewers to come away with thoughts and even epiphanies from the conversations Daikichi had with his sister, and the other parents. It’s not as if the context and groundwork hasn’t been laid.

    The finale didn’t make good use of its time, which is a shame because all of the other episodes used theirs superbly.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: I completely agree and, if we’re being completely honest, yours is an opinion that I greatly respect. Please continue to point out writing construction mistakes like this. We started off with one premise and then it turned into a rambling conversation with little to no direction. I can’t make excuses for this post, and I don’t think it’s all bad; however, we both can promise to try harder in the future, and have a better editing process.

      My own thoughts on why the ending wasn’t weak, but fitting, are as follows. It reviews Daikichi’s first year of parenting, which was what the series’s primary focus had been: Daikichi trying to assimilate himself into the life of a parent (the fact that he has the most adorable, well-behaved kid helped immensely too) and a few other opinions/circumstances all involving parenting. This review, complete with the sappy monologue that you mentioned, was also paired with Rin loosing her first baby teeth; a sign that Rin is growing and maturing. I really liked how they paired these two things together. Unfortunately, the relief that I felt because I knew the series wasn’t going to go with the manga ending probably also played into my feelings towards this episode.

      The only problem I had with the final episode were Daikichi’s words to his sister, which (and I’m paraphrasing) were, “Well, sometimes we have to just bear it.”

      Now I don’t agree that his cousin Haruko should have to grin and bear it either, but I can swallow someone saying that to her a bit easier since she already has Reina. Daikichi’s sister on the other hand, is about to be married to someone who wants kids right away. She doesn’t. Sure, the reasons that she gives are all immature ones; however, it speaks to the fact that she’s probably not ready for the time, energy, and overwhelming amount of sacrifice that it takes to raise a child. I can’t help but think that to give her the, “Well, you’ll just have to deal with it and put your immaturity aside,” advice is incredibly irresponsible, and was a black mark on what I thought was an otherwise solid episode that reflected the overall themes of the series.

      You do make an interesting point in how the information was dispensed to the audience, though, and I’ll have to re-watch the episode again, paying specific attention to this. Thanks for the comment! ^ ^

      vucubcaquix: I recognize the adage that hindsight is 20/20, but I’m going to go ahead and recollect where we went wrong in the process of this post.

      The first reason why it feels disjointed is that we wrote it over several days and separate sessions. What we were thinking and feeling the initial night probably didn’t carry over to the second night we approached this when our conversation naturally gravitated towards other subjects regarding this show. We should have read over our previous opinions more thoroughly and made more of an effort to direct them into succinctly presenting the viewpoints that we wanted to get across.

      Secondly, we may have shot ourselves in the foot from the get go because the conversations we’ve had about this show were a lot more loaded and personal then the ones about penguindrum. Thus, the dialogue between us moved at a faster clip and we agreed to having a bit of a more informal style with what we would write. The result is a lot ramblier and more unfocused than usual.

      Lastly, this post went up at about 4:00 am local time. We were sleepy as HELL and we didn’t stop to reread the entire post to check for flow the way we do for every other one of our writings. Basically, we were too eager to post this and get it over with that we didn’t apply our own quality assurance standards to this and the result is a 4,000 word manifesto that needs more focus.

      Lessons noted for future reference (I hope).

      • The grin and bear it comment is something discussed with otou-san elsewhere, and I don’t think of it as a defeatist attitude at all. I approach it as Camus thought of Sisyphus rolling his rock up the mountain, but without the grim revolt. He invited us to thing of this as a happy act, but I doubt there was real joy in it.

        Look upon the other parents instead and the epiphany Daikichi found — there is no sacrifice if you choose the children for yourself — not as possessions, but their lives and joys as your personal triumphs. It could’ve ended there, but we had to be showed his thought process via montage and voice-over.

        I’m going to share something in my life: My wife can’t stand sad stories in any form. I relish tragedy, suffering, and grimness in my cinema, anime, etc. This means we can’t share experiences together and this pretty much reduced my film-watching from maybe 50 a year to less than a dozen. This explains in part how my consumption has switched to anime, and even such there’s only so much we can watch together (right now, only Beelzebub LOL).

