For the next entry in our top twenty countdown we move to a topic that doesn’t get a lot of play in anime: Parenting.
Now you might be thinking: “But Kelloggs, there’s plenty of anime about parents and family” and that would be an accurate statement. In fact, many shows where parents and family are an important theme will be part of this list. What makes Usagi Drop stand out is not the inclusion of family as a key theme but the fact that the story is told from the perspective of the parent rather than the child. This creates an entirely different dynamic compared to most family-centric anime. When told from young person’s point of view, the story will typically be about coming to accept the people who you live your life with and growing to understand them. The reversed perspective here allows Usagi Drop to tell a completely different story about how your life changes when suddenly somebody is relying on you. That’s the situation Daikchi finds himself in after his grandfather’s funeral. Most of the family sees his grandfather’s illegitimate child, Rin, as a mark of shame for the family and nobody seems to be interested in taking her in or caring for her. Here, Daikichi’s empathy outweighs his prudence and he chooses to make the sacrifice nobody else was willing to make.
Daikichi is, of course, woefully unprepared for this arrangement. What I find really interesting about Daikichi is how, even though he’s thirty years old at the start of the anime, he still doesn’t start out fully matured and has a lot of room to learn and grow. Usagi Drop does a great job of showing how being a parent is a learning process and parents will learn from their children almost as much as their children learn from them. Parenthood has a way of changing and maturing people and the way Daikichi grows as a result of Rin’s involvement in his life was a joy to watch. It’s really impressive the way each episode seemed to reveal another way in which being a parent had changed Daikichi and caused him to grow into a more complete person. Despite the importance of this idea, the show doesn’t beat you over the head with it. It’s present throughout the show and by the end you look back and marvel on the extent of the journey you’ve just gone on with Daikichi.
Another really strong theme in Usagi Drop is that of sacrifice. Again this isn’t something that the viewer is beaten over the head with via somebody dying for the sake of somebody else or anything that dramatic. Instead, we see this via a series of smaller changes Daikichi has to make in his lifestyle to accommodate Rin. That’s said, Daikichi does make some major changes in his life, such as changing his career path and quitting smoking. The point here is that the show doesn’t present these as astounding, unique things that Daikichi is doing for Rin’s sake but rather part of the natural progression of parenthood. Daikichi’s sacrifices, while significant, are not unique to him. Usagi Drop shows us that being a parent means that you are no longer going to be the focal point of your own life. Your own priorities suddenly become secondary to those of your child. It’s something all parents go through but something that isn’t often addressed in anime and something probably unfamiliar to anime’s mostly young viewership.
Another key strength of Usagi Drop is the realistic way that the character of Rin is handled. Young children can be difficult to write in a believable manner. Creating a character who has the immaturity of a child without making them annoying. Rin will make the foolish mistakes that a typical six year old would make while at the same time being good natured and kind enough that you don’t get mad at her. She displays brief moments of insight and maturity but she still feels like a child rather than an adult mind stuck in a child’s body. Having a young voice actress does a lot to help here. (Rin’s VA was 10 when the show aired) The realism in Rin’s character does a lot to help the viewer feel the joy of seeing her grow and mature bit by bit as the show progresses. This is key in a show that relies on the humanity of its characters in order to keep the viewer engaged with the events on screen.
This inherent humanity of Usagi Drop’s characters allows the show to deliver its messages in a subdued and serious manner. Anime is a medium that tends towards spectacle and general bombastic antics but Usagi Drop manages to stay incredibly grounded throughout its run. The show’s tone is always calm and measured and its look at parenthood is earnest and insightful rather than exaggerated. Usagi Drop isn’t overly idealistic either as we see in Daikichi’s aforementioned sacrifices as well as the negative reactions some of his coworkers have to them. Being a parent can be a struggle and Usagi Drop doesn’t shy away from this fact but it also makes it clear that it’s a worthy struggle that people are making every day.
Now not everybody is up to this task, which leads us to Rin’s mother, Masako. She is the closest thing Usagi Drop has to a villain. However, while she made some decisions that Daikichi (and the author) clearly don’t agree with, her portrayal makes it clear that she was not malicious in her intent. Her actions certainly come from a place of selfishness, but at the same time she had genuine reasons for them. Her reasoning probably doesn’t justify abandoning Rin the way she did, but once again the show doesn’t sensationalize her behavior or paint her as some terrible witch of a mother. Usagi drop actually has plenty of opportunities to fall into soap opera like melodrama with Daikichi’s relationship with Kouki’s mother as well as the fact that the entire story started because of a love affair between an old man and his “maid”. Instead of veering off in these more dramatic directions, Usagi Drop stays focused on its primary message about parenthood and the show benefits greatly from this focus.
On the whole, Usagi Drop is a fairly simple show with a simple message about unremarkable people. It’s important, however, not to mistake the simplicity of the show’s premise or the relatively mundane nature of its events to mean the show isn’t worthwhile. It’s the simplicity and subtlety of the delivery and the ordinary nature of the action on screen that makes Usagi Drop’s message all the more genuine. Usagi Drop’s story is one that almost has to be told in a simple unassuming manner and I can’t imagine a show being able to address the themes and ideas that Usagi Drop addresses in anything other than an extremely grounded manner. What makes Usagi Drop special, more than anything is the fact that it even exists. A show with an ordinary thirty-year-old protagonist that deals with the realities of raising a young child in a decidedly un-sensational way isn’t something that you typically see, especially in a medium like anime. Fortunately, we do have Usagi Drop to remind us that we don’t always need explosive conflict or major, world-shattering events to tell a compelling story. Sometimes it’s the little wonders we experience every day that make life worth living.