Kotaro Lives Alone – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson March 15, 20220 Comments
A small boy in a t-shirt that says GOD, holding a toy sword

What’s it about? They say it takes a village to raise a child. How about an apartment complex? When deadbeat artist Karino notices that his new neighbor is a four-year-old who speaks like a feudal lord and seems to be living on his own, Karino and a collection of other tenants step up to be the parental figures little Kotaro insists he does not need.

As an initial vibe check, I’d describe Kotaro Lives Alone as “deeply odd, but potentially (???) charming.” There’s something fun and heartwarming about the trope of unlikely found families forming, and the show has already set the stage for at least three different hapless, troubled adults being brought together (and brought out of their own bad habits or bad situations) by their protective instincts over this kid. There’s also something off-beat about the show’s comedic timing and its character writing that I can’t quite put my finger on.

There’s also something deeply uncanny about Kotaro himself: the tiny child with slit-eyes who speaks in “verily”s and “good sir”s and has somehow ended up renting a flat on his own. Why is his face like that? On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate bucking the character design trend of making anime kids overly cutesy. On an emotional level, though, Kotaro’s reptilian stare is throwing me off big-time.

Closeup of a small child in a big red hat and scarf. His eyes are drawn with thick vertical lines for pupils

I’m sure it’s intentional. This preschool-aged child crashes into Karino’s disastrous life and he’s so disarmed and baffled by the kid that he has no choice but to react. And Karino can only improve: his apartment is a sea of trash bags, and we’re treated to an interior monologue where he decides he doesn’t need to shower yet because it’s winter and he doesn’t sweat as much. Cherry on the cake, his establishing character moment is him being slapped across the face by a girlfriend for ditching her on a date and then getting her name wrong during his half-hearted apology.

Alright, they’re telling us that the man is trash—I feel like this fact was evident enough without the exhausted, double-standards cliché of “women hitting their boyfriends is fine because it’s funny.” The (literal) slapstick is made weirder by the implication that Mizuki, another neighbor and the only other named female character in the episode, is in some sort of financially and emotionally abusive relationship. We see a text message asking for money, Mizuki reluctantly replying, and the next morning Kotaro and Karino find her passed out drunk in the doorway to her apartment. Kotaro guesses she’s been crying and diligently rushes to the store to get something ice-cold for her to apply to her puffy eyes.

Harrowing implications, no? What happened in Kotaro’s young life that he knows the cure for crying-all-night eye soreness? What’s Mizuki’s situation and is she in danger? It’s a weirdly serious topical pivot after the over-the-top depictions of Karino’s messy bachelor-hood and, of course, after the off-the-wall humor of Kotaro’s whole… everything.

A man in a gray tracksuit fallen over, holding one reddened cheek after just being hit in the face. Subtitle text reads: Yeah, I probably had that one coming, didn't I?
This is not a punchline, guys

So my question going forward is: how rooted in reality is this show going to be? Its whole premise is based on something quite ridiculous that could never really happen, but it seems intent on dipping its toes into grounded and serious topics. It’s certainly not impossible to pull this combination off, but after this slightly off-kilter, uncanny premiere I’m not 100% sure Kotaro Lives Alone will do it. It’s obviously silly, but never quite commits to being funny. It feels less like a comedy and more like a drama with surreal, zany elements.

It makes it hard to predict what stakes are at play. For example, I have no idea whether to apply our “children in peril” content consideration because… is Kotaro in peril? He’s been deliberately vague about why he’s living alone—what happened to his parents or previous guardians?—and the moments when this comes up in conversation seem to hint at some tragic backstory.

However, he’s also bizarrely competent, able to buy his own groceries, clean his own house, and walks around talking like an old-timey nobleman. He’s obviously not meant to be a realistic depiction of a tiny child, which does create some comedy, but also just kind of makes the other aspects of the show that clearly are rooted in reality feel dissonant. Maybe confusion is the desired effect, which case, I’m experiencing this show exactly as the creators intended.

But like I said, all this weirdness could lead to something very charming. Into this harsh reality comes this very uncanny and odd child, ready to pull everyone together and build the world’s weirdest found family in a crummy apartment complex. While I’m still side-eyeing the wildly dissonant depictions of abuse, and it remains to be seen if Karino’s inevitable dad-ification will lead to meaningful and satisfying character growth, there’s potential here. If this kind of strangeness sounds like your ballpark, check it out. I’m still put off by Kotaro’s eyes, but I’ll listen out for reviews to see how the rest of it goes.

About the Author : Alex Henderson

Alex Henderson is a writer and managing editor at Anime Feminist. They completed a doctoral thesis on queer representation in young adult genre fiction in 2023. Their short fiction has been published in anthologies and zines, their scholarly work in journals, and their too-deep thoughts about anime, manga, fantasy novels, and queer geeky stuff on their blog.

Read more articles from Alex Henderson

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