Kurenai review – #4 of 4 in the ‘Precocious Girls’ review series

There is one way I would surmise what the essence of Kurenai – what a ‘good life’ really is. The reason/motivation a person has to wake up each day and do what they do. The little things/moments in a day that made it worth living. Most of all, it makes you consider what life would be like without them.

Try imagining this – from the moment you were born, your whole life is planned out. You will have no rights. You will be kept inside for your whole life. You are not allowed to speak to others. Only material possessions will be allowed – those devoid of emotional value and life. Now compare that to your current life. Feeling a bit more fortunate?

This is the bleak reality for Murasaki Kuhoin, a 7 year old girl in the mighty Kuhoin family. Following strict traditions from centuries ago, females in the Kuhoin family and employ are forced to live in the ‘Inner Sanctuary’ for life. Her life completely manipulated for her by her cold, cruel father – she is barely a shell of a person. Until Benika, a former female security agent of the Kuhoin family, takes Murasaki from her confines and places her in the care of her apprentice – 16 year old Shinkurou Kurenai. (hence the series name) Learning his way as a ‘dispute mediator’ under Benika’s direction, Shinkurou is a person with little motivation or direction. He has more than his hands full being the protector of Murasaki. But gradually, Shinkurou and Murasaki end up bonding and filling the voids in each others’ lives.

I need to point out something now before one gets too deep in – Kurenai is not an action series, so don’t go looking for action. There is a coherent plot in this story, but this is not the crux of it. This is a series that is about EVERY moment that the characters live through and what they take from it. Yes, this is an unusual emphasis, but this is where Kurenai’s strength as a series comes from. One’s patience/desire for action may hinder them from being able to appreciate this style. So be warned about this style – it won’t be for everyone. This will depend on your values and what you expect to gain from Kurenai. My advice – have no expectations. At all. Let the story do its work.

Brains Base, a younger studio with titles like Kamichu and Baccano under its belt, have proven to consistently provide quality production values. This is their best effort yet. The animation is simply spellbinding. The caricature-like nature of the opening sequence is a laugh and very well done. It acts as a good foil to remind the viewer that while this is a somewhat serious series with some darker moments, you need to lighten up as well. The in-episode animation is gorgeous. Characters, backgrounds, moving objects and the like all get equal attention. The colours and line details are spot-on, making for very pleasing, fluid viewing. The faces are some of the best I’ve ever seen. To say that the quality is top-notch would be an understatement. The music in-episode is a very sedate, ambient affair that suits the series.
Musically, this series does a decent job but I wouldn’t call it stellar. Both the opening and ending songs are light, bouncy songs with messages of value, everyday life and memories. In-episode music is mainly for mood purposes. The voice acting is of a very good standard. Of particular note is the ease in which the voice actors are able to properly emobdy the emotions and psyche of the character at that particular moment. One can feel Shinkurou’s confusion or his sudden passion, Murasaki’s snappy mood or her affection, the eternal bitterness of the Kuhoin head, Benika’s constant struggle and her frustration at seeing Shinkurou not reach his potential.

The story is not very complex. Murasaki has been taken from the Kuhoins. The Kuhoins want her back at all costs. Benika and Shinkurou have something they have to do for Murasaki before they will let that happen. But once again, the story is not the emphasis of this series. It is on the characters. Still, the story felt like one that had enough purpose and plot within it to justify this series. The seemingly simple events like taking a bath, walking around school, playing out a musical are made to be special and meaningful because they really are. An experience that is had under freedom and that is a positive one should be valued and not taken for granted. That is one of the core messages of Kurenai. Loaded with many classic one-liners (including the funniest payout of lolicons ever [yes, Kurenai can even parody itself!]) and many gripping scenes, there is plenty to enjoy and be moved by.

Kurenai’s characters are what the series live and die on. It excels with them. Shinkurou makes for a very unlikely hero. He’s somewhat strong but not very. Initially he is unable to converse well with people and lacks confidence in himself. (Considering he watched his parents die in a terrorist attack, that can be forgiven somewhat.) His female classmates intimidate him and almost act as pseudo-parents, not to mention graudally falling for him. But this is what is so interesting about the guy – he has flaws and he knows it, but he wants to be stronger. He just doesn’t quite know how. But through Murasaki’s difficult and demanding nature, Shinkurou is forced to draw upon himself to be a responsible minder for Murasaki and make her understand that the outside world is a very different place. He isn’t the most ideal/qualified minder for Murasaki – or so he thinks. His ability to see Murasaki as what she really is – a manipulated girl who wants to live live but doesn’t know how, as well as having selfish behaviour programmed into her by her family – provides Shinkurou with something he didn’t have before – motivation/raison d’etre. Everything up to this point has offered Shinkurou little reason to feel good about his life. But once Murasaki enters it, Shinkurou knows that someone has to save that little girl, which he takes upon himself. Not to mention being more grateful for the basic freedoms and choices he once took for granted. To say ‘Kid, your life isn’t over. There’s a whole world out there with so many things to experience and see. And I won’t let anyone deny you those experiences.’

