Home > Episode Reviews, Usagi Drop > Usagi Drop Episodes 7 – Final Straw

Usagi Drop Episodes 7 – Final Straw

One thing interesting about watching anime is how familiar the values and ideals expressed in it often are. While watching the product of a different (and, in the case of most anime, non-mainstream) culture is one of the style’s main draws for me, most of the time when what I’ve watched has sharply contrasted with my own beliefs, it’s been because the show is unabashedly focused on the sexual desires of lonely otaku, or because it’s just terribly, terribly written.

It doesn’t often happen in drama shows, or shows that aren’t otherwise flawed in other ways that make the dissonance easy to write off. That’s part of what makes this episode so jarring.

Most of the episode is a series of extended conversations between Haruka and Daikichi, so I had to get creative with the screen caps. Consider yourself warned

I’ve written before about the conservative, pro-family views of the people making Usagi Drop, to the point that it often seems like propaganda to get young Japanese men and women less interested in work and more interested in making babies. In this episode, though, it shows a different side to the ideology behind that stance, including something that would undoubtedly be controversial if it came out of American television.

Haruka Maeda hasn’t been in the show since the first two episodes. She is Daikichi’s cousin, and the mother of Reina, the bratty little girl who seemed to be in the first episode solely to be an obnoxious foil to the angelic Rin (those scenes were mostly absent from the original manga, which confirms my suspicions).

She comes back in episode 7 on Daikichi’s doorstep, with Reina in tow and a bag full of their clothes and other stuff. She tells Daikichi that she is running away.

Haruka comments that this is the first time she's been able to drink in years, without caring what anyone thinks of her

Haruka has been living with her largely absent husband and his parents for years. He is too distant and absorbed in work to show her or Reina any affection, so she turns her attentions to caring for Reina and doing housework.

In this her in-laws criticize her constantly, making it clear that they control the purse strings and sniping at her incessantly. She has tried to bear it for years now, locking away her emotions away in order to ensure Reina has a safe, stable place to live, until finally she can’t take it anymore, and has to do something, anything. So she runs to her cousin’s house, presumably since he’s the only family member she knows with a young kid.

The neglected, disaffected housewife is a staple of Western cinema and TV, an inspiration for both nuanced character studies and histrionic melodrama, as well as the kind of female empowerment films that hold zero interest for someone of my gender, but nonetheless seem enormously popular.

Daikichi is incredibly nervous about Kouki's mom seeing him with Haruka, considering there's nothing going on between them

And they’re popular for a reason: because the feeling of being abandoned, emotionally or literally, by someone you’re dependent on for support is a very real fear for women who dedicate themselves to childrearing. To devote your life to something, only to have the only person (or people) who could appreciate it completely ignore you, has to be heart-wrenching.

That’s why, when this subject is raised in Western media, it’s usually clear the maintaining the status quo is not acceptable. A person’s existential satisfaction is something that has intrinsic value, at least to that person, and it’s their responsibility in life to work for it. So if their current situation is leaving them dissatisfied, then it needs to change.

If not handled sensitively, though, this can come off horribly selfish, particularly if the family is sympathetic. The woman ends up neglecting her family for her own selfish ends, and, ultimately, becoming no better than the person who supposedly abandoned her.

Rin isn't a prominent figure in this episode, but that doesn't mean it's entirely free of adorable moments

It’s a cruel truth, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the sake of one’s family. It’s one of the basic facts about parenthood, and it seems to be one of the guiding themes of Usagi Drop. Based on that, the way the episode plays out should not surprise you.

It basically amounts to Daikichi telling her she needs to go back home, and Haruka admitting that she just needed a temporary break from her house and that dreaming of being free of her tormentors was a foolish dream, since she can’t work and take care of Reina all by herself. On the surface, it seems like exactly what I wanted: the woman sacrificing her own happiness for the sake of her children. So why did I find it so unsettling?

First off, it’s not a situation that would ever occur in a Western treatment of the issue. Like I said, the status quo can’t continue. Even if it means the woman accepts her fate and stays with her family, some progress is always made, or something learned. To just return to the way things were negates the entire reason for the story’s existence.

Haruka seems pretty impressed/shocked that Rin helps cook breakfast. It does kinda seem like the late-rising Daikichi is using her for labor

It’s horribly unsatisfying that Haruka just resigns herself to misery, and doesn’t seem to make any effort to change it. This is partly because she’s powerless to fight her in-laws without risking negative consequences, but if things are dire enough to run away, then she should be willing to fight.

The only closure we’re given is her realizing she’s grown stronger from having to put up with her miserable situation, and better at bottling up her emotions away from everyone. Daikichi compliments her for getting stronger, for going from the little girl who used to cry when she got picked on to the adult she is now. But really, that’s treating the symptom rather than the disease. Haruka is still getting picked on, she’s just learned not to cry. Her life hasn’t gotten any better, she’s just figured out how to make sure no one ever knows how much she’s suffering.

Being away from the house gives Haruka lots of time to wander around and think about how hopeless her existence is

Instead of giving us any kind of conclusion or progression to Haruka’s issues, it mostly serves to make Daikichi seem even more awesome for being willing to work a full-time job and take care of Rin. Which is fine, but that’s been the core message of every episode so far.

I’m all for recognizing and appreciating the huge sacrifices single parents make, and the hardships they have to endure for their children, but the single parent triumphalism here is getting a little tiring. There are a lot of facets of parenting and dealing with life, work, and family that the show has yet to explore. It’s strange that a show so well-made, with such life-like characters, would end up beating the same drum week after week.

I’m not doing a very good job of keeping up with the show, am I? It’s hard when I only write one post a week, and every episode has something worth writing about. That’s the sign of a good show for me, but hopefully I can wrap this up before the next season really kicks into gear.

You can watch this episode here.

  1. threeheadedmonkeys
    September 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I didn’t have the same negative reaction to this episode that you did, I think in part because the show does assign some blame to Haruka’s husband for spending too much time at work and not enough at home. Haruka’s a bit put out that he did get off work early (read: on time) the night he came to pick them up, but that possibly is a signal that the shock of her leaving was enough to convince him to take his fathering duties more seriously. Or maybe I’m just being optimistic toward the situation?

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