What’s it about? Kirishima Toru, known as the “Demon of Sakuragi,” is a yakuza enforcer known for his bloodthirsty abandon. In an attempt to curb his dangerous impulsiveness, Kirishima is ordered to act as bodyguard for the boss’s young daughter, Yaeka.
There’s probably a conversation to be had about the increasing ubiquity of cool-to-outright-cuddly yakuza protagonists in Japanese media. Actually, I have zero doubt that discussion is already being had among Japanese critics and I just haven’t seen it. Yakuza’s been a beloved game franchise in Japan going all the way back to 2006, of course, but it really seems to have kicked off in the last eight years or so: Yakuza 0 and the Kiwami remakes started in 2015, catapulting the series’ global sales from 7 million units in 2015 to 17 million by 2021; Hinamatsuri got an anime in 2018, the same year the much beloved and positive masculinity-centering Way of the House Husband kicked off; and of course there’s 2017’s Tokyo Revengers, a series about the hell of being a young punk that itself seems in conversation with this trend.
The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting left me a lot of time to ponder this question, which probably doesn’t bode well for it. To be clear, I absolutely did not hate this premiere. It’s perfectly fine, which is turning out to be an achievement this season. I just spent a lot of time thinking about other series that have done the same thing better.
Yaeka is a good kid, a little on the cutesy blob side of anime children but not outright pwecious, with some believable characterization in her (believable and very gendered) tendency to internalize problems so she won’t bother those around her. I liked her fine, even if the poor thing was never going to compete with last season’s perfect gremlin.
No, the problem is Kirishima; or rather, the show’s total lack of commitment to who it claims he is. The entire premise is that Kirishima has a hair-trigger temper and is becoming a danger to those around him, even by yakuza standards. “That’s interesting,” I thought, before spiraling down the mental rabbit hole that opened this essay. When you want your audience to mentally settle into a heartwarming family story with a side of sitcom shenanigans, putting the violent reality of your setting at the forefront of your premise is a risky move; so risky, in fact, that the show almost immediately starts sprinting away from it.
Kirishima grumbles a bit upon receiving his assignment, but by the time he’s walking Yaeka to school for the first time he seems to have completely settled into the role. He knows how to talk to her gently and keep her from getting scared when some goons show up to get revenge on him. He knows how to act and look normal when he shows up at parents’ day, nary a soul suspecting he might be exactly what he is. Never mind his supposedly violent temper—he doesn’t have any of the awkwardness that a lot of childless adults commonly have when interacting with young children.
The scenes themselves are nice in a vacuum. I enjoy watching Yaeka be happy in the same way I enjoy seeing videos of hamsters eating tiny burritos. But they feel like a cheat, eager to hopscotch over conflict despite opening with a scene of Kirishima bathed in other people’s blood. The scenes of comedy slapstick with Kirishima’s underling Sugihara also feel awkwardly inserted, even if his scenes include a much-appreciated assurance that no, this isn’t going to be one of THOSE “adoptive father figure” series.
It’s a disjointed watch, and speedrunning Kirishima’s character arc offscreen means that by necessity most of the conflict is external. The closing teaser is of a fellow assassin who, given his perfume spritzing and rhapsodizing about Kirishima in that very particular lilting tone longtime anime fans can doubtlessly picture, rings a few queer-coded villain alarms. I look forward to at least 70% of the conflict being “some guy Kirishima beat up in the past shows up again,” which would be a more compelling device if he still had meaningful growth to do.
The moments that succeed are perfectly nice, particularly the quiet ones, and it outright puts its thesis statement that “found family is as important as blood” in the dialogue. If that’s the kind of vibe you’re looking for and you don’t mind something ultimately forgettable on the watchlist, give this a shot—otherwise, maybe pick up one of the other series I mentioned instead.