By the time Shinkurou reaches the end of this story, he no longer doubts himself. He interacts properly with others, he wakes up with a purpose. Most importantly, regardless of the outcome of this part of his life, he is ready to live the rest of it with passion, to cherish every moment and to enjoy the times with his friends. He is now a person that demands respect and can hold his own with anyone. His metamorphosis through the series is a real delight, for few males in anime display the true strength to be a man with dignity when needed and to be tough when needed. A perfect antidote to the mass of weak/emo male leads that plague anime today.

Murasaki – what an amazing little girl. I rarely like kids but Murasaki stole my heart. Her ways with others are a mixture of insane hilarity and heart-warming moments that make for very entertaining, moving viewing. When she first enters the frame, she is a shell of a person who simply expects others to do what is necessary to maintain her empty existence. It becomes a very intense journey for Murasaki and Shinkurou to change her into someone who is respectful of others, grateful for what she has and to place true value on things. To be taken from comfortable, confined surroundings to a simple yet free environment is a major shock for her. But her inquisitive nature and the sudden jolt of feeling alive compel Murasaki to explore this strange new world that her family has continually condemned. Gradually, the girl learns how to smile, to laugh, along with a plethora of experiences and emotions she never would have experienced in her sheltered confines.

As much as Shinkurou is a catalyst for Murasaki to grow and experience life, Murasaki is as much the exact same catalyst for Shinkurou. Murasaki wants to explore this world she has suddenly been exposed to but is too little and sheltered to know how. She is essentially saying ‘I want to live but I don’t know how. If you care about me, please show me how.’ Although Murasaki’s initial defiance and brat-like behaviour may mask it, she is always asking that from Shinkurou. So once Murasaki gains some form of self-empowerment and feels alive for the first time in her life, she is able to repay Shinkurou by helping him grow into what a man is supposed to be. This is the true magic of their bond. Two people who find the strength from the other to be there for each other, to grow and to develop a purpose in life. So when Murasaki reaches the end of this story, she is no longer weak, without a purpose or submissive. She is able to find strength within herself to do what only she can. Once Murasaki has played out her part, you can’t help but admire her and be amazed by how much she was able to achieve. Her ending is hardly idealistic, but it is the most appropriate. Murasaki and Shinkurou reach a point where the two are now able to rely on themselves but are forever grateful for what each of them was able to show the other, allowing them to move on and remember the other fondly. It is a bond that is quite mature and inspiring.

The other parts of the cast are very solid. Benika is a very formidable woman with a scarred past of her own that fuels her to take Shinkurou under her wing and to take Murasaki into the real world, regardless of what it may cost her. Once Benika’s character is properly fleshed out, it becomes very apparent why she took Shinkurou as her pupil and her motivations to do such a daring thing as take Murasaki from the Inner Sanctuary. She has class, muscle, attitude and passion. A very capable woman worthy of respect. Yayoi, her semi-androygnous female subordinate, is a person who takes life and all aspects of it seriously, never allowing herself to enjoy it or to be happy. Initially begrudging having to watch over Shinkurou and help when needed, Yayoi begins to value the freedoms she has taken for granted once she appreciates the gravity of Murasaki’s life and is able to develop the ability to enjoy moments that make her fulfilled. Shinkurou and Yayoi develop a gradual respect for each other as they realise that thy may be able to learn from what the other has to offer, which proves to be very telling in the final part of the series.

