This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series Aishiteruze Baby. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to child abandonment, child abuse, suicide, self-harm, bullying, sexual assault, and kidnapping, as it appears in the manga.
Kippei Katakura is a player. As one of the most attractive guys in his high school, he has no shortage of partners to play with every day. However, Kippei's days of playing bachelor are coming to an end when a major family event rocks the foundation of the Katakura family. Kippei's aunt Miyako lost her husband. Unable to handle the pressures of single motherhood, Miyako leaves her five-year-old daughter Yuzuyu in the care of Kippei's family until she can get on her feet.
As the only family member old enough to care for her and with enough free time to do it, Kippei is designated as Yuzuyu's primary guardian. Yuzuyu quickly takes to Kippei and begins relying on him heavily. Similarly, Kippei finds himself increasingly attached to Yuzuyu, and soon, those irresponsible player days feel like a distant memory. It isn't all sunshine and rainbows, though. Kippei and Yuzuyu constantly face prejudice, trauma, and the many struggles their unique relationship creates. As their bond grows stronger and stronger, the looming threat that one day they will have to part only grows along with it.
First off, I am a bit biased. I have major nostalgia goggles for this. I remember checking this series out from my middle school library years and years ago, and since it was one of my first manga, it inevitably became one of my favorites. I can say, now, as an adult, it probably isn't the pinnacle of shoujo manga that I thought it once was, but it definitely holds a special place in my heart, and even now, I still think it is one of the more unique titles out there. I did reread it for the sake of this review and hopefully be a bit more objective, but I want to be clear that this will be a bit biased.
Let's get the art style out of the way. This is an older title and, as a result, has that classic shoujo style that I honestly despise now. Don't get me wrong, it isn't necessarily bad or ugly, though the eyes do get a bit crazy at times. It has just been so long since this style was in vogue that it is hard for me to enjoy it now. Yuzuyu is adorable, though, and the art style really lends itself well to all the kids and the women. Kippei is really the only one who looks a bit wild from time to time, which is unfortunate since he is our protagonist.
While the art didn't hold up to the test of time, the overall story still holds pretty strong. The basis of the story is the relationship between Yuzuyu and Kippei and how they help each other grow through some of the most challenging times in their lives. Seeing Kippei, a high school womanizer, really grow into this responsible and caring person, thanks to Yuzuyu, is one of the best parts of all this. Without Kippei, Yuzuyu's trauma over having been abandoned would have been so much more significant, but because she had him there to love and care for her, she was able to persist. There is so much fluffy goodness throughout this series that will do your heart some good. It, of course, can't all be sweet times, but the excruciating moments only make those good times that much sweeter.
While the story is still strong, in my opinion, there are definitely glaring issues that I don't remember seeing when I read this series all those years ago. For example, one arc involves a girl named Miki, Yuzuyu's cousin, and another student. Her arc is pretty nonsensical. She comes to the Katakura household, claiming that Yuzuyu is coming with her to live with her family. That in itself isn't bad, but the reasoning behind it is strange. She wants to take Yuzuyu to her family as a replacement for herself. While I understand it is because Miki is going through a lot emotionally and probably not thinking clearly, that whole line of thinking is odd and doesn't make much sense. Not to mention how much additional trauma she causes Yuzuyu by lying to her about taking her to her mother, kidnapping her, and then attempting suicide in front of her. It blew my mind how nonsensical it all was.
Then, there is the ending. I love that, ultimately, Kippei's love for Yuzuyu overpowers his selfish desire of wanting to keep her by his side and raise her, so he pushes her to go with her mom. The concept of the ending is amazing, and I especially love that in the end, we see an older, well-adjusted Yuzuyu writing to Kippei to express how much she appreciated him during her childhood. It really made the journey worth it to see how well she turned out and that she still remembered everything that Kippei did for her. However, the way the ending is executed is a bit rushed. Miyako decides to show up on Yuzuyu's birthday to take her back, which is literally the worst idea of all time, in my humble opinion. Of course, the Katakura family tells her they all need to take time to transition Yuzuyu back to her mother, which I don't think is unreasonable. Still, as Miyako leaves, Yuzuyu sees and wants to go after her. I really wish we could've seen more reverb from that, but the story ends within two or three pages after this. Kippei encourages Yuzuyu to go to her mother, and then Yuzuyu is seen as a teenager writing to Kippei and thanking him. Again, the ending is great in concept, but I feel like we could have had more of a resolution and more time with all of these significant changes.
This will always have a special place in my heart. While it isn't as perfect as I recall it being when I first read it all those years ago, it still is one of the more heart-wrenching stories I've read. It's a unique concept, and while there is some romance sprinkled in, the main focus is always on Yuzuyu and Kippei, which is exactly what I wanted. We see really excellent character growth, and I loved seeing Kippei slowly shed his womanizer persona in favor of a more domesticated, paternal/maternal figure for Yuzuyu's sake. If you want lots of fluffiness with equally as much drama, this is a good one.
Have you read Aishiteruze Baby? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!