What’s Family? A Response to Yi’s Post on Usagi Drop

Yesterday, Yi posted a wonderful (as usual) piece.  In it, she argues for the path Usagi Drop takes after the material that was covered in the series.  She claims that the evolution and devolution of certain relationships in the series are fitting and well done.  While I won’t argue with the relationships that did not come to pass (in fact, I see these as very strong points, if not disappointing ones), I don’t agree with the elephant in the corner of the manga page.

Art by パタ

The Listless Ink post gave me an opportunity to write down the feelings I’d had since first reading the manga several months ago.  Although these points are no doubt more thoroughly and elegantly covered in the comments on Yi’s site, I still felt the necessity to get these thoughts off of my chest and onto the digital page.

Warning: Spoilers galore after the jump

My problem with the ending of Usagi Drop, particularly, is this: the series has run with a theme that is very important – a family is more than blood ties.  And even more specifically, a father sacrifices for his daughter and a daughter can find love from a father who sacrifices – blood related or not, it’s all about the actions we do which make us family.

Usagi Drop runs with this poignant theme and takes the cheap, romantic way out.  The signs are there right from the beginning that the mangaka was going to move this direction (though I doubt most readers, including myself, would’ve allowed ourselves even the possibility that the series would end this way).  Unfortunately, this ending undermines the theme I mentioned above, which is the most important one of the manga.  Basically, the ending undoes the wonderful message of Usagi Drop.  The work is a victims of its own success – we wouldn’t care if a manga less kind, touching, subtle, and beautiful had an faux incest ending, but Usagi Drop’s too darn good to let the ball drop.

Usagi Drop
"Rin, one day, when you've graduated college, we'll get married like a proper couple. It's okay, because we're not blood related." (Art by か)

The pre-time skip volumes make this point clear: Daikichi is becoming Rin’s dad.  Any observer can see that.  He cares for her and loves her like a dad should love a daughter.  And just because Rin doesn’t call him dad, or she’s had troubles developing a romantic relationship, or she she’s not related by blood to him, that doesn’t suddenly change their relationship from father-daughter to lovers.

Usagi Drop
Precisely how adoptions should end, particularly if the girl has some guy issues (Art by *けかん)

In a rotten way, the beautiful story devolved into a Woody Allen-Soon Yi tale.  Woody Allen was not legally the adoptive father of Soon Yi, but he was still a father figure, adding a shocking twist to the story of the famed director leaving his muse for her adoptive daughter.  This story was a big one in the 90s because it was so sensational and also tested our thoughts about what constitutes incest.  Soon Yi wasn’t literally Woody Allen’s daughter, so I guess it didn’t matter.

And that’s what Usagi Drop ultimately tells us: Rin is just an adopted, throw-away girl, so it doesn’t matter if she marries Daikichi.  After all, she’s not really family.


44 thoughts on “What’s Family? A Response to Yi’s Post on Usagi Drop

  1. I’m of the opinion that if the manga didn’t lose it’s fans once the good ship timeskip sailed, then the mangaka might have been able to more naturally evolve the eventual ending and explored Daikichi’s issues and motivations. We just don’t know what would have been. Fickle readers, pressure from the publishers, stubborn mangaka = botched ending.

    Still, that doesn’t defend how it turned out; it’s an unconvincing disappointment. I just think it’s a bit extreme to reduce it to “Rin is just an adopted, throw-away girl, so it doesn’t matter if she marries Daikichi”. That’s a bit like saying “Spike is just a cold man running from a violent past, so it doesn’t matter if he’s committing manly suicide.”

    1. That’s an interesting point – I know nothing about Usagi Drop’s publishing history and further development would’ve changed the manga. But to me, the presentation wasn’t poor; it was the end choice itself that was the problem. Throughout the entirety of the manga’s first half, we are gently introduced to this wonderful father-daughter relationship. But in the second half cheats us – like an adulterous spouse. The rug is swept out from under us and the emphasis is placed on finding the love of one’s life rather than on continuing an emphasis on family.

