Yoko Maki was one of the first manga-ka I discovered in the wondrous world of scanlations. Yoko Maki’s work often have fun female leads with a little bite and cute boys abound with a focus on friendship and budding romance. She also draws in the somewhere between simple and complex with a perchance for the sweet and cute. As I read more of her pieces she quickly climbed my charts for a wonderful shojo manga artist that remained untranslated (and all of her pieces besides this one remain so).
But it wasn’t until later, when VIZ picked up her (what was at the time one of her most recent works) sweet series about a boy who finds himself with a new responsibility in the form a cute little girl, did I actually get around to finishing this story.
Unlike Narutaki, my interest in Aishiteruze Baby came from a more unusual direction.
The last manga review on Anime Jump before it went into hibernation was a review by Chad Clayton for Aishiteruze Baby. What interested me was the odd dichotomy in opinions. I had heard quite a few enthusiastically positive reviews of Aishiteruze Baby. They usually involved some combination of sweet, funny, and heartwarming. But while no one was claiming it was high art the reviews almost always said that is was refreshing and delightful shojo dramedy.
Chad’s review on the other hand was pure venom. It was the complete and total deconstruction of the plot of the first book that makes the series out to be an artificial calculating monstrosity that was more emotional torture than entertainment. So I went into reading the manga with a great deal of anticipation. I had had long been curious where my opinion would come in on the matter. While I was pretty sure I was not going to love it as much as it’s most die hard fans I was also pretty sure I could never hate it as much as its extremely harsh critics.
What I was wondering is what side would I lean towards in the end and how much would I lean towards it.
Kippei is a carefree high school student that seems to have it all. He does well enough in school, has lots of friends, and all the pretty girls use him like the village bicycle. One day it all changes when his aunt runs away and abandons her daughter, Yuzu, with Kippei’s family. Being the only person who is both old enough with enough free time in the family Kippei soon finds himself having to take care of Yuzu. Kippei must quickly learn to take care of someone else.
This is the story of Kippei learning to prioritize what is important to him and how to care for someones else. This is also the story Yuzu leaning to deal with the abandonment of her mother. But how will the people in his life deal with this ever changing Kippei? What will happen to Kippei if Yuzu has to leave?
It isn’t rare, but then it isn’t common, to cast a male lead in a shojo manga and when discussing such, Kippei often comes to my mind. Kippei is a handsome layabout with a carefree and simple attitude but when trust and responsibility is thrust upon him he evolves like a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. But even in the beginning we see him willing to go to great lengths of understanding and empathy to help others. So really Kippei is wonderful deep down he just needed a reason to show it, enter Yuzuyu.
Yuzuyu is a sweet child that may come off as too perfect at first but when looking at her situation it seems very obvious why she tries to be (why she wants to be) a helpful, easygoing, and happy little girl.
Swirling around these two is the rest of Kippei’s family: his older sister who is more the head of the household than anyone and while she often rules with an iron fist, it is for the benefit of others; his younger brother who doesn’t respect Kippei but eventually finds himself learning from his example; and his cousin Miki who at first thinks of herself as replaceable.
Kippei and Yuzuyu’s story overlaps with the Kippei and Kokoro’s budding romance.
Kokoro is a good student, quiet, and seemingly self-sufficient but she is dealing with her own family problems. As Kippei grows from helping Yuzuyu so does Kokoro’s love and trust in him. Kokoro’s issues aren’t actually resolved in this story rather they are left behind as she moves on with Kippei as a strong and solid presence in her life.
Kippei is a charismatic young slacker. He has a pretty face and an easy going nature that draws women to him. He mainly gets passed from girl to girl at his school but through no effort of his own. The girls who are interested in him mess around until they find people they want to date. Then they pass him along to the next girl. This leads him to drift through his life with no real commitments.
When Yuzu is thrust into his life he is forced to change his ways completely. Yuzu needs someone not only take care of simple mundane activities like taking her to school and making her meals but she also needs someone to deal with the emotional trauma of being abandoned. Kippei quickly casts aside his shallow female paramours and unnecessary commitments to raise Yuzu. In the process he grows more mature and responsible. He also learns to be vulnerable and open himself by having to heal some of the trauma that Yuzu has gone through.
