|Bunny Drop (aka Usagi Drop)|
In this point in my career as an anime reviewer, I've seen quite a bit. I've written over 650 reviews. So far, my site has a total of 29 A+ ratings, equaling 4% of the total shows listed here. Considering that I launched The Anime Review in 1997 over 15 years ago, that means I've given out about two a year since I started reviewing. It takes real effort to get my top rank. And frankly, there's been a bit of a dry spell, 'cause the last A+ was handed out to Makoto Shinkai's masterful Five Centimeters Per Second...back in 2008. No wonder I've been feeling a little depressed about anime lately.
But I am very proud to award number 30 to Bunny Drop.
Bunny Drop is 11 episodes of beauty and laughter and heartache and love. That sounds cliché, I know, but it is among the most moving series I've ever watched. It is the spiritual descendent of the esteemed Takahata film Only Yesterday, opening a window on everyday life in such a way that it becomes magical. It is rich and insightful, mature without ever being profane or callous. It is a show that could be enjoyed by the young, but if you are a parent, it will simultaneously crack you up and devastate you. I can't think of a show that so often evoked both guffahs and deep tears from me without ever feeling manipulative. It's a keeper.
Grandpa is dead. That's the news Daikichi learns as the show begins. A hard worker who puts in incredible amounts of overtime for a clothing manufacturer, Daikichi's life revolves around the company, and he has little time to spend mourning. But when he arrives at Grandpa's home to meet with his family, he is surprised to find a young girl on the premises. Her name is Rin, a quiet wisp of a thing, and to everyone's shock and horror, she is Grandpa's illegitimate six-year-old child. Her mother has abandoned them. Something inside Daikichi stirs for her, though, and he is deeply angered when the rest of the family shows an incredible callousness to her plight, talking in whispers about shame and orphanages. In a sudden moment of frustrated clarity, Daikichi proclaims that Rin is coming home with him. Everybody's shocked, but perhaps no one more so than Daikichi himself.
Rin and Daikichi quickly form a quiet bond, but there are obstacles for a thirty-year-old who's never taken the time to contemplate a wife and children. He's got to figure out what school she needs to attend and how he can possibly cram his sixteen-hour workday in while still providing for her. They struggle together -- her with the loss of the man she really only knew as Grandpa rather than Dad, him with the loss of his once-predictable life. As Daikichi tracks down Rin's mom and tries to determine if this arrangement is going to be permanent, he finds himself more and more attached to the sweet little girl who begins to blossom under his care despite his mistakes and occasionally sharp and sullen tone. They are a great father/daughter combo...but can either of them see it?
Bunny Drop is all pastels and watercolors; at times it merges artistic styles seamlessly so it seems we're traveling between Rin's point of view and the real world. The picture is intentionally soft; while the Blu-Ray release from NIS America looks crisp and clear, this is not so much a detail show as it is one of beauty. Originally broadcast as part of the noitaminA block on Fuji TV -- a time slot dedicated to anime that appeals to those who aren't teen boys -- it is from top to bottom a class act, and that includes the music and animation. (The closing song, a Beatle-esque number, was well worth listening to over and over again, especially as the artwork under the end credits changes a little each episode.) You'll find no complaints here on that side of things.
But as enjoyable as the animation is, Bunny Drop shines in presenting realistic characters in realistic situations doing realistic things. You'd think it might prove boring, but it's anything but. Daikichi's internal monologue often shows up, and it's clear that he's clueless as a parent and desperately trying to figure out what to do. Rin is precocious for her age, likely a result of growing up around a much older adult, but she's also prone to wander and has a stubborn streak to match Daikichi's. They are funny together, but not in a sitcom way; instead, the humor comes naturally as part of their relationship. And the moments that break your heart aren't manufactured; I've known some of them as a parent myself. It's real, but better than real.
It struck me while watching Bunny Drop that slice-of-life shows have become very popular in anime circles the last few years. The difference between many of them and Bunny Drop, however, is the lack of quirks. For example, I enjoyed the recent show Working!! quite a bit. It cleverly got around some typical anime tropes such as the "hot springs" episode. Yet for all its moments of "real life," the characters were defined by their oddities. In many slice-of-life programs, the plot doesn't matter precisely because the players provide their own pathos.
But what's surprising about Bunny Drop is how normal everybody is. Daikichi is not secretly an anime fan or computer geek or anything else; his work and the obligatory drinking parties with work friends are his life, and there's little else. That, my friends, is reality for most 30-something adult men in Japan. Rin likes things every little girl likes, but other than being a little clever for her age, she's ordinary. Her unusual parentage would cause a few glances in Japan, but realistically, many of us around the world know of children close to us who are adopted or were raised by a grandparent. It makes for a few plot points, but ultimately, Bunny Drop is about the growing bond between Daikichi and Rin in the midst of a rather typical tragedy. It's refreshingly simple and honest.
But beyond all that, I'd say the thing I loved most about Bunny Drop is that it made me want to be a better dad. Any father or father figure can relate to the eventual pull Daikichi feels between his old life, where all he had to care about was himself, and his new life that requires significant sacrifices for Rin. Daikichi slowly but surely figures out that the sacrifices are worth it. The show celebrates the responsibility of adulthood, the joys and fears of parenting, and the love that can come from becoming more selfless. When so much of our culture promotes selfishness as a right, it's wonderful to see a show that honors altruism...even if it takes a while to learn.
With a beautiful package from NIS America that includes both BluRays and DVDs, there's nothing stopping you from picking up this delightful series. Even among my A+ ratings, I can think of only a handful of shows that are as much a pleasure to watch as Bunny Drop. I'm looking forward to showing it to my wife soon just to get the chance to spend some more time with these two. If there's a "can't miss show" of the last decade, this is it.
Editor's Note: Many shows based on manga suffer in comparison. However, it is only right for me to tell you that the manga of Bunny Drop is infamous for not only running off the rails following the material covered in the anime, but also driving off a cliff at 90 miles an hour into the screaming abyss with one of the squickiest endings found in a mainstream publication. I would strongly recommend you stick with the anime and forget the manga even exists. Consider it a public service announcement.