Before I rave again about how great this week’s Usagi Drop was, I think it’s worth pointing out yet again what a marvel NoitaminA is. They’ve given us so many great shows over the last few years – Sarai-ya Goyou, Shiki, AnoHana, Hourou Musuko… The list just goes on an on, and there hasn’t been a single season when at least one of the two show wasn’t among the very best of the season. I hope we don’t take for granted just how precious a commodity the NoitaminA block is.
With that said, this series is certainly another feather in the NoitaminA cap. In some way Usagi Drop is a very easy show to blog, and a very difficult one – for the same reason. It’s just good. Nothing cutting-edge or daring, just incredibly solid across the board. Every aspect of the series is admirable, from the writing to the casting to the animation to the music. I love all the characters and the premise is so full on simple profound emotional truth that only by trying too hard could Production I.G. and Kamei Kanta screw it up, and they aren’t screwing it up.
This was my favorite type of episode for this show – no big events or trauma, just wonderful interaction between the cast. It’s the first day of elementary school as the episode begins, complete with photographs and some nice interaction between Daikichi and Yutari (Kouki’s Mom). Many of the best moments, though, feature Kouki and his interactions with Rin and Daikichi. I really love this character, and the sense of authenticity he brings to an already very authentic series. Director Kamei has said he identifies with Kouki because his two children are boys, and between that and the strong performance from his child seiyuu (Sakai Noa) the irrepressibly impish spirit of the character is spot-on. I found myself yelling “Don’t run into the street!” as Kouki was dashing down the alley after breaking the potted plant, knowing full well what six year-old boys are capable of when rattled. Kouki’s antics also had me laughing out loud multiple times, especially where the whistle was concerned, and his on-screen chemistry with Rin is adorable. I like the budding relationship with Daikichi, too – and as Kouki’s father isn’t at home I think he’ll naturally bond with Daikichi as the story progresses.
As for our main characters, the focus was again on the small details that mean a lot. Rin’s discovery of sugary kids cereal, for starters, and I sense that Daikichi didn’t realize the peril inherent in that. Fortunately Rin, being a sensible girl, appears to favor rice balls over choco-bombs. If Daikichi is smart, he’ll play that up as much as possible. For the most part the focus was on the tradition of commemorative tree-planting, so popular in Japan. Daikichi’s idea to plant a tree to mark Rin’s first day of elementary was sweet (Rin quickly decides on a loquat seed, as she loves loquats), but she quickly glommed onto his memory of having a fragrant olive planted for him at birth to wonder whether she had any sort of tree planted for her. Fortunately Souchi thought of that even if Masako didn’t, and planted a tree for Rin – the same tree that was planted for Daikichi, fittingly enough.
The thing that I really loved about that quiet but powerful story is how, like so much in this series, it tied the whole family into the meaning and didn’t just focus on Daikichi and Rin. Daikichi’s Mom (a wonderful character in her own right) had a tree too, a tea olive like the one she planted for Daikichi’s sister Kazumi when she was born. Usagi Drop takes the long view of the family – a very Japanese view, I think. The family isn’t just the parent and child, it’s the grandparents and siblings and cousins that are involved in the dynamics of raising a family. Even if the person is passed on, their influence has not – it’s all connected in a long and unbroken chain that leads to this moment. Now that Daikichi has Rin, his relationships with his entire family living and dead have taken on new meaning for him. Both in practical terms – helping him raise Rin on his own – and in spiritual terms. His memories of his own childhood color his relationship with Rin and even Kouki, and he sees his parents, cousin Haruko, Kazumi and Souchi in a new light.
A nice touch – the addition of the “wall o’ cereal” to the ED. The ED animations have actually been changing every week to reflect the changes in the episodes themselves. A nice touch by I.G., who are doing their finest work in a long time here.