Usagi Drop (2011)
Format: TV Series, 11 X 24 minutes
Studio: Production I.G.
Director: Kamei Kanta
Score: 3 stars
Summary: A nice slice-of-life series that gets a little preachy at times.
Usagi Drop tells the story of 6 year-old Rin being adopted by a relative. This is where things get tricky. Rin is actually the illegitimate child of 70+ year-old Kaga Soichi. At his grandfather's funeral, 30-year-old single Kawachi Daikichi decides to take Rin in, after seeing the rest of the family argue over who should take care of her. So essentially... 6 year-old Rin was adopted by her 30 year-old nephew.
Daikichi sure knows how to connect with the kids
Early on, the story focuses on Rin and how she quickly adapts to being around Daikichi and her new school. She is definitely one of the strongest child character I have seen in anime, apart from the usual Studio Ghibli stuff. It's easy to pity her for the situation she is in, but that pity quickly turns into care and concern for her in a more parental fashion. Such is the power of a well-written character, voiced by a real child (more on that later) instead of a more grown up seiyuu trying to sound childish.
Daikichi spots Rin's mother
Since this adaptation had to work within the 11 episode limit of a typical Noitamina series, they wasted no time in introducing Masako, Rin's young mother. Most viewers will be disappointed by the lack of closure and explanation behind Masako's decision to abandon Rin. It's explored much more deeply in the later chapters of the manga, which didn't end up in the anime due to the limited run time. If you are in it for the story, I highly recommend you to read the manga (not the best out there, but still good) as the anime is just too light on content.
Kouki is voiced by an awesome young talent too. Loved his laughter!
But being light on content is what characterises a slice-of-life series. It's about the journey of growing up and cat-like curiosity of the things we take for granted. In that sense, Usagi Drop was a joy to watch. Light, but not too fluffy. Cute but never obnoxious. Interesting observations on the facts of life, but never too deep. If there's one flaw, it would be its preachiness. The show often emphasizes the sacrifice parents have to make for their children throughout the series, and even made that the ultimate message in the final episode. Surely they could have brought other issues to the forefront instead of just harping on a few?
Cute Rin is cute
The staff behind this production consists of mostly new talents. This is Kamie Kanta's TV anime directorial debut, having only directed the Tales of Vesperia movie back in 2009. Well OK, he's not exactly a noob, but it's rare to see someone jump into the directorial chair without having been a episode director. This was also Kishimoto Taku's first time being in charge of scripts and series composition. His only previous credit was "Production Assistant" on Studio Ghibli's Gedo Senki. With the backing of Production I.G.'s solid team of animators, these 2 managed to produce a really good looking show with a slow and gentle (but never boring) pacing.
Rin's -__-" face
What really impressed me though, was the quality of the voice work for all the children. Earlier this year, Hourou Musuko convinced me that children should be played by child actors. They add that extra dimension of believability. Usagi Drop takes this to a whole new level, with characters that actually sound like children and also act really well. 10 year-old Matsuura Ayu plays Rin with tons of cuteness and a touch of sarcasm. Not much is known about Sakai Noa, who plays Kouki with the right amount of cheekiness, but I'm willing to bet it's a young boy probably around Ayu's age.
I went into this series with high expectations for the drama, but it remained quite light-hearted throughout. More than anything else, this is a show about Daikichi discovering what it takes to be a father. Sometimes it's sad and brooding, and other times its light and fun. If you like slice-of-life shows, I highly recommend Usagi Drop. Just don't go in expecting drama or closure.
Note: It's been a while since I last blogged, and damn does it feel good to write again! Hopefully I will be able to do a few more reviews over the next 2 weeks as the season ends. It's very unlikely that I'll do a Fall 2011 season preview though.