Okay, Cajun Samurai here, and we’re going to be doing something a little different for the month of December. Instead of focusing on three or so anime series, I decided that for this month, I would focus on the one series that won the “Best Overall Anime” award on this blog for 2011 and review that series one episode at a time–giving due attention to all the little facets that made the anime awesome in the previous year. [I know that in the “My Neighbor the Yamadas” review, I said I would be reviewing “FLCL” in the same manner, but due to the extremely complex nature of these kind of episodic reviews, and the fact that my internet connection has been up and down for the last month, I’ll have to save it for another month…I am so sorry guys!] To start off, we’re going to take a detailed look at the first episode of what has to be THE cutest anime to come out the 2011 season. “Usagi Drop” captured the hearts of viewers and held it tight for twelve episodes. While, granted, the manga did not end in quite the way that ANYONE could’ve EVER expected, the anime, on the other hand, gives you much to love without question. So, with that’s being said, let’s take a look at Episode One of “Usagi Drop”!
The episode starts with a blurred image of a tall man and a little girl walking hand in hand. We don’t see who these two figures are as they are in silhouette. Alas, it is all but just a dream [Isn’t it always? I’m looking at you “Dallas”!] and we see our male lead Daikichi waking up to answer a phone call from his job. Thanks to some inner monologue action, we learn that Daikichi’s maternal grandfather passed the other day at 70 years old. He ponders this dream as he goes about getting ready for his day, naturally assuming that the girl and the man in his dream was his grandfather and his mother. During the trip to the family home for the funeral services, he thinks about his deary departed grandpa, commenting that during the last few years, he had not had much contact with other members of the family. Eventually Daikichi arrives at the house and locks eyes with a long-haired little girl about six years old. She doesn’t say anything to him… She just runs off. After Daikichi greets his mother, he inquires about the young girl, thinking that it’s its cousin Haruko’s young daughter Reina. Mom then lowers the boom: The kid is actually grandpa’s illegitimate daughter. [Not bad for a 64 year old man…not bad at all. Kinda reminds me of the last scene in the Korean movie “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman”, which, by the way, is one of my favorite movies of all time if for no other reason than this scene. I HIGHLY recommend it! ] As for the baby mama, identified by the little girls birth records as Masako Yoshii, she is currently MIA. Obviously this amuses Daikichi to no end: this little six-year-old girl is, for all intents and purposes, his mother’s little sister… and his aunt. [Wow… That’s some Jerry Springer meets Maury Povich stuff, right there…] Later, the rest of the family is introduced including Reina, a hyperactive little brat around the same age as the other little girl, whom we learn is named Rin. As the family gets prepared for the funeral services the next day, Daikichi and Rin meet up several times, with Rin only saying one or two words. The next day, the family pays their final respects and say their last goodbyes to Grandpa by laying white flowers on the body in the casket. Rin is in attendance, but the family simply ignores her… All except for Daikichi. He leads her over to the casket to lay a white flower on Grandpa, but Rin wants none of that. She runs out into the yard without bothering putting on her shoes and picks violet Bellflowers from the garden. [It should be noted that the Japanese for Bellflower is “Rindou”]. Rin lays the flowers on the body and finally states the sad truth out loud… that grandpa was not going to wake up. Daikichi gently confirms this, and Rin begins crying, clutching Daikichi’s arm. Later that day, after the family returns from cremating grandpa, they discuss what is to be done with Rin, NEVER referring to her by name or even acknowledging she’s within earshot. Nobody seems to wanna take on the burden of raising the child… Especially an illegitimate lovechild whom nobody is even 100% certain really is grandpa’s. This frustrates Daikichi causing him to make a decision. He goes out into the yard where Rin is, calls out to her by name [Something nobody has done during this whole time…] and asks her a simple question: “Wanna come home with me?” Without a word, and to the shock and horror of the family, Rin runs towards Daikichi. The scene changes, and it’s now the next day back at Daikichi’s home. Rin wakes up next to Daikichi and proclaims in her gentle voice, much to his horror “Old Man, I’m hungry.” Of course, Daikichi fixes her some rice and other things for breakfast. After finishing a bowl, Rin asks for more to fix an onigiri [Rice ball]. After delicately rolling the hot rice in her hands and feeding it to Daikichi, and upon hearing his approval, Rin finally smiles and the episode wraps up. [Ow… My heart… So many feels…]
Okay, so let’s get this out the way; the overall premise of this story is…well…unique. And that’s a good thing…in fact, it’s an awesome thing! And it’s a completely probable situation as well. The first example I can think of is the radio personality Garrison Keillor; he was 55 years old when he became a father and he’s currently 70 years old now. So it’s not completely unthinkable that Daikichi’s grandfather would be able to sire a child. The problem is, as was made sadly aware in this episode, how long would one be around in the child’s life. This episode actually brings that sad truth to light. This is what I admire about this show; it’s not ashamed to bring the realism of life, pleasant or not, to the forefront of the characters lives. As far as first episodes go, this one is one is direct and to the point: it sets up everything you need to know without beating around the bush and establishes the relationship threads between Daikichi and Rin. When you have a series that’s at or under twelve episodes, getting to the point of your story and setting up the overall theme quickly is essential. “Usagi Drop” does this well, but it doesn’t feel rushed at all. It’s a very well done premiere episode and leaves the viewer wanting more.
