Looked upon as an embarrassment to all his relatives and treated with disapproval, Rin appears to be painfully shy and emotionally underdeveloped.
When it becomes clear that nobody is willing to take the girl in, Daikichi decides to adopt Rin himself, despite the fact that he lives alone and has no experience raising a child. The following episodes are mostly about Daikichi adjusting to life as a single parent, and about Rin as she gradually learns to trust in Daikichi.
The story is hardly complex, but viewers of Usagi Drop will be rewarded with more substance than can be said for many of the more plot-driven anime out there.
What struck me immediately about Usagi Drop were the silences.
One of the reasons I tend to be quite picky about my anime is that so many titles seem to involve a lot of unnecessary scripting. It’s like they’re afraid to have too much quiet, so they fill in the gaps with dialogue that adds absolutely nothing to the story.
Every now and again though, a series comes along that isn’t scared of silence. I see it quite a bit in Miyazaki’s works (particularly My Neighbour Totoro), and also in shows like Mushishi.
Occasionally, we also get anime that take silence to extreme levels as in Texhnolyze. Usagi Drop is one of those rare anime that doesn’t shy away from having a few scenes where people are doing things, but not really talking much if there’s nothing important to be said – it’s a great example of a story that shows, not tells.
The other fantastic thing about Usagi Drop is the realism of the story and its characters.
Refreshingly, Rin is a child who really acts like one; once she opens up a little, she delights in the little things like picking out cereal at a supermarket and learning how to use a skipping rope, and is naturally more apprehensive about being the last one to be picked up from school. She wets the bed at night and claims it’s sweat, and doesn’t think much of the fact that Daikichi is not her real father.
In short, she says and does everything that I imagine most six-year olds would in her position, and in a way that feels genuine – enough to have me (plus a couple of my guy friends, one of whom loathes children) making a dash for the tissue box. Of course, it helps that Rin’s character is voiced by an extremely talented child voice actor instead of a high-pitched adult attempting to play a child.
The art style of Usagi Drop is fairly simple, but obviously very lovingly crafted.
While the characters still look like anime characters, there’s a softness about everything that lends it both subtlety and sophistication. In other words, it fits the overall tone of the series perfectly. The animation is also very smooth, with each movement and scene blending seamlessly in to the next.
Those with an interest in Japanese culture should find this series particularly rich. In the first episode we get to see part of a Buddhist funeral.
In episode six, Daikichi and Rin plant a baby tree to commemorate her entrance into elementary school, and Daikichi reminisces about how his mother planted trees for both him and his sister after their births. In one of the specials, the pair makes traditional weather amulets (teru teru bōzu) to prevent rain the next day.
Nearly every episode includes several small cultural references of this sort, and it’s a lovely touch to an already realistic show.
I can usually find at least one thing to criticize about every anime I watch, but in all honesty there was not a moment of Usagi Drop I did not find adorable.
It manages to balance the seriousness of many of the situations being depicted with a light-heartedness that makes me want to throw away my natural cynicism and be optimistic about the world.
The best televised anime to come out of 2011, hands down.