I'm almost twenty-four now, and I've recently found that my paternal instincts are becoming more and more prevalent. It was therefore with something of an open mind that I approached Aishiteruze Baby, a shoujo anime which chronicles the life of high school student Katakura Kippei and Yuzuyu, the adorable 5-year old girl who is thrust into his care by circumstance. Kippei is portrayed as something of a flirty, playboy-style character. As I began watching, therefore, I expected the main focus to be on his coming to terms with responsibility and learning to love the dependent sprog rather than hate her for eating into his free time and getting in the way of his relationships. Eventually, he would learn lessons about himself, the likes of which can only be taught by a starry-eyed five-year-old. I was wrong, however. Very wrong. Far from being a flawed human being, it turns out that Kippei is actually pretty close to perfect. As well as being handsome, tough and cool, he's also gentle and an almost-ideal parent from day one.
Having turned down this opportunity for character development, Aishiteruze Baby has to find something else to fill its 26 episodes. This is perhaps why the show takes the surprising step of exploring some fairly serious issues, amongst which are abandonment, stalking, child abuse, suicide and loneliness. It all sounds quite dark, but the series maintains its light-heartedness and humour throughout. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of confronting these issues in any meaningful way. Rather than scrutinising them with a child's innocence, the show handles them with kid gloves, thus failing once again to make the most of its interesting premise. The problems are quickly blown over and there is nary a situation, it seems, which cannot be defused and patched up by a superficial intervention and trite word of wisdom from the obstinately perfect Kippei. Suicidal thoughts and deep-rooted psychological issues clear up as quickly and easily as the common cold.
That isn't to say that Aishiteruze Baby contains nothing worthwhile. It is sweet throughout and touching on occasion. However - aside from the endearing naïveté of Yuzuyu and a remarkably slow-paced romance between Kippei and the show's love interest, Kokoro - there isn't a whole lot of substance here and the series has a tendency to drag as a result. Anyone expecting to find much more than the admittedly enjoyable fluff is likely to be disappointed.
The animation is really nothing special. It doesn't attempt to be, and perhaps it doesn't need to be. It's quite difficult, however, to shake off the feeling that this is something of a low-budget job. The character designs aren't particularly exciting or memorable and certain elements, rainfall for example, harm any realistic edge that the series may have wanted to maintain. It's hard to add to the mood of a scene when the viewer's mind is focused on how fake the weather looks. Furthermore, as is to be expected, the show brims with archetypal shoujo devices, which detract from certain scenes more than they add to it.
Although I didn't enjoy the OP and ED tracks at all, the soundtrack as a whole is strong. As well as the typical use of piano pieces to create romantic mood, the soundtrack boldly - and very successfully - introduces other elements; electric guitars, percussion and the likes. This serves to add a climactic second layer of dynamism to the background music which really helps bring out vivid emotions in the longer romantic scenes.
The voices are also decent on the whole, and Yuzuyu's is particularly good. Rather than sounding like a grown woman trying to put on as high-pitched a voice as possible, Yuzuyu actually sounds like a five-year-old girl. This is essential in terms of suspension of disbelief and allows the character to display the necessary range of feelings and emotions.
As far as characters go, Aishiteruze Baby offers something of a mixed bag. While Kippei is a fantastic human being, he is not a fantastic character as - aside from a slight stupidity which generates a few comic moments - he is more or less free of weaknesses, making it a real challenge to empathise with him. Kokoro is somewhat more interesting, offering reticence and pride but not falling into the trap of being a textbook tsundere. A feat all too rarely achieved by female anime characters.
Yuzuyu, however, is undoubtedly the star of the show. Her character is immensely well written, and she behaves like the infant she is. Her bewilderment at being abandoned and tendency to blame herself for the difficulties suffered by those around her are movingly childlike, and make her far cuter than any over-the-top kawaii stereotype could ever hope to be. The fact that all the children in the series are written to act exactly like children is a masterstroke in characterisation, and perhaps enough to redeem the fact that almost all secondary characters are crushingly two-dimensional.
Aishiteruze Baby is a testament to how truly strong character development can take an anime with a relatively simple plot and turn it into something fantastic. The storyline would have been dull, even tedious, with less stellar characters, but as is the show is amazingly entertaining for the entire running time.
Looking back, the characters of this show could oh-so-easily have been the same one-dimensional archetypes that are seen over and over in anime, but Aishiteruze Baby gracefully dodges this pitfall. Instead, each one of the main characters carries a surprising amount of depth while at the same time being almost instantly likeable. Rather than seeming premade and ready to order, Kippei, Yuzuyu and Kokoro feel like actual human beings, fully fleshed out by their own unique thought processes and emotions.