      The more I reflect on this, the more I think that what the mangaka was trying to do was with good intentions – a marriage based on sacrificial love is bound to be stronger than one based on emotion, mutual interests, “fate,” or other things – but I think that was an ending for another story and one that was not at all right for this one.

      1. Yes, I do agree. Any hypothetical good intentions didn’t make it better. I just can’t harsh on it “too much”, because ultimately it was clear that there was a plan there that was somewhat thwarted. I’m just as annoyed with the people who derided it for not being Yotsuba, and daring to have the cute little girl grow up.

        I think it would have worked given appropriate arcs and development, but because it never got that chance it was doomed to be what you say: the wrong ending for the wrong story, and doubly damned because it’s such a controversial and touchy issue.

        1. It’s a shame, because the manga, in general, is so touching. And even though I rail against the ending, I don’t know place series endings as vitally important as some and can genuinely say that Usagi Drop is still a very, very good manga.

  2. Well, in all honesty, somewhere I expected things to fall into a loop and we’d have an ending with Rin’s death, via suicide or another tragedy, and Daikichi coping… then I realized that’s just my life, and I shouldn’t project onto fiction… because that doesn’t happen, right? So the ending for me was composed of Rin’s happiness and Daikichi negligently going along with Rin’s initiative. I never felt Daikichi was romantically in love with Rin, and from his perspective the end situation is more like an arranged union with Rin behind the wheel. Rin, on the otherhand, did what’s she’s done since childhood and went in headstrong leaving Daikichi few if any options short of a severe and potentially family-shattering argument. And Daikichi probably did have other options, like finding someone to settle with while Rin was still young, but it never happened (would have also ended up being every American TV show in the late 80s/90s, and there’s no edge in that).

    After all, she’s not really family.

    I don’t really follow. I’m not sure the absence of biological relation is something that tells us “it didn’t matter.” (It matters if one believe it matters) And I believe research shows that cultural arguments against incestuous relationships typically do not involve genetics; this is a modern concept. If it does in fact matter, without the biological relation, I’d suggest that it matters in a strictly cultural aspect, which is both subjective and dependent on context. The objective argument against Daikichi and Rin’s relationship would need to fall into the realm of genetics, but because they are not biologically related, there is no argument. Thus, the existing argument would be primarily subjective and contextual.

    I think the author did this on purpose. It was a method of ending the story without doubling the length and further investigating the trials of broken families +heartbreak and healing, but because there is no biological relation, it’s difficult to argue objectively; stalemate.

    1. I think your analysis of their union is head-on – that’s the vibe I also got when reading it. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that type of marriage…except, of course, for the (only kinda) incest. -_-‘

      As for the family angle – cultural, sure, but that’s also to be taken in as part of the context. The manga impresses upon us a very cultural issue – the definition of family. Throughout the first half of the series, Yumi Unita continually shows us that family doesn’t have to be traditional – it’s about the heart. And then, in one fell swoop, BAM, it’s gone. That’s my point – the implied message (through I’m sure unintentional) is that Rin was never really family, so it’s okay for her to marry Daikichi. That undermines the wonderful message of the manga’s childhood years arc.

      Thanks for the commentary, Ryan – your points are (unsurprisingly) strong.

    2. Are you kidding me? “After all, she’s not really family.” That was a blatantly sarcastic remark.

  3. I kept thinking that Soon Yi meant that Yi would be marrying Woody Allen relatively soon. I was very confused by this until I remembered that Soon Yi was another person.

    On topic, I recently finished the manga… and I didn’t find the ending all that bad. I felt it out of place and just a bit awkward, sure, but I was able to accept that Daikichi and Rin were together in a romantic sense at that point. It was a bit weird and most certainly unexpected, the pretty decent sized age gap included, but it tied well with the end of the story. Plus, I imagine Rin still had a few abandonment issues to work through at that point, so staying with somebody familiar to her most likely kept things from feeling too weird… for her.

    I’ll admit though, it took me a little while to think it was a good ending.

