Baby and Me
by Justin Sevakis,
I've been accused of enjoying what one forum member once called "tragedy porn" -- pathos, usually involving children in unspeakably horrible situations, purely for pathos' sake. While I'm probably guilty of that to some extent (I loves me some good childhood trauma!), I don't think that's quite fair. Tragedy is as much part of the human experience as laughter, and if a show can be high quality and revel in one, there's nothing wrong with spending time with the other. I consider both to be important for a well-rounded viewing experience.
There are plenty of pathos to be had in this week's Buried Treasure, but plenty of joy too. Just like life.
Baby and Me (Aka-chan to Boku)
Takuya would normally be an average 12-year-old kid, going to 6th grade and playing soccer with his friends, like he was only a short time ago. But tragedy struck his family a few months ago, and his mother, taking his baby brother Minoru for a walk in a stroller, was hit by a truck and killed. (Minoru wasn't hurt.)
Things have been rough since then. His father works hard to keep food on the table, and can't always be there for his son as he struggles to put the pieces back together. Takuya's days now consist of school, dashing off to day care to pick up Minoru, and trying to juggle caring for a toddler with homework and housekeeping. By the time night comes he's often passed out in exhaustion.
It's a lot for a 12-year-old to deal with. Friends of his don't understand why he can't come out and play, and neighbors don't have the patience to deal with his inability to keep Minoru quiet. Takuya often finds himself about to crack, unable to deal with the stress of child-rearing when he's not even old enough to care for himself. But keeping the family together is the most important thing, which is why he constantly rebuffs his dad's offers to hire a maid. And as for the thought of his dad someday remarrying... well, that's just unthinkable!
All this wouldn't be quite so heartbreaking if Takuya weren't such a nice kid, but he's so sympathetic and caring that it's impossible not to care about him. And yet, he's not perfect. Sometimes he genuinely resents Minoru for needing so much of his attention, effectively taking his childhood away from him. In one scene he contemplates abandoning him, but quickly comes to his senses -- just in time to save Minoru from a dog (drawn hilariously in crayon from Minoru's point of view).
It's not all pathos. Far from it, in fact. Takuya's best friend Gon is somewhat of a lunkhead and can always be counted on for comic relief. He has a younger
brother sister Minoru's age, and she's in luuuv (much to poor Minoru's chagrin). Another friendly face can be found in Akihiro, another classmate who's often stuck caring for his younger siblings. Akihiro and Gon's little sisters end up vying for Minoru's affections, and Minoru would rather not deal with either of them.
While Minoru isn't really a literal 2-year-old (his crying fits are usually few and easily explained), he's one of the few babies in anime who really does act like a baby. The production team clearly went to great pains to imitate the clumsy nature of baby movement, and the result is just adorable. (My favorite is the eyecatch, when Minoru walks towards -- and into -- the camera.) Chika Sakamoto pulls off such a realistic baby impression that I initially found myself wondering how they managed to get a baby voice act so effectively. (I wasn't as sold on Kappei Yamaguchi as Takuya, who does his standard prepubescent boy voice.)
Baby and Me was originally scheduled to be a 26-episode series, and was eventually extended to 35 (though, not due to high ratings, but rather because new regulations on animated programming left TV networks scrambling for compliant content). Viz released Marimo Rakawa's original manga as an early entry in its Shojo Beat magazine, but the series was dropped from the magazine after it failed to find an audience. (It was all released in graphic novel format.)
To be perfectly fair, Shojo Beat was probably not the best place for Baby and Me. It's a family series, far from the yearning fangirl appeal of NANA and Absolute Boyfriend. It's real and raw, and I'm sure it cuts very close to home for countless kids growing up in single parent homes. In other words, if offers none of the escapism that many anime and manga fans prefer. Sometimes I think the story would be better suited to a live action adaptation. Also, I've never found Rakawa's art style to be very appealing -- minimalist and sketchy, it often comes off a bit amateurish. Takuya is also drawn a little too "pretty" for my taste.
The anime character designs (courtesy of Takayuki Goto) take care of all that, and while the anime artwork is not spectacular (it's rather middle-of-the-road for a mid-90s shoujo series), it's effective and easy to watch. Director Takahiro Ōmori (Hell Girl, Koi Kaze, Baccano!) switches from cute comedy to gentle empathy with surprising skill, and never descends into over-the-top emotions in either direction. Things stay believable, and that's why the characters stay quietly lovable.
What makes Baby and Me so compelling, ultimately, is the characters' perseverance. Takuya's insistence on doing as much on his own as possible, pushing himself to his limit for the sake of his young family is respectable enough, but just as noteworthy is Minoru's response: he loves his brother, and seems to realize just how much he's costing Takuya to be raised properly. As Takuya finally gets to sit down and watch his baby brother grow and learn, he gets to feel the proud reflective glow of a parent. And that's when he realizes that he needs his brother, too.
|A||Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.|
|C||Common. In print, and always available online.|
|R1||US release out of print, still in stock most places.|
|R2||US release out of print, not easy to find.|
|R3||Import only, but it has English on it.|
|R4||Import only. Fansubs commonly available.|
|R5||Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.|
|R6||Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.|
|R7||Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.|
|R8||Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.|
|Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.|
Sadly, I could not find evidence of a DVD release of Baby & Me in any country. There was a VHS fansub back in the day, but it never went past the first fourteen episodes (and many of those happened after the VHS fansub era ended, so they weren't widely circulated). Of course, finding any of these fansubs today is a daunting prospect at best. Even I've only managed to see the first four episodes, myself. You can bet I'll be trying to find the laserdiscs.
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