Sunday, April 12, 2009

Aishiteruze Baby

I used to avoid slice of life and romantic-comedy series, but after running into a few masterpieces like Azumanga Daioh and Toradora I've changed my mind. My new rule of thumb is if I read the plot summary for a series and can imagine it being an interesting movie then I'll try it out. Aishiteruze Baby passed this test since it looked like it would be similar to those 80's comedies like Uncle Buck or Mr. Mom where a clueless guy found himself suddenly acting as a mom to a bunch of kids. I always laughed at those types of movies when I was kid and felt I might get a similar experience from this anime. And while Aishiteruze Baby definitely delivers on the laughs, it also includes a lot of serious elements that an American movie wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.

Kippei is basically an irresponsible playboy who doesn't have a steady girlfriend, but fools around with any girl in school. One day he comes home to an emergency family meeting where he learns that his five year old cousin has been abandoned by her mother. His cousin, Yuzuyu, takes a shine to him right away and the rest of his family decides it would be a good idea if Kippei learned some responsibility by taking care of her. As the plot progress and hilarious hijinks ensue the playboy starts to realize that every women started off as a little girl like Yuzuyu. Kippei's realization helps him form a solid relationship with a troubled young girl in his class and he also starts to become a very dependable adult. There's some pretty high strung episodes where he helps out a suicidal cousin and confronts domestic violence at the home of one of Yuzuyu's friends. I know it does sound a little darker then most slice of life animes, but it manages to deal with these serious topics in a realistic manner without becoming depressing.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Story: 17
I was very impressed with the story, especially the way it was able to touch on issues like child abuse and depression while not changing the tone of the series into a full blown drama. It was also one of the most heart warming animes I have ever come across and it accomplishes this without using over the top moe antics that usually accompany child characters in anime. Some of the episodes do deal with overly simple childhood topics like getting lost, but more often then not the main plot is intriguing enough for most adults. There's definitely a sense of mystery of why Yuzuyu mother's abandoned her daughter and as the story progresses, a believable and sad story is told. It's nothing far fetched or unrealistic either. No evil relatives or mysterious duties to save the world are keeping them apart. However, just because its not a fantastical anime plot device doesn't mean its simple to explain. A lot of the early episodes and sub-plots act as reference points to why Miyako is staying away from her child. The other part of the main story is about Kippei basically becoming an adult by learning about responsibility and taking care of Yuzuyu. Its ironic that he basically learns to be man by becoming a mother to Yuzuyu.

Animation 14
The main character designs in this anime are nice though they have a stereotypical shojo feel to them. The large doe eyes and overly stylized hair makes some of the characters feel like they belong in a fashion magazine and I think it detracts a bit from the realism of the story. I think this type of artwork is better served in series like Vampire Knight or Code Geass which are obviously set in a different world. Then you can just suspend your disbelief and pretend the story takes place in a world where everyone is a Calvin Klein model. Setting aside character designs, which are almost always a matter of opinion, the actual animation in the series is also lacking. Nothing looks terrible but the series seems to make use of a lot of far away scenes where they can get away with drawing the characters in less detail. The backgrounds settings are adequate, but seem lacking after watching the Last Exile.

Characterization: 18
I'm simply amazed by the main characters in this anime. Kippei, Kokoro, and even Yuzuyu actually evolve and grow as human beings throughout the story. Kippei goes through the biggest changes and learns about real relationships by taking care of Yuzuyu. He's still incredibly dense, but it serves as fodder for the comedy aspect of the series. Kokoro has the look of a stoned deer throughout the early part of the series which sort of annoyed me. Thankfully, her back story is explored and it's sufficient enough to explain her personality defects and withdrawn nature. Plus she becomes much more expressive towards the end of the series as Kippei and Yuzuyu chip away at her broken exterior. Yuzuyu manages to move the story along by acting just like a normal girl. Normally children in anime are portrayed more like child actors who are directed to act either overly cute or more adultish then there appearance warrants. Yuzuyu never comes across like this even when dealing with issues like losing memories of her real mom. The rest of Kippei's family are excellent background characters with his older sister Reiko standing out the most.

Sound and Voice: 15
The music fits the series well with most of it being comprised of soft string and piano pieces. The opening song is a tug on your heart song which is probably the Japanese equivalent of Butterfly Kisses. I started skipping through it after listening to it for the first couple episodes since it's not my music genre of choice. In general I liked the music in the series and the only thing that annoyed me was this one overly dramatic piano piece that's repeated every time a big emotional moment is coming up. By the middle of the series it started giving things away, like you were hearing the director in the background shouting, "and .... cue the music". The voice acting was excellent and fit all the characters quite well. I was suprised that they had a young girl do Yuzuyu's voice but it added a nice degree of realism though the crying scenes were awkward.

Originality: 15
Like I said before the series isn't exactly breaking new ground by having a clueless male throw into the "mother" role. One scene in the series where Kippei makes Yuzuyu a single giant rice ball for her lunch reminds me a lot of the giant pancakes made by John Candy in Uncle Buck. I guess there's only so many gags about guys doing household chores in the world. The series does break new ground in the way Kippei learns more about being a human being by taking care of Yuzuyu. I've heard the saying that sometimes children make the best teachers, but this was probably the first time I've seen it in an anime series. While the story doesn't resolve every issue by the last episode, it does portray Kokoro and Kippei as surrogate parents to Yuzuyu. It's weird since this was the same situation in Last Exile with Claus and Lavie basically adopting Al at the end. I'm not sure if this is a common theme with orphans in anime series or if its just a coincidence.

Final Score: 79 Good

Note: While all managa volumes have been brought over to the west and can be found on amazon. I believe the anime remains unlicensed to this day. Because of the popularity of the story though it's easy to find the fansubs lying around the internet.