What’s it about? Middle-schooler Ryuichi Kashima more-or-less raised his baby brother Kotaro from infancy while his parents jetted around the world. But when they’re killed in a plane crash, Ryuichi and Kotaro are left all alone to fend for themselves. Luckily, the chairwoman of the prestigious Morinomiya Academy offers to take them in… on the condition that he work in the school’s daycare, looking after the teachers’ toddlers. But caring for one kid is very different from caring for six!
I’m a toddler teacher. I spend forty hours a week, sometimes more, watching children who are about the same age as the kids featured in School Babysitters. Caring for young kids is hard.
You have to keep an eye on the goings-on of the whole room while trying to have meaningful interactions with everyone and adapting each activity to each child’s capabilities and needs. You have to be sympathetic to emotions and reasoning that are often bewildering to you as an adult. You need to do this all on the fly because they have the attention span of gnats and often turn destructive when bored for more than two seconds, meaning you also have to keep the classroom clean even as they dump the basket of toys you just picked up.
Forget Vash the Stampede—two-year-olds are the real human typhoons. Even with an aptitude and the right personality type, because it’s definitely not a job just anyone can do, it takes years of training and experience to become truly good at.
And you do it all for under $20/hour. Because you love it.
As you can see from the mini-rant above, childcare is a big deal for me. Nothing grates on me more than poorly-written fictional children, who tend to be either overly precocious and precious or totally helpless. There’s also few things that bring me greater joy in fiction than well-written children, because it’s so hard to capture that mix of sweetness, natural self-centeredness, and unpredictability that characterizes the age. I approached School Babysitters with some trepidation—could it nail the chaos of a daycare?
The answer, it turns out, is a resounding YES. Every moment the children were on-screen rang absolutely true to my experience. Toddlers do tend to run away and hide behind familiar adults when someone new enters the room, but then warm up quickly and start wanting to play all at once. They will crawl all over you if you get down on the floor with them. They will cry and refuse to leave at the end of the day if they’re having fun. And yes, they’ll even develop a fever for seemingly no reason and then pop back up a few hours later, perfectly fine while you beat yourself up for taking too long to notice.
I’ve known these kids. I’ve taught these kids. I’ve loved and hugged and been driven crazy by these kids.
Aesthetically, School Babysitters nails things as well. While the animation has that shoujo-style pastel simplicity, it’s better than I expected for this kind of show, with care and attention to detail devoted to body language and how small children look and move. They’re actually drawn a little younger than they act—that pudgy, awkward build is more accurate to pre-verbal one-year-olds, while these kids act closer to two. Still, the way they run and climb and sometimes fall down at random are pretty accurate to the age.
All that said, School Babysitters isn’t perfect. Even if he’s good with kids, Ryuichi is a little too even-tempered and accepting of his situation. He’s basically being contracted into indentured servitude by the chairwoman, forced to work for free in exchange for room and board. Part of his early characterization is his tendency to bottle up his feelings and put others’ needs before his own, sure, but his situation is ethically dubious at best. Ryuichi is still a grieving child himself, and he deserves to be provided for simply for that reason, not in exchange for his labor.
The daycare teachers so far are all male, presumably in service of a “cute guys doing cute things” aesthetic for a female audience rather than any interest in challenging gender roles by depicting men in a traditionally feminized role. It’s great that the chairwoman is providing on-site childcare, but at pickup, there’s not a dad in sight (although there is an older brother). It still supports the idea that child-rearing is for moms, even when they work a demanding job all day.
And then, of course, there’s the gender essentialism. This an obnoxious tendency that I still see every day at work: the idea that little boys are higher energy and rough-and-tumble, while little girls are calmer and prefer to play with baby dolls. This is, of course, absolute bunk—many of the highest-energy kids I’ve worked with have been girls, and I’ve never met a toddler that didn’t love to pretend to rock a baby doll to sleep. The assumptions and preconceptions of adults is hugely influential and responsible for a lot of learned gendered behavior, but it’s also hard to totally shed the ingrained stereotypes even if you’re aware of them. It’s a delicate situation.
So when Kirin, the only verbal girl in the class, showed Ryuichi the meal she’d “cooked” while Taka climbed him and pulled his hair, I felt a twinge of foreboding. Maybe I’m jumping the gun, but I can easily see Kirin as the stereotypical mother hen of the group, playing at housewifery while the boys wreak havoc and fight dragons in their imaginations.
There’s plenty of room for tragic pathos and cute boy slice-of-life shenanigans in School Babysitters, which will no doubt be the draw for much of its intended teenage female audience. For people who like or spend a lot of time with kids, the verisimilitude of Ryuichi’s class will bring a lot of familiar chuckles. If neither of those describe you… well, that’s fine, but you’ll probably want to keep moving along.
[Editor’s Note: This article previously referred to Kirin by the incorrect name. This has been fixed.]