Yuzu is a bright and cheerful young girl on the surface but has obviously been deeply hurt by the fact that her mother was so quick to abandon her. She seems fine most of the time but any closer examination shows her heart was greatly damaged. She quickly latches onto Kippei for support and protection which he provides the best he can.
Kokoro is Kippei’s best female friend. She does not use Kippei like the other girls at school but is is clearly attracted to him. She has various trust issues due to her home life and is reluctant to start dating such a notorious playboy. She is always supportive but at the same time she always keeps her distance. Kippei wants to return her affection but can’t seem to get around the walls she has built up around her.
Also of importance is Kippe’s sister who main role to is kick people in the head. She mainly either pushes people to move forward or to examine their lives. She basically makes people check themselves before they wreck themselves.
This story always stuck me as being from this ideal perspective, and very obviously at that, where Kippei is the best big brother as Yuzuyu sees him. Kippei isn’t perfect but his flaws are lovable if anything and he always recognizes his mistakes with a solid promise to be more thoughtful.
Yuzuyu believes in Kippei almost from the start, probably because she needs to believe in someone. Even if he is a reluctant surrogate brother at first, he quickly becomes accustomed to the role and even gives up things in order to be better at it.
Yuzuyu represents the rewards to being a caring, attentive, and selfless individual which in turn changes those around her. Once Kippei learns about love both as a guardian and as a man, he becomes a changed hero. Kippei not only comes to understand responsibility, but enjoys being a person that can be counted on. This comes through in his increasingly serious relationship with Kokoro as well. Kokoro actually acts as a counter to Yuzuyu, where Yuzuyu believes in Kippei, Kororo has her doubts despite her romantic feelings. The story eventually takes on a duality of helping both these girls.
I think I understand where the divide in opinion comes from. At it’s heart Aishiteruze Baby has the flow and form of an American dramatic TV show. It has likeable and attractive characters who deal with dramatic problems that are mostly resolved within the story arc. The main issue of Yuzuyu and her mother is always ongoing but all the other stories are very self-contained and wrapped up neatly.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
The whole point to is have characters that quickly provoke an emotion while connecting you to the growth of the characters. It is not suppose to be “keeping it real” as much as sending you on an emotional journey in every story. The point is not to make things as realistic as possible but to be a mixture of the sweetness of the bonds between the characters in contrast with the darkness around them.
You also have to remember that this was serialized in Ribbon a magazine for 9- to 13-year-old girls so it is supposed to be more wish fulfillment than hard hitting prose. But do to not take that to mean that it is a fluffy work. Yoko Maki effectively deals with the topics of trust, love, betrayal, and even sex frankly and with care.
While it doesn’t always infer that a series is good, when a shojo manga gets an anime you can assume it was incredibly popular and Aishiteruze Baby was one of those few that is both. You’d be hard pressed to say Aishiteruze Baby doesn’t at least have aww-factor but there is a bit more to it.
The story has an undercurrent of serious issues, like loneliness and abandonment, that are dealt with with a decidedly sunny outlook. This series presents its melodrama with heart that for the most part solves peoples woes in a quick manner. But Aishiteruze Baby never promised realism, just a sweet story that is delightful to read.
Overall, I think that 90% of your reaction to this series comes down to if you like Kippei and Yuzuyu’s interactions. If you find them adorable and heartwarming you will eat this series up and ask for more. If you feel their relationship rings untrue you will hate this series about three chapters in.
It is the story of Kippei, Yuzu, and Kokoro and how they form bonds with each other despite their pasts. I think that the series is a quality episodic dramedy. If you let it be what it wants to be you will enjoy it for what it is. And it is only seven books long. This gives you enough time to get to know all the major cast and see them grow and change while also not being so long that the series wears out it’s welcome.
Short but sweet best sums this series up. And sometimes you need that in between 30+ book monsters.