“Grit is that ‘extra something’ that separates the most successful people from the rest. It’s the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality.” –Travis Bradberry
After an air accident results in his sister and her husband’s deaths, university student Yūta Segawa decides to take in his sister’s children, Sora, Miu and Hina, and raise them himself to keep them from being separated. Although the journey is a desperately tricky one, thanks in no small part to Yūta’s small apartment and limited budget. Despite his struggles, Yūta is determined to keep Sora, Miu and Hina happy – he takes on several jobs to help make ends meet, allows the girls to modify the apartment so they can have a modicum of privacy, and accompanies the girls to pick up some of their belongings back home. Summer vacation soon draws to a close, and Yūta’s friends, the statuesque Raika Oda, smooth but caring Kōichi Nimura, and the uncouth Shuntarō Sato also begin helping out in their own way. Although Yūta’s relatives are disapproving of the arrangement, after Yūta manages to convince them of his commitment to Sora, Miu and Hina’s well-being, they approve of his decisions and, to help him along, transfer his sister and her husband’s old house to his name, allowing everyone to continue living together. This is 2012’s Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! (Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai!, and from here on out, PapaKiki! for brevity), an anime that had caught my eye for its premise – despite its approach raising some eyebrows, I was met with an anime that proved unexpectedly heartwarming. However, for the past decade, I had trouble writing about this series; the themes here had been simple enough, and PapaKiki! had shown how raw determination in the face of adversity was sufficient to overcome all obstacles. This message is most evident in the sheer effort Yūta directs towards looking after each of Sora, Miu and Hina, but at the same time, it also speaks to the lingering feelings that Sora has for Yūta. Determination and grit alone do not cut it – where individual effort fails, the classic message of accepting help from others comes into play. Raika helps Sora on several occasions, teaching her how to cook and encouraging her to do her best, leading her to continue with her club activities, and Hina quickly captures the hearts of the community. Kōchi manages to help Miu rediscover her spirits after she becomes depressed when classmates begin pitying her situation. In spite of how clear the themes are, aspects of PapaKiki! lingered on my mind, and in conjunction with an impending MCAT, I ended up putting off a discussion of this series.
Upon revisiting PapaKiki!, it turns out that there had been a subtle, but constant sense of melancholy throughout the anime. Although Sora, Miu and Hina find joy in their everyday lives, and Yūta is happiest when everyone is living their lives fully, the question of handling Yuri and her husband’s death hangs over every moment. It isn’t until the series nears its conclusion that this point becomes addressed – Sora breaks the news to Hina, and while Hina is visibly saddened, she resolves to continue smiling for those around her. At her age, children like Hina do not have a full concept of what death is, and instead, may instead hold themselves accountable for things. To see Hina swiftly turn things around and promise to not cry, and instead, smile, was therefore heartwarming in that it shows just how important Yūta and her sisters are to her. Despite the loss of her parents, Yūta, Sora, Miu and the entire neighbourhood have her back, and Hina appears to be aware of the fact that being respectful to her parents simply means being kind to those around her and making sure everyone around her continues to smile. In this way, PapaKiki! becomes more than a mere story about Yūta’s efforts to look after a family despite being in a tough spot, his love for his sister’s children is strong enough to help them remain strong and in the end, accept that while their parents aren’t returning, they can still live their own lives fully and honour their parents’ wishes for them. Together with help from Raika and Kōchi, as well as voice actress and neighbour Kurumi Atarashi, and practically the whole neighbourhood, Hina thus is able to make a new family and shows to Yūta’s aunt and uncle that, beyond any doubt, everything he’s done for Sora, Miu and Hina has been genuine and effective. Looking past the superficial elements, such as the camera’s focus on Raika’s assets, Shuntarō’s perverse traits or the fact that Yūta has ill timing whenever Sora is concerned, PapaKiki! succeeds in dealing with a challenging topic in a mature and thoughtful way. This is where PapaKiki! excels, and in conjunction with a touching story about Yūta’s determination, as well as Sora’s efforts to get Yūta to notice her as more than just a child, PapaKiki! ends up being superbly enjoyable, covering a considerable amount of territory over a short run.
Screenshots and Commentary
- PapaKiki!‘s first two episodes betrayed nothing about what the remainder of the series would deal with, and this contributed to the surprise of what happens after Yuri and her husband take off for a longer trip. I still vividly recall starting my journey to PapaKiki! in the university’s library block on a quiet summer’s morning while awaiting the start of my MCAT course. Back then, I’d picked up an iPad, and was able to watch anime with a much greater freedom than before. During summers, campus is far quieter than it typically is, and I practically had the entire floor to myself.
