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Normally, I would start this review with a joke or some stupid bit of imaginary dialogue as a way of easing people into the content. But to be completely honest with everyone reading, I do not have one this time.
Because, well, fuck this show is so sad…
Kotaro Lives Alone was released on Netflix early last month, and given that I have not been keeping as up to date on their releases, came as a bit of a surprise. What I initially guessed to be little more than a run-of-the-mill slice of life series ended up being something that at points was hard to watch, but not necessarily in a bad way.
The series focuses on Kotaro Sato, a kindergartener who has moved into the same apartment complex as an aspiring mangaka Shin Karino. Kotaro eventually makes friends with most of the people in the building, but it leaves everyone wondering: why is this kid in an apartment by himself? The others in the building soon come to find out about Kotaro’s dark past and his relationship with his parents.
Kotaro and Trauma
For anyone who has yet to see this series and becomes interested in watching it, let me use this space to offer a bit of a warning. For as cute an aesthetic the show has, Kotaro Lives Alone goes to some surprisingly harsh places. Thus, I suggest those who are triggered by similar experiences hold off or proceed with caution. Given that I will be discussing these same elements throughout the rest of this review, the warning applies here as well.
With that being said, It would be hard to have an honest conversation about the show’s subject matter without mentioning the themes of abuse and trauma. Kotaro Lives Alone is not a question, but a statement. A reality imposed by the unacceptable behavior of his parents. Thus, he is forced to fend for himself, and it is only after he becomes friends with his various neighbors like Karino, Mizuki, and Tamaru that he begins to truly lower his guard. It is an honest view of how these systems can inevitably warp our minds to focus solely on survival, represented by Kotaro’s persistent desire to “become stronger”
Ok, but Why a Kindergartener?
At first, I did think it weird to have the main character be at an age where most kids are barely able to speak, let alone pay taxes and rent. After all, the idea that a four-year-old would be allowed live alone and sign contracts sounds pretty ridiculous. Regardless, the nature of animation is exaggeration, and one of the biggest known effects of trauma is forcing kids to mature at a pace they would otherwise not.
It is within this framework that we can begin to understand Kotaro’s character. The extent of his abuse has created a child who is not only self-reliant but one who actively refuses the help of others as a means of saving face. All of this makes Kotaro a much quieter kid, who makes friends in a way that feels awkward to someone who watching from the outside.
What’s more, Kotaro’s personality is much different from that of his peers. It is noted often and by multiple characters that Tono-Sama, his favorite show, is not particularly popular among kids his age. The show’s focus appears to be on strength and personal responsibility, how to be a good kid, and things that have also been forced on Kotaro by his situation.
It Takes a Village
In the absence of said abusive parents, Karino thinks it important to help Kotaro in his day-to-day endeavors. Thus, he, along with the others living in the apartment, decides to help look after the young boy. As previously mentioned, it takes a while for Kotaro to get used to the idea of trusting these random adults, but eventually, he becomes used to their company.
The relationships Kotaro builds with Karino and the others are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. For every moment in which the group becomes closer, another element of the kid’s broken past seems to come out, whether it be the fact that he doesn’t like having his picture taken because his father used it to track him down or his affinity for large meals due to the absence of consistent food.
Stability for Kotaro has largely been a privilege, and getting comfortable is hard for him.
For as compelling a story as Kotaro Lives Alone is, its animation is one of the departments where I would say it feels lacking. Not bad per se, as the choice of bright colors contrasts well with the drabness of flashbacks to Kotaro’s past. Rather, I cannot really come up with anything particularly praiseworthy about it. Which, in all fairness, is true of most shows I review.
Another thing I slightly dislike is the character designs, specifically concerning Kotaro. Idk if this was another choice specifically motivated by psychology, but his eyes look almost lizard-like. There is a deadness there which just feels incredibly off-putting. Again, it makes sense given the context of the story, the whole premise is incredibly off-putting. I wonder, though, if maybe there was another way to portray that through his character design.
Kotaro Lives Alone is an incredibly special series. It is rare that shows tackle social issues specifically and with this much depth. It was indeed hard to watch at times, but mostly because of the painful reality of its descriptions. Because of the gripes I mentioned with its animation, along with some of the later episodes kind of blending together, I cannot give it a perfect score, but it does deserve your undivided attention at some point.
How did you feel after watching Kotaro Lives Alone? Let me know in the comments.
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