English Title: Kotaro Lives Alone
Original Title: コタローは1人暮らし
An adorable five-year-old who wears the same outfit every day and is never seen without a plastic katana on his waist, moves into a studio apartment by himself and proceeds to make friends with his diverse group of neighbors. This could be a weird dream you had last week but it is in fact the plot of the recent Japanese tv show Koataro Lives Alone. Taken at face value, it’s a pretty ridiculous premise, there’s no way a five-year-old would be allowed to live with no supervision, and even if they were why would any five-year-old want to live alone? The does a good job of explaining away the former, and the actor playing Kotaro does it with enough stoic maturity that if you are willing to buy into it, you are in for one of the most adorable and wholesome, yet strangely compelling, television experiences you can imagine.
The series starts with the titular Kotaro, moving into a six-unit apartment building somewhere in the Japanese suburbs. He introduces himself to the building’s other residents by presenting them with the gift of a box of high-quality tissues. This initial interaction piques the interest of his next-door neighbor Shin, a twenty-something struggling manga artist, who reluctantly starts acting as de facto guardian for Kotaro. As the series progresses Kotaro and Shin get to know the building’s other occupants, a pretty girl down the hall, who is struggling with an abusive boyfriend, and the divorced father downstairs who just wants to be able to spend time with his son.
It is things like the abusive boyfriend and the absentee father, that give Kotaro Lives Alone a tone and feeling that could be very hard to balance with how adorable and precocious Kotaro is. Thankfully the show’s creators are able to make that balance work, without the deeper issues we’d be left with essentially a children’s fairytale about a kid living by himself. However, adding some harder-edged issues, along with the season-long mystery of WHY is Kotaro living alone and what happened to his parents, turns the show into a fairly compelling watch. While it’s the hard edges that make Kotaro compelling, it’s its soft center that gives it enough heart to sustain 10 episodes.
Like any show focused on a kid, it can live or die based on finding the right kid. Thankfully, the producers here did a great job finding Eito Kawahara to play Kotaro. He comes off as mature enough that just maybe he would be able to live by himself, but when he needs it he is able to show the confusion and fear that we know he must be feeling in his situation. The performances of some of the other actors might leave a little to be desired, but it’s hard not to enjoy the dual performances of the actor who plays both parts of the husband and wife who own the apartment building the show is set in.
A few years ago, I probably would never have watched or enjoyed a show like this. I’m sure I would have found it corny and childish, but after living through the chaos that has gripped the world at large over the past few years, shows like this are exactly what I need. There is something comforting about watching a show where you know nobody is going to be shot, and there’s not going to be some ridiculous twist. I fully understand if you think that’s boring but personally, I was so incredibly invested in finding out what happened to these characters that I’d take Kotaro over Game of Thrones any day.
Subs & Dubs: So far I’ve only found it with subtitles. There is a cartoon version coming out next year, I suspect there’s a better chance that will be made with dubbing.
Where to watch: In some countries Kotaro is easily available on Netflix. Unfortunately, it’s not so easily found in the rest of the world, but if you look around enough you can find it with English subtitles. (if try and you still can’t find it, let me know and I can point you in the right direction)