- That’s about the extent of what I remember; looking back, I have no idea how I was able to finish the whole of PapaKiki! while studying for the MCAT. However, I do remember thinking to myself that I would have liked to write about the whole series once I did wrap up. The journey in PapaKiki! was quite gripping; what had begun as a run-of-the-mill comedy suddenly took a turn for the serious after the aircraft Yuri and her husband on crash with no survivors. Yūta is suddenly thrown into the deep end, and while he’s able to get along with Sora, Miu and Hina well enough, what happens next does push things to the limit.
- What made PapaKiki! difficult to write for was the fact that, a decade earlier, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why things felt a little “off”. In the present, I’ve experienced enough to conclude that this feeling is a consequence of the fact that Yūta, Sora and Miu are trying to put on a brave front for Hina. While it is clear everyone’s devastated by their loss, Hina’s innocence and happiness means that the others do their best for her. To the me of ten years ago, it did feel as though they were trying to push the issue under a rug, but now, it’s quite plain that this choice was meant to keep Hina happy: Yūta, Sora and Miu find it difficult to figure out how to best convey news of their parents’ death to Hina.
- Yūta’s apartment is a far cry from the Takanashi residence, and while he’s done a good enough job of keeping the place clean, the close quarters means that Yūta runs into trouble with Sora and Miu’s requirements for space. However, problems invite solutions, and over time, Yūta works out how to go about his routine without accidentally walking in on Sora or Miu. Of the two, Sora is more bashful and quick to anger, while Miu is more patient and, while still exasperated by Yūta’s seeming lack of knowledge about young women, does her best to walk him through things.
- While revisiting PapaKiki!, it suddenly dawned on me that the character designs felt familiar. Sora looks a great deal like Da Capo‘s Nemu Asakura, and Miu reminds me of Sakura Yoshino. As it turns out, Feel produced PapaKiki!, and some seven years earlier, they were responsible for Da Capo: Second Season. I watched Da Capo and Da Capo: Second Season in 2016 as I worked on my graduate thesis, and while the series had been quite enjoyable, I similarly encountered considerable difficulty in writing about it because it was, in effect, an anime adaptation of a visual novel that hadn’t offered me anything especially novel to discuss.
- However, the visual similarities between Da Capo and PapaKiki! are superficial: both series are dramatically different in their premise and themes. One aspect that became increasingly visible as PapaKiki! went on was how, through Hina, Yūta, Sora and Miu also become more connected with their community. Although Hina is only three, she brings with her a seemingly indefatigable sense of joy and innocence that wins over the hearts of everyone around her. Here, after neighbour and voice actress Kurumi Atarashi learns of Yūta’s arrangements, she becomes quick friends with Hina, who’s a big fan of the show that Kurumi works in.
- Throughout PapaKiki!, a recurring element was Sora’s unrequited feelings for Yūta. It turns out that, after Yūta had provided reassurance and comfort to Sora when they’d first met, she’s since seen him as a reliable and dependable fellow, even if he occasionally comes upon her while she’s changing. For Yūta, Sora goes the extra mile, hoping that he’ll come around and notice her feelings. When Yūta leaves his phone at home after taking off for work, she offers to bring the phone to him and dresses especially nicely for the run. Miu is fond of teasing Sora about things, and PapaKiki!‘s original run left things quite ambiguous.
- As the deep summer sets in, Yūta takes Sora, Miu and Hina back to their old house, which has sat unused since the incident that claimed Yuri and her husband’s lives. It would appear that Yūta’s relatives must be looking after the property, since the utilities and insurance are still being paid for: when everyone arrives, the power is still on, and while the girls pick up their belongings, Yūta dozes before setting about cooking dinner. Being home creates a precipitous situation where Hina begins wondering about when her mother will come back, but tact from Yūta and the others’ part alleviates things for the time being.
- As a result of Shuntarō’s demands, Yūta ends up having Kōichi and Raika over for dinner. Times are good, although I’ve long felt that Shuntarō is a character PapaKiki! could’ve done without. It’s not often that I say that an anime can do without a character, but his exaggerated traits and mannerisms contribute nothing to the series; in the occasional moment where he pulls through and helps out, the same could be done by Kōichi. The odd laugh may result from Raika striking him with a paper fan when his behaviour crosses the line, but beyond this, Shuntarō does not play a meaningful role in the series.
