Review: "Bunny Drop": The Simple Joy of Young Life
A young girl’s father dies. Her mother’s whereabouts are unknown. A relative takes her in. This is the beginning of the story, with the twist that the young girl is actually the relative’s half-aunt. Thirty-year old Daikichi has stepped up to be the guardian of six-year old Rin, who is the daughter of his grandfather and an unknown woman. Can Daikichi become the father Rin needs, or is it better for Daikichi to just be Daikichi?
Bunny Drop (a literal translation of “Usagi Drop”, if you’re looking for an explanation) is a surprisingly successful story from Japan. In all media, the story’s the same as above. It’s garnered a comic book, a live-action movie, a DLC for the Japanese release of Touch My Katamari! (sadly, not released in America), and the animated series we’ll be reviewing here. If you want the longest story, go read the comics. (Although many report being unhappy with where the comic goes in plotting, it’s still supposedly a solid story). The animated series, as described as above, doesn’t stray too far from that concept. It covers the first year of Rin living with Daikichi, and all the troubles and joys that come from it. There’s no high concept, there’s no absurdities that require it be animated rather than live-action, and all the characters and events are realistic: no green-haired space babes fly in the window to save the secret daughter of an ancient civilization. In fact, much of this story has probably happened to people somewhere in the world.
The story starts out simply enough: An old man dies. Daikichi, a grandson, goes to his house where the family is meeting and planning his funeral. The family is all hushed about a surprise they’ve discovered: Grandpa had another daughter. A five-year old girl is running around the house, a little shy and awkward around all these people that she’s never met (the series thankfully never answers the question whether the little girl was the one to find the body). Daikichi offers kindness to the girl, learning that her name’s Rin. The funeral goes on as planned, with the family leaving flowers on the body. Daikichi tracks down Rin, who’s been avoiding it all, and encourages her to participate. Since she knew the old man better than the rest of the family, she pulls out certain flowers from the yard, ones she knows he’d like, and while not knowing it at the time, says her goodbyes to him. With the body buried, things turn to more mundane tasks: who gets what, what to do with his house, and what to do with this girl. With everyone immediately jumping to an orphanage or shrugging any responsibilities to this “unwanted kid”, Dakichi steps up and says he’ll take her in. He’s a 30-year old with a stable job and a house, and while he’s not even dating at the moment, he can’t bear to see this sweet, shy girl get tossed on the streets because nobody can be bothered.
Rin goes home with Daikichi, and much like the flowers her father loved, slowly blooms and blossoms, opening up to Daikichi. Initial fears that she might be slow or behind are quickly allayed when she joins a preschool, interacts with kids her own age, and even begins to accept her new life with Daikichi. She’s at a cautious age where things are starting to take root; she rationalizes that “auntie” is actually her half-sister (but still calls her “auntie”), “Grandpa” was her dad (but she still calls her “grandpa”), and that Daikichi is Daikichi. One of the series earliest, most heartbreaking moments is when Rin asks a question no adult ever wants to face: “Am I going to die one day too?”
Rin’s a kid, but she’s not a baby. She’s inquisitive, she’s got her own style (even if it’s culled from her technically-half-niece’s children’s clothes and a manner that arises from being raised by a septuagenarian), and she quickly grows from silent wonder to talkative motivator. The series is told fully from Daikichi’s point of view, stylistically never letting the viewer into Rin’s head (much like an adult has no idea what’s going on in a child’s brain). The story never strays too far from the general issue of how a 30-year old man must raise a little girl: he doesn’t know how to buy her clothes, what food she eats, how many shots she’s had, how to enroll her in school, and so forth. Help comes soon from a coworker with a toddler, but the real strength Daikichi finds is in a single mother of a boy in Rin’s class. Kouki, the boy, is nothing more than a young Daikichi, but “Kouki’s mom” is a strong woman in the same situation as Daikichi, trying to raise a bundle of energy and life on her own.
Much like a child growing up, the series moves way too fast. This isn’t a bad thing; each episode effectively roughly covers a month of their life together, but there’s only 11 episodes to enjoy and appreciate. This series could have easily become a long-running (or even just a 26-episode) series that would cover more ground, more time, and more events. This expediency in the story is a shame, as you’ll see worse series get full 26-episode pickups, but much like other shows on noitaminA, it is short, sweet, and leaves an impact. (Another noitaminA series, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, openly made this reviewer cry–not manly tears, but little-girl bawling).
NIS America hasn’t disappointed with their special features and premium sets outside of one flaw, but we’ll forgive them: the series they release are so niche that an English dub would be out of reach. Would I love to hear this in English? Of course, but I understand (and will accept) a sub-only release over no release. There’s an accompanying art book (smartly titled “Rin’s First Year” after an in-story plot point) that features character designs, costumes, interviews, an episode guide, and more. It’s a short read in one sitting, but rounds out the set nicely. On-disc, there’s one non-subbed trailer for the series, and a handful of short bonus episodes that focus on events for a little bit, not to continue the story or fill in holes, but just tell new short tales. The Blu-ray looks great, and from quick glances, the DVD looks fine as well.
Bunny Drop is nearly a perfect series, and this is nearly a perfect release. It may have flaws, such as the lack of a dub, the fact that many ancillary characters are more plot-points that people, large swaths of time are skipped, and the watercolor-style isn’t used enough. But it’s like your own child: there may be scrapes, bumps, and scratches, and they might even jam peanut butter in the CD player, but you’ll love them regardless.