October 2011 Anime Season – UN-GO Episode 2

Now here is a show that makes a LOT more sense after its second episode! Most of all, its main intentions are now MUCH clearer. And the reasons for watching have changed dramatically with this episode.

 

The first minute of this episode makes a big difference. There’s a somewhat secret sale of a new expansion for an idol program (the ‘Vocaloid is ancient!’ line was gold!), but it’s quickly shut down and declared illegal. Oddball detective duo Shinjurou and Inga proceed to investigate the murder of a prominent businesswoman. Her daughter takes the news in a weird way, as if she knows much more than she’s letting on. Turns out our murder victim managed a once-popular idol group that was banned after the war. The intrigue lies within the supposed 4th member that was allegedly killed during the conflict, which was a key part of the group’s success. Things go haywire once it’s revealed there never was a 4th member and that it was a lie designed by the murder victim. Worst of all, the voice supposedly posthmously used in future recordings was the victim’s daughter. And therein lies the motive and perpetrator. Shinjurou and Inga beat the hapless prosecutor to the truth, but it matters for little. The victim’s lover is pinned for the crime for the supposed ‘greater good’ by dear Professor Kaishou. Seems that the dear Professor was responsible for a lot more fabrication in this saga, too. And thus, Shinjurou and Inga lose out again. Although, the ending suggests that not everything can be quelled, as the daughter’s song manages to occassionally dodge censorship measures and find their way to others, including Rie.

It is now much clearer what UN-GO intends to explore. The whodunnit aspect is smoke and mirrors. There are two other aspects that are the true focus – the use of lies to warp reality and how it can be done to create a tyrannical, dystopian world. This is a future where technology has hardly progressed from what we have here in 2011. Censorship is in full effect – even on the future’s version of Youtube and the like. The use of lies to create a false reality that is supposedly more orderly for society is something that fuels Inga’s hatred of the prosecutor and Professor Kaishou. It also seems Shinjurou is required for Inga to ‘transform/genderbend’, but we don’t know why. The Professor’s daughter, Rie, seems unaware of the effect that her father’s lies have on the world. I get the feeling that once she does find out, Rie will rebel and side with Shinjurou and Inga.

 

Some very interesting social aspects are brought up here. Imagine if censorship to the point of only what the government aprroves was enforced. Could you imagine modern life with things like Youtube, the Internet and other media in general being only what someone else approves as right for all? Not to mention a world where the truth is meaningless – endlessly woven into lies to supposedly make life more comfortable – and where those that are supposed to pursue justice instead dispense a perverted, ruined form to suit the state. It is very reminiscent of the worlds depicted in literary classics like Nighteen Eighty Four and Fahrenheit 451. Not surprisingly, the source novel for this show came out in the era those novels did. UN-GO is not about crime-solving – it is about how a state-ruled country can be brought to its kness and have its citizens at the mercy of whatever whim the rulers and their enforcers dictate. It is about the desecration of truth and justice.

Now I have much better reasons to watch this show. Certainly, the whodunnit aspect is still fairly weak and character development is a bit slow. But rather than the nationalistic rhetoric which is getting too common this season, UN-GO is exploring society on a much more crucial level. Where it intends to go will be rather intriguing. But it needs to ramp up the crime-solving aspect and get Rie into the mix more. UN-GO needs a character with more appeal to get the sales needed for profit – thus far, it hasn’t quite given one with enough reasons or qualities for the viewer to identify with. Hopefully that changes soon, but with a clarity of story and better animation this episode, I have hope it will happen.

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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.