Aishiteruze Baby ★★

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So, I read Aishiteruze Baby! Yeah! Yeah…

Firstly it’s been a while: hello! This week I have 5 recommendations, so one article every day. Why? So I can get to 97 reccs and eventually finish a week on 100. It’s a grab bag, themeless week. Enjoy! Anyway…

Aishiteruze Baby ★★ (愛してるぜベイベ★★, lit. “Baby, My Love”) is a child raising drama manga by Maki Youko (槙ようこ) that, to my knowledge, would be considered a classic. The anime adaptation was one I’ve kinda always known about, but never watched. It was a series I basically considered reading or watching one day simply due to word of mouth. That said, for the most part, I’m not sure how good it is. A few things about it are very good, some things about it are okay, and a large amount of it is, in my opinion, bad. Sometimes in a groan-inducing fashion.

The good: the protagonist and the girl he raises are great. The okay: touches on sensitive, dark subject matter in a mostly mature manner. The bad: …I’ll get into that later. If I had to summarize my criticisms, I’d say that on the whole the story and characters aren’t developed to a satisfactory degree (ESPECIALLY KIPPEI’S LOVE INTEREST, OH MY GOD KOKORO IS THE WORST), and the manga is…I don’t know how to put this…naive? A little too innocent, I guess. That said my overall impression of this series was obviously positive or I wouldn’t write something on it and recommend it, and to be honest I feel like what I took issue with many may not. Furthermore this is a shoujo manga. I know I’m not the target audience, though at the same time it’s not exactly a “normal” shoujo manga and another abnormal shoujo, Taiyou no Ie, is my favorite manga ever so that’s not the greatest excuse.

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This manga is about Katakura Kippei, a casual playboy and pretty boy in his senior year of high school. He’s irresponsible and stupid, but likable! I honestly really like Kippei.

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As is immediately clear, his “main heroine” is this girl, Tokunaga Kokoro, but let’s not talk about Kokoro for now. Let’s start this review with smiles.

Kippei goes home from school in chapter 1 and finds a little girl in the entrance hall. After being perplexed by her for a moment, he learns about her identity.

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See? Kippei is funny. Also, it took Maki-sensei a while to learn how to draw older people. I found this distracting enough to mention it. She just sorta drew the same head shape for all characters and put lines over their faces if they were old. Thankfully this isn’t forever.

So yes, the girl is an abandoned child, abandoned by Kippei’s aunt. Her name is Sakashita Yuzuyu and she’s a very convincing depiction of a five-year-old child. After learning this then, kind of oddly, the family decides to make Kippei Yuzuyu’s effective guardian. This is contrived, there’s no other way to put it. While the decision ultimately has positive consequences, it doesn’t make any sense. Like, yes, both parents of the Kitakura household have jobs, but I know that Kippei’s mother only seems to work locally and does indeed have time to take care of Yuzu (she has three kids, but one is at working age, another is about to be, and the youngest is very mature). At the very least, I know that during times when Kippei was indisposed at school and late to pick up Yuzu from kindergarten she went in his stead. Later on, when Kippei has a school trip for a few days, they have his twelve year old brother take care of Yuzu. What are these people doing. How does any of this make sense. Like, basically, at premise this series is kind of nonsense, but just accept it so you can see some parenting and growing up.

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I mean, these moments are really nice.

Development for Kippei is a liiittle too rapid though. Not that he becomes perfect or something, but he basically stumbles a few times, matures, and he’s just better. I guess it’s like, he handles “wake up calls” extremely well. He’s still immature to the series’ end, which is good because he’s still just a kid, but I dunno I felt like him becoming a decent replacement parent happened a bit too fast given our immediate impression of him is “irresponsible goofball”. I’m reminded of Otaku no Musume-san, another parenting manga with its own positives and faults and woof a terrible ending. But basically, the father in that story similarly begins irresponsible, but it takes him a convincing amount of time to improve. I guess I mainly felt I wanted to see Kippei fail more times than we see before getting to the point of being alright. Also maybe take a bit more time strengthening his bond with Yuzuyu, since it’s really like two or three chapters and bam, nigh unbreakable bond.

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Anyway, surprisingly most of this series isn’t adorable moments. The series is actually arc-based, and it has a consistent formula. There’s not really any room for slice of life, so indeed it grips hard to its classification as “drama” and doesn’t let go. Basically, each new arc introduces a…well, I suppose I’d say “problematic” character or situation. There’s an arc about a stalker, an arc about an abusive mother, an arc about an almost-rapist, and a complicated arc about a cousin that is difficult to summarize for some examples. It’s sometimes a little weird: feels like Kippei and Yuzuyu somehow attract bad folks and bad news whereas before Kippei, at least, did not. Like I mentioned at the start, though, it can be pretty well done, since the resolutions to these arcs aren’t often dramatic. Like, things usually end with calmly talking and maturely reasoning. However, if they “can” be well done, you should notice I’m implying that they also “can’t”.