        But you know what, I feel like a douche for thinking of this as a sacrifice. A sacrifice?!? I have the awesomest family and the love of my life. Sure, I can’t write the great Asian novel while a young man anymore. It’s just never going to happen (instead I made the happiest anime blog on Earth). But to see it as the consequences of building a family is ugh. I am the happiest person on earth. I create joy for myself and hold no one responsible for any lack of it, as if I grant power to anyone to compromise me. So grin and bear it is correct, but Usagi Drop doesn’t spell out everything for you, there’s something more to it than that.

      • Knee House

        A couple thoughts, one on the review & the other on Daikichi’s advice to his sister.

        There are couple things going on in your review: one, the intention of reviewing the series Usagi Drop, the themes & how it handles them, & two, an editorial related to some of the themes contained within the story. Now, I loved the entire review–it helps you’re talking about Usagi Drop–but I felt that you had more than one blog entry contained within it. Specifically, within the review there are two editorial posts, personal reflections on the themes within the stories of Haruka & Masako respectively. Again, I enjoyed reading them (& recall hearing one as well . . . ), that’s just my thought on why this post ran as long as it did.

        Concerning Daikichi’s advice, “you’d manage somehow,” I cannot speak from experience, never having the responsibility of raising a child, but I think that everyone faced with the possibility, no matter their preparedness or desire, feels the same way as Daikichi’s sister not only prior to the experience but even during. There isn’t a switch that’s flipped when you become a parent that turns you miraculously into a mature & selfless adult; to varying degrees we’ll continue to struggle to balance responsibility & desire. And as ghostlightning notes, you manage not only “somehow,” but willingly, if imperfectly, to sacrifice some of those everyday selfish desires you fear. And that fear she expresses is, IMO, a sign of the maturity & awareness that shows that she will be able to handle the experience just as Daikichi describes sometime soon.

        OTOH, I could not swallow someone telling Haruka the same advice because she is being forced to bear sacrifices that shouldn’t be hers alone to bear.

  2. Knee House

    Apologies in advance . . . .

    Usagi Drop is, to me, the highlight of the Summer anime season. It’s ability to gently & simply portray it’s characters with depth & sincerity while presenting a host of relational questions that touch at the heart of our everyday societal structure within the modern confines of the “family” in a subtle manner, without beating its viewers over the head with it’s message, separates it from both its cute anime brethren & preachy message films. 

    You two touch upon a handful of the stories contained within the 11 episode series adroitly. I do tend to agree with Emily concerning both the tales of Haruka & Masako, but David’s opinions are appreciated, valuable perspective necessary in a story that ably portrays the two in realistic shades of gray.

    To me, Masako is the lone figure who represents the challenges of parenthood in the sense that not all adults are ready to accept that challenge & that one’s scope in life isn’t solely defined by literal contribution to its society, child birth & rearing. Of course, this raises the question of how does she then allow herself to enter the situation that led to Rin’s birth. This is where the shades of gray again enter the equation. Life is something that can’t be contained by plans & procedures; sometimes its breeze carries us in unplanned directions. Sometimes those directions may be the result of immaturity or thoughtlessness, but as human beings perfection is outside our grasp, and sometimes those unplanned disasters are more beautiful than we imagined.

    In my opinion, Masako’s willingness to hand Rin into a situation better suited to both parent & child represented a maturity & understanding hidden beneath an image of child-like social awkwardness that continued to shape her image further into adulthood, *SPOILER* marriage & eventually a 2nd chance at parenthood. And Masako was lucky. Not many unprepared parents are afforded the opportunity of adults both willing & able to handle the responsibility of another’s child.

    The story of Haruka’s marriage was the second most heart-wrenching tale of the series, in my opinion. Like Masako, a variety of influences, most outside her control, conspired to place her in a situation that no one would dream about bearing. I think both Dave & Em are correct in your views of Haruka’s husband. He is a man concerned for his wife & child. He does dedication his life to the hard task of supporting a family. This, however, does not preclude him from a self-absorbed perspective that does not truly appreciate the worth of both his wife & his child.