Shinkurou’s flatmates and friends make for amusing times. The grieving widow, Yamie, gains a strange satisfaction from seeing Shinkurou initially struggle then is compelled to climb out of her sorrow through her interactions with Murasaki. Tamaki, a very promiscuous female university student who neglects her studies and is overly harsh on men she gets involved with, gradually recognises her own faults from helping mind Murasaki and realises it’s not too late to turn her life around. Ginko, a clever glasses-girl, firmly keeps Shinkurou in line at school and acts as his informant, but even she would admit she actually enjoys the role. Yuno, the female classmate who actively wants to be Shinkurou’s girlfriend, provides some good laughs when coupled with Murasaki and also acts as a good way for Shinkurou to be able to communicate with females better. Renji, the head of the Kuhoins, trapped in family tradition and forever angry at himself for turning his one true love into a broken woman who lost the will to love, makes for a person that initially seems like a villian, or at the very least the ideal person to vent feelings on. But even his own demons he tries to deny will eventually be confronted through Murasaki as he is forced to consider what his own life as become as well as those he has helped destroy. His trials heavily shape the outcome but end up being more worthy of intrigue rather than hate. He is easy to criticise but that would diminish and deny the point of his role. Make sure you reserve proper judgement of Renji until the tale is done. You may be surprised as to what he ends up doing.

A bit of impact may be lost on rewatch, but Kurenai is still such an enthralling series with stellar production values and a character cast that may have the most depth of any ever. Enjoyment of Kurenai is dependent on the ability to appreciate a character-driven series that values all moments equally and the interactions between people. Its unique approach and good mix of humour and reality had me captivated from start to finish.

Kurenai is a very unique, refreshing series. To value moments, people and the experiences freedom brings is something no other series has accomplished to the degree this series has. With strong characters and equally strong bonds, this series will entertain, enthrall and evoke everything that is good and bad about reality. But really, isn’t the fact that we get to experience these things what is so magical about life itself?

Personal Score: 9/10

General Score: 7-9/10

Watch if: You love character-focused series with bite and charm

Don’t watch if: You need moe like it’s a drug

Kurenai is currently unlicensed outside of Japan except in France and China. Somebody license this in English, PLEASE!

And that concludes my first review series, ‘Precocious Girls’. Hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you thought of it.

Before I do my next review series, I shall be doing a somewhat regular article next – ‘Anta, Baka?!’ A section where I let loose and take a swipe at anything and anyone that has really dived off the deep end and set new lows within the anime industry or anime fandom. Remember that this article shall be intentionally caustic but in the interests of humour and to remind one not to take life too seriously sometimes.


Living for the Day After Tomorrow review – #3 of 4 in the ‘Precocious Girls’ review series

Remember that feeling when you were young and taking in all that was reality, yet despite the freedoms that came with being young, you resented the restrictions that also came with it and wished you would grow up to an adult as soon as possible? Or that when adult life gets too harsh, you wonder what it would be like to be young again? Well, what if it actually happened? Are you sure it would be everything you thought it would be? Would you regret the consequences of your decision? Could you cope with the sudden change and the impact it would have on those closest to you?

In the October season of 2006, after the airings of the heavily hyped Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Fate/Stay Night, J.C. Staff produced a rather intriguing series called Asatte no Houkou (Living for the Day After Tomorrow on release by Sentai), based on a manga originally created by J-ta Yamada, which explored the scenario of age changing. The story revolves around two females who have never met before but are linked in more ways than they know. Karada is a middle schooler who is rather small for her age but very likeable, one heck of a cook and very positive in her approach to anything in life, but the fact her brother, Hiro, had to return from overseas four years ago to take custody of her when her parents died, is something she’s never been able to live with. The older female is Shouko, in her late 20s, somewhat cold and empty. But there’s a good reason for that. Shouko was once Hiro’s long-time girlfriend in America, then four years ago Hiro left Shouko behind without saying why. Present day, Shouko returns to Japan in search of a new start in life. Crossing paths with Hiro and the person responsible for making him leave her life is the last thing she wanted. Still, Shouko does make an effort to befriend Karada. As they cross paths again later that night near a revered small shrine, Karada’s secret wish to grow up so she’s no longer a burden on her brother comes true. Problem is, she wasn’t quite prepared for it – kid mentality in an adult body is a combo set for trouble. Throw in the fact Shouko is converted into a young girl and things get pretty complicated fast. What ensues is an inspiring struggle of the two adjusting to this shocking turn of events with Shouko having to be the adult figure despite her physical limitations (precocious girl and then some) and Karada having to learn the ropes of being an adult on physical and emotional levels. The entire series takes place over a full summer period, aka 3 months.