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Although she actually admits it in her omake, I noticed on my own that Maki-sensei apparently does not think the worst of people, even if those people do some notably terrible things. She believes those who do ill do so for some reason, and so every person has some “right” in them and some capacity for redemption. Well, I don’t agree. Not all people are good. Not every reason makes things right, and people don’t really change easily. Take for instance the woman above. She doesn’t treat her kid nice, and she has “reasons” for it, but they suck. She hits her child, scorns him, and treats him like a moron (he’s only five years old, mind you). Then, Kippei says

“Hey
Hey like
that’s not great, what you’re doing. Your kid loves you, and stuff.”

And this forces her to reconsider everything and become a better mom, very quickly. “I don’t want to hit Shouta”, she thinks, and so she stops just like that. Stops her rage, stops her instant reactions, stops her insults, all because Kippei told her that he may not be a real parent but he tries his best, and also she might wind up losing her son. Like WOW! That was easy! That’s how this works with abusive parents!

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Listen, I know that not every person who does bad things is a bad person, but even those who aren’t aren’t often so fast to turn around on their very being as a person with anger issues, or misdirected resentment, or whatever. This kind of resolution is common to this manga. If someone does something wrong, sympathy is given to them to at least some degree, and we’re supposed to take them as not simple jerks/horrible people. I think there’s only one character who we don’t see get something like this, but they exist only in flashbacks, and I bet you if Maki-sensei had focused on this character, they too would be given a reason for being so terrible. And this is why I call the manga naive. It’s honestly a nice idea and a good lesson to not be aggressive or combative or resentful to people who do wrong, because for one thing it makes you suffer less by not smoldering over it, and for another there’s potential to find peaceful resolution before it comes to insults and/or blows. But seriously, some people are just screwed up and need to be told “Oh my god, what’s wrong with you”, and they need time to truly let that sink in and change.

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But hey, this is just a manga for little girls right?

Again I call attention to Taiyou no Ie (reminder: shoujo manga)! The protagonist’s father in that series is also an abusive parent, just not physically. He also has reasons for being awful, and they also suck. However, his acknowledgement of his faults, mending his relationship with his child, and generally his changing from a real bastard into a father who cares for his daughter once more take almost the entire manga (hey Taiyou no Ie is really good, read it if you haven’t). That’s realistic. This, and many of the other situations within Aishiteruze Baby, are really not. This series borders on fantasy.

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Also after moving away this kid is implied to meet Yuzuyu again in the time skip epilogue. That’s just cheesy, and I don’t like it. Life is really not that convenient, and he only knew Yuzuyu for a few days whilst five. Come on. Don’t do that.

However again I have to commend it for even trying to do this, because it is a nice message, and the way it’s presented isn’t like “power of friendship” but more “hey, let’s actually be reasonable about all this”, which isn’t what I expected and is very mature. Also, like I said some of this is done pretty well, so that’s great.

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But let’s not get too positive while I’m still being critical! Passionless, flavorless, Tokunaga Kokoro!

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You have almost no reason to exist.

Kokoro is in this manga to serve a function: settle Kippei down so he becomes more responsible. However, she sucks. I’m going to get really negative now.

Kokoro, could be a good character. However, she is not. She is a bland, mostly expressionless almost-character, thin in substance and mainly there so things can get a little…steamy. Oh gosh, they kissed! Kyaa! “Don’t think I’m like the other girls” says the standoffish high schooler flatly, after which she makes out with Kippei in a classroom after school like Kippei does with the other girls because supposedly she likes him or whatever. This is despite the fact that she has no actual chemistry with him up to this point; mostly she justifiably tries to ignore him most of the time and when she interacts with him treats him like dirt. Not in a fun way.

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But whatever! They kissed, they become a couple and Kippei stops being with whatever girl he comes across. She likes him (which is fine, hey, I like him), but she barely acts like it. Kokoro is seriously unemotional. When I said she’s expressionless I wasn’t exaggerating. When Kokoro is sad, her face does not emote and there are tears in her eyes. When Kokoro is happy, her face does not emote and there’s a “happy” aura around her. When Kokoro is in a normal state, she wears the face she wears when happy or sad: a flat nothing that says nothing except “I really don’t want to be here right now”. This is not played off as a joke (which might have made it fine), Kokoro is just like this. Very rarely, she will show a smile. Basically, I am 100% unconvinced that she cares about Kippei because holy shit, it’s like Kippei fell for a goddamn stone. Show me, don’t tell me.