    This is, of course, my own bias speaking, since a lot of the story is left unsaid–particularly from his perspective–but Haruka’s monologue concerning living a caged life within her husband’s family speaks to living with a man who sees himself operating in a proper manner without seeing from another’s perspective, specifically his wife’s. Her concerns are valid, defining concerns, that to me speak of neglect & loneliness at the lack of their provision from those closest to her besides Reina, and the fact that she can’t see outside of a loveless marriage speaks to a lack of societal support & understanding, both emotional & concrete. Yukari may be able to raise Kouki on her own, with Daikichi’s assistance (and vice versa), but each family’s needs, strengths & mental perspectives are different.

    One story you don’t touch upon that I found fascinating was the development of Rin from a shy, soft-spoken youth to a child willing to express herself. The pilot episode is notorious for the family’s cavalier treatment of a 6-year-old child in the face of the death of the person closest to her, and her response to both the loss & neglect is as expected. In Episode 3 the tender ties between acceptance & loneliness are amplified when Daikichi & Rin re-visit the town of such traumatic experience and we watch both her shyness around those who were willing to abandon her & her attachment to the one who re-affirmed her worth, Daikichi. 

    As tender as that thread may seem, and as heart-wrenching as her experiences were, her survival is also a testament to her toughness. Her willingness to continue the routines despite the tragic passing of the grandfather, such as winding the clock, her ability to engage with those who had originally neglected her when they attempted to re-connect are examples of her resiliency. She could have easily shied away for fear of repeated rejection, but she did not, and Daikichi’s acceptance players part in that.

    This relationship between Daikichi & Rin is a curious one. It’s primarily here that Rin exhibits the precocious adult-like persona that stretches our suspension of disbelief. She acts in a role of an equal, waking Daikichi in the mornings, preparing meals & willingly accepting certain household responsibilities, all as a 6-year-old child. *SPOILER* These, to me, are hints at the intention of weaving a love story in addition to a tale of life in the modern family, subtle hints at the author’s intentions.

    I agree the final chapters of Usagi Drop are poorly orchestrated, particularly the question of familial relations. They also raised some interesting questions, at least within this reader’s mind. *SPOILERS* If an individual was facing a crush an an authority figure how would you handle the situation, as both the authority figure & the individual infatuated with said figure? How would you, as an individual associated with such lovers, interact with them after their announced intentions as an item? How would you handle an 18-year-old with little experience outside her sphere to test her desires, both present & potential, for the future, to experience independence, choosing to forgo that opportunity; how would you advise him or her, and the authority figure with whom they desire a lasting relationship? And maybe there’s actually nothing wrong with such a decision–can you properly support them in the face of still inevitable opposition, even when you may share some of those concerns?

    Again, apologies for the comment length. It could have been even longer, I’m afraid–the portrayal of Reina, Daikichi’s willingness to accept the responsibility of Rin, his personal growth, and of course the theme of self-sacrifice that ties all these threads together. Such a rich bounty for discussion!

    You guys are totally right that such discussion inspired by Usagi Drop’s stories speaks to it’s quality, and it cannot be lost in this that it’s cuteness & affection for all its characters further speaks to the worth of the series. Thank you two for the lovely review, and putting up with me. I wish you could’ve blogged it episodically, but recognize that your plates were already full with the worthy Mawaru Penguindrum.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      vucubcaquix: The issue of how Masako allowed herself to get into this situation was one that Emily and I discussed but ultimately decided against including in the post. She may want to address this point directly here in the comment, however.

      I need you to be aware that I make a distinction between someone having a crush on an authority figure, and someone having a crush on a caregiver. There is a HUGE difference in my mind between the two, and I can’t condone a relationship between the latter in any way because it’s tied into certain incidents in my immediate and extended family. I find it despicable, and I recognize that it’s a hard line to take, but one that I’m perfectly willing to take and defend.

      As for having a crush on an authority figure, I understand that quite a bit actually. Sex and power are closely intertwined and have been for ages. Having a crush on your teacher, being attracted to your boss, fantasizing about a law enforcement or a superior officer are situations that have been written about or even lived on numerous occasions. I don’t really have any issue with this since in most cases this means that at the end of the day, it’s two consenting adults entering into some sort agreement between themselves as long as there isn’t any exploitation happening on the part of the person in authority.