- Conversely, Raika’s affection for Hina, Miu and Sora comes across as being motherly; Raika might be blunt and stoic, but her actions speak far more loudly than her words do. She agrees to teach Yūta how to improve his cooking, and after meeting Hina, Miu and Sora, is more than happy to spend time with Yūta because it also means being able to see the three. Raika is voiced by Yui Horie, a famous voice actress with iconic roles like Love Hina!‘s Naru Narusegawa, Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya, KonoSuba‘s Wiz and Kotori Shirakawa of Da Capo.
- The moé aesthetic has changed considerably over the years: PapaKiki! inherits elements from the Da Capo era, as characters have sharper facial features and more angular eyes. Nowadays, characters are rendered with softer lines and rounder facial traits, and at least for me, the Da Capo era designs create a sense of melancholy that is indescribable. This is compounded by the fact that musicians like CooRie create music that, while sounding happy overall, is also permeated by a sense of longing. In the present, music to moé is far more energetic and spirited, lacking the same yearning older songs convey.
- When Yūta’s work schedule means he’s unable to stick around, Sora decides to pick up the slack and learns to cook in his stead. Although Sora starts out a terrible cook and burns most everything, over time, she becomes increasingly competent with cooking. This ends up being a wonderful metaphor for Sora: she lacks confidence in herself, and initially views Raika as a rival that she stands no chance against. However, as Raika rightly states, no one gets it right in the beginning, and that it is with practise that one becomes a deft hand in their craft. For viewers, this can be interpreted as being a metaphor for how Sora is still young, and therefore, has time to cultivate her skills, as well as do what she can to convince Yūta to see her in a different light.
- I had originally picked up PapaKiki! because I had been curious to see more of Raika and how things between her and Yūta would unfold. At the beginning, when Sora, Miu and Hina still have their parents, PapaKiki! felt like the conventional romance-comedy, but once the plane crash occurs, things turned around completely. With the benefit of hindsight, while Yūta has a bit of a crush on Raika, and the pair do get along quite well, there doesn’t appear to be any romantic tension. Yūta occasionally becomes flustered by Raika’s blaise attitude about things, but in more ordinary moments, the two regard one another more as friends. As it was, once PapaKiki! hit its stride, the series became worth watching for seeing how Yūta handles the surprises that he encounters as a result of his choices.
- While PapaKiki! strives to convey positivity, numerous hurdles continue to throw Yūta in for a ride. His landlady, sore about Yūta violating the terms of his lease, decides to evict him, and this sends Yūta into a desperate search for a new place. Although his friends pull through and manage to find several candidate properties to rent based on Yūta’s requirements for price and space, they all come with their own caveats, from being located inconveniently for Hina, Sora and Miu, to one property that is allegedly cursed.
- In the end, it turns out the landlady is the older lady Hina runs into, and the younger woman, Sawako, is the landlady’s daughter. Talking things through, Sawako decides to allow Yūta to keep living here on the condition that he update his lease agreement, and also that he allow Hina to visit her from time to time. Anime may seem overly idealistic about how opening up and listening is the key to resolving difficult problems, but I have found that all too often, people jump to conclusions and assume the worst of others, creating conflict unnecessarily. Although people will criticise my approach as being unfeasible for larger scale differences such as those that entail foreign affairs, I maintain that at an interpersonal level, these things matter.
- Sora and Miu’s respective resemblances to Da Capo‘s Nemu and Sakura is especially pronounced here, as the pair rush off for their respective schools. PapaKiki! had begun during the summer, when Yūta had all the time he needed to work part time jobs and earn enough to keep up with living expenses now that he’s got three more people with him. This was already quite taxing, so when term begins again, Yūta would presumably run into more trouble as he attempts to keep up with his studies on top of making enough money to keep everyone together. This stress, while Yūta had never meant for it to do so otherwise, would transfer over to Sora and Miu – both are old enough to be aware of what Yūta is going through and do their best to help.
- Despite Mui retaining a cheerful demeanour around her classmates, said classmates take pity on Miu. This bothers her greatly – she’s used to being kind around everyone, and this change is quite jarring. Fortunately, Kōichi is around to help out, and he offers to take her on a date of sorts. Although Kōichi is a womaniser who’s fond of dating women for kicks, he is legitimately kind, doing everything he can to help those around him. After spending a day with Miu, Kōichi takes her to a shop to get her shoe repaired, and the day ends at an observation deck. Here, Miu is able to realise that she should continue to be herself, and she’s glad that Yūta allowed her to take some down time.