    1. I can see how you might’ve read it that way…

      I agree about how the ending “works” in a literary way. It’s clear that this was the intent from early on – the story drive toward it if we’re willing to open our eyes. In a literary sense, it’s a “good ending.” But of course, I have issues with what I believe it means.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

  4. I don’t disagree that Rin and Daikichi are true father-daughters, and I do think they are family. What I think I disagree with you on is that I don’t believe a romantic relationship and a parent-child one are mutually exclusive. When I read the manga, I felt strongly that by the end, Rin harbors both filial and romantic love for Daikichi; neither feeling is stronger or weaker than the other. It’s not quite that the relationship changes from father-daughter to lovers, it’s that in addition to father-daughter, they are now also lovers. My post is based on that.

    And because for me, those emotions are not mutually exclusive, I have to disagree with your conclusion that Usagi Drop treats Rin as a throwaway girl. After all, just because she is really family doesn’t mean the love and the marriage are not OK.

    As an aside, I love Ryan’s comment above.

    1. Thanks for replying, Yi. I loved your post, obviously, even if we disagree. 🙂

      I think that as a father (of a girl and a boy), it’s easy for me to see something inherently wrong with adding “lover” to the father-daughter relationship. Obviously, I’m not the only one that thinks that. I don’t think the manga is arguing against it either, because it presents two outs: Rin comes of age AND she’s not blood-related – thus, my harsh conclusion that she’s not really considered family.

  5. Wow, I’m surprised they decided to take that route when, as you said, the original idea was so good. I’m reminded of the Sesshoumaru-Rin shippers. (I myself thought Kagura was a more natural choice, but we all know what happened there.) What is so interesting about someone basically raising a wife? Oh, well.

  6. Yi admits that there is no problem for her (?) with a romantic relationship between even a biological father and daughter. Needless to say Yi’s opinion of what constitutes a realistic relationship or good characterisation is dubious at best. Though the moral majority can get it wrong (racism homophobia etc) I don’t they’re wrong in this case. Yi strikes me as an individual who is deeply out of touch with reality, just because what she wrote was well written does not make it valid. The later half of Usagi Drop was teen melodrama and nothing more. Realistic, my ass.

    1. I remember reading her Yi’s comments about that and doing a double-take – did I just read what I thought I read? Still today, it boggles my mind, and I think, probably could use some clarifying from her. While it’s good to be open to any thought and weigh it’s merits before jumping to judgment, father-daughter romantic relationships are unacceptable for so many, many reasons, from a Christian perspective or otherwise.

  7. So I haven’t read the manga, and have just finished the anime. I’ve actually been warned a few times to not read the manga because it will “ruin” the beautiful anime. Personally, I doubt that, for sure.

    But I know, from reading up on the manga, how it ends, as well as reading the comments here, not to mention your strong opinion above.

    I have a question: Is Rin’s falling and love and marriage with Daikichi a sort of … karmic event? Is there is a connection made in the story with her mom’s relationship with Daikichi’s dad?

    1. That’s an interesting idea. You could be right, but I just don’t quite see it, particularly because I only see the loosest connections between the two relationships. Remember that Daikichi’s grandfather, after all, isn’t even Rin’s biological dad.

      Upon further reflection, though, I wonder if the mangaka was trying to make a statement about the power of love. After crafting such a gentle story, maybe her ending was trying to reflect that love isn’t just a romantic thing – it’s deeper and more sacrificial. Daikichi gave up all his prospects to care for and love Rin, and she in return feels a sense of love in return. I can’t get past the physical aspect of this marriage – and certainly that must be there – but maybe the point is the caretaker aspect, by which Rin can’t help but respond to Daikichi with love out of the love she was shown first.

  8. I’ve been rereading the manga and the feeling I get now from the ending is that the mangaka wanted to bring the story full circle. It started with Daikichi taking care of Rin and starting an unconventional family and ends with them marrying and Rin taking care of an aging Daikichi and becoming and unconventional family. Daikichi made sacrifices to raise her and now she is making sacrifices to take care of Daikichi. I can’t help but think that the idea Rin has in her head of marriage is very different from what would be considered the norm and Daikichi just goes with it.

    I feel if the manga had explored Rin’s conflicted feelings for Daikichi in more depth it would have been better instead of stopping where it did. That obviously wouldn’t be palatable to everyone, though the ending isn’t palatable to many people now, but that would have brought better closure to the series at least for me.

