Baby & Me 5

June 19, 2010

Marimo Ragawa – Viz – 2007 – 18 volumes

This volume tells the story of Seiichi, the kid from across the street who comes back a changed man, but who nobody can see as anything more than the neighborhood bully.  Takuya has no problems with him since he can’t remember being bullied, but Seiichi gets sick of everyone, including his parents, holding his old lifestyle against him.  He’s also brought low by the news of the death of Takuya’s mother.  Takuya’s father initially tells the boys to stay clear of him, but Seiichi’s persistence and general lack of threat means that eventually dad relents and Seiichi stays with the family while he works on being reconciled with his parents.  Of course, there’s more to Seiichi’s story than is initially let on, and we not only end with a sentimental story, we get a new friendly regular to the story.

Seiichi’s story is a bit longer than the usual one-shot chapters, and has a little less of the sentimental polish that the other stories have since it focuses on Seiichi, an adult, rather than the emotional discoveries of the two boys.  The story is still quite good though, and if the formula wasn’t broken every now and again, the stories about Takuya would lose their novelty.

There are one or two one-shot chapters that follow the long story that are just adorable (babies hugging each other, Takuya and Takuya’s father melting at how cute Minoru is), and those more than make up for the lack.

The volume ends with another multi-chapter storyline, this one focusing on Takuya’s mother and her family.  She wasn’t on good terms with them, so Takuya had been unaware that he had relatives.  In the older relative’s desperation to find an heir for her dance school, she tries to emotionally separate Takuya and his father by telling Takuya devastating and untrue news after she “kidnaps” him after school one day.

This story was a lot darker than the usual Baby & Me story, and not only did it have bad feelings from both Takuya and his father, the news that the older relative delivered to Takuya really was sad, and she was very mean-spirited about it.  This story also does a good job of contrasting Takuya and Minoru.  Minoru’s weaknesses are pointed out frequently, and he’s an easy target since he’s just a baby, but Takuya does a good job of pointing out all his good qualities, and how Minoru would act much better than Takuya in a situation like this.

This volume is more of a character study than it is the usual short stories, but I still really liked it.  There’s an awful lot to like about this series, and I think going back and slowly picking up the older volumes is going to be a true joy.

Baby & Me 4

June 10, 2010

Marimo Ragawa – Viz – 2007 – 18 volumes

I know that a lot of people are into slice-of-life series, but I think a lot of people pass this one over.  You shouldn’t, especially if you also enjoy shoujo manga, and I promise the premise isn’t as silly as it sounds.

I’m so happy I was able to discover this series.  It’s not something I would normally pick up (the character designs on the babies put me off, and the premise of a fifth grader looking after his baby brother also isn’t to my liking), but the stories are told exactly how I like it, and it’s hard to resist the old-school charm of the art.

There’s no ongoing plot, every chapter is just a peek into the lives of Takuya and Minoru.  Sometimes together, sometimes with just one or the other.  The stories are extremely detailed and realistic, and contain nothing that would make you doubt the fact that Minoru and Takuya exist somewhere.  Chapters like Takuya going out on a date with his friend and his crush as the third support wheel, Minoru having a dream inhabited by fantasy versions of people he knows, outings to summer festivals, helping Minoru get over his fears of a scary story he heard in preschool… all of it is subject matter, and all of it is surprisingly interesting and can make you tear up a little at the drop of a hat with its sincerity.  Minoru and Takuya’s mother is dead, but that card is played surprisingly rarely in this volume, and the stories are still a little melancholy in spots.

Sometimes the parts with Minoru don’t ring true (were he and his 4-year-old friends really afraid of a psycho killer while running through the summer fair?), but I can’t get over how realistic Takuya’s fifth grade life comes across.  One of the early stories here was my favorite, where Takuya has to help his friend Gon ask out a girl, then actually go on the date with the two of them since Gon is too scared.  Takuya doesn’t quite know what to make of Gon’s crush, and hasn’t really pondered what love is yet.  He still doesn’t really, and merely wonders when it will happen to him, making this chapter way better than it would be in any other shoujo manga.