From this episode, there are two scenes that stick out to me as my favorite. The first is when, after the funeral, while Daikichi is lost in his own thoughts, Reina comes up to him and starts hitting him on the head with her teddy bear. The little brat then starts screaming that Rin is weird because she doesn’t talk and still has her baby teeth. [Even though Reina clearly still has hers…] Daikichi clearly gets fed up with the girl, grabs a fist full of sweets and shoves them to the little girl saying, in short, “Here! Take these and GO AWAY!” Haruko, Reina’s mom, detecting that Daikichi is going to smack this girl into the next episode, drags a stunned and delighted Reina off. I found myself laughing and thinking “Yup. I would’ve done the exact same thing. Good man.” My second favorite scene is immediately afterwards when the family is trying to decide what to do with Rin, talking about her more like a stray puppy than a human being. Daikichi silently gets up, sets his teacup on the table to silence the family, then he goes to the front porch and calls out to Rin by name to ask if she wants to live with him. That was a very powerful moment to me because it shows just how much he respects and cares for this little girl; that he calls her by name and asks her what she wants to do. It also sets the tone for how their relationship will proceed throughout the series; not quite father and daughter but something closer than guardian and ward.
The animation for “Usagi Drop” puts me in the mind of my last review “My Neighbors the Yamadas” in that it sometimes uses very soft watercolors. This is really noticeable in the opening teasers for all episodes after this one. It’s nice and adds to the soft and gentle feeling of the overall story.
The opening theme is “Sweet Drops” by PUFFY. As in Puffy AmiYumi… As in “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” … Yeah, when I first heard that the originators of the freakishly catchy “Teen Titans” theme song did the opening for “Usagi Drop”, I was very pleasant amused! “Usagi Drop” is really trying to amp up the cuteness factor by having the coolest female J-Pop bands perform the opening song which is played over what can only be described as a child’s cartoon drawing come to life… It’s weird, but in some strange part of my mind, it works! The end theme, “High, High, High” by Kasarinchu is very heartwarming and nice… It really evokes father/daughter imagery, if that makes any kind of sense whatsoever. It goes really well with the same child like drawings as found in the opening. The incidental music is nice and gentle and fits the scenes very well… But part of me is afraid that as the series goes on, I’ll get tired of it… Ah well, we shall see…
Sadly, this production is only available in Sub-Only format. If memory serves, it was caught up in the whole Bandai Licensing fiasco earlier this year. It’s a crying shame really as I have some really good ideas on who I would like to play certain roles [A topic I’ll get into later]. In any case, the Japanese cast is more than sufficient…in fact, one might say, they are the best freaking group of actors gathered for an anime production since “Fullmetal Alchemist”. Let’s focus this time around with our two mains for this episode, since they’re the ones we hear the most of. Playing Daikichi is Hiroshi Tsuchida. Honestly, I haven’t heard many of the roles he’s played in, but as far as I can here, so far, he’s doing an awesome job with our single father. It really is enjoyable to listen to his voice play the different emotions Daikichi shows in this first episode, my favorite being the moment he finds out who Rin’s father is. Moving on, we have the adorable Ayu Matsuura as Rin. Honestly, I have nothing on her which leads me to believe she is not only a newbie to the world of voice acting, but she’s also an age-specific actress. Seriously, every time Rin says something, my heart just melts. Her voice is just too freaking adorable! I’ll comment on the other actors and actresses as the show goes on in subsequent reviews, but suffice it to say, so far, so good!
Coming up next: we take a look at Episode 2: “Pinky Swear”! How will Daikichi manage to balance his job and take care of Rin? What sacrifices is he willing to make for her sake? Can Rin possibly get any cuter? We’ll find out!