DVD Review: Noitamina's USAGI DROP
Massive respect must be attributed to the forward-thinking Siren Visual for releasing Usagi Drop outside of Japan before the rest of the world does. They are ensuring Australia gets the long end of the straw here.
While I wait for the extremely anticipated part 2 of Siren Visual's When They Cry, I had the chance to check out the Usagi Drop anime series, based on the manga and following Sabu's feature film of the same name. Twitch anime legend Ard's review is here, but I really wanted to provide my thoughts on the series, and hopefully prompt some more due interest in it.
Usagi Drop is a no-fuss series about a thirty year old named Daikichi who goes through the motions of life as a single man by working, drinking and keeping to himself. All of this changes forever when he encounters six year old Rin at his grand-father's funeral. Quickly learning the serious nature of Rin's disposition and realizing the coldness of his other relatives towards her, he makes the reluctant decision to raise her under his wing. With no experience and a general sense of bewilderment Daikichi begins the long road to child rearing.
There really is no-frills with Usagi Drop and this is a wonderful thing. Slice of life is not a description one hears often regarding anime but Usagi Drop has nailed this notion. Its fluid and chronological narrative of Daikichi's journey is a humble and rewarding one. It is a gentle trip through an otherwise turbulent time in his life where change becomes the norm. His stable office job, his lifestyle and his cavalier attitude all come crashing down on him and organically he accepts that Rin is the priority in his life.
The nature of Usagi Drop is one emanating from an Ozu school of thought. Contemporary Japanese life, day by day and drama without the drama, unrestrained and unforced, it is beautiful to observe the melancholy and the elation. Side plots and progression of the mystery of Rin's past resurface but it is not typical genre exploitation, there is no fanfare or fireworks, only a proper handling of the situation so life can go on. Even this is not always the case and loose threads remain unresolved, much like real life. The pains of living and the joys of freedom, choice and consequence all hit home on a personal level and it is easy to relate in some way to what is happening on screen.
Usagi Drop tenderly embraces subjects of death, love and loss. Through Daikichi's interactions with Rin many life lessons are broached. Their relationship continues to be infectiously endearing and you begin to appreciate Daikichi's sacrifices for her when his good karma pays off and he meets Yukari, a divorced mother of Rin's classmate Kouki. They are presented relatively early in the series but their presence is in line with that of the original manga. Their purpose in the story is only touched upon as the series only captures half of the manga much to the chagrin of some. I am definitely in favor of this as all of the elements I have described above would cease to have impact as the second half's extremely heavy drama elements enter into it. So to reiterate these two characters are simply new encounters in the life's journey Daikichi is on. The potential for long-term relations with the beautiful Yukari is presented as a possibility, despite their encounters being messy and unresolved, feelings are not really concrete but their actions certainly signify something is there between them.
It has to be mentioned that assisting the storytelling process of Usagi Drop is the gorgeous animation that maintains the Noitamina moniker. Yes that's what this series belongs to and the above description does not really signify this; but these are adult elements at work and the almost experimental pastel hand-drawn and water colors on screen provide a unique viewing experience and in them is an exercise in minimalism on par with the contained nature of the plot.
Usagi Drop really is Daikichi's story; how he continues to live his life with this new challenge turns from burden to gift. Usagi Drop's 11 episode arc is an easy watch and I encourage elongating the series to a few episodes a day to truly appreciate the gentle nature of each one.
The Siren Visual release comes in a slip box and contains all of the episodes of the series over two discs. It also contains the delightful mini-episodes that were commissioned with each Japanese release (2-episode blurays and a mini-episode) it is a relief that Siren Visual did not push the series out in this way and we get the entire package.
As I conclude this review on a sunny but chilly Sunday afternoon, I am tempted to revisit the general warmth, understanding and simplistic beauty of the series and the way it touches on the human condition, I could not recommend Usagi Drop more. You can order these discs through Siren Visual's site (link).