Mitsuboshi Colors, Keepers of the Peace or Out-of-control Brats?

If there’s one show making me laugh more than I would have thought possible this season, it’s Mitsuboshi Colors, a series about three kids romping around their neighborhood in a style reminiscent of The Little Rascals. There are plenty of other anime this winter full of silly moments, but Mitsuboshi Colors thrives off of our laughter and promises to do so for the coming weeks. Watching Yui, Sat-chan, and Kotoha interact with each other and other members of their community is a little bit like witnessing a tornado—everyone and everything they pass gets swept up in their energy. It’s easy to overlook the fact that these are grade school kids who are almost completely unsupervised in their play and show no hesitation in wandering the city. We see a mom, a shopkeeper, and a police officer, but none of them impose any particular restrictions on the girls’ freedom to explore. These self-proclaimed “keepers of the peace” will make you worry and cringe, but there’s also a high chance you’ll find yourself laughing uncontrollably every episode and looking forward to more.

Particularly striking is the scale of area already shown in just the past few weeks. Their story doesn’t take place in some remote village, but in the middle of Tokyo. While Colors is based out of a fort in a park, their adventures take them into much busier places like train stations, an underground fish market, a well-known shopping alley, and even Akihabara. They’re confident in their ability to move from place to place.

As much as I love these kids and their jokes, I do think they go overboard from time to time. We repeatedly see them take up the attentions of Saito, a police officer, as well as trespass into wet paint and track footprints up and down the street. Sat-chan grabs on to a stranger and threatens him in exchange for his handheld console; later on, she runs from shop to shop in the fish market asking adults about poop. Kotoha and Sat-chan even climb on top of Ameyoko’s sign to the horror and entertainment of bystanders.

As out of control as Colors seems to be, their acts aren’t without consequence. Saito constantly confronts and reprimands the trio, but not in a way that pushes them away. Their repeated visits to his station proves their affection and trust, despite calling him “the enemy.” Sat-chan’s mother and Whale Factory’s owner both capably manage Colors by sending them on errands and adventures around the neighborhood, like selling bananas and diffusing a fake bomb.

A large part of why I enjoy Mitsuboshi Colors so much is because it reminds me of some of the more memorable times of my childhood. I used to roam my neighborhood on bicycles with the same group of kids day in and day out. We’d run into the nearby woods without fear to build forts and swing on buoys strung from trees. It was normal to spend almost the entire day outside. Granted, this was within a residential subdivision, but it seems like more and more parents these days are too afraid to grant even this kind of freedom to their kids.

To some, this hands-off approach may look like a case of free-range parenting, but this way of life is much older and more grounded than that relatively recent term. Japan boasts low crime and homicide rates, and actively encourages its youth into independence from a very young age. Unlike where I grew up, ample public transportation and a cooperative community allows Japanese kids to manage themselves to and from school and other places. If something troubling occurs, like a train delay, or even an earthquake, kids know to turn to the adults around them for assistance. Anyone who watches anime knows students are also tasked with cleaning their schools on a regular basis.

The culture’s dedication to the community’s improvement as a whole relies on mutual trust and effort. Our societies may differ greatly from the one shown in Mitsuboshi Colors, but Kotoha, Sat-chan, and Yui prove a world where kids feel safe enough to explore their surroundings in a way that nurtures both playing and learning is a pretty fantastic place to be.

Watch Mitsuboshi Colors on HiDive.


Supplementary Material:

Aiyar, Pallavi. “Behind the Independence of Japanese Kids Lies a Culture of Community.” The Wire, 09 Oct. 2016, https://thewire.in/71437/behind-independence-among-japanese-kids-lies-a-culture-of-reliance-on-community. Accessed 25 Jan. 2018.

Arnold, Katie.  “How to Teach Girls They Don’t Have to Be Nice.” Raising Rippers, Outside, 18 Sep. 2017, https://www.outsideonline.com/2241096/how-teach-girls-they-dont-have-be-nice. Accessed 25 Jan. 2018.

Arnold, Katie. “What Sweden Teaches Us About Parenting and the Outdoors.” Raising Rippers, Outside, 12 Dec. 2017, https://www.outsideonline.com/2265761/what-sweden-can-teach-us-about-outdoor-parenting. Accessed 25 Jan. 2018.

“Japan’s independent kids | The Feed.” YouTube, uploaded by SBS VICELAND, 07 Sep. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7YrN8Q2PDU

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8 thoughts on “Mitsuboshi Colors, Keepers of the Peace or Out-of-control Brats?

  1. I’ve so far only had a chance to watch the first episode of Colors, but I was immediately struck by how refreshing it felt to see a community where a group of kids can safely range around in this way. To some extent, that’s how I grew up (although my parents wouldn’t quite approve of so much freewheeling).

