Usagi Drop Episodes 10 and 11 – An End Has A Start
As winter comes, there are a lot more sniffles around the office where I work. I’ve had a sore throat the last few days, the lady in the office next to me spent the whole today clearing her throat constantly, and our office manager is once again going around telling the story of when our company was a lot smaller, and everyone in the office was sick or home with a sick child.
There are a lot of single mothers where I work, and they spend much more of their time off caring for sick children or taking them to the doctor than they take off for their own reasons. I’d never thought about it much, other than to roll my eyes at the extra work I’d have to do because one of them was home with a sick kid.
If you had asked me about it, I’d probably have agreed, purely on an intellectual basis, that being a single mother is substantially more difficult than just being single, or having another partner to help take care of children. Thinking about all the time and energy that went into taking care of you, you can kind of map that onto the average amount of free time someone who works a full-time job has on any given day, plus the additional expense of all the stuff kids need and want badly enough to whine about, and realize that working full time and being the sole caretaker of one child, let alone several, is a pretty tough job.
But purely in that respect, I wouldn’t have been able to say that I really had a good understanding of what it takes to be a single parent. I don’t really know any of the single parents at my work well enough to know anything about their lives outside work, and the few single parents I know outside work are too busy taking care of their kids to have much of a social life.
I certainly didn’t empathize with them, because I didn’t really understand what they were going through. But after watching eleven episodes of Usagi Drop, I feel like I kinda do, At the very least, I understand well enough to be less annoyed when they have to take off work right as things get busy, and more willing to pitch in and ease their workload, or listen to them talk about all the kid stuff that parents get excited about but everyone else just wishes they’d shut up about.
I’m probably more appreciative of parenting, in general, and realize that even though stuff other people’s kids do isn’t all that interesting to me, it’s of the utmost importance to them because they’ve poured so much of their time, money, and energy into making sure that their kid would even be able to do those things. It makes me grateful for my parents, too, and the wonderful if imperfect job they did of raising me, making everything up as they went along.
This isn’t some kind of earth-shattering epiphany, here; again, if you’d asked me what I’d thought about parenting, or my parents in particular, I’d probably have said the same thing four months ago. But it wouldn’t have had the same resonance it does now, because I wouldn’t have had the more intimate acquaintance with parenting that I’ve had from Usagi Drop.
It’s a weird claim to make, because I have no idea if Yumi Unita, the author of the original manga, has ever had children, or ever had to raise them, and I certainly don’t know if any of the staff making the anime adaptation have. I’ve complained throughout this show’s airing about the idealistic way it portrays parenting and childhood, and later on here I’m going to say some pretty negative things about Ms. Unita’s abilities as a writer. But Usagi Drop has still created that emotional connection, the appreciation for parenthood in all its forms, and the willingness to be empathic and understanding towards people in that situation. In that regard, based on my prior claims about its pro-parenting agenda, I feel like it’s a success.
These last few episodes deal with Daikichi coming to a similar understanding, albeit one much more intimate and personal. They deal specifically with the hardships single parents face regarding sick children, which is what prompted my realization, but also in general with the same blend of quiet struggles and pleasures that Usagi Drop has traded in for the nine previous episodes. In addition finally coming into his own as Rin’s guardian, Daikichi achieves some kind of balance between his own interests and the things he has to give up for her sake, and meets other parents in the same situation as he is, finding support in others who share his burdens.
He meets a group of fathers with children Rin’s age, extending his social circle of parents beyond his quasi-unrequited crush, Yukari, and allowing him to have a life outside work and Rin. If this series has been about Daikichi trying to come to terms suddenly with the burdens of parenthood, then Usagi Drop finishes skillfully here, tying things together in a way that not only brings the characters closure, but gave me at the very least an illusion of some deeper understanding of what it means to be a parent.
I don’t know if Yumi Unita has ever had children, or had to take care of them, but based on the way she writes her characters, I would be willing to be she is intimately acquainted with people who do, or did enough research, talked to enough parents to develop the understanding of parenthood she portrays here.
The window into someone else’s life that works like Usagi Drop provide is one of their greatest strengths. The stories they are telling are fiction, of course, but when told well, they incorporate enough of the actual human experience to provide insight into the realities of the lives they mirror, however imperfectly.
Usagi Drop might look on childhood and parenting a bit too fondly, but overall, it captures a truth of sorts about what it means to raise a child, and it does so charmingly. The show ably captures all the tiny wonders of children, with a warm and loving spirit, and the people who dedicate their lives to making sure those children always feel loved and cared for.
Given that so much of anime goes out of its way to isolate its teenage protagonists from their parents, it’s lovely to see an anime lionize mothers and fathers, even if it’s all a bit too much sometimes. Overall, though, Usagi Drop is the rare anime that should appeal to anyone, as long as they don’t mind how consistently adorable it is.
If that were the final story, then all would be well, Usagi Drop would have a happy ending. For all intents and purposes, the anime does, and it should remain that way.
However, the anime only reaches the halfway point of the manga that it (extremely faithfully) adapts. I had read that the manga skips ahead ten years immediately after the events of the anime. After enjoying the anime so much, I decided to check out the manga to see how it finished the story and whether or not it tied up the many loose threads left hanging at the end of the anime.
Reading the manga gave me a new appreciation for the anime, as it improved upon the manga in quite a few areas. The sharp direction and focus of the anime stood in sharp contrast to the manga’s awkward composition and sloppy artwork. Animation gives the artist a lot more tools to make characters come alive, but the script was quite the improvement over the manga. Daikichi’s character seemed more uneven and inconsistent in the manga, and there were a lot of tiny, character-developing moments that had been added outright in the anime, especially in the early episodes.
That might not seem like much, but Usagi Drop’s charm rests mostly on those tiny moments, and the way they subtly reveal its characters. Their absence made the manga feel slightly off, unfocused.
Those problems were there from the beginning, but they got much worse after the time skip. The more grown-up versions of Rin and Kouki were interesting, and more developed than the cuteness delivery vehicles they are as children, but they seemed as aimless as most teenagers, and the plot equally so. The first volume after the jump is dedicated to covering what has happened in the intervening ten years, but the answer is: not much. And the three that follow meander through threads left hanging ten years ago, with the only resolution a sense that old relationships were fading away.
That would be fine, and even poignant, but the manga is uninterested in giving them new ones, or explaining the motivations behind them falling apart. Instead, things just drift along until the final volume, where everything goes crazy and it becomes obvious that Unita has been making things up as she went along, and poorly, for at least the last five volumes.
I’m not going to explain what happens, or detail the psychological factors that make it extremely unlikely, or rant about how much about its characters it hastily rewrites, but in one volume Usagi Drop undermines everything it has said about parenting, and finishes with the most nonsensical, stupid, abomination of storytelling I’ve ever read in years of reading bad manga and watching bad anime.
It’s so bad that it tarnished my appreciation for the anime, made it hard to go back to it, knowing what the original author eventually made those characters do. It made me not want to write about the rest of the series, even though it’s been one of my favorite to cover for antiotaku.
But you don’t have to have that happen to you. Usagi Drop is a wonderful show, one that you should definitely watch. You can see it all for free here. Just don’t read the manga. Don’t do it. Even if you’re curious, don’t. It will ruin your appreciation of an otherwise excellent series.