      Rin, however even in this case, is not an adult in my mind. She is 16, and while I think that is the age of consent in Japan, that’s even more precarious than the hypothetical of 18 that you cite. But if Rin were an unrelated teenager (and I mean this not just in genetics, but in familiarity as well) who is past the age of consent who wishes to engage in a relationship with the older gentleman who is Daikichi, while it may make me slightly uncomfortable, I can’t really condemn it either. It’s their business in the end.

      ajthefourth: Yeah…I had honestly avoided addressing Masako’s later change of heart to avoid any sort of mud-slinging or speculation on her character, however, you put it so elegantly: perfection is outside our grasp as human beings. I address her in the post only because the backlash against her stunned me a bit. She is one of the more true-to-life characters in the series.

      I disagree with the idea that a love story is woven into the fabric of the first half of Usagi Drop. As a child, I was incredibly precocious and wanted to help my mother with everything (mainly cooking). I even woke up early to make breakfast for my family on several occasions. The only thing that this matured into is a continued love of cooking, and the ability to share it with the people I love.

      The questions that you, and the series, bring up are all valid; however, I’d like to address one point. You pose a few questions within the context that Rin has had little experience outside her sphere to test her desires, both present and future. If this is the case, then whose fault is it that her world has been so limited? Wouldn’t the responsibility for socializing Rin properly also fall on Daikichi as her caregiver? I love what you bring up about Daikichi’s willingness to accept responsibility for Rin, and his own personal growth. It is exactly these themes that I feel are invalidated by Rin’s “choosing” Daikichi as her partner. I see parenthood as ultimately a self-sacrificing act; one of enormous emotional responsibility and maturity, and one that is seemingly done with the expectation of nothing in return except for your child’s happiness. Rin’s choice invalidates this a bit and, putting the ickiness that I feel aside, invalidates the nature of parenthood that the series (both anime and manga) takes it upon itself to portray. Daikichi is (and I don’t mean this rudely) getting something in return for his taking care of Rin besides his own happiness.

      Unfortunately, our blog posts have been rather monopolized by Penguindrum; however, hopefully this post, long and rambling as it is, validates me when I say that the lack of Usagi Drop posts was certainly not due to disinterest, or even that we couldn’t think of anything to write about. When I mentioned contention in this post, it should have been with a capital “C.” We had many arguments over characters and themes presented in this series, as well as discussions with each other and others over various forums.

      Please never worry about the length of your comments! We respect your opinion and love hearing what you have to say! I’ll make you a deal: we will never make light of the length of your comments if you promise not to tease us for the lengths of our posts! haha ^ ^

      Also, as an aside, David and I have decided that after Penguindrum we’re never blogging anything episodically again ^ ^)

  3. I wanted to read this post so badly that, to avoid being spoiled, I quickly read through the remaining 20+ chapters I had left of the manga.

    The time skip section of the manga just…wasn’t Usagi Drop anymore. As mentioned above, the part of the manga that was animated was wonderful in what it did, showing the values and joys of parenting as Daikichi learned to become a father. The time skip was jilted, strange, not as charming, and ended in a unsatisfactory way. It was for the most part still well-written, but it lost something grand and of course, ended in a strange way.

    SPOILERS: Throughout, I was hoping that Rin would eventually realize that she was just confused and that Daikichi was really her father, blood-related or not. Daichiki would somehow make her realize that – he could never marry someone he regarded as his daughter. I could never marry my biological daughter, even if in some strange twist of fate she ended up being not my own.

    ICK. Woody Allen/Soon-Yi ICK.

    Disappointing.

    But the series was incredible. I hope to own it some day.

    As for Haruko – I totally empathize with her, right from the start. My wife is also a stay-at-home mom and she is frequently frustrated. It’s hard…SO hard. These mothers don’t get nearly enough credit – I’m at my wit’s end when I read/hear about them being dismissed as if their lives are easier than working moms. They are not. I’m frequently reminded of this when I try to spend several hours with my kids alone and wonder, how can my wife do this all day everyday? Her responsibility is huge and her job is difficult and headache-inducing. It’s not just a hard career, it’s a hard life.