- PapaKiki! shows the importance of being able to gain some perspective on things, and once classes resume, the series begins to place a greater emphasis on problems the girls are facing now that they’re back in school – during the summer, they spent their days at home and around the neighbourhood, being able to look after Hina and tend to housework with increasing efficiency. Although a work of fiction, PapaKiki! absolutely gets right just how busy life is once housework becomes a part of one’s routine, and how demanding a student’s schedule is.
- When Sora’s singing takes a hit, she decides to resign from the choral club so she can devote her time to helping Yūta keep up with everything, even though she’d loved to sing. While feeling this was for the best, Sora herself is guilt-ridden at the decision, and moreover, both she and Miu’s grades have suffered as a result of how busy they are. One’s studies and extracurricular activities are indeed full-time activities, and looking back, I am immensely appreciative of the fact that my parents allowed me to pour all of my effort into my schooling and related activities when I was a student. During the route to the MCAT, I was able to study without worrying about housework, although I still helped out around the house as a means of taking it easy.
- In the present day, doing the housework becomes my means of unwinding after a solid eight hours of software development, and looking back, I feel that life as a full-fledged member of society is, in some ways, more straightforward than it had been as a student. This is because I have full agency to make my own decisions (and with it, the requirement that I own any mistakes I make), whereas as a student, decisions were often made for me and I would be held accountable for the consequences. This is why, while Kurumi is going through difficulties of her own, I felt that she would be able to find her way again – her old contract had expired, and she’s having trouble finding work. However, once she has a chance to think about things, and with a swift kick to the rear from Sora, Kurumi is able to find her footing anew.
- Sora herself needs a kick in the rear, but unlike her blunt approach to Kurumi, support from Raika and Yūa is more reassuring – like Yūta, Sora feels that their problems are theirs to bear alone. However, over the course of PapaKikI!, Yūta experiences how assistance from Raika, Kōichi and even Shuntarō has taken some of the pressure off him. In this way, Yūta is able to impart the same wisdom on Sora, and after giving things some thought, Sora decides she’s not quite ready to call it quits just yet. Like numerous other series I’ve watched, PapaKiki! makes extensive use of lighting to capture the emotional tenour of a moment. Harsher colour contrasts mirror stress, and gentler gradients convey comfort. The series has long summer days to communicate the feeling of a tranquil life together, and storms to similarly remind viewer of challenges the characters must overcome.
- In the end, Sora needn’t have worried – the choral club’s president had faith in her, and hung onto Sora’s resignation letter, but never actioned it. It typifies PapaKiki!‘s ability to present challenges that characters face, and while the problems Miu and Sora encounter are dealt with promptly, one can imagine how being in their situation, things would still be quite difficult. Sora may have resolved one issue with the choral club, but her grades continue to suffer, and there’s no real way to fix this unless she were afforded the time to study.
- As luck would have it, Kurumi manages to land another voice acting role, and Sora is overjoyed to hear this. However, the lingering problem of trying to keep up with her schoolwork and extracurricular activities, while at the same time, helping Yūta out, has proven quite taxing. Yūta’s relatives do eventually step in and offer a recourse – his uncle is looking at taking Sora, Miu and Hina in so the three can remain together, looking after the sisters in Yuri and her husband’s stead. This would allow the three to live a more structured and organised life, while at the same time, giving Yūta a chance to finish his studies.
- In any other setting, this should have been the first course of action that was taken, and there would have no discussion as to whether or not Yūta would be able to take Sora, Miu and Hina in. However, this would completely wipe the story out, and PapaKiki!‘s purpose is to show what might unfold if things had been allowed to progress the way they did. This is the whole point of fiction, and if one can accept that standing beside a first-aid kit can heal bullet wounds, then allowing for a universe where Yūta is given a chance isn’t that much of a stretch.
- Entering PapaKiki!‘s final act, both Sora and Miu’s problems are sufficiently resolved so that things can turn towards Yūta’s relatives finally stepping forward and asking him to consider allowing Sora, Miu and Hina to live with them, promising that they’ll keep the three together. From a practical sense, this was the most feasible route to take, and external observers (i.e. the viewers) would likely conclude that were they in Yūta’s position, this would be the best possible option. From a storytelling standpoint, however, what makes Yūta admirable is his refusal to give up. This helps to drive PapaKiki!‘s themes, even though in reality, such a course of action would be deleterious in the long term. Reconciling this gap and acknowledging that some things need to be fudged is one of the reasons behind how I enjoy anime whose premises are engaging, even if they aren’t the most sound.
