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Usagi Drop

Blogging Penguindrum these days feels so superfluous, as there’s so many other people talking about it, inspecting every nook and cranny of it, poring through every possible bits and pieces of meaning lurking under every other image, dissecting the characters from their motivations to their personalities so thoroughly that at times I think they could do a bang-up job of writing for the show themselves. It feels like hauling a bucketful of water to an overflowing well. But regardless of all that, the show does seem like it’s just going to get better and better as it goes, if ep 5 was any indication. It was so cool, high-strung and was filled with tense and light moments that don’t miss a beat right until the thrilling climax. Ikuhara did storyboard for #5, while some guy with a strange name directed it. Yoshihiko Umakoshi returns to lead the animators and is joined by an als0-returning Sushio (who I bet did the part where Ringo dashes to steal the hat away from Himari).

 

So yeah, with that out of the way, I’ve also been fairly impressed with the latest offerings airing on that one time-slot noitaminA, both of which being No. 6 and Usagi Drop. They don’t boast incredible animation or exceptional directing or any of that stuff, but they’re both satisfyingly watchable and are quite entertaining in their respective rights. I haven’t read any of their source materials, but I get the  distinct sense that the two series are strongly rooted to their mother media and are well-presented in the confines of both of their sources. Straight-up adaptations of existing works that play everything by the book, not shirking out on essential elements or turning away starkly from them. In a way, they’re kind of like blown-up versions of the novel/manga these anime were based on: their worlds and characters visualized, their pages colored-in, their environments moved, and their actions set to music.

But then again, that maybe part of why I haven’t immersed myself in what they were showing me. I get that they’re going through their motions and keeping faith with their originals, which is perhaps the main goal in animating them, but in the process I’m also not seeing something new and interesting in terms of the presentation aside from the fact that they are animated. The demands inherent in adapting a novel and a manga are understandably different, so I’m going to focus on Usagi here (that, and also for another reason). There isn’t anything glaringly wrong with what they’re doing, but in some ways I find myself wishing that they sprinkled in some more trinkets of ideas and ways of expression that animation is supposedly good at. It’s an altogether complete shift from one medium to another, so a small measure of exploitation is expected. Finding the right balance between a bare yet faithful adaptation and an energetic yet terrible rape of the material is a precarious business, and I imagine it to be a struggle taken up every time a manga or something is laid on the table. Which is why I’m not complaining, even if I sound like I do. Besides, there’s not much you can do to improve on an already good material. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, as they say.

That said, I’m enjoying the Usagi anime so far. It pushes all the right buttons for me when it comes to lighthearted hijinks, sensitive drama, and cute children doing cute things (well, child, but you get what I mean). The anime presents itself as a light and fluffy affair, something you can enjoy while leaning back and sipping some drink, but not too light and innocent that it comes off as terribly childish or naive. It does a good job at probing at some issues innately related to the conflict of the plot–a single adult male taking care of a young girl. It does bring up some comparisons with Yotsubato, but they couldn’t be any more different. One is incredibly fun and simplistic, focusing on the joys and laughs of an incredibly naive kid, while the other tries to bring things back down to earth with some shots of drama and emotion. It also doesn’t help me that Rin is wonderfully cute. If only all kids were like her…but I digress.

What brought the latest episode (#5) to my attention is the unexpected array of animators they managed to bring in and to do some work on the series. Usagi Drop isn’t exactly the type of show that would give out a need to assemble talented and high-profile animators to do work, I would think, but here they did exactly that. So there was more than a bit of a surprise when I first heard them coming aboard, and even more when I watched the ep.

Animators in this episode include: Hiroyuki Okiura, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Masashi Ando, Ei Inoue, Yoshimi Itazu and I believe Akira Honma (though I’m not exactly sure on this last one). The name that immediately jumps out at you is of course, Hiroyuki Okiura, who hasn’t been on TV since maybe 2004’s Paranoia Agent and has been since then busy doing work on films. What prompted this set of feature animators to hunker down on a seemingly out-of-the-blue assignment I’m not sure, but one thing they have in common is that most, if not all of them are involved in Okiura’s latest feature film A Letter to Momo. Perhaps they wanted to vent off steam after the long time and great effort they invested in producing the film, and decided that this episode is the right place for it. Masashi Ando had actually contributed animation on Usagi #4 and extends it here. This latest episode also featured a storyboards by Shuichi Kaneko.

So as expected, there are a few delectable cuts of animation appearing in this ep, most notably in the second half–beginning in the graduation ceremony where the kids are singing. I’d be totally hard-pressed to fingerprint accurately which animator did which part, but I did remember liking those shots with the boyfriend before the ED and the scene with Rin and Daikichi right afterward. If you’d point a gun at my head I’d say the former was one of Aoyama’s work, while the latter looked like Okiura’s to me–especially the part where Rin first tries to sit on his lap but immediately turns away to his side. It just had more presence and moved fairly differently from the others.

I’ve been tempted to check out the original manga of Usagi Drop, but I’ve heard some things about the ending of the story that’s putting me off. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but let’s just say that it’s not a very cut-and-dry, ordinary feel-good ending. The single-cour slot of the anime doesn’t give it enough time to delve into deeper territory, and that may well be a good thing. Still, I can’t help but be curious about the manga. If it’s well-handled and convincing, then I could very well like it. I don’t know, really.

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