Usagi Drop Episode 5 – Motherly Love
Ever since Daikichi took Rin home, he has wondered about her mother. Throughout the previous episodes, he has been slowly piecing together information on her: she’s young, not much more than a girl herself, and was apparently his grandfather’s maid, which explains where an 80-year old man would have even met someone who could have borne his child.
Eventually, he gets a name, Masako Yoshii, and phone number. Although he doubts she wants anything to do with Rin, the temptation is too great. He has to schedule a meeting with her.
Masako, it turns out, is a manga artist who finally started to get noticed right as she became pregnant with Rin. She quickly decided not to think of Rin as her daughter, but was persuaded by the father to keep the child.
Although she grew attached to Rin after giving birth, Masako quickly gave up on parenting, the huge time demands and late night meetings that are part of making manga grew too much to be both a parent and an artist.
In many ways, Masako is clearly a foil for Daikichi—she is irresponsible where he is responsible, abandons Rin while he remains loyal, and appears detached and removed when he is loving. She seems perfectly aware of her faults—as she tells someone who appears to be her boyfriend right before the episode’s close, “I’m a waste of a human being”—but she isn’t willing to give up on her dreams in order to be a parent. It’s already been established that Daikichi has been willing to sacrifice for Rin, after he accepted a transfer away from a job he seemed to enjoy, making the contrast even more stark.
It’s easy for me to see this dichotomy as a commentary on the conflict between traditional Japanese social values versus modern ones. Daikichi and Rin (being partially raised by a man in his 80s) live in Japanese-style house (Rin’s father’s house is a particularly traditional example), eat Japanese food (Daikichi comments in a later episode that he doesn’t feel like cereal is a proper breakfast), and embody the ideals of familial honor and loyalty that are absent from nearly everyone else in the show.
Masako seems to favor western-style sweets and the brief glimpse of her apartment makes it seem fairly western, but her work is what makes this a poignant example: she is a single, working woman who gives up her child in order to focus on her career. She’s portrayed as an antisocial monster for this—and probably rightly so, considering the coldness with which she appears to cut Rin out of her life—but there seems to be a bit of social commentary about the dwindling Japanese population here.
We’ve written before about shows that aim to encourage otaku and the other people likely to watch anime to enter the dating pool and reproduce, and this seems to be another example, albeit a more subtle one than usual. But Usagi Drop, as a show that focuses almost entirely on making its young girl cute and endearing, while mainly glossing over the moments that make child-rearing a trying experience, seems tailor-made as propaganda for people intent on repopulating Japan.
“Just look at how cute this girl is,” they say. “If you get married and start a family, you could be around a sweet, adorable kid like this all the time.” Daikichi’s mother says as much when ranting about Masako: “Who would abandon such a cute little girl?” That’s right, young Japanese people—by putting your career ahead of bearing children, you are abandoning cute little girls like Rin to the fate of nonexistence. Time to get to work and start making babies!
Goodness knows I’m fine with any efforts to get chronically single Japanese young men and women to start dating, so that their grandparents don’t have to be taken care of by robots (or *gasp* immigrants), but the propagandistic aspects of Usagi Drop seem intimately tied to my least favorite aspect of the show: its overly rosy view of childhood.
I realize that adorableness is part of its charm, but sometimes I wish Rin was anything less than a sweet, precocious angel. We still have another episode before the most egregious example: a cliché so painfully lame that I believe I strained a muscle in my eyes from rolling them so hard, but it’s something that keeps popping up, one of the few blemishes against an otherwise excellent show.
I’ve barely even touched on what ends up being the main plot point of this episode—Daikichi deciding to officially adopt Rin—because in many ways it seemed like a foregone conclusion. As Daikichi makes very clear, after six months of taking care of her, it’s not like he’s going to give her away to someone else. Rin probably couldn’t take being abandoned by yet another parental figure.
The shocking thing is, Daikichi decides to ask Rin for her approval, and she turns him down. She wants to keep her last name, the same last name her real father had, and doesn’t want to replace that, or replace her real father with Daikichi. “Daikichi should just stay Daikichi,” she says, bringing a tear to his eye.
Those are weirdly mature ideas for a six-year old. It’s exactly the kind of cutesy precociousness that I’ve been complaining about. On the other hand, kids sometimes say weirdly mature things. Sometimes they even mean them.
And, it’s an incredibly affecting and touching moment. Which is really what Usagi Drop is all about. For that, it’s walking the same fine line between endearingly touching and overly precocious that most shows about kids ends up walking. To its credit, so far it seems more than capable of handling it.
You can watch the episode here.