Because of these amazing characters, the creators are able to draw a remarkable amount of power from relatively simple plot lines. Though the anime carries fairly typical shoujo themes (loneliness, social acceptance, the importance of friendship, love, etc.), it covers them better than just about any anime from recent memory. Rather than preaching its messages via some outspoken generic shoujo heroine (Fruits Basket, Full Moon wo Sagashite, and Pretear are all at least somewhat guilty of this), Aishiteruze Baby simply shows them. Oftentimes, what could have been taken a lesser anime minutes to explain is beautifully illustrated in a scene with almost no dialogue whatsoever.
When it comes right down to it, the series is one of the rare animes out there that actually made my jaded, misanthropic self feel warm and fuzzy; for that, it’s a truly remarkable work. Who needs parachute colors or chicken soup for the soul when this series is available?
Appealing character designs more than make up for a relatively low budget. Backgrounds are generic but serviceable, and the somewhat awkwardly animated movements of the characters don't usually end up hurting the overall package too much.
Overall, I was more than satisfied. Aishiteruze Baby has one of the better opening themes I’ve heard recently, decent background music and excellent voice acting. Of particular note is Kokoro's decidedly deep voice, which is a welcome change from the ditzy, tinny, and altogether ear-piercing voices that seem to currently be in vogue.
I'm just going to be frank and say that I almost died several times while watching this anime for no other reason than because of Yuzuyu's unbearable cuteness. Now that that's out of the way we can move onto other things about the anime. The story I found to be while yes interesting it did at times come to feel that the problems that were being dealt with in the anime were while serious weren't handled as seriously as they could have been. Making it feel like the things never got as deep as they could have been. Also from time to time the series seemed to drag and I spent time waiting for the episode to end so that I could move onto the next episode and hopefully something more interesting or cute. The animation wasn't all that great and really I can't say anything really all that positive or negative about the animation. The opening and ending weren't my most favorite things in the whole world not really bad I just didn't like them. Though the soundtrack that played during episodes was in my opinion to be quite well done and did a fairly nice job in helping to set the mood. The voice actors were pretty decent though even to this day hearing Yuzuyu's voice still sends my heart a flutter thinking about how cute she is. The characters were pretty well done though Kippei was prehaps a bit to well done seeing as how he had very few flaws within the story. The star of the show is of course Yuzuyu who is extremely well written that I fell for her in the first episode. I can remember when watching this hoping that my own daughter would turn out to be as cute and adorable as her. Overall I came out of this show not completely loving besides one very special character and at the same time I could not quite come to think of the show as being only average.
One day, a small girl named Yuzuyu is brought to the Katakura home. Her mother abandoned her for unknown reasons and left her with her sister's family. And instead of stepping up like a normal aunt should, she shoves the kid onto the shoulders of her eldest son, who need to learn some maturity and they all figured the best way to get his mind off of girls is to make him a parent.
Story - 5/10
The story of Aishiteruze Baby isn't bad. But it isn't good either. I find the fact that the aunt, Kippei's mother, decides that taking care of her niece isn't her job, but her son's job. I didn't like that. Mainly because Kippei is still in high school. Instead of raising a five-year-old, he should be focusing on his studies. But none-the-less, this is anime, so they make the situation improve Kippei rather than drag him down.
Anyways, story wise, Aishiteruze Baby is a hodge-podge of stories. You get the swimming episode, a sports festival episode, and many more. All revolve around Yuzuyu and her perception of it all. It's rather charming. And then they sometimes get into darker subjects, such as child abuse(a certain episode during this made me stick it out) and even suicide. But the show keeps to a light-hearted nature, despite the dark issues brought up.
Animation - 4/10
Aishiteruze Baby's animation isn't anything to really be fascinated with to be honest. For a show made in 2004, it honestly doesn't look like it. It looks like it should of been in 1999-2000 at the very least. It doesn't look crisp, but maintains a sort of oldish style. Of course this may be too judgemental with all the newer anime around and how everything looks so new nowadays.
Sound - 6/10
The OP and ED aren't spectacular, but the background music truly sets the mood in this anime. A very good job with the music in my humble opinion.
Characters - 5/10
The characters were a bit lackluster... Kippei, while supposed to be flawed, turned out to be a little too perfect. While I liked Kokoro, she was often time confusing to me. And Yuzuyu, while she was a shining star in the character list, there were things that happened to make her cry that a five-year-old really shouldn't be crying about. Maybe she was just a sensitive five-year-old, I don't know. Either way, the characters were mediocre.
Overall - 5.5/10
I say this anime is middle ground. If you like shoujo, slice-of-life anime. You may like Aishiteruze Baby. If not, you may want to skip it. Not really shelf-worthy, if it ever is brought to the states, but I could see people renting it.
I loved this anime, I thought that it really reaches out to the viewer and allows them to connect with the characters. This anime brings joy to my heart and tears my eyes, though I might be biased having seen this anime 4 times.