Aishiteruze Baby by Yoko Maki has been one of the many series I’ve gotten into a while ago. I’m actually one volume away from completing the entire series so I won’t do a traditional review of the series just yet. Once I buy and read the final volume, I’ll revisit the series again and review the story as a whole. I want to write about what attracted me to this particular shojo title.
Aishiteruze Baby is about a 17-year-old boy by the name of Kippei Katakura who is an irresponsible, womanizing, slacker teen who coasts through life chasing after girls and taking life lightly. His carefree life as a teen is put to an abrupt halt when he meets his 5-year-old cousin Yuzuyu. She ends up staying with the Katakuras for a while after her mother disappears. Thinking Kippei needs some stability other than adding girls to his conquest list, his older sister charges him with the responsibility and care of Yuzuyu.
What makes this manga series appealing is how the entire plot centers around Kippei’s relationship to his little cousin. Each volume finds Kippei maturing and becoming less selfish. He becomes more aware of how his actions affect others. By taking care of Yuzuyu and seeing how much she heavily relies on him for comfort and support while her mother isn’t around, Kippei finds himself more sensitive to the feelings of other girls. He stops being the school playboy and he tries harder to be the kind of stable and loving adult Yuzuyu needs in her life. It’s a very family centric manga series, which also covers difficult topics such as child abandonment and child abuse. Yoko Maki does a wonderful job broaching these sensitive topics in her series.
Aside from watching Yuzuyu steadily get over the trauma of being left behind by her mother at a critical stage in her life, there are other supporting characters in the manga who have their own emotional traumas and issues to deal with. The cause for these emotional traumas end up coming back to the home. Interestingly enough, the characters who mainly need to cope with their problems are girls who Kippei encounters throughout the series. He is not only protector of Yuzuyu, but also a protector of these girls who are broken in some way by parents who have failed them at some point in their lives and are trying to deal with the aftermath.
I don’t believe I have ever encountered a series like Aishiteruze Baby where the main protagonist is a teen boy who acts as a surrogate parent to a young kid. The driving point for this series is the importance of family and being lucky enough to have the kind of love and emotional support system to make growing up much easier. Kippei’s encounters with people who have their own demons to sort out and to a certain extent Yuzuyu’s own encounters with kids her age who are being raised in a less than stellar home environment shows the contrast of their family life compared to these other characters. Most of the time you will see in the manga how the supporting characters would rather be anywhere but at home. Kippei and Yuzuyu, on the other hand, are lucky to have family who care and will always be there for them no matter what.
I do enjoy watching Kippei reach his potential as a man. It is particularly sweet to see Kippei become attached to Yuzuyu. If there is some reluctance to be charged as “babysitter” to Yuzuyu by Kippei’s older sister and without any objection from the rest of his family, that reluctance is no longer there when he makes the effort to fix Yuzuyu’s school lunches in the morning and picks her up from school in the afternoon. There is, of course, the looming inevitability of Yuzuyu having to go back to her mother eventually. How this affects Kippei and Yuzuyu when the time finally comes in the series’ conclusion is something I look forward to reading.