There are also stories with a lot going on.  A story about the summer festival can cover many different topics, like older siblings picking on younger, revolts in the younger set, money problems, problems with respect and favoritism, and also seeing how older siblings can also spoil their younger ones.  There’s a somewhat disturbing chapter where the two brothers befriend an old man that morphs from something of a comedy about the boys not wanting to talk to a stranger to a very disturbing story about abusing the elderly and a man contracting Alzheimer’s.

This has a little bit of everything good about shoujo manga in it.  While things like Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross can still act as the perfect examples and the textbook, it’s series like this that nail down all the good things you can do when you tell a story to young women and really show you the best parts of the genre.  It’s wonderful stuff, and I wish there was more like it.

Baby & Me 3

December 27, 2009

Marimo Ragawa – Viz – 2006 – 18 volumes

This continues to be the most adorable slice-of-life series money can buy.  I’m still not sure if the characters are aging or not, but summer has come and Takuya makes a comment that gives the impression around ten months have passed since volume one, so maybe they will age as the volumes keep going.

This is the spring/summer volume, which includes a summer sports festival and a trip to the beach, along with a two-chapter story about Takuya dealing with a difficult female classmate and one about the beliefs of childhood that has been my favorite story yet.

Minoru is enthralled by a group of sentai/Power Rangers that advertise a washing machine, and he fully believes that they are real.  Most of the commentary for the chapter is about how much children idolize and believe in their childhood heroes, in this case sentai, Ultraman, and Doraemon (complete with adorable flashback complete with Takuya being disappointed that Doraemon was waylaid by a favor he promised Nobita).  There’s a crushing scene where Minoru accidentally stumbles upon actors playing the parts of the sentai, but Takuya helps him believe again.  Heartwarming stuff.

The chapter about a lying female classmate is one of those After School Special stories where the girl gets bullied by classmates for lying, and even Takuya gets angry with her for being confrontational, but nobody has stopped to listen to her side of the story, or considered how much truth she was actually telling.  The girl doesn’t help her case very much since she seems to act like a jerk, but everyone gets used to her by the end of the chapter.  I liked it, but it was a little baffling, and I was surprised more wasn’t made of her parent’s situation and what a blessing she may have been (or not, I suppose, but I can’t imagine the story bring that up, either).

Absolutely adorable stuff all around, and the strong characters are what makes the series stand so well.  I’m definiely getting more volumes, but I think this is the type of series that’s better with a lot of space between volumes.  I’m definitely not tired of it after reading the first three together, but I think it is best enjoyed as a casual treat due to the episodic nature.

Baby & Me 2

December 18, 2009

Marimo Ragawa – Viz – 2006 – 18 volumes

I really liked the themes of growing up in this volume.  I noticed that Minoru’s age is left ambiguous, which leaves room for things like seeing him growing more independent of Takuya by doing things like dressing himself and speaking a little more.  There’s also cute coming-of-age-type stories for both boys, though Minoru’s story of a love triangle in preschool between two younger sisters of Takuya’s friends is a little more silly than Takuya’s story about going through the first stages of maturity and feeling alienated from Minoru as he grows older.

There are also cute family chapters.  I’m a little surprised that the father isn’t featured more prominently, but I suppose that’s to give the impression that the boys really do take care of themselves frequently.  There were still one or two really adorable family stories in this volume, something else I love reading here since the familial relationships are so genuinely sweet and aren’t over-dramatic or ruined with bad humor, something you frequently see.

I also liked that this volume was a little less dark and depressing.  I wouldn’t mind seeing chapters like that come up again, since it’s true that Takuya does have a lot to deal with since the death of his mother, but the two or so chapters of it in the last volume was probably too large a dose.

With the heavy maturity focus, I would love to see the characters age and progress as the series progresses.  I’m not sure that happens (I seem to remember Minoru still being a baby in volume 13), but even if it’s just small things like in this volume, I don’t mind a little progress.

Good stuff.  Good characters, mostly, which makes the slice-of-life stories a pleasure to read.  Very touching.

Baby & Me 1

December 13, 2009

Marimo Ragawa – Viz – 2006 – 18 volumes

I liked the random volume I read of this so much I decided to start from the beginning.  It was one of the original Shoujo Beat series, but I have absolutely no recollection of reading it in the issues I have.  Had I not sampled the series beforehand, I would have never picked it up.  As my roommate pointed out, it lacks romance, a key ingredient in shoujo manga, and quite frankly, a plot about a little boy taking care of his baby brother doesn’t automatically appeal to me.

