Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bunny Drop Review


"Rin! Wanna come home with me?"

Bunny Drop is an 11-episode anime produced by Production I.G., based on a manga by Yumi Unita. It first aired in 2011 and is currently licensed by NIS America. The manga is available from Yen Press. A live action film adaptation was released in Japan in 2011, but it has not been officially released in the West to my knowledge.

30-year-old Daikichi Kawachi isn't particularly saddened by his grandfather's death. He heads out to the funeral, expecting to see his family for the first time in awhile and say his goodbyes, and then be on his merry way. He certainly wasn't expecting to meet Rin, his grandfather's six-year-old illegitimate daughter, but over the course of his stay he quickly warms up to her. After the funeral, the discussion turns to who'll take care of her, and no one else seems to want her, treating her almost like a stain on their family history to be wiped away and forgotten. For reasons even he doesn't completely understand, Daikichi decides to step in and take her home himself. As he and Rin learn more about one another, Daikichi's comfortable everyday life changes much faster than he ever could have expected. Through all this, he quickly learns how difficult it is to raise a child, and just how rewarding it can be.

Slice of life is generally a tricky genre to get right. When I say slice of life, I don't mean those dime-a-dozen high school comedies the industry has become oversaturated with as of late. Rather, I refer to series that find something meaningful to explore through the small conflicts of commonplace events. All too often, attempts at this genre come off as either excessive and unnatural or dull and listless. It stands to reason, then, that the best shows of this kind are the ones that introduce unfamiliar elements that make these characters' lives distinct from our own, while still staying in touch with the little aspects of ordinary life that make people who they are. Bunny Drop is one such work, and it executes this beautifully. It's a small, unambitious story about ordinary people but it carries itself with a certain measure of refined dignity that's rarely seen in anime in general, let alone the slice of life genre. It has genuine insight into parenthood, but it never talks down to its audience and you don't have to be a parent to get behind the story. This is quite honestly one of the most accessible anime I've ever seen.

The staff of Production IG handled this show with the sort of nurturing care rarely seen in a slice of life anime, which usually tend to get the short end of the stick production-wise. Backgrounds are surprisingly detailed, colors are warm and rich, and even when the character models go into super-deformed mode (which happens often) movements are fluid and quality control remains excellent. Of particular note are the opening segments of each episode, which are animated in a soft crayon-esque style reminiscent of a children's storybook. That's to say nothing of the charming character designs. Every character is distinctive in an understated way that isn't too far-removed from reality. Family members really do resemble one another (which is especially great since this is a show about family), but not to the point that they could be called carbon copies. The children are cute without defaulting to an overly moe-fied style as Japanese animation is wont to do. This is a spectacular visual effort that sets the tone for the show perfectly.

The music is mostly comprised of low-key string pieces, and can best be described as charming for its gentle, sincere simplicity. It can get a bit repetitive, a good portion of the soundtrack is comprised of several different instrumentations of the same basic piece, but perhaps due to the series' short length it never wears out its welcome. I've seen longer anime get away with worse, so really I have no complaints.

There's one thing about anime voice acting in Japan that makes it perfectly suited to this kind of show, and that's their willingness to fill their child roles with real children. It does happen in the States occasionally (Aaron Dismuke as Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist comes to mind immediately) but it's not nearly as common. Rin, her friend Kouki, her cousin Reina and several minor child characters are all played by age-appropriate voice actors, which makes them sound genuine as only real children can. Ayu Matsuura in particular does a great job as Rin, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear more from her in the years to come as she grows and matures into new roles. The adults sound pretty good too, at least to my ears. The lack of a dub does create a problem for some potential viewers, though, which is unfortunate because otherwise I'm fairly confident I can recommend this series to just about anyone.

Bunny Drop is first and foremost an emotional series. It's a pretty consistently upbeat series but it never goes too far into "flowery sunshine and rainbows" territory. This show works because of how true it is to the small, understated moments that a parent and child really do share every day. These moments never feel unnecessary because Daikichi is as new to Rin and to parenting as we are (unless, y'know, you're already a parent), so we get to discover these things as he does. Both Daikichi and Rin have time to develop in small, believable ways and build a realistic family relationship. Daikichi is always well-meaning, and you never doubt he's suited to raise Rin, but he does run into a lot of problems that he overcomes with believable difficulty. Rin, meanwhile, is a well-mannered girl who is in some ways wise beyond her years, but she still faces common everyday problems for a child her age like wetting the bed, and she confronts these problems as any child would, so even when she acts a bit old for her age you never forget she's six. The two of them complement each other sweetly but never come across as saccharine--no small feat. They're not particularly complex characters, but they're still charming and memorable, and feel like real people rather than archetypes.

