People watch anime for as many reasons as they play video games. For me, it’s always been a way to temporarily escape from real-life hardship, frustration, negative thoughts, and so on. More fantastical shows like One Piece, YuYu Hakusho, and Magi draw me in because the protagonists are able to go on thrilling adventures and see wondrous new places with their friends in much more interesting worlds than our own. Even silly Slice of Life comedies like 2017’s Blend-S have genuine appeal because of how carefree and lighthearted they are. When I stumbled upon Poco’s Udon World, I was expecting another mindlessly fun anime in the same vein.
Boy, did I get a reality check.
Little Bundle of Joy
Poco’s Udon World is a full-fledged journey of self-reflection. It opens on a somber note with 30 year-old Souta Tawara returning to his hometown of Kagawa Prefecture following his father’s passing. Souta hasn’t been back ever since he struck out on his own to make it in Tokyo 10 years prior. It’s rare to see an anime focus on a much older, more established protagonist, and it’s a welcome change of pace. The wistful nature with which Souta sees his childhood town is both a breath of fresh air and incredibly relatable.
It’s not much later that we’re introduced to the show’s namesake, Poco. Seemingly homeless and without a guardian, it doesn’t take long for the adorable Poco to wiggle his way into Souta’s naturally gentle heart. It’s soon revealed that Poco is actually one of the fabled tanuki that inhabit the region, and as a result can take the form of humans whenever he likes. Despite the initial shock and bewilderment, however, Souta decides to take him in temporarily until he has to return to Tokyo for work.
Poco is central to the plot throughout, but his being a tanuki doesn’t feel absolutely necessary until the very last couple of episodes; it’s more so the responsibility of caring for a young child that makes Poco so invaluable to the growth of multiple cast members. The show leans on the adorableness of Poco in his half-tanuki form (little ears and all) to draw viewers in before quickly subverting their happy-go-lucky expectations—and it works.
On a macro level, Poco’s Udon World is about Souta coming to terms with his decision to leave his family and friends behind to make a life for himself despite his family’s wishes for him to take over his father’s udon shop. On a micro level, it’s all about the complexities of growing up and finding meaning in our lives. How are we influenced by our parents, and why is there a constant need to prove ourselves and make them feel proud of us? What’s the line between “family first” and being held hostage by the expectations they put upon you? And just how much does the wisdom only gained with age shed light on the perspectives you once despised them for having?
The answers to these questions reveal themselves gently and naturally. The stresses that come with looking after Poco constantly reminds Souta of how much he put his parents through growing up. Similarly, Souta’s sister Rin refused to give her parents grandchildren when they were alive because of deep-rooted self-doubt around being able to raise a child well. Her experiences with Poco gradually begin to soften that stance.
Realistic Yet Comforting
What’s even more impressive than the immense character growth throughout the season is how realistically the show portrays how life pans out. Souta runs into a high school crush when he first gets back and is absolutely stunned by how pretty yet familiar she looks after all these years. But as he moved forward with his life and career, she settled down and is now happily married with a couple kids. There’s no typical “happily ever after” scenario here; for as fantastical as Poco’s Udon World is at times, its depiction of adult life is nothing but genuine.
It’s common for anime to evoke feelings of suspense, tension, comfort, and even infatuation. But Poco’s Udon World manages to convey something a bit more complex that’ll vary depending on your own life experiences. For this writer, it served as a reminder of just how fleeting life is, and how certain conflicts when young don’t need to completely color relationships years later. It handles the emotional intricacies of lingering resentment between family members in a way that inspires you without preaching to you. Poco may be adorable, and LIDENFILMS’ soft yet vibrant art direction may be soothing, but this show is easily recommendable for completely different reasons. Don’t sleep on this one.
You can watch Poco’s Udon World on Crunchyroll here.