Babies in anime and manga serve many differing purposes. They can mark the passage of time, or a transition into a new stage in life. In series for young girls, they’re often a way for children to emulate their parents. Whether they’re a source of comedy, an adorable presence, and evil force in the world, the role of the baby is myriad and generally based on the audience being served. Among these varied works, the baby portrayal that tends to catch my attention the most are the ones that get a little “real.” These depictions aren’t necessarily trying to portray the entire baby-raising experience, but they will bring up the inherent difficulty in bringing up a small child. Even when they’re doing it for laughs, there is a sort of sobering effect that can potentially apply to all ages and demographics.
The first baby that comes to mind is Hana in Ojamajo Doremi. In the second season of the magical girl franchise, titled Ojamajo Doremi ♯ (“Sharp”), elementary school girl Doremi receives a magical witch baby from a tree. From one season to the next, she and the other girls take care of her. In many similar series, such as Doki Doki! Precure, the baby is often just there for cuteness factor, or maybe to sell a few baby-themed toys. Doremi plays it differently.
In one episode, Doremi, generally a clumsy girl, is having immense trouble taking care of Hana. She gets so frustrated by it, and the fact that the other girls are scolding her for doing a poor job, that she runs home to her mom looking for comfort and understanding. Instead, her mom slaps her (off-screen), and basically says, “If you get hurt, you just feel bad. If there’s no one to take care of Hana, it’s a matter of life and death.” In that moment, Doremi’s mom makes a crystal-clear point about how literally helpless an infant is, as well as the responsibility and strength absolutely required for their sake. Hana still acts the part of the precious anime baby, but even as a burgeoning witch with immense magical powers, reality sets in.
However, if we’re talking harsh depictions of the mental and physical toll babies can take on their parents, then one need look no further than Jigopuri: The Princess of the Hell. A short, two-volume manga by the author of Genshiken, Kio Shimoku, Jigopuri follows a young widowed mother named Ayumi and her newborn child, Yumeko. In contrast to the older characters, who all have a more typical moe look, Yumeko is drawn strangely hyper-realistically. The manga portrays raising Yumeko as a harrowing experience. Ayumi occasionally wishes ill on her own daughter due to the stress she causes, and feels immensely guilt over it. In one chapter, as Ayumi attends a meeting for new mothers, she finds out that others occasionally look at their children with disdain as well, which gives her immense joy and relief.
Unlike Doremi, which targeted an audience of young girls presumably into the idea of playing pretend-mama, Jigopuri ran in a magazine targeting adult otaku, Monthly Afternoon which might be why it wasn’t terribly successful. It’s just not the kind of thing otaku are expected to know or care about. I find it kind of funny that a series targeting small children could deliver a serious message about raising children and then go on for two-three more years, while adult men rejected a similar message.
Nevertheless, I think that attempt to confront a reluctant or perhaps ignorant audience of certain truths or circumstances is what I find appealing about the “real” baby, even if seeing an infant girl with invisibility powers as per JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4 garners more laughs. In fact, I think of Spotted Flower, another Kio Shimoku manga about an otaku and his pregnant wife (who gives birth in the second volume) is kind of a do-over of Jigopuri. Even though it runs in more of a josei magazine, Rakuen: Le Paradis, it’s a compromise of sorts. Perhaps just as Hana is a magical baby with fun powers, having an otaku father can settle it into a more comfortable place.
This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.