Family, as far as relationships go, is in that strange limbo between loving and obligated. Most of your family you don’t get to choose (unfortunately), and despite differences there’s that ever present “bond” we see manifest at times. They fight and quarrel and love and take care. Well, usually.
It’s easy for things to get weird because of that obligation aspect. Your sister gets married or your cousin has kids. Suddenly, outside of your control, you have new family members. Now what? How should you feel about them? So many social conventions and expectations, cultural rules to navigate to even figure out how you’re supposed to act. And… what if the circumstances are unusual?
Daikichi’s grandfather dies and the family, many of whom have not seen each other in years, gather for the funeral services. It is there that most of them learn about Rin, their grandfather’s six year-old daughter. Yep, the old geezer had a child pretty late, and with a very young twenty-something mother to boot whose whereabouts are unknown. Most of the family is appalled and tension fills the proceedings over the obvious question of what to do with the girl. Send her off for adoption? One of them takes her in as an adoptive daughter? Try to find her real mother?
Usagi Drop deals with some fairly heavy subjects. Rin’s illegitimate status is very real; her existence is seen as a stain on the family, one that most of them wish to ignore completely. And yet, she is a real person, with feelings, not some lost hat. Daikichi, infuriated with everyone’s bickering and pettiness, impulsively decides to take her in with him.
The series does an amazing job of tugging your heartstrings with the little things. Early on, we see Daikichi attempt to abruptly adapt to being a father-figure. He’s lived alone thus far and is completely unprepared for taking care of Rin, beginning with what to do with her while he’s at work. Then what will she wear? Eat? So much of his routine is turned upside down. And let’s not forget that Rin is technically his aunt. What should she call him? Other people assume he’s her dad. It’s complicated, but touching to see them wrestle with these things.
Watching the two of them is by far the highlight of the series. Rin is cute, a little precocious, but still very much a kid. However, she’s never an annoying kid, which is a difficult line to walk successfully. Daikichi himself is a bit aloof and clumsy but means so well. As he reaches out to other coworkers and parents, trying to figure this all out, to be a proper guardian, you can’t help but to think about things too. About family, what it means to be a parent, and the sacrifices parents must make. What about single parents, like Daikichi? What about folks in a rocky marriage?
If you like subtle sweetness then you’ll be in for a treat. But don’t expect much in the way of drama or plot twists, this is almost strictly a character-driven series. It manages to avoid angst, instead delicately dealing with the serious topics. Even if you’re a jaded sumbitch it’d be hard not to spill your sympathies all over the place watching this. Anyone with kids of their own (or aspirations perhaps?) will be especially vulnerable.
By far the worst thing is its stunning lack of an ending. It just kind of stops. There is kind of a self-realization “climax” by Daikichi in the final episode, but, fitting the series’ subtle nature, it is more of a quiet acceptance about things. Even so, it will probably leave you aching for more. I know I was.
As of this writing, you can watch Usagi Drop for free on Crunchyroll. Highly recommended!