    But what make its worth it in the end is that you know you’re doing what’s best for your children and that you feel rewarded by appreciation. In my household, I often don’t give my wife words she needs to hear or the warmth she needs to feel. And when she hits a wall, it’s too late, but I understand why it’s happened. And if I was as bad a husband as Haruko’s, the least I would expect if for my wife to leave for a couple of days to cool down. I think its well within her rights for all she does.

    MORE SPOILERS: On the same note, I didn’t empathize with Masako at all, I think because my wife is such a great mother to my children and its hard for me to see such selfishness, even in animated form. But I liked how the manga showed her growth while still staying true to the character. And in one line, when Masako basically tells Rin she regrets putting herself above her child, I suddenly did a 180.

    Anyway, Usagi Drop is an amazing anime series and a very interesting manga series. Thanks for your wonderful post – as usual, this one gave me a lot to think about.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: Wow…that is a lot of speedy reading. Count me impressed (and also very flattered, thank you)!

      You touch upon another reason why the manga ending is discongruous with the beginning of the manga, and the whole of the anime; it too reflects badly on Daikichi’s position as a parent.

      As I mentioned in the latter part of this post, I would love to see women and men both be given the respect that they deserve for raising children, or at least to see people equate it more with having a career. Raising a child is the hardest “job” that anyone can undertake, and gets far too little recognition. Then again, part of being a parent is realizing that you’re probably never going to get any outward recognition, and your reward is seeing your child happy, and mature into a happy adult. See Ghost’s response to our response above.

      The manga did show Masako’s growth; however, I stick by my opinion that her giving Rin up also spoke to a different kind of maturity. She knew she wasn’t ready to be a parent, and left her in a place where she was sure that her daughter would receive good care. Masako then has the rare opportunity to use what she’s learned from her experiences and turn them into providing excellent care for her second child.

      Thanks for your comment! The series in general tends to give one a lot to think about. ^ ^

      vucubcaquix: Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, the ending to the manga just isn’t canon. It didn’t happen. Period. But where that fanfic seemed to go wrong with the characters was specifically in Daikichi’s character. If Rin was confused about her feelings for Daikichi, then I think I’d still be able to accept that (if still feel a bit wary). The main failing is on Daikichi’s part, since the onus is put on him to be able to have the perspective to understand that Rin is confused and needs his guidance to be socialized into the world properly.

      But nope, he accepts her feelings with a sense of “whelp, can’t be helped.” UGH.

      As for Masako, honestly she seems like the kind of person I wouldn’t get on with in a real-life scenario. Quiet, with a dose of petulance, and an occasional outburst in a public setting like a restaurant. People like that tend to unsettle me since I’m rather straightforward in my dealings with people. But the anime does a fantastic job of showing how multifaceted she is as a character through the decisions she makes regarding Rin’s upbringing and her response and newfound direction from having seen her development as a response to her decision to let her go. There’s a certain maturity that’s coupled with a humility that fascinated me, and she took hold of my attention whenever she was on screen.

  4. jreding

    Ajthefourth and vucub caquix, thank you so much for this deep and though-provoking review of Usagi Drop’s characters! Your analysis brought back to me the complexity of the characters and gave me a lot of new thoughts (I hope not too many for a comment!).

    After I finished the show I spoiled myself with re-tellings of the manga ending, learning that (1) Daikichi marries Rin and (2) Masako reveals that Rin is not Daikichi’s grandfather’s daughter. Since I haven’t yet read the manga myself please excuse if my assumptions should be wrong or foreshortened.

    On Daikichi/ Rin: When I started watching the show I felt somewhat disturbed by the close intimacy, in particular the bed-wetting scene, but I told myself that it’s just a completely innocent depiction of family life. I was quite shocked when I found out about the manga ending. The fact that Rin doesn’t want to adopt his name in hindsight seems to indicate that she doesn’t regard him as a father surrogate. I wouldn’t impute to Daikichi that during the show he sees Rin in any other way than as a daughter. In this regard, the story seems to me a bit different to Genji. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to ignore the manga ending. It gives the whole Daikichi/ Rin relation a completely different perspective: What exactly is Daikichi to Rin? Why is he a bachelor in the first place? I’ve also been thinking about the hair-combing scene. There is a similar touching scene in Rozen Maiden where, if I remember correctly, Shinku mentions that being allowed to comb a girl’s hair is a very intimate privilege. Touching one’s hair in my experience can be quite powerful. As you see, I have more questions than answers and I’m quite curious how I will feel after reading the manga.

