Tuesday, 30 November 2010

しゅごキャラ/ Shugo Chara

I am genuinely quite saddened by what happened to Shugo Chara. The anime adaptation came out, really, far sooner than it ought to have, with the manga quite thin on the ground and only coming out monthly, but despite some iffy filler chapters, it actually managed to flesh out its characters in a likeable enough way that it actually stood alongside the original as more of a companion piece than a ropey adaptation. Original characters may not have been universally popular, but they were often likeable enough by the end and allowed for more development for the major characters. So it was saddening when after the series’ major plot arc, the producers seemingly decided to draw it out further, abandon the fanbase to go after a younger demographic. A very young demographic. The last series, Shugo Chara Party, incorporated fifteen minutes of anime, shifting focus to a young original character, while the other fifteen minutes was a hideous variety show. It had some omake mini-episodes in a cutout-like style, which were actually great, but the rest of it was some funny-looking little kids learning to dance, decorating their nails, doing stupid quizzes and pretending badly to be having a great time. Unsurprisingly, it got cancelled, the story had to be awkwardly concluded in two episodes and the ultimate end of the series was one of disgrace. Like so many others, it was an anime series that on the surface looked meant for little girls, but was actually made for older, geekier guys and girls old enough to want to follow the intricacies of a budding adolescent relationship or four.

The manga came from Peach-Pit, who are behind the likes of DearS and, of course, Rozen Maiden. There’s quite some crossover here: a young person who shows a false face to the outside world is gradually changed by small, quirky, secret little familiar-type companions. While Rozen Maiden was a darkly elegant, dreamlike and rather insular tale, Shugo Chara is completely different, dealing mostly with interaction between friends within a school and extremely upbeat. So while there are a lot of parallels between some key figures, Suu and Miki in particular sharing much with Suiseiseki and Souseiseki, in tone the series falls closer to Chicchana Yukitsukai Sugar – A Little Snow Fairy Sugar – especially without Peach-Pit’s distinctive and beautiful artwork. It’s a shame the manga ground to a halt, too.

But what sets it apart is really the romance. Romance doesn’t really matter in Rozen Maiden – there’s some scenes between Jun and Shinkuu, but they are more silly than affecting, and it is of course an impossibility. However, Shugo Chara protagonist Amu first has a big crush on the cute blonde pretty-boy in her school, but later is courted by the dark and mysterious older teen Ikuto, and the tension between the three brings about some of the best episodes in any anime I’ve seen – especially when capricious Ikuto thrusts himself into Amu’s life at his most vulnerable ebb.

There are so many characters I love in Shugo Chara, and more than any other series, it was adept at making me come to like characters I’d initially found annoying. It’s also impressive to think that the silliness here was written at the same time as some of the darker chapters of Rozen Maiden II: versatility with a distinctive voice is impressive.

I must confess I don’t find the ages of the characters a fit. Amu is 11-12 and Ikuto is around 16. This doesn’t fit at all, as Amu seems at least 14 and Ikuto more like 18-19. But that’s a minor qualm, and is probably only to broaden the audience. It doesn’t stand in the way of what is, ultimately, one of the only anime I’ve loved in recent years.

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