A second look at Usagi Drop…
December 17, 2013 16 Comments
One of the most interesting posts I’ve read on Usagi Drop, by errinundra on the ANN forums.
** WARNING ** SPOILERS AHEAD **
Please don’t click on this unless you already know what happens at the very end of this story.
An ethical approach to Bunny Drop
It seems to me that people have been making moral judgements about Bunny Drop without considering the beliefs underlying them. To condemn Daikichi and/or Rin for marrying because of the difference in their ages or because of Daikichi’s role as guardian is to make proximate judgements only. There is nothing wrong, per se, in a 44-year-old man marrying a 20-year-old woman. (Twenty being Japan’s minimum marriage age). There is nothing wrong, per se, with a man who has had a guardian’s role with a minor, then marrying her when she is an adult. Talk of grooming or cradle snatching is, I think, ignoring more fundamental points.
I think there are six essential questions to be answered before condemning Daikichi, Rin and, by extension, the ending of Bunny Drop.
1. Are both Rin and Daikichi fully capable of consenting to marriage?
2. Do they actually give their consent?
3. Do they have genuine intentions and good will?
4. Are they equal?
5. Is it legal?
6. Is it wise?
On the evidence provided by the manga (and ignoring personal belief systems) I believe the answer to the first four questions is yes. I have no doubt about the first three and, while I am equally certain of the fourth, it may require more argument. (In short, throughout the manga Rin makes it abundantly clear that she does not consider Daikichi to be her father. What’s more, she has the stronger personality of the two: it will be Rin who will set the terms of the marriage.) The answer to question five is also yes – if they wait until Rin is 20 before marrying – especially given that we now know the truth about their supposed kinship.
It’s only the last question that I have misgivings about, but for reasons that may surprise you. I’ll expand upon that in the third part of this post.
A polemical approach to Bunny Drop
Many people have criticised the manga for its unexpected and supposedly tacked-on conclusion. Further, it surprises – and disappoints – me that a female reviewer would entirely ignore the underlying feminist polemic that propels the manga. If Yumi Unita’s political motivations are taken on board then the end is not only not shocking but it becomes central to her argument.
Let me provide a different reading of the first half: Daikichi isn’t learning how to be a father; he is learning what it is like to be a single mother. We now have an entirely different slant on what Bunny Drop is about. Daikichi, a privileged male from a patriarchal family, must learn how constricted are the choices for women in a modern society. The manga rams this point home time and again not only with the problems he faces but also with the examples of Kouki’s mother, Haruko, his co-worker who takes on a low status job, and even Masako. Single mothers are isolated, restricted and condemned. Society tells them how they must behave. It deprives them of choice.
The second half of the manga takes a different tack by showing women making choices we don’t want them to make: Kouki’s mother choosing someone other than Daikichi; Masako continuing on in her self-centred world; her response to her daughter’s marriage; Rin overlooking Kouki; and, of course, her choice of marriage partner. The argument has been developed: a woman’s freedom to choose, so long as she chooses something we approve of, is no freedom at all. Women must be free to make choices that confound us.
At the start of Bunny Drop a conservative, patriarchal family condemns the unorthodox behaviour of an old man and his young house cleaner. At the end of Bunny Drop we are cast into the role of that family facing the same dilemma. Have we learned the lesson that Yumi Unita is teaching us? Rin Kaga is a capable, intelligent woman who knows precisely what she wants in life. Are we so sexist, so patriarchal, so conservative that we would deny her that life just because it makes us uncomfortable? The end takes us back full circle to the beginning. Where on Yumi Unita’s political compass do you fall?
A personal approach to Bunny Drop
Possibly the main reason why I have never been unnerved by the end of the manga (and why, perhaps, I can see it differently to other people) is that I am the product of exactly that sort of marriage. My father was 24 years older than my mother; they were related – my grandfather (my mother’s father) and my father were cousins and good mates; and my mother knew my father well from childhood. Like Rin and Daikichi, my mother was the headstrong, wilful one while my father was the mild, generous one. By all accounts it was a relatively happy marriage between two consenting, equal adults.
I say “by all accounts” because I know all too well what the real problem is with such a marriage. The man will die many years before the woman, something that people here aren’t imagining. My mother was left a young widow – I never met my father. This, of course, is a practical problem, not an ethical or polemical thought exercise. Four years later my mother married a man within 12 months of her own age, surely meeting the approval of everyone here given all the rhetoric in this thread. He was an abusive man and it was an unhappy marriage.
It isn’t the age difference that matters. Or the social relationship. It’s what’s in people hearts. Rin and Daikichi have their hearts in the right place. I’m rooting for them. Readers here should show the same generosity.
I had been going to write my own comments, but honestly, I think the post speaks for itself. To this day, I still wonder how I would have reacted if I’d managed to read through the story without knowing how it would end. I would like to think I’d have been as generous and insightful as errinundra, that I’d have been astute enough to realise what Unita Yumi was trying to say with this manga.
As it turns out, after being spoiled so badly, I accepted their relationship quite readily, probably because I was prepared for the change. But I didn’t think about it quite in this way until I came across this post. Quite thought provoking, non?