- The lingering question of when Hina would find out about her parents is finally answered when Sora breaks the news to her. This happens right on the edge of Hina’s preschool putting on a singing performance, and I was a little surprised to see how quickly Hina recovers from things. Dramatic revelations are a common storytelling element, utilised to increase tension and accelerate a given story towards the climax, and initially, it appears that Hina loses her usual vigour and spirits. However, she recovers very quickly: Miu overhears Hina talking to her stuffed rabbit, promising to smile and do her best no matter where her parents are. This speaks to Hina’s uncommon maturity; despite only being three, I imagine her experiences have led her to grow more quickly and become mindful of those around her.
- While paying resects for Yuri and her husband, Yūta and Sora run into Yūta’s aunt and uncle, who admit that their initial reluctance to take in Sora, Miu and Hina was the consequence of their regret at having not done more when Yūta and Yuri had lost their parents. This led Yuri to do precisely what Yūta has done in PapaKiki!: she was successful in looking after Yūta despite the odds being stacked against her, and now, Yūta intends to do the same because he is motivated by his own experiences. Putting two and two together, it becomes clear as to why Yūta is pressing on with his goal of taking care of Sora, Miu and Hina: he wants to return the favour to Yuri as an expression of gratitude. As such, even when presented with an option that would help his own situation, Yūta declines.
- The preschool play has Yūta attending alongside Raika, Kōichi, Sora, Miu and practically the whole neighbourhood. Throughout PapaKiki!, Hina’s adorable manner has won over everyone around her, and this is one of the reasons why Hina is able to recover so quickly; although saddened by her parents’ passing, Hina also knows that she can make people smile, and in this way, gains a much larger family by becoming a vital part of the community. This was the missing piece of PapaKiki! that made it a little trickier to write for, but at present, with a little more life experience, I was able to coherently write out what made this anime work for me.
- I originally concluded that PapaKiki! is an excellent series, one that lives up to expectations and would earn a recommendation from me. In Terrible Anime Challenge terms, “PapaKiki! is as good as the community had made it out to be. Having gone through with a revisit, I’ve found that my thoughts about PapaKiki! have not changed dramatically, and so, a full decade after I wrote about the first episode, I return to offer a more detailed set of thoughts surrounding what I felt this series to excel in doing. However, this time around, there is no MCAT on the horizon to deal with.
- As such, ten years after I first picked up PapaKiki!, my verdict has not changed, and I still would recommend this series on its merits. Since PapaKiki! is done in full, and since I’ve watched the series front-to-back, including the OVAs, at present, I do not believe I’ll be returning to write about this again, unless there is visible interest in my thoughts on the OVAs. With this post in the books, I’ll be returning soon to write another revisit about one of K-On!!‘s lesser-known, but nonetheless important surprises, as well as my thoughts on Luminous Witches once we pass the third episode.
When I had finished PapaKiki! for the first time, I had wondered if the story would have succeeded in conveying its messages had Yūta been a salaryman rather than a university student. Finances and housing were two of the biggest problems he had to deal with; buying enough food and essentials for four, on top of making a small apartment work, cannot have been easy on his part time jobs, forcing him to take on more work to ensure there was enough money to keep the lights on. This results in Yūta spending less time with Sora, Miu and Hina, to the point where his relatives do begin worrying about whether or not he can maintain his studies on top of his duties as a guardian. Towards the end of PapaKiki!, Yūta’s aunt and uncle arrange for him to take possession of his sister and her husband’s old home – while Yūta would still need to deal with property tax, utilities and insurance, having a place to decisively call his own would doubtlessly be a game-changer. Sora, Miu and Hina return to a familiar home, and Yūta no longer needs to worry about rent or a mortgage, freeing up his finances for other things. In PapaKiki!, Yūta’s struggles with funds contribute to a part of the story; taking this problem away would likely have diminished the story, and so, in retrospect, it was appropriate to have Yūta be a university student. A series where Yūta was already a salaryman with some financial stability would take away from the effort, and while there’d still be the matter of handling his sister’s death and communicating this to Hina, much of the conflicts in the series would be lessened. Yūta’s uncle and aunt would be less hesitant to let him keep acting as Sora, Miu and Hina’s guardians, and Yūta himself would actually spend more time with everyone, avoiding some of the misadventures that arose in PapaKiki!. Altogether, while the setup in PapaKikI! cannot be said to be realistic, the story was set in such a way so that the deck is stacked against Yūta, giving viewers more reason to root for him, and the series’ outcomes become more satisfying as a result. In this way, PapaKiki! shows how works of fiction may need to use contrived and unrealistic scenarios to convey their message – series that are more realistic may come at the expense of impact, and for this reason, I hold that realism isn’t always an important metric on which works of fiction should be judged against.