Baby & Me succeeds as a shoujo manga because of its sensitivity, though.  There’s no romance, but it does tug at one’s heart to read about poor Takuya, ten years old, taking care of his baby brother after their mother’s recent death.  It goes into surprising detail about how taking care of Minoru would affect every aspect of Takuya’s life, and it also does a good job of pulling Takuya out of his bouts of depression when he starts wondering about why he can’t have a normal family.  Things like writing an essay on his family, playing with other kids, or learning how to respond to both Minoru’s mysterious mood swings and his father’s good intentions are all parts of the chapters in this first volume.

The last chapter was so bittersweet I nearly teared up at the end, something that’s hard to do with only a single volume of manga, but the author really does a good job of showing you how Takuya feels.  She also points out that he’s just a regular kid.  There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about him, he has no special talents, and he doesn’t seem to have any particular goals or aspirations.  He just has to look after his brother.  It gets bleak sometimes, but he always manages to find a good moment to pull himself up.  The first and last chapters were the hardest to take for me, since both reflected rather strongly about Takuya’s lost mother and just how different his life is from that of his classmates.

Wonderful stuff, and this is only the first volume.  I’ve got two more here, so let’s see how the plot develops.

Baby & Me 13

May 25, 2009

This series has a really unfortunate (if accurate) title.  I’m not sure why the title sounds so unappealing to me, because otherwise this series has absolutely everything I like about shoujo manga and more in it.  I’m actually going to have to look into getting the rest of the volumes now.

This was actually a really good place to jump in.  While the rest of the series seems to be about Takuya and his little brother Minoru, this volume was mostly a flashback about Takuya’s parents and how they met, with a cute one-shot story at the end that was set in the present.

Harumi and Yukako’s story is actually a really good one, less because it was romantic/dramatic and more because it reads more like something that could happen in real life.  Harumi, who feels smothered by his parents and decides to move out, loses them in an accident not long after he starts college, and the cute Yukako, who he met at a lunch counter, is one of the only people that reaches out to comfort him.  Yukako moves in with Harumi since the apartment where she lives is a creepy dump and Harumi has trouble keeping his parents house up and making ends meet by himself.  The two don’t actually have a romantic relationship at first (Yukako shoots down Harumi’s shallow advances when they first meet), but living together brings them slowly closer and closer together.  Most of what transpires is from Harumi’s point of view and talks about a lot of callous things that he does while he takes Yukako for granted, but eventually he learns to see her as a woman and appreciates everything she does for him.

The good and bad things between them are small things.  Harumi doesn’t call Yukako when he comes home, stuff like that.  Rather than having Yukako overreact and confront Harumi for maximum dramatic impact/romantic makeup potential, the little things just build up over time, and once Harumi realizes himself what a jerk he’s been, the love is the same way.  Neither one really admits their feelings to one another, but apparently neither really feels like it needs to be stated.  This only becomes a problem after Yukako becomes pregnant and isn’t sure how Harumi will take it, but everything works out in the end, of course.

The pregnancy and casual attitude towards sex is something else that was pretty unique about this volume.  Sex isn’t really spoken of, but it’s implied that Harumi sleeps around at first.  Likewise, when Yukako and Harumi start sleeping together, the only evidence is a panel or two of them in bed together.  I like that it’s just handled as another part of life rather than something to freak out over.

The one-shot story at the end was really cute too.  Takuto, Minoru, Harumi, and a few older guys go fishing during the hottest part of summer.  There is some light banter among the characters, Harumi explains how fishing is more about the experience and challenge rather than actually catching the fish, the characters stop to appreciate summer, and there’s even a ghost legend/kappa story that comes up about a certain part of the lake.  I’m an absolute sucker for this type of thing.

This series strikes me as a cross between We Were There and Aria.  A lot of it is about stopping to consider the subtleties of emotions in the everyday occurrences, but it’s character-driven rather than… event/scenery driven like Aria, and it’s got kind of a tragic and serious mood like We Were There.  It’s much, much different than what I expected, and I’m definitely going back and starting at the beginning.  Hopefully the impression I got from this volume is  an accurate one.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.