by Yumi Unita
published by Yen Press; $12.99 US
Ah, they grow up so fast. Rin’s now a schoolgirl, so no more “aww, what a cute kid” stories in this series. Instead, dad Daikichi observes a cousin’s family struggles, takes care of Rin when she gets sick and later loses her first tooth, and helps her train for a school jump rope competition.
There’s a lot of observing other parents’ struggles in the tales contained here. All these characters that come into Daikichi’s life are to show him how parenting — often single parenting — can work. They all make sacrifices, but they barely notice, because it’s so rewarding.
I’m impressed to see how rapidly Yumi Unita is moving Rin’s growing up along. However, as she becomes a young woman, she’s running into expectations regarding her role — and that was the part of the book I was most disappointed by. There are a lot of restrictions based on gender expectations in this volume. At times, I wasn’t sure that the author was aware of how stereotypical the portrayals shown are.
For instance, the first, two-chapter story brings Daikichi’s cousin Haruko and Haruko’s daughter Reina to visit. Haruko needs to escape from her conservative, constricting life for a bit. She’s a wife and mother, expected to take care of her child and kowtow to her husband’s family, whom they live with. Since Daikichi doesn’t understand her concerns (and doesn’t even want to listen to the full story), the reader never really does, either. She’s just one of the many women who are inspired and helped by Daikichi. (Since part of her concern is that her husband ignores her, it’s weird that the reader and Daikichi do, too, never really listening.) Her “happy” ending, to learn to ignore her emotions for the sake of the child, doesn’t feel like much of a solution.
While lip service is paid to how strong these women are for raising children, and all the many worries and challenges that entails, the naive Daichiki, who’s still wondering whether he can raise a child successfully a year into doing it, is the one who provides the example that answers these women’s questions and takes care of them in addition to Rin. I know he’s the central figure in a series that runs in a magazine aimed at male readers, so he needs to be the protagonist, but it’s a bit unnerving, that he’s the center and every woman in the book either needs his help (the cousin, the neighbor — although to be fair, that’s after she’s helped him with Rin’s cold) or is there to take care of him (his mother).
My concerns were really summed up in one small scene during the jump rope story, though. It’s otherwise a neat piece, about how various parents and children all come together at the park to help the kids, boys and girls, practice jumping rope. Until a moment where everyone takes a break, and the groups separate by gender. The boys and men play basketball, while the girls and women play what we called Chinese jump rope. (It’s the game where two girls put elastic cords around their ankles, and another girl jumps in and out of the large loop they form.) I was surprised by how girly Rin was drawn. With all her energy, I expected her to be playing ball with the guys instead of looking like she was posing for a catalog.
The art could be inconsistent at times, with heads sometimes not being quite the shape they should be, but key moments had the necessary emphasis on expressive faces, and Rin is always cute. I did get a little tired of shocked or screaming Daikichi, though, with wide-open mouth and sweat drops to indicate his extreme feelings. On the positive side, I enjoyed seeing so many different kinds of parents and families, all shown as viable options. That’s something to celebrate.