Now this may sound like a very serious title to you. In part, it is. But with a fairly light-hearted approach, pretty animation, a soothing coastal town setting (not too different from Kamichu!) and a very potent character cast with great depth, Living for the Day After Tomorrow is a feel-good series with some drama to give it an edge. Within the one-cour time format that J.C. Staff was given for this adaptation, director Katsushi Sakurabi gets the pacing just right, which is important for a series you expect to get resolution of the sole plot line by the end. In fact, the pacing is done so well there isn’t a wasted character or event in the show. Furthermore, each episode ends on a note that leaves something hanging in the air for next time – a good practice when you’rve got material that is more dramatic. Something important is always happening but the moods vary as required. In very recent times, the majority of series have left major plot lines unfinished or chose to completely ignore plot whatsoever. So to see this show achieve what was laid down from the first episode is quite refreshing.

The character designs by Ikoku Itou (Princess Tutu, Sailor Moon S) are reasonable but not great. This is J.C. Staff after all – their production quality standards have slipped, plus in a year the first Nodame Cantabile series came out, you get the feeling this got a fairly small budget to be made. The level of detail within the animation and the background art is the one major issue with this show. A decent budget would have made it look magic. Still, it’s not that far off the mark. The animation is generally pretty, the art is relaxing, light and water effects seem accurate. It’s merely an aesthetic imperfection, which really shouldn’t be the one thing to stop you from watching this show.

The soundtrack by Shinkichi Mitsumune (Revolutuionary Girl Utena, Rozen Maiden) is another of his usual orchestral efforts and is just sublime. Piano and keyboards play a very prominent role in the in-episode pieces as well as the opening and ending themes, which is appropriate since they’re very apt at instilling nostalgia and connecting with memories to enhance key moments. Thankfully piano is not always dominant – Mitsumune varies the pieces with use of the full orchestral repertoire which makes for very different pieces by merely changing timing or one instrument. It’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time. I’d listen to a good portion of the soundtrack to this show on a regular basis. The two main female seiyuus – Ayumi Fujimura (Eiko in Squid Girl, Cecily in Sacred Blacksmith) as Karada and Shizuka Itou (Hinagiku in Hayate no Gotoku, Haruka in Amagami SS) as Shouko face an interesting challenge to switch between the child and adult versions of their characters, but they do it with such ease. Ami Koshimizu (Kallen in Code Geass, Horo in Spice and Wolf) makes yet another stellar performance with her amazingly broad vocal range as the perky, upbeat Kotomi.

The lead characters, as well as the secondary, all have issues of some sort and a claim to the overall scenario. Karada is secretly unhappy with the fact Hiro only lives for her and that he doesn’t have any drive for anything else in life. Shouko is still in love and is angry Hiro seems ignorant of the fact, not to mention he hasn’t told Karada about what happened between the two of them. Hiro is a real shell of a person – the guy has good intentions but his actions let him down consistently. Testumasa (nicknamed ‘Crispy Amino), one of Karada’s friends from school, is infatuated with her and quickly becomes obsessed with finding her after the age switch. Touko, Tetsumasa’s older sister, has her hands full coping with his antics and Hiro’s brooding. Then we have Kotomi, who is somewhat a drifter and very spontaneous in her actions.

But what is truly the best part of Living for the Day After Tomorrow is the story and the character chemistry dynamic that comes from all those issues. Karada and Shouko make for a great duo – they fill the missing parts the other had before they met. Karada’s optimism and drive gets Shouko out of the dumps while Shouko provides the advice and maturity Karada wishes she had. Karada’s actions later in the series may confuse some people, but ultimately she knows that Hiro must be able to live for something more than just her and seeks to find a way to make it happen. Shouko’s light venting at Hiro is just hilarious – an ex-lover in a kid’s body trying to pound the guy who left her yet can’t – priceless. Overall, Shouko is probably the biggest victim of this all, yet she is the one who always keeps a cool head, acts rationally and is able to resolve problems. Her resiliency and compassion are drawn out from her bitter surface by Karada and it is simply uplifting to see Shouko’s soul get the long overdue healing it really needed. Yet it is insanely funny seeing Shouko do it in a young body and the limitations it comes with. Kotomi acts as a great foil for Tetsumasa’s desperate longing, who realises he still has some major growing up to do. Touko is a no-nonsense woman who provides the stability and shoulder to lean on the guys need. Kotomi in general is the catalyst that draws everything together for the reality checks everyone needs to have. In the latter episodes, Kotomi’s mentor is one intriguing guy with a very unique yet refreshing approach to life and adds the finishing touches to drive home the lessons the lead characters need to learn. The leadup from the startling beginning to the heart-warming finale flows seamlessly and the plot is resolved in full. It’s rare to see a one-season series wrap everything up well – it’s very refreshing to see.