    On Haruko: I was touched by your analysis of Reina. I admit that I didn’t like her either. I found it completely devastating that Haruko and Reina return to that “family” without any solution whatsoever. Haruko seems under great pressure to stay in this depressing relation to her husband and parents-in-law. Even Daikichi doesn’t think of changing the situation. I can only imagine that the creators of the show tried to discourage women from marrying (cf. this article: http://www.economist.com/node/21526350 ).

    On Masako: Good point about Masako’s arrested development. She reminded me of someone I knew who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – self-hatred, seeking relations who are bound not to work and fleeing once it actually becomes close. The question arises how Masako became who she is. When browsing comments on the manga ending I quite often read that Rin actually repeats Masako’s relation with Daikichi’s grandfather. So is this some sort of inter-generational pattern (trauma?) ?

    Finally, Rin: I read quite often that one shouldn’t take Rin as a typical child, being such a quiet and pliant girl. In particular in the ED pictures, which I found very touching, we always see her cheerfully smiling. But what is really going on inside Rin? My amateurish psychology would tell me that after being abandoned by her mother and losing Daikichi’s grandfather she learned that you cannot take parental love for granted but have to work for it (which is not a good thing for a child to learn). In fact, it seems she abandoned the idea of having parents altogether and instead settled for this unspecified relationship with Daikichi. No wonder if she should turn out not being able to come up with the trust required to form a relationship with someone her own age. Is Daikichi blind not to see this?

    Lately I’ve been thinking that Usagi Drop in the light of the manga ending can actually be interpreted as a pretty bleak and cynical story, which, however, gives it far more depth as well.

    Postscriptum: I am following your fascinating weekly discussions of Penguindrum. However, I didn’t comment recently because I lost overview on what has been said and analyzed so far and I don’t want to unintentionally repeat other people’s thoughts.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: No amount of thoughts are ever too many for a comment (although they may be too many for a post…we’ll uh…work on that in the future!)

      Genji seemingly from the get-go was interesting in turning Murasaki into his wife, especially since, if I remember correctly, his first thought upon seeing Murasaki was that she resembled his father’s favorite wife Fujitsubo (who Genji was hopelessly in love with). He raised Murasaki with the intention of her eventually being his wife. Murasaki herself, I believe, hints at this when she sees Genji going down the same path with another girl. ^ ^ However, yes, I would agree with you that Daikichi did not take Rin under his wing to raise the perfect little wife for himself, which makes my blood boil even more at the manga ending, where his attitude can be summed up as, “Well, might as well do this.” after he realizes that Rin is not going to change her mind about her feelings for him. Blech.

      As for the creators discouraging women from marrying, I hardly think that’s the case. I think that they were trying to provide a few different perspectives of women with or without children and Haruko was one of them. It doesn’t make her situation any more depressing; however, if there’s something to be taken from Ghostlightning’s comment above it is that I am wrong about raising children being completely self-sacrificing because raising children is that rewarding. If Haruko takes comfort in anything, it’s Reina, and if Reina’s happiness is also her happiness then I can see why Haruko didn’t think seriously about leaving her family (just thought about escaping for a few days). It doesn’t make it any less depressing to me, but Haruko’s resolve at the end of that scene where she comments that women always have a heavy burden to bear, hints that she’s going to make the best of her situation regardless for Reina’s sake.

      Rin is certainly not a typical child, and I do feel that her development is a result of Daikichi’s parenting (both the good and the bad). I think Daikichi is blind to this; however, the thing that makes me the most angry is that he doesn’t address her behavior except to tell her that she’ll grow out of it, and later to acquiesce to her feelings. A better parent would have at least attempted to re-establish the picture of their relationship without the romantic frame.

      Thank you for commenting! Also, we honestly do miss your Penguindrum comments and your enthusiasm around the series so please don’t ever feel awkward about commenting!

      vucubcaquix: Honestly, I wasn’t too disturbed by the bed-wetting scene myself. I, uh, don’t want to get into specifics here but let’s just say I can empathize.