    1. I agree with you – I do believe that was the mangaka’s intent. I’m not sure how the ending was taken in Japan, but certainly from my point of view, it falls into the area of “well meaning, but a spectacular failure.” Primarily because of this – the mangaka created such a lovely, significant, beautiful piece that it was a disservice to end with what feels like a strangely conventional (at least for manga) ending. Worse is that it takes the loveliness of Daikichi and Rin’s relationship and changes it from a self-sacrificial one to one that stands on give-and-take, and thus, all the lessons of love, grace, compassion, and care that have built throughout the run are diminished, if not lost entirely.

  9. 0.O;;

    Ooookay, in what dimension is it even remotely okay for an adopted kid to marry their father?! …Japan, apparently. XD Then again the place is, well, spectacularly and creepily sexist at times. If the anti-feminism crowd wants a picture of what a modern society with no exposure to the feminist movement looks like, Japan is it. Some parts of the place I dearly wish would come back (Femininity of women, ability of women to be passive/submissive without being derided, marriages in which one breadwinner is economically possible) and other pieces I’m just….disturbed by….<< (Incredibly young sexualization of girls, female-personality flatness in a lot of media, fathers marrying their own daughters…)

    Particularly disturbed because my best friend is adopted and not even remotely related by blood to her parents. (Pureblood Korean in a Caucasian family).

    1. Well, some anti feminists, specially the ones with a religious motivation, are against said sexualizations of girls, and strange relationships.

      In fact, you can see in various feminist sectors, that there is a support for sexualization, only that they don’t seem to like it where the sexualized women does it for others (the viewer) instead of herself. Something that comes a lot in discussions about fanservice in games and anime. There is certain opposition to it, but not for moral reasons, instead, they seem to despise that when is part of what is called “male gaze”, instead, if is something that is part of the character, they support it (being in control of their sexuality, etc, etc).

  10. “There is certain opposition to it, but not for moral reasons, instead, they seem to despise that when is part of what is called “male gaze”, instead, if is something that is part of the character, they support it (being in control of their sexuality, etc, etc).”

    The sexualization of grown women is a bit of a different subject than the sexualization of young girls. I find it essentially impossible to entirely prevent objectification of that kind because it’s basically asking people to stop having a sex drive. Instead, I think that we should just sexualize men more often the way Japan does (And unsexualize women/Make them protagonists without overdoing their attractiveness). Basically equalize the balance of sexiness.

    As for what the “male gaze” is to the confused, it’s basically a cinematic technique which assumes, when the camera is looking at a beautiful woman, that the viewer is attracted to her. It lingers and draws attention to her assets as if she were being viewed by an invisible heterosexual man or a lesbian. Comic panels do the exact same thing, and in addition to this make the woman bend sexually in ways that…..just don’t physically work…more often than men. XD Ex. No human can bend in a way that shows both boobs and their butt from the front at the same time.

    But again, bit of a different subject.

    1. Removing the sexual type of fanservice for productions is not impossible, so there is a way to avoid that sexualization of female characters.

      The solution isn’t to bring more of that but instead putting men as the new focus.

      Basically, the main problem behind the sexual type of fanservice, is incitation to lust, and occasions of sin. That is something that encompases various depictions, from girls, to grown women.

      If the problem instead is focused on other elements, where to draw the line? people is moving the line further, and further.

  11. “Basically, the main problem behind the sexual type of fanservice, is incitation to lust, and occasions of sin. That is something that encompases various depictions, from girls, to grown women.”

    Well I guess it depends on your morality…For me anyway there’s no problem as long as it’s “fair.” Mainly because I don’t see lust as a sin exactly….It seems bizarre to me that people would loathe an instinctual drive put in place by God. Isn’t it more what lust causes people to do (Desire after a woman you’re not married to?)