Ultimately, what really gives Living for the Day After Tomorrow an edge for me is the respect it has for its characters and the maturity it approaches a very delicate scenario with. There is a light amount of fanservice but nothing inappropriate. People that need to grow up are not let off lightly, unlike certain male protagonists in recent years. Most of all, Karada’s journey could easily have been a trainwreck. For a fair while, I was worried Karada would take a path similar to Nagisa did in the latter part of the original Clannad series. But Karada’s determination to become stronger as a person and to be able to say to Hiro ‘I’m not going to be little and dependent forever, so don’t put your life on hold for me forever’ is very admirable indeed. Shouko’s gradual softening of the heart, but not of her tenacity and will, is a testament to what a strong, capable woman she is despite the hardships life has dealt her. With all the issues and the flaws this character mix have, it could have turned into an angst-filled mess in no time. But instead the story maintains an upbeat view on things and eventually, after a lot of heart-wrenching bends and some hard lessons, things are resolved in a plausible, fairly realistic way. And that is the other thing I enjoy so much about this series. The characters feel like real people and not like overused moe archetypes or invincible people that overcome any extremity with ease. The level of escapism within this show is relaxing but not a bubble blocking out what comes with life.

In short, Living for the Day After Tomorrow is a rare example of a great story fulfilling everything it promised to from the start, conveying it with a very compelling cast of characters and executing it brilliantly. While the visuals may not be stellar, they don’t drag the series down. If you are in need of a feel-good story with some real bite but portrayed with maturity and goodwill, this is one series you can’t afford to miss. If you are one of the lucky few to have seen this, do let other people have the chance to see it for themselves. I only found out about this show due to a friend who lent me his DVDs. Not sporting the overused archetypes and styles of recent times is not a reason to look this show over. Give Living for the Day After Tomorrow an honest go. You may be surprised.

Overall Score: 9.25/10

General Score: 8-9/10

Essential viewing for: Those who love great story-telling and realistic, likeable characters

Don’t watch if: Aesthetics and moe are all you care about anymore

Living for the Day After Tomorrow is currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

To conclude the ‘Precocious Girls’ series, comes another great series that is – sad to say – unlicensed in most of the world outside of Japan, only to be found in France or China. A tale with a very dynamic duo where both learn more from each other than anyone else could ever teach them – Kurenai.

Kamichu! Review – #2 of 4 in the ‘Precocious Girls’ theme review series

Anyone who has watched anime for long enough appreciated the importance of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in the industry, regardless of how you feel about them. They set high standards with their production, seiyuus and stories. The question has always been posed – is it possible to create a Ghibli-like feel within a TV series? The notion sounds almost absurd when you consider that a Ghibli movie budget in recent times comes at around the $10 million mark, whereas a TV series gets about $120k per episode, equating to about $1.5 million for one season, on average. There are certainly plenty of TV titles made on much less.

Let me throw you another question. Is it possible for a person to suddenly gain the powers of a god/goddess and not abuse it, while also not being bland enough in the first place for it to be a non-issue? Light from Death Note let power go to his head and then some. Haruhi was effectively the goddess of her world (despite being none the wiser) but was hardly a glowing example. Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess was pretty soft and more of a harem device than a real goddess.

Well, it may surprise you that in 2005, there was a show made by Brains Base that did meet those criteria – Kamichu!, adapted from the manga by Mucho Besame. Middle-schooler Yurie seems like any other girl her age, until one day she is visited by spiritual deities and informed she is to become a god. Now it is important to note that Yurie doesn’t become a god of everything. In the world of Kamichu, there are millions of gods, reflecting a more Shinto-oriented approach to religion and the universe. Beaches, soba noodles, rain – you name it, it has a god to represent it. But in the opening moments of the show, it’s clear that Yurie doesn’t know what she is a god of. School friends that run the local shrine are keen to have Yurie act as a face to bring back favour to the shrine within the local coastal town. Throw in Ken, an aspiring writer around Yurie’s age who is somewhat cold and dense, being Yurie’s love interest – life becomes pretty hectic for young Yurie as she adjusts to become the centre of attention and taking her new powers in her stride, which is why I consider her precocious in a way, since Yurie takes this all in with rare maturity.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to compare Kamichu to some Ghibli titles in style, particularly Spirited Away. Rural setting, spirit entities living alongside people, a very relaxed mood with a young female protagonist as the lead character. But there are a few differences that allow Kamichu to retain its own identity. Yurie effectively carries the series by herself, the animation style falls somewhere halfway between Ghibli’s round, gentle style and the exaggerated cuteness of moe, but most of all it’s quite a pure story. It doesn’t have any of the continual preaching that sometimes hamper Miyazaki titles; there is no war/apocalypse. Yurie simply does what is needed when the need arises – from the quite bizarre to helping out a friend in need. Yurie’s humility and resilience are key to her appeal and form the basis for the show to draw from.

