Kotaro Lives Alone
Kotaro Sato is a 4-year-old boy apparently living alone in the apartment building where Shin Karino, a slacker manga creator, is living. He wonders what's going on with this kid, but the truth may be very dark indeed.
Sure, it's completely unbelievable that a four-year-old could possibly be as independent as Kotaro- or as articulate. (Even more so that he speaks in the courtly manner of medieval Japan, though we're told he got that from his favorite TV show, Tonosaman. Karino, who sort of becomes Kotaro's unofficial "guardian", declares he doesn't understand what the kid sees in that show.)
But Rie Kugimiya's VA performance as Kotaro is simply amazing; I would bet even Rie-haters who heard it would admit that, though THEY might just snarkily observe that she'd finally found her niche. Personally, as I've said several times, I've always found Rie a more versatile performer than some have given her credit for being, and have been pleased to see her, over the years, try on roles that break with the stereotype she's been stuck with- and she NAILS Kotaro. The only time you can detect any echoes of her tsundere personas is in the rare instances when Kotaro really loses his temper.
As to the questions of why, and how, Kotaro Lives Alone, we'll get much of this backstory as the show goes on. But the show is mainly in the here-and-now, and focuses on his interactions with the people in his apartment building who start watching out for him, and also on his peers in kindergarten. It seems that some of the adults had their own, sometimes still unresolved, childhood traumas, while some of Kotaro's classmates don't have enough appreciation of their own GOOD parents; and Kotaro, from his own (we gather VERY dark experience) has some things to tell them about all that. Despite his usual calm manner, Kotaro's acutely sensitive to the emotions of others- and can spot a lie a mile off. I was wondering if he realized that Karino was telling him the greatest lie of all- for his own good- at the end.
It seems like a good time to introduce the adult cast. I'll note here ANOTHER way this show surprised me- it's rare that one of the principal members of an adult ensemble actually disappears from the show about mid-way (I won't say WHO, though):
-Shin Karino has already been mentioned. His editor (who has the most self-consciously fake chuckle you'll ever hear) constantly cajoles him to put more emotion into his manga art. Karino’s also a slob. As you might predict, his relationship with Kotaro- even if he sees it (at least at first) as more moral obligation than genuine affection- has a salutary effect on his OWN deficiencies.
-Mizuki Akitomo is another apartment resident, an attractive young woman who works at a hostess club. She and Karino have a kind of mild rivalry for Kotaro's time.
-Isamu Tamaru is drawn to LOOK like the stereotype of a Yakuza, and indeed DOES seem to be one. His gushing over Kotaro at first led me to believe he was a child molester too (and Kotaro always deals with him at plastic-swordpoint). But the truth seems to be that he has a kid of his own, but his ex-wife has a restraining order, and he misses being a dad.
-Ayano Kobayashi is a young attorney who's been assigned to handle a continuing task with Kotaro. She's always nervous in his presence, because she knows something she's supposed to never reveal to him. Well, she DOES reveal SOMETHING to him, when he arranges for her to get drunk in the hope she'll spill the secret she's so obviously concealing. (As previously noted, Kotaro's rather precocious.) The "Now I Can Never Be Married!" cliche would be applicable here, but fortunately is avoided.
-Takei Sumire is a woman who has a problem with social expectations, telling Karino, "You have no idea what it's like to be a woman who's not good around kids." I was unaware of the practice, which deliberately puts distance between parents and their children, that Sumire was traumatized by as a child. But I was also unaware of two items being regarded as edible (at least by poor kids in THIS show) that would certainly not be regarded as "food" in the U.S. . This is all deeply sad, as was the outcome of a scene where Kotaro requests some balloons; a moving scene, definitely, but just such a sad one...
And yet all the show's darkness is leavened by its humanity and its humor, though the humor is sometimes a bit on the mature side. At one point, Karino is assumed to be Kotaro's father, and he DOES start to wonder about it; after all, he's 31, and HAS been around. (I'd also note that the show's eccentric character art might give him reasons for suspicion; Kotaro's irises are drawn as rectangles, and Karino's own are a bit on the quadrilateral side as well.)
The show does avoid the issue of sexual exploitation of Kotaro (whatever our suspicions about Tamaru's behavior), but he IS the object of other attempts at exploitation- but, as someone says at one point (and it's a WHALE of an understatement), "Kotaro's so mature that he doesn't behave like other kids his age."
The Rec is a show that also deals in human foibles (and in human redemption), but to be honest I prefer Kotaro's oddball lead and eccentric humor to the "straight" human drama of the Rec. Kotaro is a perfect blend of comedy and drama, sadness and hope, and the human desire to protect the vulnerable (whether they think they need it or not.) — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Netflix says TV-14. There's abuse of both adults and children, though the show dwells much more on the aftermath than on graphic depictions of the acts themselves. Well, there's also Kobayashi's Embarrassment as well. (Again, not that graphic at all; personally I think she's still marriageable.)
Version(s) Viewed: Netflix digital stream
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Kotaro Lives Alone ©
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