    Because if you eliminated it entirely, you wouldn’t even desire your own wife in bed. o__o; I mean, media is a form of escapism for the most part. It doesn’t seem entirely possible to divorce daydreamed lovers from it, and thus lust. (It wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. )

    More of a concrete line between beauty and pornography might be the key, though…

  12. Well…that’s just it. Pretty much all of the Deadly Sins are exaggerated, dangerous forms of completely natural emotions. The result of us using our own judgment to make our decisions rather than God’s moderation and common sense.

    (1). “Pride” is an excess or lack of self-worth. In fact it’s the latter that, in psychology, most often is the true trigger for pride! It’s what turns bullies into bullies and narcissists into narcissists. (It’s also why I think the Devil’s true cardinal sin must be Envy, not Pride—- But he’d have a good reason for burying that little detail deep…) When you lack self-worth, what happens to most people is that you desperately claw at it in an unbecoming an arrogant fashion…Or you develop an inferiority complex which is every bit as ugly. Or actually…both, at the same time.

    Basing your self-worth on what you yourself can do rather than what God made you for leads to this kind of cancer…

    (2). Wrath is an exaggerated form of anger, which God Himself is said to possess.

    (3). Envy is the odd one out because it does not have a natural trigger. There isn’t a misery prerequisite for Envy’s existence— It happens whenever you feel inadequate compared to someone else. Envy leads to Pride. That is not a normal emotion, because we were all made for a purpose. And it also has the most sadistic, disturbing results of all— See Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

    (4). Gluttony is the excessive form of desire for food. Greed is the excessive form of a natural need for security. Interestingly, Greed for the pleasure of being with one’s loved ones is also Greed. Attachment. This is what Ling’s statement really meant. “If you would throw away something that you want, than how dare you call yourself GREED!”

    (5). Sloth is the excessive desire to stop and rest, which was put in place so that we wouldn’t break ourselves with work and would finally sleep.

    And so it is with Lust. The “root cause” IS sexual attraction— That’s the problem. The problem is not what we’re feeling or what society encourages us to feel— It’s that we’re not listening to God’s statements on how we should use it.

    1. No, the root cause is lust, the misuse of sexual attraction. And is easy to avoid from an author viewpoint. Just don’t add certain things.

  13. “the misuse of sexual attraction.”

    Precisely my point. Lust is the misuse of a relatively legitimate drive in human beings, that has existed since God said “Be fruitful and multiply.” All the sins are like that except Envy—- They are corruptions of the good.

    “And is easy to avoid from an author viewpoint. Just don’t add certain things.”

    And again I propose that if you want to create an idealized romance, eliminating all “lust” from it is impossible. You technically can (See Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) but modern audiences then no longer believe what they see. I believe that the depictions should be turned down from their current rather pornographic nature, but doing so will not eliminate the sin at issue. In fact…..

    My Christian sister and her husband inform the other when they believe a person walking down the street is hot. Why? So that they do not repress the instinctual drive and thus frustrate it (Which causes half of all the trouble involved!) but still conform to a belief in the sanctity of marriage by not acting on that attraction.

    If the crux of a sin is acting upon one’s desire (Fixating on the object of desire, acting on one’s illicit attraction…) ….then it’s not the media causing the problem. To hold a lustful thought momentarily in one’s mind while one runs from the neverending stress of work, and then to discard it when it no longer serves that purpose….does not seem to me the same as becoming obsessed with and acting on it.

    1. When one recognizes the lustful thought (lustful thought, not simply thinking, “she is beautiful” or something similar), it should be discarded.

      What I mean, is to avoid putting pantyshots, exposing certain lingerie, and body parts, explicit scenes, etc. That is easy to avoid, just don’t put it.

      Yes, the media is causing the problem by providing the occasion of sin. The fault goes in both directions, the one providing the cause, and the one that falls for it.

      1. I would go a step further and say not just media, but the reason for so much sexualization in cinema, anime, etc. is PEOPLE. WE want it. They give us what we want. Ultimately, the entertainment business is a business, and if it’s good business to include more sexualization, and more of women than of men, that’s what they’ll do. This is ultimately a heart issue for individuals, and for the larger society made of individuals.