And I’m not kidding when I say Yurie carries the series. She is the only character with a good deal of air-time. Any secondary characters mainly serve as a source of motivation or direction whenever Yurie is struggling. To prevent the lack of character development becoming an issue, there is an emphasis on taking a very laid-back, parody-oriented approach to the whole scenario of Yurie being a god. Yurie’s little trio of assistants that appear from Episode 4 onwards make for good comic relief. One scene where Yurie talks down an entire platoon of soldiers into standing aside while she can barely contain her nerves is just priceless. It has been said numerous times that power corrupts all. Well, not everyone – Yurie is so pure of heart that she always strives to do the right thing and resolve a situation in the best interests of all parties concerned with minimal conflict. Another essential component is the animation – it’s gorgeous. There’s a rustic romance to the setting of Kamichu! with some degree of moe but not to the point it will leave your stomach in throes a few hours later. Singer Mako precisely conveys Yurie’s personality and is a standout seiyuu choice. The production quality is a rare example where you can say a restricted budget was well executed throughout the series. The opening and ending themes reflect the gentle, warm feel of summer that are prominent vibes throughout the series. In terms of aesthetics and Yurie’s ability to light up the screen, Kamichu! excels in those qualities.

However, those said qualities also impose restrictions which considerably limit where the show can go. The pace of the show is slow overall and some are slower than others – I did find myself struggling to keep focused during a couple of episodes. Very little changes by the end of the series and one really doesn’t get to learn much about the characters at all due to the episodic nature of the show. It would have been nice for an episode or two to show more about Yurie’s friends, maybe, to help build a connection to the cast beyond Yurie. In the case of Yurie, since she was simple to begin with and remains so, although she is more confident and self-reliant by the end. There is a strong focus on simple values like friendship and memories, which again impose their own restrictions and occasionally material seems a bit repetitive. It’s never made clear whether Yurie has a specific type of power/assignment, which ends up leaving a convenient way of Yurie being able to do anything under the sun. And every young male in the show is rather cold, which is somewhat perplexing. Yes, the focus of the series is more on the girls – no surprise for a series with some moe elements. But having the guys be almost glacial in nature doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. In a sense it’s almost the opposite characterisation of Natsume Yujinchou, which placed focus on males, bishounen qualities/art-style,  rare appearances by females but similar content regarding spiritual entities and a relaxing mood.

All in all, Kamichu! was a series I felt fortunate to have been able to seen. It’s a charming series that chugs along at its own gentle pace, not being deceiving about what it’s going to offer you. Yurie is the star of the show and carries it from start to finish. One liking the show is reliant on liking Yurie but since she’s a well constructed character full stop, that should be possible for a lot of people. If you’re looking for a title that is cute without the sickly sweet aftershock, Kamichu! will probably fit the bill nicely. Don’t disregard it because it aired before the moe craze truly took off in 2006.

Overall Score: – 8/10

General Score: – 7-8.5/10

Essential viewing for: Those looking for a nice way to chill out in a light-hearted way

Don’t watch if: You live for explosions or moe overload

Kamichu! was licensed in the U.S. by Geneon and redistributed by Funimation,  but that has recently expired in August. There is no indication of a likely re-license from Funimation.

Next in the ‘Precocious Girls’ series is a 2006 series that is perhaps less recognised than Kamichu, but is a real gem that is thankfully still licensed by Sentai Filmworks – Living for the Day After Tomorrow.

Bunny Drop Review – #1 of 4 in the ‘Precocious Girls’ theme review series

Okay, to get the ball rolling, here is the first series of reviews I will be doing. The theme is ‘Precocious Girls‘. I.e. Girls that are unusually mature/advanced for their age and handle situations normal people wouldn’t. There will be four titles that I will review under this theme. One licensed by Siren, one licensed by Madman, one licensed in the U.S. and one unlicensed title. I shall start with the recently aired title, which was promptly licensed by Siren earlier this year – Bunny Drop.

