The other day, Sean and I finished watching Aishiteruze Baby. The title roughly translates to “Love Ya Baby”, with “baby” taking on a double meaning–the suffix –ze is a boastful masculine form of speech, so we would expect that “baby” would refer to the speaker’s girlfriend, but it actually refers to a little girl the speaker is caring for. (I assume here, of course, that the main character, Katakura Kippei, is the “speaker”. It fits: when the anime begins, he is a total womanizer.)
On the surface, this seems to be an innocent, carefree, heartwarming story, but then things begin to happen.
The premise is that the little girl, Yuzuyu, is dropped into the Katakura family’s lap by her mother, who has stated that she is unable to take care of her. Kippei, a high school student, becomes her primary caregiver. While we are left wondering about a mother who would abandon her child, we get clues–brief flashbacks of the mother being unable to deal with Yuzu, and the father having to balance them both. We learn that the father has died, and this leaves the mother unable to function. While that explains the abandonment to a point, we get a further piece of information about halfway through the series.
Yuzu’s mother, Miyako, shows up at Yuzu’s school, watching her from afar, not showing herself. Kippei discovers her and confronts her about why she left her child. Miyako breaks down and tells him that she once struck Yuzu. Kippei is nonplussed, remarking that he’d been beaten up by his mother and sister all his life, and he was fine. But Miyako whispers, “Chigau. Sou ja nai. Kodomo ga warui ja nai” (or something to that effect; translation: “No. That’s not it. She’d done nothing wrong”).
After this point, the series takes on an extremely dark edge. We meet new characters: a boy Yuzu’s age who is physically and emotionally abused by his mother, and a girl a little younger than Kippei who was bullied so badly at school that she’d taken to burning herself all up her arm to prove that she was strong.
The little boy had to fall down a flight of stairs before his mother came to her senses. I have to tell you, I was furious during this part of the anime. While Kippei’s older sister and the kindergarten teachers tried to save the boy from his mother, the boy would always stubbornly say that his mother hadn’t hurt him and that he wanted to stay with her. Children want their mothers, Kippei reflected, and took it upon himself to speak to the woman. But she only took his words to heart after she moved to strike her child and he stumbled and fell down the stairs.
Every scene with the mother was filled with her internal thoughts. “Chigau. Sou ja nai. Kodomo ga warui ja nai,” in an echo of what Yuzuyu’s mother had said. And then she asked herself desperately, “When did I become like this?” I had absolutely no patience for it.
You see, the woman was abusive because she was insecure. Her husband had lost his job. All the woman could think about was how her status fell in the eyes of the other mothers in the neighborhood. Everything she did was an effort to hide her “shame”. So, of course, she had little time for a beautiful, outgoing, funny child who drew attention to himself by acting out. No matter how much she scolded him and struck him, he kept “misbehaving”, so obviously she just had to hit him more.
I hate that character. I hate that she used her position, the position of mother, giver of life, to abuse the greatest gift she had ever received. When things were finally resolved, when she agreed to doctor-advised counseling and the family decided to move so that the husband could find a job, I was still unhappy.
But her son was joyous, and he told Yuzu as he was about to leave that his mother was “a lot nicer now”.
Motherhood is a position of power. I have no sympathy for those who refuse to acknowledge that fact, who turn to excuses to explain their renunciation of responsibility.
The other new character, the girl who was bullied at school, was also being physically abused, this time by her father. She refused to tell her parents what was going on at school, so her parents only knew that she was acting out, dyeing her hair, and being smart to them. She felt more and more alone as the series progressed, and eventually tried to kill herself. Kippei was able to talk her down, though, and a tenuous understanding was finally reached with her parents.
What makes this series truly shocking is that Yuzuyu is the witness to it all. She saw her friend’s mother hit him. She saw the girl try to kill herself. And while she seemed to keep her childish innocence, you could tell that a new kind of wisdom was growing beneath it.
Yuzu was growing up, was forced to grow up by the cruel circumstances of her own and other people’s lives.
Today, when I saw this headline on Mainichi, all I could think of was Aishiteruze Baby and the truths it had taught me.
The world can be a beautiful place. But it is also ugly.