「その12」 (Part 12)
There are a lot of nice things I could say about Gakuen Babysitters, which was a pretty wonderful series altogether and delivered everything I’d hoped it would. But what sticks in my mind after its finale is how resolutely true to itself this series was, from start to finish. Shows that are this comfortable in their own skin never have to try too hard, which means that what can seem false or excessive in other series totally works with them. In lesser hands Gakuen Babysitters might have been cloying or manipulative, but it never is – that’s mostly a tribute to the mangaka, but to the anime staff as well.
There’s a familiar tenor to both chapters this week, but some sense of finality as well. Morishita-sensei and Kakihara-sensei seem to have chosen very reflective stories for the final episode. For much of the anime’s run, the tragic deaths of Ryuuichi and Kotarou’s parents and the chairwoman’s children has been the elephant in the room – ever-present, rarely acknowledged. But it’s a character in these two stories – a real, tangible presence that causes not just Ryuuichi but Saikawa-san to look back with a sense of what’s been lost.
Saikawa has, in fact, been a rather prominent presence himself in these last two episodes. This time around he volunteers to watch Kotarou so Ryuu can go see a horror movie with his schoolmates – Morinomiya-san having given the order that his social development should be a priority. As usual, Ryuu is way too obsessive about leaving Kotarou for a little while, and as usual Saikawa’s childcare methods are unorthodox to say the least. His idea of playing with Kotarou seems to be along the lines of first a cat, then a dog – but somehow it actually works.
The real point of this chapter, though, is the story of the empty library where Morinomiya-san’s son and his wife used to spend much of their time. Their passing hasn’t been addressed much, apart from the fact that it left a void in the chairwoman’s life that the Kashima brothers have begun to fill. But it’s clear that it had a big impact on Saikawa-san, too, and his quiet reflections about the disused room (which Morinomiya-san still airs out and cleans from time to time) are surprisingly moving.
Next up (and last up, sadly) is a Christmas chapter – out of season, obviously, but chosen for its thematic compatibility with the closer role. This story is on-point, for it’s around ritual occasions that we often feel the loss of those we loved most tangibly. Kotarou is obsessed with Santa – and believe me, in Japan he’s everywhere all December. And though it was of course the boys’ father who filled the Santa role every Christmas, Kotarou is too young to know that – for him, Santa is a very real person (and apparently his father made a very big deal out of portraying him every year).
There’s some great stuff here – like Kotarou comforting Taka-kun after Usaida (boo!) trolls him with “Santa doesn’t come to bad kids’ houses”. Kotarou, you little hero you – such a big heart in that tiny body. Hayato naturally isn’t much help – he’s ready to blow the secret altogether before Ryuu stops him. The highlight is the dinner that Saikawa-san makes for the boys back at home – even though we suspect some sort of surprise is coming, it’s unutterably sad watching the brothers sit alone at that groaning table as Saikawa departs, citing work commitments. Never has a festive spread looked so desolate.
I wasn’t sure how this would all play out, but I figured it was a pretty safe bet Morinomiya-san had something cooked up. No, it’s not normal that Kotarou is so clingy that he won’t even let Ryuuichi go into the bathroom by himself to change into his Santa suit – but Kotarou is such a trouper about most things that I can’t possibly begrudge him that. Everyone plays their part in the denouement – even Hayato, who’s asked the chairwoman to get Ryuuichi a new phone to replace his broken one. Stuff like that doesn’t bring back lost loved ones, but it does remind us that we’re not alone – and that’s one of the kindest things you can do for anyone.
Since we’re in the series review stage, I always tend to want to draw comparisons with older series I’ve seen – and in this case the one that springs to mind is Shounen Maid. While the overall tone of both Gakuen Babysitters and Shounen Maid leans towards cuteness and positivity, there’s an underlying sense of loss and human frailty that cuts through both series. Not only are those now gone treated as characters in the story, but the loss itself is a character too – because it’s from the way those left behind are forever changed by it that the stories draw their emotional power.
While it seems as if series such as Gakuen Babysitters are becoming more and more rare in anime these days, the saving grace for this one is the popularity of the manga. That’s why this adaptation was made, and while it won’t be enough to get us a second season, it does provide some encouragement that thoughtful and subtle character stories like this one will continue to be produced occasionally, even if they’re not perceived to be commercially successful through disc sales. But make no mistake, Gakuen Babysitters is a tweener in the current anime environment – lacking any of the formula elements that drive most late-night anime or the grit and self-aware cool factor that dominate Netflix and Amazon-funded series. Shows like it are still a part of anime, at least on the fringes – but it’s anybody’s guess for how long.