        As for lust…I think as with any sin, we have to be careful to look at the deeper issue, which is NOT enough God in our lives and too much of ourselves. When a man looks a woman and begins to lust after her, you may be able to push such thoughts out of your mind, but that’s just a temporary fix. God’s grace is what enables us to be changed, to love our wives (or future wives) as Christ loved the church, part of which is to honor them with those feelings, and them alone. We also begin to see people as those who need love, not as body parts, which is part of what moves attraction toward sin. As our hearts move toward God, they move away from sin – repentance is a natural response (though not always an easy one) to God’s grace.

        1. Second paragraph, I agree.

          I was speaking of the reason inside the media (productions providing the occasion of sin). Also, not only for businees, I’m sure a big part of it is put there intentionally. Even if it wasn’t profitable.

          1. “Also, not only for businees, I’m sure a big part of it is put there intentionally. Even if it wasn’t profitable.”

            That doesn’t quite add up. See, businesses are not run by demons— they are run by us. Human beings. And the way capitalism works is that businesses produce what they think we want. Which, usually, is an educated guess based on what the executives themselves or their relatives want— Or what the marketing data says certain demographics want.

            In other words, we en masse drive the system— and it’s “en masse” that causes most of the trouble. It isn’t thrown in there to “make us sin”—- It’s thrown in there because human beings like sinning and will pay money to do so. That’s grim, but it’s the truth.

            1. No. Some people put things in purpose. Social engineering, author appeal, there are many reasons.

              Not all authors are thinking of what is going to sell or not.

              1. True enough— I once made the same point on a completely different forum. People aren’t usually thinking of their audience when they’re writing a book or story no one knows about. But in terms of broad trends and big-shot Hollywood movies— Yeah, nine times out of ten they’re thinking about what is going to sell. XD And sex sells. The same way telling stories about white male everymen sell.

                Even back when the Hayes Codes were still around, they tried to find ways to get around it.

              2. Honestly, I think both of these things are occurring with most pieces of media – audience is (or should be) considered when creating a piece, though the audience is often determined based on what’s profitable.

  14. God’s Grace….the strangest and most mysterious of all things in your religion.The being that makes His move to temper not when the iron is hot and when the person’s mind is open to suggestion, but when the table has long grown cold and hard. :}

    1. Grace is the most unusual thing about Christianity. It doesn’t make any sense at all. But I get it now, as a parent, more than I ever did – as well as the anger to which you refer. My kids make me angry all the time, and justice (well, tbh, pride more than a sense of justice) tells me to punish. But grace stays my hand, or even if I do punish, grace also tells me to immediately forgive and hug and comfort. There’s an honesty and love here that’s so at odds with the world and with our own emotions and sense of right and wrong. Possibly that’s why it’s so amazing.

  15. I doubt the author is a christian… You seem to bring up christianity sins alot. She might have other values than christian poeple..

    Personally I don’t like the thought of incest in real life but in a story that is good I can accept it.

    Sometimes I like watching Stallone murdering, butchering and killing poeple.. which I think is way worse, especially since it sadly happens alot in real life 🙁

    But stories is an escape from reality that some need more than others.

    In this story, if she was going for the incest route I think we should have more chapters about it. Atleast It would have been more interesting than just dropping a bomb on us. Yeah I know a few hints here and there but not enough for me..
    Well.. I do suck at noticing subtle hints in real life so it wouldn’t suprise me if I did not see them in this story. ^^

    1. Yi is not a Christian, certainly, though to be honest, incest is a major ethical concern across cultures, not least of which is because the parental figure can so easily manipulate the child into a relationship. The potential for abuse is so great.

      I tend to agree with you about the Usagi Drop ending also. I thought it was misplaced in terms of literary effectiveness, even though I will say the hints were there all along – it seems the mangaka had this path planned from the beginning. Like you, though, I didn’t notice them as I was reading!

  16. want to share an opinion here…is it possible that the author was influenced by Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji? the main character raised one of his wives from childhood.

    1. Could be – I’m sure every mangaka is intimately familiar with that work. My guess though is that she just decided to move along those trope lines – it’s not the first or only manga that follows this plot or something similar; the difference is that this one was doing something spectacular in the first half before moving this certain direction.

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