This post is part of the 30 Day Manga Challenge series. Day 3: A Manga You Started Out Enjoying But Ended Up Hating
Never have I ever felt so betrayed by a story than when I read Usagi Drop. What began as a lighthearted take on the “children raise you” trope took a sharp turn into some questionable territory towards the end. If you’ve read the series before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, turn back now.
– Heavy Spoiler Alert –
Usagi Drop opens with Daikichi, a 30-year-old bachelor, attending his maternal grandfather’s funeral. As he goes to the house to pay his respects, he passes a young girl picking flowers outside. Turns out, Daikichi’s grandfather, Souchi, had an illegitimate daughter named Rin! After listening to his other family members squabble over the six-year-old girl’s fate, Daikichi declares he’ll foster Rin himself, saying no kid should live with adults who act so shamelessly.
As a single (and previously childless) guy, Daikichi is at a complete loss when it comes to raising a kid. Much of volumes 1-4 show us Daikichi’s daily challenges, like finding a daycare, shopping for kids’ clothes, learning how to tie pigtails, or enrolling Rin in school.
In volume 2, Daikichi finds a hidden note inside Rin’s MCH handbook that sheds more light on Rin’s real mother, Masako. He arranges to meet her without Rin, fearing what might happen. Good thing too, because Masako says she was a struggling manga artist who got pregnant right before her big break. Not wanting to put her career on hold, she left Rin in Souchi’s care. But when he died, Masako totally abandoned Rin, and even now, she wants nothing to do with her.
Knowing that Rin probably won’t go back to her mother, Daikichi considers adopting her. He asks Rin if she’d like it if he became her dad, but Rin says no, simply saying Daikichi is Daikichi. There marks the first hint of what’s to come in the latter half of the series.
Volume 5 begins with a 10-year timeskip, and from here on, most of the manga is written in Rin’s perspective. She and Kouki, her childhood friend, are in high school now. Rin’s cousin, Reina, questions the pair’s relationship, but Rin insists her and Kouki are more like siblings than anything. Kouki doesn’t quite feel the same way though, and spends many chapters trying to confess to Rin.
Meanwhile, Daikichi is now entering his 40s and is still single as ever. He proposes to Yukari, Kouki’s (conveniently single) mom, in Chapter 30, but she rejects him, fearing what could happen if Kouki and Rin were to live together. But she doesn’t have anything to worry about, because wow! Rin really has romantic feelings for Daikichi!
Yeah, volumes 8 and 9 slowly reveal Rin’s shift from seeing Daikichi less like a father figure and more as a potential romantic partner.
Think it’s absurd? Well, so does Rin, actually. In Chapter 44, Rin thinks about how the other girls in her class swoon over the cool guys and realizes she never really felt the same attraction toward people her age. She thinks maybe it’s because she’s always been around an older guy, but later concludes that no, it’s because that guy was Daikichi. She is in love with Daikichi.
As her feelings grow, Rin comes to terms with the fact that a relationship with Daikichi should be totally out of the question. After all, they’re technically blood-related, not to mention he basically raised her singlehandedly since she was six. Even so, in Chapter 50, her feelings are revealed.
Shockingly, Daikichi doesn’t outright reject her! Instead, he warns Rin that if she continues to feel that way, then she risks ruining the family dynamic they’d built together. He tells her he only sees her as a daughter as a plea to change her mind, but Rin relents, saying she’d make him see her another way. Eventually, Daikichi gives in, telling Rin that if she still loves him romantically by the time she enters college, then he’d reconsider their relationship.
By the last chapter, Rin graduates from high school, having never fallen in love with anyone else, fulfilling the promise she made to Daikichi and starting her new life with him not as his adoptive daughter, but as his lover.
And that, my friends, is where I said, “What the fuck.”
Let’s get two things out of the way: the age gap isn’t the creepy part. Plenty of perfectly normal relationships involve significant age gaps between partners. And since Daikichi and Rin aren’t technically related, we can’t really judge this as a true incestual relationship.
What was creepy was how nonchalant Daikichi acted toward the whole thing. It seems he just kind of gave into Rin’s wishes, even though he clearly said he still has parental feelings towards her. Up to this point, it wasn’t clear what Daikichi wanted. He was still interested in Yukari and other older women, but he stopped pursuing them after Yukari’s rejection. Because we really didn’t know what was going on in his head during most of the second half of the series, we as readers just had to accept his odd choices. And that sucks.
Usagi Drop handled some heavy-hitter familial themes, covering issues from single parenting to divorce, with humor and charm, but quickly quashed what it had built with its poor character development towards the end of the series. If Daikichi had shown any resistance, or if readers got to see his rationale, then maybe the ending wouldn’t have been so utterly disappointing.