Series with lighter moods and simplicity have risen in popularity within anime in the last few years. While the late 90s wave rode on the popularity of action, cool protagonists and lively soundtracks, things have become rather sedate in recent times. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – quieter series have their place within anime and can heal the soul from the perils of modern life. Although there’s a fair case that things have perhaps gone too far from one extreme to another. Moe and slice-of-life series are numerous these days and while they are quite fulfilling if given good production quality, a good voice cast, solid characters and a fulfilling story, there’s a glut of titles that have been stripped back of anything negative to the point it feels rather bland. Last time I checked, life encompassed that which was bad as well as that which was good. But what can one expect when K-ON!’s gargantuan sales have set the bar for how to sell a series in the current anime environment, particularly for more than one season, to the point it thrives long-term with merchandise value to boot.

However, over the last six years there have been a few titles that haven’t been over-simplified or refined into a smooth sugar-coated pill for the masses to consume without any fear whatsoever. Titles that remembered that it is possible to give a story that warms the heart and revolve around cute, charming young girls while having tension and seeing said characters go through the harsher side of life as well as the gentler side, yet take it in their stride. Anime doesn’t always have to be made easy and frills-free to be a good watch – something I think that has been forgotten in the last five years as moe series have been more prevalent in sales.

Bunny Drop (called Usagi Drop in Japan) is a title that doesn’t take the easy path. Originally a nine volume josei manga series – recently concluded – written and drawn by Yumi Unita, a mother of two in her 30s, the manga-ka’s intent was to detail what it was like for males to raise children. The story’s premise is an intriguing one. 30 year old male lead Daikichi Kawachi is at his parents’ home to attend the funeral of his recently deceased grandfather. While there, he meets Rin – a 6 year old girl who is quite unlike other children her age. She’s somewhat quiet, well-behaved and quite aware of what’s going on around her. Then comes the bombshell to rock the family – Rin is the illegitimate daughter of the deceased grandfather. Tensions flare as the family fails to agree on how to handle this and who should take custody of Rin. Disgusted by the slandering of Rin and her imminent fate of foster care, Daikichi spontaneously decides to take care of Rin. And thus the oddball pairing begins – 30 year old bachelor who’s hardly in adult mode yet and a 6 year old girl who’s mature beyond her years and so well behaved it’s spellbinding. Over the following episodes, the two adjust to having each other in their lives and to becoming better people, while the rest of the cast is gradually won over by Rin.

No surprise that the anime adaption aired within the noitaminA time slot on Japanese TV – this is a show that will mainly appeal to adults. And it’s also not that surprising that Production I.G. took this title on – they have shown they are capable of making good adaptations of manga/novels with more serious/non-typical material in recent times. Sadly, they have not been big sellers for the greater part – Toshokan Sensou (Library Wars) was the only notable seller. (10k sales per volume. 5k+ per volume for a TV series with an average budget is required to return a profit according to the Manabi Line model.)

That said, the ingredients for a ‘good’ series are all here. The wispy lines and pastel colours style of the source manga are faithfully carried on to the anime version. This style can be hit-and-miss generally but it suits the mood and vibe of this series very well, giving it a warm, organic touch – kudos to Yuu Yashimata for getting this right, because comparing a volume of the manga to what is in the anime – they’re almost identical. Director Kamei Kanta  and series composer Taku Kishimoto are to be commended for getting the pacing right for a title that was clearly only getting a budget for one season. noitaminA’s tendency for 11 episodes per season has sometimes made for headaches regarding whether a series had proper story development from start to finish, but Kanta picks his timepoints from the source manga well, resulting in a story that flows throughout and ends at a point where one feels they have been given what they wanted to see. (Note – The source manga was split about halfway with a timeskip from Rin’s young childhood to her teen years. This adaptation solely covers Rin’s younger arc.) The character cast is very solid. Rin is a delight and has a charm and magnetism that just makes her instantly likeable. Ayu Matsuura gets her seiyuu debut voicing Rin but is a perfect match for the role, able to switch from Rin’s innocent, snappy and mature modes with ease. Hirochi Tsuchida’s previous roles are mainly shounen yet he does a good job with Daikichi, conveying his awkward, continual worrying yet generally responsible nature accurately. 90s seiyuu legend Maaya Sakamoto (The Major in the Ghost in the Shell movie, Hitomi in Escaflowne) makes a cameo as Masako, Rin’s mother, but has great impact voicing the most oddball character in the show. Kana Ueda (Rin in Fate/Stay Night, Hayate in the Nanoha series, Yumi in Maria Who Watches Over Us) shows depth in her tonalities by voicing Haruko, one of Daikichi’s sisters, who is a source of advice for Daikichi as he struggles through the earlier episodes. Suguru Matsutani’s (Nodame Contabile) musical score is a pleasant compliment to the visuals, with a focus on providing a soothing enhancement to a scene’s mood rather than being the focus of the scene. PUFFY and kasarinchu provide appropriate opening and ending theme songs, with the former doing cameo voices in Episode 9.

