Shojo Beat Review | Baby & Me

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Marimo Ragawa’s Baby & Me would be the manga equivalent of a Pixar film, the kind of flawlessly executed material that seems meant for children but that someone of any age can enjoy.

(Viz Media; 200 pgs B&W; $8.99 ea.)

(W/A: Marimo Ragawa)

Vol. 1 – available now

Vol. 2 – available 07-05-2006

From the earliest days that Japanese animation and comics began filtering into the US, they have been unfairly maligned in some circles as something that is for adults only, packed with hyperviolence and casual nudity, or insipid children’s material incomprehensible to the average adult, a la Pokemon or Digimon. This is an incredibly wrong-headed assumption, of course; the Japanese cartooning industry is packed with as wide a variety of genres as Hollywood movies are.

Using the Hollywood analogy, Marimo Ragawa’s Baby & Me would be the manga equivalent of a Pixar film, the kind of flawlessly executed material that seems meant for children but that someone of any age can enjoy. Baby & Me’s protagonist is Takuya Enoki, a 10-year-old boy who has had to deal with the painful loss of his mother in a car accident. With his salaryman father working all hours to support the family, Takuya is forced to fill in as mother for Minoru, his precocious one-year-old brother.

In Takuya, Ragawa has created a rich and complicated hero. Forced to be an adult far too soon, he can seem old beyond his years, yet he is still only 10 years old, and can still act with all the immaturity of a pre-teen. His switching gears always feels natural, never forced. For Takuya, the reality that his mother will never come back has already set in, but he struggles trying to care for the little brother who still cries out for the mother he barely knew.

The premise may seem like a recipe for nothing but tragedy and painful drama, but it’s a credit to Ragawa that the story is never depressing. Baby & Me is as heart-warming as it is heart-wrenching. This dichotomy hits home in the story’s second chapter, where a nosy neighbor sets up Takuya’s father for an omiai—a blind date that’s meant to end in an arranged marriage. The story reveals the close-knit, loving nature of the family, and perfectly illustrates that these three will make it through on the love of each other, if nothing else.

Though the drama can be intense and, at times, downright sad, the series is boosted by plenty of lighthearted moments. Almost all of the series’ comedy is brought on by Minoru, who is quite possibly the most adorable character in the history of manga. Here, Lance Caselman’s English adaptation truly shines. Much of Minoru’s heart is conveyed in babbling baby language, and in the wrong hands this could become overly precious and saccharine—think the newspaper strip Rose Is Rose. But when coupled with Ragawa’s cartoony artwork, whenever he cries out for his beloved "bwaza," it’s sweet enough to soften even the hardest hearts.

As time goes by and the sense of tragedy begins to dissipate, Baby & Me enters the second of its 18 volumes by turning its eye to the day-to-day life of Takuya and Minoru. Minoru, in particular, gets sunk into quite a few situations in his nursery school where adult life is filtered through a child’s eyes, including a hilarious love triangle involving two classmates who won’t take no for an answer.

Viz has rated Baby & Me "T for teens," which is absolutely ludicrous. While it does deal with emotional heartbreak, it does so to show the ability of love and family to triumph over even the hardest adversities, and it does so with a mixture of impeccably executed high drama and feelgood comedy that readers of any age could and should be reading.

For something completely different, click "Next" to check out our review of Kaori Yuki's Victorian horror murder mystery series Godchild!

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