    Of course there can be extremes to either way and maybe it depends on the specific kid, but I can’t help feel that this kind of growing up that allows for creativity and independence of the child’s making. This was an element I liked in Non Non Biyori as well. I suppose it’s somewhat idyllic, but I imagine there are places—even in the States, probably—where this can happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Non Non Biyori is yet another show I haven’t watched. I believe I dropped it back when it first aired, and for the life of me I can’t remember why. But yes, I do agree with you that the type of play we see in Mitsuboshi Colors requires a specific combination of factors–a safe environment, an independent yet supportive society, curiosity, and a fair bit of courage. Even with all of the same ingredients, personality will likely change the outcome. This show is idyllic and perhaps idealistic for many viewers.

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  2. Like all kids, they’re simultaneously both keepers of the peace and brats (I don’t know about out-of-control, tho). I do think that the Colors are probably outside of normal even in Japan as far as independence, but I’d agree that more freedom for kids is better than less. While “It wasn’t like that when I was growing up!” is usually not a good argument (for things like corporal punishment, or crummy working / school conditions, or other areas where less hardship is the norm now), the current upper and middle-class mommy culture of overprotection and 100% observance is not good for the growth of children in terms of independence, adaptability, or community.

    And it’s not even just parents of kids who would be out and about (who generally get to a point where they are happy their kids are out of their hair). It’s nosy neighbors and other mommier-than-thou parents who get their kicks from squashing other people down to their pathetic level. But for a lot of people, there’s no greater thrill than ruining someone else’s activities.

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    • I imagine some people would use “out of control” for anyone outside of their own sense of safety and etiquette. I certainly don’t think these kids are out of control! I agree that it’s likely that Colors stands out even in their own society, not so much for their independence, but for their general lack of fear or shyness around others.

      I think it’ll be a long journey for people, the U.S. in particular, to let go of that feeling of over-protectiveness. Not to get political, but it does seem like now more than ever a sense of danger looms over us thanks to the media and our ability to access everything and everybody. Every embarrassing and stupid act has the chance of getting recorded and replayed, and we constantly hear about terrible incidents from places we would have never thought about in the past. I don’t want to give up hope, though.

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      • I don’t know that it’s particularly political, but it’s certainly the case that people are more scared of things than ever, and life has never, ever, in the history of human beings, been safer. Even the alarmist “US life expectancy stops rising” headlines are driven by things that are for the most part self-inflicted (drug overdoses). I personally subscribe to the idea that life has gotten so easy to get through that people invent things to be afraid of, hand in hand with their terrible assessment of risk. The risk of dying from terrorism or random killers or airplane crashes is miniscule, things that barely ever happen, while 100 people a day die on US highways. But noone thinks twice about hopping in their car to go to the store, while at the same time they fret about those other things. Children are almost never abducted or abused by strangers. But mommy culture demands full time watching and overreaction and banning single adults from park spaces and suspicion of every person. The trend is going the wrong way, and while I like shows like Colors and blogs like free range kids and want to see more of them, they’re more like fingers in the dike performing a delaying action against it going the wrong way than the crest of a wave in the right direction.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s both an eloquent and succinct way to put it that I wholeheartedly agree with. Our life expectancy is higher than it’s ever been, despite those headlines, and so many of the things we’re afraid of are self-inflicted.

          I’m admittedly scared of driving, something I never thought I’d say. Moving to Seattle from Alaska was a huge change with the marked difference in population and traffic. I pat myself on the back just for making it to the grocery store and back home intact!

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  3. “A large part of why I enjoy Mitsuboshi Colors so much is because it reminds me of some of the more memorable times of my childhood. I used to roam my neighborhood on bicycles with the same group of kids day in and day out. We’d run into the nearby woods without fear to build forts and swing on buoys strung from trees. It was normal to spend almost the entire day outside. Granted, this was within a residential subdivision, but it seems like more and more parents these days are too afraid to grant even this kind of freedom to their kids.”

    This part grabbed me again, and it kind of is the thing that I want to show the mommy-culture and ask them to remember the most memorable times of their own childhoods, and what made those times memorable. A lot of the point is that the times that are extraordinary are the ones you remember. Noone remembers individual instances of playing in their yard under their mother’s watchful eye. Noone remembers “that special time during piano practice”. But you remember those times where you stretched your world, where you encountered something that was novel, interesting, and probably even dangerous! The time those big kids hassled you and almost stole your bike. The time that you tried cigarettes with your friends and turned into a coughing mess. The time your dad caught you playing around in the storm drain and chewed you out so bad you never did it again (from my dad, who never chewed me out, so I knew it was serious).

    Those times you were a little bit of a delinquent. Every kid wants to try it, and most of them do and then realize that it’s not worth the risk. But mommy culture thinks that the gateway to the fence is the path to jail or the morgue. And you want to point out to them that they are explicitly denying their kids (or the ones of the parents that they cluck their teeth at about how bad they are as parents for letting their kids “run around unsupervised) those same experiences that they remember the most, and replacing them with the ones that they don’t really care enough about to remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, absolutely. I think both mothers and fathers can forget what it was from their own childhoods that made them so nostalgic. Safety becomes priority above everything else at the expense of necessary risk. If anything has been proven to be a common result, kids with more restrictions often end up going overboard once they’re older and away from authority. I know I did it to an extent the moment I left for college.

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