I have a love/hate relationship with shojo. Back when I first started writing reviews, I got a nasty email telling me I didn't understand shojo because I gave a show a bad grade. I disagreed. Yet over time, I have found that there are certain kinds of anime based on shojo I like, and some I hate. I have never thought much of bishonen males and adventure stories where the heroines must believe in their dreams to overcome adversity -- which applies to most of the CLAMP oeuvre. I sort of despise those cheesy music video dramas from the '80s that have thankfully disappeared. However, the romantic comedies, I like. Stuff like Marmalade Boy and Child's Toy I count among some of the funniest anime I've seen. As a guy, I don't expect to get everything that teen girls like, but the material I like best is relatable across all ages.
Baby Love ran in the shojo manga compilation Ribon in the mid-to-late '90s between those two aforementioned titles, and an OVA was released in 1997. However, it didn't seem to enjoy the same popularity as those other two, whose anime series went on for multiple seasons. It may be that the characters act too old for their ages. It could be that it simply wasn't original or terribly funny. That said, it's enjoyable for the half-hour it runs. It was meant for fans of the original comic but easy for the novice to follow.
In Baby Love, we've got Seara, a young woman whose name is pronounced much like "Sara." (When I read it over and over in the subtitles, however, I kept thinking of the department store.) As a little girl, she immediately fell in love with Shuhei, a basketball player three years her senior. Shuhei joked that she should come back for him when she was older...so she did. Willing herself to grow taller with the help of as much milk as she could stomach, she looks and acts far older than the ten-year-old she is. Through a convenient set of circumstances -- Seara stays in Japan while her parents move to America (!!) -- she winds up living with Shuhei and his family. Shuhei is, of course, oblivious to the fact that Seara is the tiny little thing that was determined to marry him a few years before.
As the show progresses, the knots of love get more, well, knotty. Shuhei is really interested in another girl who's seeing someone else. Meanwhile, Shuhei's good friend Rai sees Seara and falls in love with her at first glance. Dates at the amusement part, the skating rink, and a local cafe amongst our various cast members play out as they try to understand and maneuver through their feelings.
My copy of Baby Love is a bit fuzzy, but this show isn't one that needs high fidelity. It's done competently, but nothing stands out as unique or interesting either in animation or music. The character designs are the type where eyes take up over half the head, but it's no surprise to anyone who say an issue of Ribon in that era. I daresay that the look will appeal mostly to young girls, who are in fact the target audience!
From a narrative standpoint, Baby Love accomplishes its mission: it gives us the players, sets up the narrative hook, provides tension, and brings it all to a satisfactory if not complete close. That's actually a lot to accomplish in 27 minutes of actual running time (not counting credits). It's amusing. It's simple but not simplistic. There were times I could relate to Seara's plight. And to the show's credit, I felt the sense of uncertainty and emotional raggedness that come with that age.
My biggest beef with Baby Love was that Seara looks and acts 14, perhaps even more mature than Shuhei. That makes the storyline work, but I wasn't buying it. The only risque joke (if you can even call it that) surrounded Seara's lack of bust and her shock that Shuhei was fascinated by young women with figures. But is this such a surprise? Perhaps for girls that age, it is. I think Seara acts older than she is because she is the stand-in for the even younger reader. Any consumer of Ribon would like to think she is in more mature than she is.
My other gripe about the show isn't really fair, I guess. You've seen this before. Granted, Baby Love actually came before Child's Toy and others within its genre (though it was no trendsetter). But unless you've not experienced this particular realm of anime, you'll find it an amusing distraction at best. And if you haven't explored those other shows I mentioned, you really should (even though you'll find them out of print, as they never took off in the US). I'm really on the fence about recommending this one; I will because I enjoyed it, but not because there isn't better out there that looks and sounds much the same.
Collectors and fans of shojo from the 1990s will find Baby Love OK. I like what it tries to do and I appreciate what it accomplishes in such a short time. But there's not enough meat -- story-wise, humor-wise, etc. -- to make this one you must seek out.
Baby Love -- one brief risque joke, appropriate for middle school age -- B-