      I like the emphasis you put on the intimacy of touching a person’s hair. I don’t equate it with sexuality much, but I do have a viscerally pleasant sensation when someone touches [the little] hair I have. It’s an incredibly comforting feeling that probably harkens back to the kind of intimacy that one does indeed learn from their parents. Whether or not the mangaka took this into account as s/he characterized Rin is debatable, since if they did then the developments of the second half are not only somewhat contradictory, but they do indeed take on a very cynical air about them.

      Ah Masako… Honestly, the less I hear about the manga ending the better. It’s the question you pose about how Masako became who she is that’s the fascinating yet sensitive bit. Because if you disavow the knowledge of the manga’s added characterization of her, then I’d reiterate what I stated in the post itself about the arrested development that Masako suffers from about the crisis of her identity.

      However, from my knowledge of the manga, it’s stated that the reason why she doubts Rin’s parentage is because she had multiple sexual partners at the time. Who a woman chooses to partner with should have no bearing on her character in this day and age, but the connotations of this are still unfortunately incredibly loaded. The accusations will fly faster, farther, and easier, and it’ll just hurt any dialogue and discussion that surrounds her. It honestly comes off as a cheap ploy to provide an avenue toward the ‘de-relationing’ of Rin to Daikichi and to enable the incestuous relationship that develops at the expense of Masako’s incredibly interesting characterization in the first half. If the mangaka did indeed drop some tidbits in the beginning in order to foreshadow Rin and Daikichi’s relationship, why build up the complexity and circumstances that surround her actions only to throw her to the proverbial wolves of the audience? It’s… disheartening at best, and the most incredibly cynical thing at worst.

      And the idea that Rin repeats these relationship cues learnt from Masako implies a level of intimacy or even just physical proximity that the story itself did its best de-emphasize. So if that’s the case that this is learned behavior on the part of Rin, then the storytelling itself is actively contradicting it. On the other hand, if the story is claiming that this behavior is innate, well, it may be out of my purview at this point but I’m sure science itself would have some issues about that assertion.

      Whew, I had way more to say about Masako then I thought. Way more than I expected for someone I probably wouldn’t even get along with if I met them in person. Thanks for your thoughts, though!

  5. jreding

    Ajthefourth, vucubcaquix, thank you so much for your extensive replies. This means a lot to me!

    I promise to stick to a more appropriate comment length in future!

    Re Penguindrum I plan to rewatch the last ep’s tonight and I’m sure I’ll return to commenting soon.

  6. Although the post was roaming a bit in its topic, I almost didn’t notice, since I got engrossed in your thoughts that never quite occured me.

    I’ll have to take the side of Haruko and don’t agree with the ‘just bear with it’ line. BUT it’s important not to take all the blame out of her; she is responsible, too, for not setting limits to what she can bear. Her parents-in-law living together was a big mistake and she should have known and should have denied such thing from the start. Also, I think that she should work and not be always at home. That’s not only tiresome for her psychologically but also deprives her from the prospect of developing her mind and skills and social network.

    As for Masako, I’m in the group of the ‘contempters’. And the reason why is not because she chose her job, but because she got in the whole mess and denied responsibilities afterwards. I know snipette doesn’t agree with me, but I see parenthood as sth you can always choose and since its a human action, you have to pay the consequences. By choosing I mean in this example Masako getting laid by an old man and then getting pregnant and furthermore keeping the child, not to mention leaving it with a person that’s close to death! I don’t see her leaving Rin as anything else as abandoning and an irresponsible act. How is it responsible to leave a child behind to a family that she didn’t know and most certainly wouldn’t accept the child that represented such a shame for a Japanese family. I think you forget to take in mind the culture of these people and how criticising it can be to the point of shutting eyes to things that are ‘not their own business’. After all don’t assume that there are a lot of Daikichis out there and especially in Japan and don’t forget that Rin is conveniently at an age that she can go to her toilet and fortunately it so happens that she isn’t a brat. Rin would have ended in an orphanage in the best scenario. She shouldn’t have given birth in the first place, if we can be lenient with her to forgive her idiocy of getting it on almost with her own gramps and without condom or the pill. And how do you expect anyone to respect someone who doesn’t respect her own body, the child she bore in this world and her own name? Sorry, but I certainly can’t.

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