Friday, March 9, 2012

Video Backlog: “Usagi Drop”

Publisher: Siren Visual (Australia)
Format: Region 4 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 11 Episodes x 22 minutes
Production Date: 2011
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

When 30 year old bachelor Daikichi Kawachi goes home to attend the funeral of his grandfather, he sees a young girl in the front garden holding a bunch of bellflowers. He assumes it is the daughter of his cousin, but his mother informs him, much to his surprise, that she is Rin Kaga, his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter who is now six years old. As you can imagine the family is rather embarrassed by Rin’s existence. After the funeral, talk soon turns to Rin’s future care and wellbeing. Rin’s mother has flown the coup and no one even seems to know who she is, so the burden of caring for her has fallen back to grandfather’s family. All of the entire members of the family reject taking Rin in. Someone suggests that the only option is to put Rin in an orphanage. At this point, Daikichi’s sense of social justice, and perhaps his paternal instinct, kicks in. Much to everyone’s astonishment he announces that he will look after Rin.

And so Daikichi begins a steep leaning curve. What does he feed her? What clothes should he but her? How does he enrol her into nursery and primary school? There’s also the problem of work. He has to be able to drop Rin off at school in the morning and pick her up in the early evening. That means no more overtime or drinking with workmates afterwards. He also finds that his giving up smoking and drinking in order to care for her. Through Rin befriending a bratty boy named Kouki Nitani at the nursery, Daikichi becomes friends with his mother, the gorgeous Yukari Nitani. Being both single parents (she’s a divorcee) juggling work with the upbringing of their child, they both find common ground to form a strong friendship and consult each other on raising children. Though Daikichi wishes their friendship would become cosier, he feels uncomfortable pushing things. But Daikichi has other things to worry about, such as Rin getting sick, the reappearance of her mother and his cousin leaving her husband and showing up on his doorstep.

This is yet another in Siren’s noitaminA series of releases. For a number of years now, Siren has taken a lot of risks with the material they release. Not only at the more extreme end of the scale with schlock like the various 1970’s Italian cannibal genre films and various hentai titles (all of which have had problems with Australian censors and religious morality groups), but also titles like these that you would think would be incredibly niche inside the already niche and tiny anime market in a small market like Australia. The only thing I think which makes a title like this worthwhile for the company is probably a low licencing fee. Otherwise why would they bother with sub only animation release of a show where a thirty year old bachelor raises a six year old kid? Despite the very odd premise, this show knocked the socks off the western anime audience. It’s even in ANN’s top ten anime currently. The show is most certainly heart-warming. Rin is incredibly cute and I think my paternal switch went into overdrive in certain episodes in this show. It’s great to see break out of her shell in the wake of the death of her carer, Daikichi’s grandfather (which makes Rin his aunt) into a very inquisitive and creative six year old. The two other children who appear in the show, Kouki and his cousin’s spoilt daughter, are monsters in comparison.

Interestingly the manga was published in a josei manga anthology and written by a female mangaka (Yumi Unita). Considering Rin and Daikichi’s journey together, one can only wonder if Unita has children herself. I fully understand that this series is meant to be a light hearted slice of life show, but hardly anything remotely threating rocks their world. Despite Daikichi transferring to a less intensive role (with his workplace amazingly agreeing to a transfer – something which doesn’t always work out in the real world, especially in non-government workplaces), oddly money seems to be no issue. Strange, as one would think children would increase household spending dramatically for Daikichi. There’s also his sudden shift from bachelorhood to being a single parent. It’s shown as an incredibly smooth transition in “Usagi Drop” (well, relatively smooth), while in real life I doubt this would be the case. The other parents shown in the show also play “happy families”, even those who are one parent families. I just felt this wasn’t exactly a realistic view of parenthood in a modern world. Everything is so damn flowery and upbeat. Daikichi never, ever chastises Rin, nor does she do anything “naughty” as such. It’s so sugary at times it’s sometimes slightly cringeworthy. But this only happens for a couple of brief moments in the show. I also had problems as with Rin’s mother. I’ve seen her described as intelligent and independent, but in the anime at least she’s childish and extremely self-centred, caring more about her career than anything else, including her daughter.

The artwork is fantastic (the animation was by Production I.G) with an emphasis on a water colour type backgrounds and to a degree animation, though as episodes progress most have standard colouring for the animation itself. The show only chronicles the first arc of the manga which essentially is Daikichi and Rin’s first year together. I understand that at the end of the manga it’s a little less innocent than earlier chapters (a spoilerish hint; it gets a bit Woody Allen in the end), but this anime is completely free of any hints of what is to come. It’s very chaste and sweet and thoroughly deserves its PG rating. Though due to the ending of the manga, I’m really surprised that the loony moral conservatives (i.e. Tankard Reist and her cohorts) haven’t tried to conflate the two and proclaim that this show is child sexual abuse and attempt to have the show banned in Australia. Nothing would surprise me anymore. Why can’t these people fuck off and leave society alone? If I wanted that shit I’d move to Singapore. Turning to the disc, yes Siren has included all four mini episodes that were included on the Japanese BD and DVD releases. That’s pretty amazing as the last one only came out in January this year. I think this is the shortest time an anime has made it from broadcast/home video release in Japan to DVD in Australia. Anyway, to sum up, I didn’t quite like it as much as that majority of fandom did, but I’ll still give it a solid 7.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 28 months (it's much easier this way than listing the number of discs).

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