Welcome to Japan, where everything comes early: mid-life crisis, true love, and even parenting! This anime stars Ryuichi and his toddler brother Kotaro. Unfortunately, they have recently lost their parents in a plane crash, so now they only have each other. A school’s chairwoman has offered to take them in, but in return, Ryuichi will have to help out at the Babysitter Club everyday after school. Yeah, that’s right. The school’s daycare center is literally a school club for students to join. It’s a good way for kids to learn how to deal with young children — really, really young children — but I’m not sure if it’s exactly the most sensible idea ever conceived.
Much of the first episode is what you expect it to be. Lots of light-hearted fare where Ryuichi struggles to play with and watch over a bunch of rugrats (speaking of which, I used to watch that cartoon everyday in elementary school). Much of its problem is that it lacks depth. Ryuichi seems too nice for me to root for him. After a cold reception from the chairwoman, he’s just all, “Awww, I didn’t get the chance to thank her. Does she not really want us around?” I’m not saying he should be mad at her, but c’mon, he seems like a pushover, not an actual teenage boy who just lost his parents and must now go to work everyday after class. He lacks psychological complexity, and since this show is all about him and his brother, that’s a large component to overlook.
When the kids’ mothers finally show up to pick up their kids, there’s nobody but Ryuichi to greet them. One of the mothers doesn’t even recognize him at first. That doesn’t… sound very comforting to me. I’d be a little worried to see my kid in the hands of some middle school student. Nevertheless, everyone’s just so happy and accepting of the current situation. Again, the show lacks complexity. Almost everything is one-dimensional. Ryuichi has a tremendous burden on his shoulders, and he bears it with no ill will whatsoever. The parents return to see their kids with a relative stranger, and they wear nothing but beaming smiles on their faces. Much of this show is simplistic and boring.
There’s only one moment that genuinely touched me. Later on, Ryuichi finds out that his brother has developed a fever. He naturally freaks out, because he’s just a kid himself. After a quick visit to the pediatrician’s office, however, he learns that Kotaro’s going to be okay. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ryuichi steps outside and tries to phone his parents. But ah, he can’t. He finally breaks down and cries. I can empathize with him here. Sometimes pain and loss doesn’t hit you right away. I also lost someone important to me a couple of years ago. I thought I was okay with it. I thought I could cope with it. Then a few months later, everything suddenly hit me all at once after work one day. I thought I had forgotten all about the loss, but I really hadn’t. I just never properly mourned it until then. I pretty much became emotionally catatonic for the rest of the night.
Ryuchi now has to take care of his little brother, and the added responsibility probably hasn’t given Ryuichi any time to spare. He hasn’t gotten the opportunity to properly mourn his parents’ death. Now that Kotaro is safely resting in the pediatrician’s ward, the main character can finally devote some time to himself. This part is certainly relatable. The main character finally seems like someone who has the complexity of an actual teenager and not just an agent to drive this feelgood anime about kids accomplishing everything under the sun (even parenting!).
I just don’t know if the rest of Gakuen Babysitters is worth watching. 20 minutes of boring, cutesy nonsense and two minutes of hard-hitting feels is a little lopsided for me. So do I want to continue watching this show? I’m still on the fence. Honestly, I’m leaning towards no.
Notes & observations:
— This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve watched an anime about a kid raising a child. Despite its shoujo trappings, I overall enjoyed the anime adaptation of Aishiteruze Baby. Well, Ryuichi is not even in high school yet. He’s still just a middle schooler, which makes this even crazier.
— I’m not a fan of Kotaro being so young. I might be biased against kids, but I truly believe it’s going to be hard to make him an interesting character. Plus, the toddler age is usually when they turn into hellions.
— Luckily, Kotaro is a boy, so there’s less danger of the kid growing up and falling in love with his caretaker. I hope. Yeah, looking at you, Usagi Drop.
— Ryuichi casually reveals to us that both their parents died in a plane crash while a generic anime BGM plays. Hilarious. I don’t quibble with his lack of emotional response. More on that later. Rather, it’s just funny how these shows set themselves up. Hmmmm, how do we make this kid take on all these parental responsibilities…? Ah, let’s just kill his parents so we can get our cute shojo manga off the ground.
— What’s with all the ridiculous-looking older women lately? First Citrus and now this chairwoman.
— “Every man must work for his daily bread!” But Ryuichi is not a man. He’s still a child. He’s an older child — more accurately, a teenager — but a child all the same.
— Watching this OP, it’s weird how I find cats and kittens cute, but babies and toddlers do nothing for me.
— I thought I saw a recent article about a Japanese employee being fired because she brought her child to work, but I can’t find it now. Maybe I imagined it.
— Sure, both male and female employees need access to adequate childcare. That’s why we’re going to employ a teenager to babysit them. It’s too crazy not to work! C’mon, don’t be mad! It’s so cute to have teenagers do everything in anime!
— If he’s the first member of the babysitting club, who’s running it right now? An overworked man with pink hair by the name of Yoshihito. He might have been napping just now, but kids are tiring, man.
— The kids sound like they’re at least… four or five. They look like they’re barely a year old.
— I know anime isn’t necessarily representative of real life, but I helped watch babysit my cousins when I was a teenager myself. I definitely never want kids.
— There’s not much teaching going on here. Ryuichi just seems like one overgrown punching bags for the kids. Babysitting isn’t just making sure the kids don’t accidentally hurt themselves or whatever. You’re actually raising them for the short time that you watch over them. That’s why childcare workers usually require some formal training before they can be employed. Sure, you can have part-time workers like Ryuichi, but then maybe the primary caretaker shouldn’t fuck off.
— Kotaro apparently wants his brother’s attention, but doesn’t want to ask for it.
— Eventually, someone Ryuichi’s age shows up. His mother is still busy, so it’s up to him to pick up his younger brother. I had hoped that maybe he could inject this show with at least some conflict. C’mon, gimme a reason to watch this show. But no, he’s about as basic as the mothers before him.
— The main character blames himself for ignoring his brother all day long, but uh… I don’t think you can prevent colds that way. You could argue that the fever is much worse than normal because of Ryuichi’s lack of attention, but I think that’s a stretch.
— The doctor then says that the “fever [is] caused by stress from a change in environment.” Oh, okay.
— So the chairwoman appears out of nowhere to lend Ryuichi some emotional support. She’s a typical softie with a rough exterior. We even later see her tuck the two brothers into bed. This is not enough to make her an interesting character, though.
— Ryuichi returns to find his brother crying for him, and the two of them embrace while shoujo bubbles float around them. It’s enough to make your heart melt if you like kids. Me? I can’t wait to spend more of my money and free time on restaurants, movies and video games.
— Ryuichi: “Ma’am, I guess it’s true that no one’s really alone.” Well, about that…