Considering the almost perfect run of understated brilliance Usagi Drop has been on, I’m not going to begrudge a little self-indulgence in the penultimate episode. It does serve to point up a problem that I hope doesn’t afflict the finale, though.
While this was an enjoyable episode on the whole, for the first time in a long time it suffered from the one flaw that has occasionally shown itself – it was a bit overdramatic. I know I’ve said it, but I believe in the strongest possible terms that this show is at its best when it takes the material on in as low-key a manner as possible. If that’d been applied here in a sort of slice-of-life story about a sick child, I think it would have been more effective. In fact Daikichi’s overreaction to his first run-in with Rin being sick could have been played for some gentle humor, and it would have served to lighten the mood of the episode. In fact one of my favorite moments of the ep was seeing Daikichi so thrilled to make new “Daddy friends“, especially as there was so little else in the episode to brighten the mood.
As it was, though, this was all a bit heavy-handed – and that’s the worst face Usagi Drop has shown us so far. The music was too dramatic, loud, and insistent. There were too many languid close-ups of Rin’s flushed face. Yukari was a bit too angelic in her mother-of-mercy mode, which is a particular shame as it would have been nice to see her fully shed her cloak of insecurity and assert herself as a calm, responsible parent. As it was, she at least gained some credibility as a veteran of the childhood illness game, where Daikichi – quite understandably – suffered in comparison. Fundamentally, this was a story of a kid with a virus – stressful and inconvenient, but quite normal and no big deal. The tone was just a little off and the whole thing was handled with too much gravity. And with this show, lighter is always better than heavier.
That’s why I’m a little worried about next week, because as we all know “finale” conjures to mind images of drama, conflict and heavy emotion – even comedies go that route a lot of the time. I don’t think a traditional finale will work well for Usagi Drop, and I hope it goes for the lighter style of the earlier eps with an open-ended conclusion. What we know, of course, is that the manga continued on so much farther that there’s no way the anime could follow its lead. We know there was a time skip, and we know the ending in the manga was quite controversial with the readers. I don’t know what that ending was and don’t want to know until I choose to read it, but it seems the anime is almost surely going in another direction. Perhaps it will “end” where the pre-skip portion of the manga ended, or perhaps it will generate an anime-original ending. Perhaps this will even be the rare NoitaminA that, like Honey and Clover and a few others, gets a sequel.
The hints in this episode are that the last episode is going to go deeper into the Daikichi-Yukari route, which is fine with me if handled well – it seems like a very interesting angle to take, and the scenes of the two parents and their kids together are consistently wonderful. Yukari was certainly a major presence here, helping Daikichi get through a difficult few days – even Kouki showed his responsible side (and how much he cares for Rin). And for his part Daikichi is clearly becoming both more comfortable with Yukari – as witness the hand on the shoulder at the culture festival – and more attached to Kouki, as witness the cheek-pinch and the casual admission that he “doesn’t think of Kouki as just another kid”. In boy-speak that means a lot, and the revelation at the end of the ep that Yukari was bedridden with Rin’s infection implies that Daikichi and Rin will be spending time at the Nitani house helping mother & son cope.
I’ve come to like these characters so much and the series has done such a beautifully restrained job handling the premise for 9 episodes that it was impossible for me not to enjoy this episode, or to be too upset that things went a bit off the rails. Nothing that could happen now could derail the lasting affection I have for the show, and the respect I have for the job Production I.G. has done with this adaptation – even if they screw up the ending, my overall feelings will still be overwhelmingly positive. That said, it would sure be a lot better if they nail it next week. Here’s hoping…