Every now and then there will come a series that touches the deepest spaces of your heart, and remains with you for the rest of your life.
This is one of them.
Aka-chan to Boku, or Baby and Me as it is known to English audiences, is a manga that features an 11 year old boy who just recently lost his mother, and who must now step up and help take care of his baby brother while his father runs a busy job, and tries to keep things moving along. This is a very realistic and detailed slice-of-life manga showing the lifestyle of an elementary school child and his baby brother coping with the loss of their mother, though many other characters and their lives are given insight as well.
It is a real pity that this manga is not more well known outside of Japan, as it is one of the all time best selling Shoujo mangas there, and is truly a wonderful series.
It is also interesting to note that though this manga is classified as Shoujo, the layout of the series (the art panels) is much more like a Shonen, and the series on a whole feels more like a slice-of-life Shonen, or even a Josei series.
So, what makes this series so excellent?
★ Story (10) - It is strange to think that when you are a child, all you wish to do is to grow up and be an adult. When we are adults, we want nothing more than to be a child once more. This manga encompasses that nostalgic and yearned for childhood that some of us had, and others did not. It takes us away from the world of adults - but sneaks a peek in every now and then with the eyes of a child, or through the eyes of the grownups we all eventually become someday.
This manga follows the day to day life and adventures (or misadventures) of the main family, and many other characters. Everything from a sick day to a hectic day at work; baseball games and school trips; bullying and unsure new mothers; holidays and even a kidnapping among many other things are all shown realistically while being comedic, sad, and often times nostalgic. This manga has a way with weaving words that speak volumes to the reader in their honesty and the truth of their feelings.
Several times surprisingly, rather tough or tricky topics are brought to light. For instance, there were chapters on family problems and a wayward son; unplanned pregnancies, masturbation and even the death of character. No, this manga does not shy away from more sensitive topics, but discusses them and treats them very realistically and in a fair way while not over dramatizing them.
The one problem I had with the story, was the timeline. The author says that the story takes place in just one year. However that cannot be correct, as for instance, Christmas and New Years are shown and celebrated more than once and seasons change many times among other things. However, this little blunder does not take away from the story, and does not ruin anything.
★ Art (10) - It is rare that a manga can convey such complex emotions and feelings through black and white artwork. It is rare, but in this case it was done, and done beautifully. The character does not even have to say anything whatsoever; but what they mean is shown through the expression in their face, a look in their eyes. The art style is very cute, very cleanly done, and very appealing to look at. The 90's style resonates through and though and adds a touch of nostalgia which, considering the story line, is utterly perfect for the tale.
★ Character (10) - If there ever was a series with a cast of gold, this would be it. There are many characters in this manga, and while the main character's family gets the most attention, many other characters are very well fleshed out and the reader gets a very interesting peek into their lives ranging anywhere from a toddler, to a recently married couple with their first child, to the eccentric manager of a daycare. The characters all have distinct personalities, and all continue to develop and grow even when the focus is not on them. Even side characters who do not have much screen time are given sparkling personalities that shine through and make even the most mediocre of subjects interesting and vivid. The feelings of the characters in general are observed and followed very closely and penned down accurately. Truly, this author has the gift of making very three dimensional characters come alive on the pages of a book.
★ Enjoyment (10) - For all those who want a truly great manga to read and fall in love with, this is for you. For all those sick to death of cliche Shoujo mangas full of love and nonsense, this is what you need to pick up and read as soon as possible. There's no fantastic world, no epic quest or incredible romance featured in these pages. What there is a very human, very real story that makes its own magic in an everyday world, and makes its way through the struggles and triumphs of life through wonderful, realistic characters who, without trying, make you love them. There is nothing not to enjoy is this classic, and there is something for everyone in its covers.
★ Overall (10) - Growing up happens in a heartbeat. We toddle about on our hands and feet one day; the next, we walk confidentially towards the future and we're gone. No matter how far we journey though, our hearts still bask in the good and bad memories of our childhood. All the smiles and laughter of our youth; all the bumps and bruises as we climb the ladder to the adult word. We remember the streets and faces of our past though the names may escape us. We recall places and homes we have not been to, nor stepped in for many years. We recognize that behind each little house there are people; people with lives and stories and feelings all their own, bound together in the pain and love of life. And no matter how big we get, or how far away we go - we find ourselves looking back always; with yearning eyes and wanting heart.
This beautiful little gem of a story encompasses all those feelings and is utterly worth a read time and time again. And for 18 volumes we are given that absolute privilege of taking a walk back to the past as we once more step into the too-soon left behind but never forgotten world of childhood.