Actually, "charming", "memorable" and "real" are good ways to describe the entire cast. From Daikichi's family to Rin's playmates, they all act remarkably true to the people we could really meet at these various stages in our lives. The show uses its surprisingly large cast to its full advantage, with every character acting as a foil to Daikichi and Rin in some way or another. For example, there's Daikichi's mother Sachiko, who's already been through everything Daikichi is going through right now, and his sister Kazumi, who's on the cusp of starting a family of her own. Both of them initially question Daikichi's decision, but after warming up to Rin and reflecting on their own lives we do see them change for the better in little ways. The lessons are simple but important ones, and they come across naturally through everyday interactions rather than being crammed down our throats.

If there's one character in this series who deserves special mention, though, it's Masako, the mother who abandoned Rin with her father. When Daikichi meets her, she's nothing like he expects her to be, and it turns out her reasons for leaving Rin are more complex than pure apathy. She's focused on her own career and not at all suited to being a mother, but despite her efforts to distance herself she can't help but care about Rin in her own way. She doesn't feel that she was ready to be a mother, and maybe she's right, but that doesn't make her a bad person. That the show managed to portray her in such a light is probably its greatest achievement, and the closest the series comes to delving into the dark side of parenthood. Her character arc is so good, in fact, that it casts the show's greatest flaw into sharp relief.

You see, Bunny Drop falls into a bit of a comfort zone, in that it's severely limited in its thematic and emotional spectrum. Not that it doesn't bring anything meaningful to the table, but the picture it paints of parenthood is a little too rosy to encompass the full experience. Daikichi never really messes up, the little mistakes he make and the details that slip through the cracks are quickly forgiven and forgotten, and many of the difficulties he and Rin might have to face are discussed but never actually portrayed, such as the possibility that Rin might be teased for her family circumstances. Am I being too cynical? Perhaps, but it's arcs like Masako's that prove that the show can strive for something more without sacrificing its purity and sincerity; Masako wasn't in the right, exactly, but what she did was still understandable, sympathetic even, and it shed light on some truths about parenthood that are rarely addressed. The show needed more material like that, but aside from that one arc and a pretty powerful opening episode (the scene where Daikichi takes Rin home is actually a great moment), Bunny Drop systematically dodged every opportunity to become something more. I mentioned Daikichi's mother earlier, and on a whole I didn't dislike her character, but one thing that bothered me was that even after she warmed up to Rin she never apologized for treating her so coldly early on. That's something the show would have been better for confronting rather than tiptoeing around it the way it did, and this series does quite a lot of tiptoeing in its short run.

What we're left with is a rather baffling creation. Bunny Drop is primarily a feel-good anime, but I can't write it off as meaningless fluff. It does have some genuine depth and weight to it, and it's true to life in its portrayal of the joys of family, but a limited scope does take its toll on the series. The final episode is just like every other episode: nothing particularly powerful, conclusive or poignant, life just goes on. Perhaps that's for the best, as I've had the ending to the source manga spoiled for me and it does not sound like a good direction to take the story, but even if the inconclusive ending we got was preferable that certainly doesn't make it good. Not that it's bad, mind you, it's certainly better than seeing it try for something conclusive only to fall flat on its face. Still, the series as a whole never really strives for greatness, and that's too bad. To be fair, maybe too much weightiness would have damaged the series' charming tone, so I can't fault it too much. Some anime just aren't meant to be great, and for what it is Bunny Drop is still undeniably good.

Bunny Drop is a gentle, extremely lovable look at parenting and family. It's not a grand or complex or particularly thought-provoking story, nor is it the peak of what slice of life anime can achieve, but it is sincere from start to finish, with hardly single beat that rings false in the entire show. Lack of a dub notwithstanding I think this is something even non-anime fans can enjoy. I recommend it wholeheartedly. Watch it, enjoy it, maybe you'll get more out of it than I did. Next week, I'm shifting gears from sweet and innocent to dark and seductive. Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is at my doorstep. I'll try to keep it classy.

Thanks to MexicanAnime for the request.

Final Grade: 8/10

A small and unambitious but thoroughly charming and lovable look at parenthood and family.

2 comments:

  1. "Not that it's bad, mind you, it's certainly better than seeing it try for something conclusive only to fall flat on its face"- You wouldn't like the manga end definitely. I'm really happy it stopped where it did.

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    1. I know exactly where the manga goes, unfortunately. I'm probably going to read it eventually out of morbid curiosity, because I'm weird like that.

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