I saw the first two episodes of this title at Manifest 2004 and, being an easy mark for such things, was quite taken with the premise. I was curious how such a story would continue. And now that I know... perhaps I would have been happier with just the first two episodes.
The story begins with a young high schooler called Kippei. He's a blond haired, easy going, slacker. Not much for studies, although he does get a fair amount of sleep out of his school days. It is fairly obvious that he's always just drifted happily through life, seemingly without a care in the world, and that strategy has more or less worked for him. He's got a good heart, but it's never truly been tested.
Thus it comes as quite a shock to find that he has suddenly got a child. The aggressively adorable Yuzuyu, a five year old girl, has been abandoned by her recently widowed mother who is seemingly unable to cope with parenthood. Kippei's family, as closest relations, take responsibility for her. However the actual work of looking after her bounces down the family tree and lands squarely on Kippei himself. It seems he doesn't have time to be so easy going, or float easily over troublesome issues, anymore.
My initial reactions to this title were fairly positive. A lot of that has to do with how likeable the main characters are. Kippei is an interesting guy and clearly has his heart in the right place, he just needs focus. Yuzuyu is intensely cute, but her character also goes deeper than that. She is in turn childish, as befits her age, strong, in a way she possibly shouldn't need to be at that age, and intensely hurt by the void left in her life. She clearly needs a stout and loyal guardian to support her. In other words she and Kippei form a very balanced duo that has the capacity to help both of them grow stronger.
That's very cool, and with a proper shoujo sensibility that is enough to power a series. However this series seems to run out of steam fairly quickly. The problem is that Kippei is such a positive character that he adapts to all the challenges of being her guardian with a frightening ease. It's not long before he's making lunch boxes, sewing, and having empathic insights into other people. Meanwhile Yuzuyu really likes Kippei and he is such a perfect complement for her that she can face and deal with her own issues. This is fantastic from the point of view of the characters, but it is not really such a great thing for the series. After only a few episodes you know there is no problem they can't handle, which sort of limits the dramatic possibilities.
The story writers react by adding in more characters with problems of their own. Indeed it appears that being the guardian of a kawaii young girl is a bit like hanging out a sign saying "troubled girls apply here". We get to meet Kokoro-chin, the steely eyed girl in Kippei's class. We get to meet a troubled mother, a troubled cousin, and we even get to meet Yuzuyu's troubled mother. Each of them has an issue that has twisted them somehow and Kippei's new role brings it out into the open. This is fine of course, most shoujo series do rely on a large cast of characters to keep the story moving, but the problem is that they only incidentally affect the story core. Yuzuyu and Kippei remain so supportive that the intrusion of these characters does not shake the bond they've formed... which once again tends to deaden the dramatic impact.
However that is as nothing compared to the unbelievable messianic powers Kippei has uncovered. It seems that just by being good hearted, and treating everyone like a "good girl", their problems all solve themselves. This guy, talking to the icey Kokoro-chin who has nursed a secret sorrow for many years, uses the same mannerisms as he uses on the five year old Yuzuyu. I expected him, in best anime tradition, to get thumped with a desk. Instead she just melts... as does everyone else on who he tries it. He writes a love letter in crayon, he makes a kawaii-bento, he mouthes good natured platitudes, and every one succumbs. Thus rather interesting characters, like a rebellious cousin with cigarette burns for decorations and a bicycle chain for a weapon, suddenly discovers she really is a "good girl" and resolves to get on with her life. It's not quite that bad, I am simplifying it and there are some quite dramatic moments, but it's ultimately unsatisfying. The conclusion to the actual series is just as disappointing, it appears things will go on as they have been.
Don't get me wrong, it is definitely watchable, if you can cope with shoujo. But it is certainly not even close to the best in that genre. As a character piece it is far too neat, too good natured and too shallow to achieve any intensity. And as a story it is too aimless, a random collection of interludes which don't actually progress anywhere. It doesn't even really have a moral as such, Kippei and his family probably will do a better job of raising Yuzuyu than her own mother would. And other interesting story aspects, such as how the burdens of parenting would weigh down a teen, are glossed over entirely. Then again if they were raised everyone is so supportive they'd probably turn out to be non-issues anyway.
On reflection it could be that the series seems to "wimp out". It generates these really interesting, somewhat intense, characters. For example Kokoro and Miki have massive screen presence, and we expect decoding and defusing their characters and history to be a complex process. However the actual resolution tends to be far more simple, and fast, than we expect. This tends to cheapen the build up and gives rise to a sense of dis-satisfaction. For example Kippei has managed to seriously irritate Kokoro-chin just as a potential rival appears on the scene. Kippei is warned of this possibility by Kokoro's female friends, how will he respond? Big time drama right? Nope, Kippei does nothing, Kokoro turns the guy down, story thread ends abruptly.... but why even bring it up? And let's not even get into the howling drama vacuum that Satsuki (Kippei's younger brother) represents. It's just disappointing.
The opening credits are aggressively shoujo, as if drawn with colored pencils, but the actual animation is pretty straight forward. Likeable character art, although some odd proportions (especially for Yuzuyu), decent motion and uninspiring and over-used backgrounds. More than acceptable, but nothing special and somewhat lacking in character. Needless to say there is no action content to challenge the animators. The script is average, the voices are rather good and do a lot to make the characters more likeable and intense. The ambient music should doom someone to an eternity in the deepest pits of hell, it is corny and over-processed stuff that is half way between elevator music and a porn film. Generally I'm happy to let background music stay in the background, so when I notice the music is sucking that's bad.
A good natured, easy going, teenager suddenly finds himself knee deep in parenthood. The child, the intensely cute five year old Yuzuyu, having been left with the family while her widowed mother gets her act together. The two quickly form a strong bond that will see them through. Which is great for the characters, but not so good for the drama of the series, with the relatively weak script blowing one story opportunity after another. The production is decent with some good voice work.
None of my regular sources seem to have a review of this title.