By: Beata Garrett | @clearsummers
Disclaimer: This post contains discussions that may be triggering for some readers. Content warning for child abuse, child neglect, and trauma. By clicking “Read More,” you understand that you may encounter such content. Reader discretion is advised.
I went into Netflix’s Kotaro Lives Alone expecting comedy and discovered a pretty good depiction of how kids process abuse, found family, and more. Kotaro Lives Alone has a somewhat unbelievable premise about a 4-year-old boy named Kotaro who moves into an apartment building by himself. Once you get over the fact that any landlord would let him do this and that the government wouldn’t have appointed a guardian after his mother’s death, you’ll be won over by the supporting cast of adults and Kotaro himself.
There are genuinely heartbreaking moments in this show that I didn’t expect. It doesn’t hit you over the head with Kotaro’s abuse at the hands of his father, but the effects are seen in almost every single episode. Episode 6 directly addresses it as Kotaro’s father hires a private investigator to find Kotaro. The investigator, Aota, gives Kotaro’s father a fake address, partly because the job got personal for Aota since he’s also a victim of child abuse. Aota recognizes a similar mentality within Kotaro that believes “if [he] get[s] stronger, [his] father will love [him] and not abuse [him], and that [they] can live together again” (Episode 6, Kotaro Lives Alone).
The relationships between parents who are abusive and their kids aren’t always black and white, and Kotaro Lives Alone demonstrates this perfectly. People can still admire and want their parents’ affection despite all the hurt the parents caused them. And Kotaro still holds hope that his father will be kind to him again despite all evidence to the contrary. At one point, a con artist calls Kotaro, who continues talking to the con artist because his voice “sounded like my father when he was kind” (Episode 6, Kotaro Lives Alone). Kotaro’s longing for his parents is palpable in his fond memories of them at their best moments and his hope to live with them again someday.
Source: Episode 6, Kotaro Lives Alone
Kotaro’s backstory makes it even more touching that Kotaro does find the care and love he was missing from his parents with the apartment residents. He becomes especially close with a manga artist named Shin, and the two change each other’s lives. Just as Kotaro needs adult supervision at times and the comfort of knowing someone is there for him (even if he’s incredibly self-sufficient), Shin also needs to be held responsible for something.
In Episode 1, Shin lives by himself in a messy apartment, frequently misses work deadlines, and hasn’t showered in weeks. The first thing Kotaro does is ask him to go to the bathhouse together, which forces Shin to bathe. This moment showcases one of the anime’s strengths: depicting the positive effects of Kotaro on those around him, which contrasts Kotaro’s powerlessness when he was with his parents, and his inability to change them (not that any kid should have that responsibility).
Kataro’s effect on Shin continues to be shown throughout the series. In Episode 10, Shin’s motivation to meet work deadlines is because of Kotaro. An ex-girlfriend questions why Shin should look after a when he’s always been unreliable, to which Shin replies, “I decided, even if it’s just for now, that I would keep track of his day-to-day life” and that he wants his manga to succeed so Kotaro doesn’t feel sad (Episode 10, Kotaro Lives Alone).
As a kid, Kotaro forces the people around him to reflect on their responsibilities and lives as many of them aren’t as put-together as they believe themselves to be compared to this child.
Source: Episode 8, Kotaro Lives Alone
By the end of Season 1, it truly feels like the apartment complex has become a home for Kotaro because of the three residents who take care of him. He has a few run-ins with kind people outside the apartment, such as his dentist, but the focus is on his relationship with his neighbors.
I focused on Shin a lot, but other supporting characters have grabbed my interest too, like Isamu, a man who doesn’t have custody of his son due to some past mistakes, and Mizuki, a woman who works as a hostess.
Mizuki understands Kotaro’s feelings about his parents best among the cast, as she’s in an abusive relationship with someone she still loves. Unfortunately, Mizuki is replaced after Episode 7 with Sumire, a woman trying to get over her dislike of children.
Sumire is engaging in her own right, but it does feel like Mizuki disappeared for no reason after so much rapport was built between her and Kotaro.
Source: Episode 10, Kotaro Lives Alone
A significant downside of Kotaro Lives Alone is not knowing where the anime will go from here for those of us who haven’t read the manga. The anime is about a community raising a child, but, as we already saw with Mizuki, apartment residents may have to leave for any number of reasons. If they do, Kotaro will be left alone again. I’m curious what the next season will bring and whether it’ll remain episodic or give Kotaro a permanent guardian as it seems no one Kotaro’s gotten close to has considered adopting him or, at least, fully taking him in, which leaves his future somewhat uncertain.
Overall, I’d rate Kotaro Lives Alone 9/10. I like it a lot, but I feel that a more plot-driven story would be beneficial for the next season so that Kotaro can achieve a greater sense of stability and so viewers won’t become bored of the episodic formula.
You can currently stream this anime on Netflix in the US.