One Shot Spotlight: Hello Baby

Manga Reviews

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This post is part of the 30 Day Manga Challenge series. Day 14: Your Favorite One-Shot

The one-shot, or yomikiri (読み切り, sometimes 読切) is a manga magazine staple. One-shots are standalone stories, usually printed in their entirety without any continuation. They’re often written as pilots for new series, submitted as contest entries for aspiring mangaka, or pieces of a larger anthology collection. One-shots are short by nature, ranging anywhere from 20 to 60 pages to even a single volume in length. But make no mistake, the best one-shots prove that there’s a lot you can pack into a limited number of pages.

One of the most gripping one-shot manga, Hello Baby 「ハロー ベイビーis a collaboration between artist Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Platinum End) and writer Masanori Morita (Rookies, Shiba Inu). It originally ran in the December 2007 premiere issue of Jump SQ, a monthly shonen manga magazine.

Kinya confronts Takuzou

Its core premise is simple: to prove his worth, wannabe gangster Kinya plots to murder a high-ranking yakuza boss. However, Hello Baby unfolds in a complex, nonlinear style, with time flashing forward and back to shape the full story. Obata and Morita use this technique to their advantage, hiding clever hints throughout that you’d only pick up on after multiple reads.

The manga begins with the aftermath of Kinya’s assassination attempt. In the opening shot, Kinya is about to commit yubitsume (指詰め)—the yakuza practice of severing one’s finger at the joint as punishment—with the help of his younger cohort, Takuzou, and his girlfriend, Aya.

Kinya hesitates, the knife hovering over his finger. Aya tells him to hurry up and do it, but Takuzou disagrees, insisting that Kinya could try to kill the boss again, as he wants to see his aniki (兄貴) prove himself. Frustrated, Kinya tells them both to shut up, that there’s no way he’d be able to pull that off now.

Click for Minor Spoilers

We then flashback to the events leading up to the botched hit. Kinya spends four months staking out his target, a man named Kaneko. The boss is heavily guarded, and rightly so: his group has a monopoly over the region’s hospital network. After extensively mapping out Kaneko’s routine and habits, Kinya finally decides when and where he’ll strike.

Aya tells Kinya she's pregnant.

He calls Aya on the way to her apartment, telling her he’s going to do it tomorrow. Since he won’t be using a gun, his punishment shouldn’t be so severe, maybe a decade in jail. Most importantly, he assures her, when he gets out, they can finally be together. He arrives at her home, hyped up for celebratory sex (and possibly the last sex he’ll have for ten years), but when Aya opens the door, all plans of getting laid go out the window.

Aya is pregnant. Four months pregnant, in fact. And Kinya, poor dude, had no idea. Aya didn’t want to distract him from the job, so she kept her condition a secret.

But even with this new information, Kinya decides to go through with the plan. Right before he stabs Kaneko, Kinya has a moment of clarity in which he  realizes he doesn’t want his son to be the child of a murderer, let alone a yakuza member. He flees the scene, leaving behind an unharmed, but rightly furious, Kaneko and bringing us back to the manga’s opening events.

As this is a fifty-page one-shot, it’s difficult to discuss the latter half of the plot without spoiling the ending. But I will say that Hello Baby’s heavy critique of the live fast, die young mentality makes this a one-shot manga definitely worth checking out. To save face, Kinya makes increasingly terrible decisions throughout, with his impulsive and reckless attitude ultimately getting the best of him. Naive Aya and Takuzou aren’t so innocent either, as they hold Kinya’s pending yakuza status in such high regard while doing nothing to better their own dismal situations.

Morita’s no-holds-barred writing and Obata’s realistic artwork offer a pretty bleak look into the oft-romanticized yakuza lifestyle. Sure, things might look good from the top of the pyramid, but for the little guys at the bottom, life is hell.

Hello Baby drawn by Masanori Morita

The characters of Hello Baby drawn by Masanori Morita

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