Anyway, reading is one of those things I can still do while exhausted and so I've run through a few complete series in the past several days. I thought I would actually recap them here since God knows it's been ages since I've even made the vaguest attempt to keep up with my reviews. Lets start with Usagi Drop.
The only reason I stumbled over Usagi Drop is that it's a new anime that just started airing a couple of weeks ago and has received some acclaim from fans. Since I absolutely hate watching an anime (or reading a manga for that matter) peicemeal, I took a quick look at the first episode but decided I would read the manga it was based on instead. Part of the reason for the positive feedback about Usagi Drop is that it doesn't fall into many of the common anime tropes and cliches that have dominated recent years. It's not about highschool students (at least to begin with) or even those in junior high/college. It's also not your standard moe bait filled with harems or panty shots or anything of the sort. The basic plot of Usagi drop is as follows....
Daikichi is a 30 year old guy who is attending the funeral of his grandgather who has passed away at the ripe age of 79. Upon arriving at his grandfather's house and seeing all of his relatives, he's informed that grandpa left the family a bit of an unexpected surprise. It seems that he had a 6 year old little girl living in the house with him and that she's his daughter from a long-running yet secret affair with some mystery woman who has since vanished. The relatives are all pretty appalled and after the funeral, they all gather to decide what to do with the girl, Rin, who barely speaks and is skittish around the strangers who have invaded the home. Each member of the family speaks up to say that they could not take the responsibility of raising a child, passing the unwanted hot potato around the room until one insensitive twat even suggests sending her off to an orphanage. At this point Daikichi steps up in a fit of pique and says that he'll take the girl in, to the shock of all the members of his family. He takes Rin back to his small house and thus the adventures begin.
As with most guys in their late 20's/early 30's, Daikichi isn't exactly a domestic God nor is he really settled in his work nor his life in general. He has had no experience with raising a child and basically fumbles his way through it. The first half of the manga is all about his sacrifices, as he tries to change his life to best care for Rin whether it be changing jobs to one which wouldn't require overtime or working evenings, though it reduced his salary, to finding her a daycare and then later a school. The idea that any 30 year old guy would take on a responsibility like this on his own is pretty amazing really, but he pushes on with dogged determination if not a whole lot of skill or knowledge at first. He does manage to get some help from some coworkers who also have kids and the mother of one of Rin's classmates (Koki), but in large part he's on his own. He's at least lucky in the fact that Rin seems sweet and sensible. She was sort of attached to Daikichi right from the beginning since he resembled his grandfather in looks and to her, his grandfather was her father. Daikichi spends some time trying to track down Rin's mother and finally discovers that she's a young woman who lived with his grandfather for a time but felt completely overwhelmed with having a child and felt unable to take care of her. She was more than happy to give Rin up to Daikichi's care, wanting little to do with her and instead focusing on her new career as a mangaka.
And all of that is pretty much the first half of the manga. The story follows Rin as she enters kindergarten with her friend Koki and ends after her first year of school. From there we get a 10 year time skip. Rin is now 16 and in highschool. She's now the main character and Daikichi sort of fades into the background. He's done a good job raising her and the story now shifts to her trials and tribulations. Her friendship with Koki has continued and somewhere along the way he realizes he loves her, though she has reservations about him. She sees him more as a sibling though there are hints here and there that something more is brewing. It doesn't help matters that he's also been dating some skank who is not only the vindictively jealous type, but is not above using pregnancy scares as a way to keep her hold on him. It also seems that Koki went through a rebellious phase where he skipped school and basically became a punk. It took Daikichi to smack the punk out of him to the gratitude of his long suffering mother.
At this point in the story, I figured I knew where things were going. Rin would end up with Koki in the end, who for all of his flaws was a genuinely good guy who loved her dearly. Daikichi had held a torch for Koki's mom, Nitani, for years ever since the kids were small, and I figured they would also get together. It would be a perfect kismet and the joining of two families. Or so I thought.
I have no clue where or why this entire train derailed. In the course of a couple of chapters, Rin decides that she really likes Daikichi, we discover that she's not really blood related to him (because grandpa wasn't her father and only adopted her), and I'm told that in the last chapter which hasn't been scanlated yet, it's another short time skip and they get married. WTF, right? I'm not sure what's the bigger problem with this sort of ending. The fact that it's pretty damn squick to have a daughter marry, for all intents and purposes, her father or the fact that there was no buildup to this point. There was never any hint of romance or the inclination thereof from Rin toward Daikichi. It literally came out of the blue, blindsiding me and most of the other readers from what I've seen on various forums. Since this manga is Josei (meaning intended for young women), I'm not sure if I don't get it simply because I'm not its target audience, namely female and insane. I think I might also have to blame the Tale of Genji which is the only work of Japanese literature I have ever read.
In the Tale of Genji, as those of you who took highschool English may recall, the eponymous protagonist of the tale cavorts around having numerous affairs with various women and at one point in the story kidnaps a 10 year old girl he finds fascinating and then raises her, grooming her to be his perfect woman. He then marries her once she comes of age. I have no idea if there already was this idea of raising your own wife as being a spiffy idea in the culture or if this book implanted it. Either way, it seems that this concept is not something new to the Japanese psyche. I know there have been various Japanese computer games where your goal is to pick and then raise a little girl only to marry her in the end. This is usually referred to as the Hikari Genji Plan and you can see how prevalent it is here. It's not like I don't see how there could be positive points. I mean, assuming you do it right, I guess you could spend the years bending her to your will, much like a bonsai tree, shaping her development and trimming off the undesirable parts. If you can get around the epic levels of squick, I guess there could be worse things in the world and God knows Freud would be a proponent. That said, there was absolutely zero setup for this romance in the manga up to that point which is what made it such a WTF ending. As squicky as it may be, shouldn't she have at least hit on him or generally been more affectionate, er, ever? It makes me wonder if someone had a mind control ray hidden somewhere and thought it'd be cool to get some funcest going.
Anyway, even with the whacky ending, I still sorta liked Usagi Drop. It's hard not to like the characters, as Daikichi is a truly decent and self-sacrificing person. To keep Rin out of an institution, he basically sacrificed the rest of his life to her, giving up a better career and any real chance for romance or a family of his own. Rin for her part is absolutely adorable in the first half. This is what moe is all about people. It's not just supposed to be directed toward scantily clad junior high school girls who flash their panties. It's supposed to be a protective and almost paternal feeling and it's hard to see young Rin and not feel more than a little twinge.
So give it a try if you want. Since there's absolutely no foundation for the whacky ending, you won't be bothered by any squick along the way. Just pretend the last 4 chapters or so never happened and it's not hard to write your own happy ending in your mind. God knows I have.