「その4」 (Part 4)
Gakuen Babysitters follows up what may have been its weakest (though that’s a relative term, as it was still very good) episode with what was probably its best. Really, this one showed every reason why this is such a wonderful series, and still for my money the favorite to wind up as the best new series of Winter 2018, even if Kokkoku and Koi wa Ameagari no You ni are giving it a surprisingly strong run for its money.
It’s not those shows that I’m thinking of as I write this, though, but Miira no Kaikata. And it’s not so much that it and Gakuen Babysitters are all the similar as that they both have to walk a very fine tightrope. When a show is as astonishingly heartfelt and warm as this one is, the risk of a one-note and too sweet dessert fatiguing the palate after a few bites is a strong one. I think between the two shows ambitions with Gakuen Babysitters are perhaps a little higher – the message it’s sending about the human experience is somewhat more nuanced.
Sacrifice is an important theme in Gakuen Babysitters, make no mistake about it. Both chapters this week highlight it in their way, starting with the one focused on clubs – an important subject since it takes place on Ryuuichi’s first day of high school. His first priority, of course, is to try and draw new members to the Babysitters Club – to that end designing rather an elaborate recruiting poster (though he’s too much of a gentleman to cover up somebody else’s club poster on the jam-packed bulletin board.
Usaida’s idea of a “tour”, however, is the one which clearly has the most curb appeal – and the parade of toddlers from club to club certainly gets the attention of the other students. As adorable as this is (which is a lot), there’s something else going on here too – Ryuuichi is seeing a side of life he’ll never be able to enjoy like a normal kid. Because he’s so responsible (in both senses – stay tuned for more on that theme) he has larger things to worry about than having fun in a club. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t worry about such things, because at heart a normal kid is what he’d like to be – at least sometimes. Kotarou sees this and hatches his own plan to help Ryuu through his funk – he recruits Hayato to join the Babysitters Club. It’s a sweet moment, but clearly Ryuu is aware of the sacrifices he’s had to make for his brother – and so is Kotarou, which may be even sadder.
When Ryuuichi develops an anime cold in the B-part (another Miira no Kaikata parallel), this theme plays out in even more direct fashion. The boys are truly lucky to have tough-love Moriyama-san and snarky Saikawa-san (“Congrats on your voice changing”) around in moments like this. As Moriyama pulls Kotarou out of the boys’ room for his own protection (no band-aid over the mouth, though) and – in surprisingly tender fashion for on “oni-onna” – enlists his help in preparing a lemon-honey tonic, Ryuu lapses into a fever dream. And this is where the tragedy of his situation really hits home, because he dreams of his mother praising him for being “responsible” before she and his father are about to flit away on another adventure – and then decides to take Kotarou with them.
Of course this is sad for obvious reasons, knowing what’s going to happen – but it’s also a reminder of how unfair the boys’ parents really were to Ryuuichi. The curse of being the responsible one is a heavy weight indeed, especially for a child. Just because Ryuu could care for Kotarou doesn’t mean he should have had to – and just because he’s determined to do everything for his brother now doesn’t mean he should be deprived of the chance to be a carefree adolescent. But love is about sacrifice – and some are fated to have to sacrifice more than others. The acknowledgement of that is the bitter, cleansing ingredient in the Gakuen Babysitters recipe which keeps it from becoming cloying, and leaves you hungry for another bite.