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She says things like “I love you Kippei”, and she kisses him, and there’s like no buildup at all to her liking him it just kind of happens. She gets jealous but doesn’t really show it because, again, expressionless. She has a few of her own problems that are never really addressed, and frankly she seems like a spoiled brat, doing things like dumping food she doesn’t want to finish or moving out from her dad’s house because his new wife makes her uncomfortable (ahem, that is the premise of Taiyou no Ie, and it’s fantastic for it so…). What Kokoro honestly seems like is an unfinished character. She’s underwritten and what writing is there is poor. She is supposed to be the taciturn counterpart to Kippei who is rather serious and deadpans his BS and really, she is that, but she possesses none of the charm that usually comes with this archetype. Her interactions with Kippei are also rather limited which helps exactly not at all, because this series is about child rearing first, romance eighth. Frankly, it doesn’t need the romance, at least not like it’s lazily handled here. It adds almost nothing to the series, and is so poorly done it nearly left a bad taste in my mouth. I came to genuinely dread Kokoro’s appearances because “oh great, now it’s time to waste pages on possibly the least interesting love interest I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading about”.

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Girl you make me SO MAD.

Kokoro could be a good character. However, she is not. After all this I can say: at least due to Kippei mainly being preoccupied with Yuzuyu, we see very little of her. That is a relief. As for other characters, most of them are very inconsequential. Kippei’s older sister is somewhat major but the best way I could describe her is “weird”. As in “I’m not really sure what to think of this character; I guess she’s okay, but she’s not exactly written well and she’s kind of annoying at times”.

You don’t see me getting negative on this site often so you may want to take those criticisms seriously. I review manga that I like, I don’t review things I don’t like because…I don’t want to recommend them! However, that being said again that means I do recommend Aishiteruze Baby. A lot of people like this series, and they have good reason for it. The core of the series — Kippei and Yuzuyu, and their relationship — is an easy sell. While I criticized even that, I ultimately had no serious problems with how everything involving it went. Kippei grew up, Yuzuyu healed, and they were cute together throughout the manga. It’s also not exactly fair of me to compare Taiyou no Ie, which was written by Taamo-sensei with six years of experience and a vision for a very atypical shoujo work, to Aishiteruze Baby, which was written three years after Maki-sensei debuted and while somewhat unusual for the demographic clearly was operating within many standard shoujo conventions (the art, for one, is 100% typical shoujo fair). Like, it’s clear Taiyou no Ie just happened to be in what magazine it was in and thus demographic, Aishiteruze Baby was very much directed at young children and shows from its habit to not dwell on dark subjects (finish the arc and move on), its appeals to the fans by having characters return that realistically wouldn’t, and its omake which are really usual for manga aimed at young kids. I liked this manga, and on the whole think it was pretty good, but it’s not exactly for me.

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Okay, I’m done. This manga had scanlations/translations that were noticeably poor (at least from chapter 1), enough for me to get the official English translations to read it rather than buying the raw volumes after finishing it like I usually do. The official English translation is fine. It has a few errors in it but that’s about all. I wouldn’t recommend reading/buying it digitally off of Viz, though. If you have means to get the full sized pages from Viz’s reader, those means probably won’t work for a manga that’s somewhat older like Aishiteruze Baby. If you want it digitally, buy it elsewhere, because Viz’s reader is pretty infuriating honestly. I’ll provide links to English and Japanese copies of the series below, at the end of the article.

That’s all! Thanks for reading. Next time, something else. Actually I’ll be returning to something I visited a while ago. I mentioned bordering on fantasy: we’ll be passing into it with the next (two?) review(s).

Aishiteruze Baby ★★
Official English translated volumes
Bookwalker (guide)
honto (guide)
ebookjapan

2 thoughts on “Aishiteruze Baby ★★

  1. This review of one of my fav manga from my discovery-of-manga period (c. 2010) made me think a lot about why the manga trope of the nice grown man who takes care of a little girl is so common. (We all can think of several.) I certainly have wondered that, and I came up with this idea.

    No, it’s not lolicon. It’s escape. Men naturally love women and want to take care of them, but due to a strange intersection of the rigid nature of social expectations in Japan, and the recent history of the place, for a young Japanese man to attempt to do that in the conventional way is perilous! If you marry and get a job as a salaryman, that’s a sentence for life. Or anyway for c. 40 years of working like a slave: 12+ hour workdays for paychecks that you turn over to your wife, and she gives you an allowance, no vacations, mandatory drinking with your boss regularly….Yecch!

    I bet lots of young men there just can’t face all that. So they become hikkomori or they lose themselves in stories of vicarious caretaking, like this, or Barakamon, or Usaki Drop, or Kodomo no Jikan, etc., etc. Fun for us. A much-needed escape for them.

    • I think that’s a reasonable theory (though this manga, at least, wasn’t written for boys at all). I don’t know how much child-rearing manga there is though, and if it’s there I certainly can’t say it’s popular. It’s kind of a niche, really; the escape many young men seem to go for is instead action and harem buffoonery.

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