It’s important to keep in mind that this title will not be for everyone. There are no explosions, there is no fanservice, there is no SPAM of anime clichés/character styles found in the more popular series. Nor does this series ever claim to be anything spectacular. It doesn’t need to. Rin and Daikichi make such a great oddball duo that will provide plenty of moments to smile and feel warm on the inside. But it does also provide some flipsides to remind the viewer that while there are feel-good times to be had, raising a child is no picnic. It is a very time-consuming role that heavily compromises one’s lifestyle and will permanently impact how you live, what you can do and when. There will be agonising moments. One of my favourite moments of the show was the episode where Haruko, Daikichi’s older sister, has a breakdown when she falls into despair with how her life has turned out since she became a mother. Her eventual resolution is somewhat shocking yet very admirable and typifies the sacrifice and resilience needed to be a responsible parent. Masako is a character that will polarise people. You almost wonder whether her brain is sometimes on the dark side of the moon, but it becomes clear that she is a career woman and knows she can’t be a responsible mother to Rin. Gotou-san provides a sobering example of a person who willingly gave up her own personal ambitions to focus on her family. The mother of Kouki – the boy who Rin is friends with during their early years – is a good example of a single mother toughing it out against the odds and finding a way to provide a decent life for her son. Now nothing is spectacular about these people, per se. But all in their own way, despite their shortcomings and humble natures, they are people that are remarkable in their own way. They do what is needed to cope with life, to get through a day and do what is needed for the benefit of others. There is tension, heartbreak and worrying. Because those are integral parts of life. It’s a good thing those things are present and I’m damn grateful for that because while a lot of recent series are so sheltered like a bubble and stripped of negativity to the point of oblivion, Bunny Drop doesn’t shy away from them. It utilises those aspects to make its characters that much more likeable.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this series. I’m normally not one to like kids, but Rin is such a delightful character it’s impossible to hate her. While I occasionally felt things were a bit too light or slow, I didn’t feel that to be much of a hindrance. Raising a child isn’t action central or drama laden. It’s testing and a long-term commitment, but a fulfilling one in more cases than not. In the final episode, Daikichi reflects on how his life is now and wonders if the fact his whole life now centres around Rin and the things he used to do are no longer doable is a bad thing. As Kouki’s mother tells him, isn’t that enough to get through a day? The act of raising a child is meant to be its own reward and fulfilment. Bunny Drop is an accurate, heart-warming portrayal of what it means and entails to raising a child. It’s refreshing to see a title avoid taking the easy way out and not follow the crowd blindly. Bunny Drop won’t be topping the sales charts, but it is a feel-good series that nourishes the soul and doesn’t leave you with diabetic symptoms after viewing. Simply put, this is the best series I’ve seen from the three seasons of 2011 anime thus far.

Personal Score – 8.5/10.

General Score – 8-9/10 for those who like this kind of series.

Essential viewing for: Those who like their ‘Awww!’/soul-food moments with the lumps included.

Don’t watch if – You can’t live without your mechs or moe.

Bunny Drop is currently streaming on Anime News Network and is licensed by Siren Visual Entertainment. Likely to be released on DVD in 2012. I shall be purchasing it come its eventual release. 4 volumes of the original manga have been translated and published thus far. Check with your local stores for availability. Pulp Fiction stocks Bunny Drop manga within Adelaide. If you like this title, buy it! Siren took a bit of a gamble to pick this one up – if you want them to continue to go for quality titles, your purchases will justify their licenses.

Next in the ‘Precocious Girls’ theme will be a 2005 nugget, whose US license recently expired, that slipped under the radar for a while amidst the early 2006 hype but emerged later as one of the more memorable titles of that year – Kamichu.

So, how did you find Bunny Drop? Will you be purchasing it when it comes out? Post your comments and feel free to discuss how you found the series and Siren’s swift licensing of it, as well as titles similar to Bunny Drop.