Something a little different this week. No giant robots, giant swords, giant boobs barely contained in skimpy outfits, and no fantastical other worlds or sci-fi or magic. This week, an anime set in modern day Japan.
The story follows hardworking Daikichi – 30 years old, single, and spending most of his time at work, where he’s considered the best in the department, but there’s still no sign of a promotion coming.
He lives in tiny traditional wooden-board Japanese house in the city suburbs, is in many ways an overgrown teenager, and doesn’t seem to have much going for him other than a grim persistence and determination to do the right thing. That is, until he attends his grandfather’s funeral to discover that the dirty old man had seduced and impregnated his cleaning lady, and had raised sweet little Rin alone from birth – the mother has disappeared without a trace. Rin is a mature-for-her-age, independent and virtually silent child who manages to bond in a tiny way with Daikichi at the funeral… so when he hears his family discussing which care institution to send her to, he rashly volunteers to raise his 6-year-old aunt by himself.
What ensues are the trials of a girl raised without any real parenting, and a parent without any clue how to behave like one. Episodes get right down to the basics, and the story is in no rush to skip the “every day” to get anywhere, as we see, day by day and week by week, these two characters learn how to live with each other and how to become a family.
The art is stunning and unlike anything else I’ve seen in execution – the opening scenes of an episode always have this half-drawn look, with white spaces and watercolor effects that remind you that this is art as well as anime. The music (with the exception of a god-awful opening tune) is delicate and charming, and the supporting cast just feel like real people transposed onto your screen. The result is sweet without being saccharine, and heartwarming without seeming contrived for one second.
But perhaps my favorite thing about the show is that it feels like a glimpse into the reality of modern life in Japan. Old-fashioned religious rituals and sliding screen houses meet offices, crowds, trains and kindergartens. City streets and suburban flower gardens get equal screen time, and you get a feel for 4 generation gaps of Japanese life, with Rin representing the youngest and the oldest, having being raised by a man old enough to be a great-grandfather. Daikichi’s an interesting guy to watch, but really it’s the little quirks and changes in Rin that kept me watching week after week.
If you like dramas without the DRAMA, if you like kids without all the screaming, and if you want to try out what I consider to be anime’s best window into modern Japan, Usagi Drop is the show for you. It was so popular, there’s now a live-action TV drama version. I liked it so much, I think I’ll watch that too and let you know what I think.
Oh! And don’t miss the scenes after the end credits! They’re often the best bit!