Shugo Chara! has all the basic requirements for a magical girl series: costume changes, loads of sparkles and hearts, and a focus on dreams, believing in one another, and protecting the people one cares about. And yet somehow, it doesn’t feel generic at all!
The main character is Amu Hinamori, a shy fourth grader who, because of her awkward communication skills, comes off as tough and cool. As a result, her classmates admire her but keep their distance. One day, Amu wishes for the courage to “be reborn as the person I want to be,” and the next morning, she wakes up with three brightly colored eggs in her bed. One by one, the eggs hatch into Guardian Characters. There’s perky Ran, who is good at sports; level-headed Miki, who is good at artistic endeavors; and sweet Su, who is good at domestic tasks, especially cooking. Each one represents something that Amu would like to be, and can lend these traits to her as needed.
Eventually, Amu is invited to join a group at her elementary school known as the Guardians. Each of the other students has a Guardian Character of their own, and soon they become involved in fending off the efforts of an evil corporation known as Easter, who is extracting heart’s eggs from children (these represent their dreams for the future) and casually destroying them in their search for a particular wish-granting egg known as the Embryo. This aspect of the story reminds me of Sailor Moon, specifically the S season, where the villains are targeting victims with pure hearts and extracting their “pure heart crystals,” which are then examined to see whether they happen to be a “talisman.”
So far, the action in Shugo Chara! has spanned nearly two years (it’s the winter break of Amu’s sixth-grade year in volume nine) and is paced very well. The Guardians go up against Easter time and time again, but actually make progress—usually by reforming its operatives by reminding them of their own dreams—instead of being stuck in a “monster of the week” loop. New characters come and go, characters harbor and hint at their secrets, and everyone powers up at a believable rate of speed. Of course, Amu is the awesomest, eventually hatching a fourth Guardian Egg, and has the most power and tranformation potential, but this is somehow never irritating, nor is the fact that several boys fall for her over the course of the series.
The interpersonal relationships between the kids are also important. Amu has long had a crush on Tadase, the “king” figure of the Guardians, and though he initially rejects her, then goes through a period where he’s infatuated by one of her transformations, he eventually comes to return her feelings. Complicating matters is Ikuto, the tortured high school senior who’s being manipulated by Easter into doing their bidding. Amu can’t help but be interested in him, and he’s certainly flirty enough in his own right, but this brings about conflict with Tadase, who hates Ikuto due to an incident that occurred before the beginning of the series.
Friendship is equally important. Amu quickly becomes close with Nadeshiko, the “queen” of the Guardians, but Nadeshiko has a secret that she still hasn’t shared with Amu, and which might damage their friendship. Rima, who replaces Nadeshiko as queen after the latter departs to study dance abroad, is rather obnoxious at first, but once Amu understands where she’s coming from, a friendship begins to develop between them that allows Rima to enjoy her life more. A similar thing occurs with Utau, Ikuto’s little sister, who worked with Easter for a time in an effort to save her brother.
Even while expertly managing a long-term plot and evolving character relationships, Shugo Chara! doesn’t forget that a magical girl series needs a lot of cute. As mentioned, sparkles and hearts abound, as do feathers and twinkly crystals, like the Humpty Lock Amu carries, which matches the Dumpty Key in Ikuto’s possession. Sometimes things are carried to a silly extreme, though, particularly in the realm of the Character Transformations, which occur when a child merges with one of their Guardian Characters. Yaya, the youngest and most immature of the Guardians, wishes to forever remain a pampered baby, so her character transformation is suitably ridiculous, with a bib and a mysteriously large posterior. Her attack moves involve rubber duckies and mobiles. Tadase, meanwhile, transforms into a frilly and ruffled princely personage known as Platinum Royale. Hands up if you think that sounds like a stripper name!
Ultimately, Shugo Chara! is a lot of fun to read. It’s the perfect shoujo blend of feelings and fighting, and emphasizes the importance of figuring out one’s own goals and desires. Though the series is rated for ages 13+ (presumably because of the slightly steamy interaction between Amu and Ikuto), it would probably be suitable for kids the same age as its protagonists.
Shugo Chara! was originally published in English by Del Rey, who put out the first nine volumes. Kodansha Comics then took over releasing the series, the tenth volume of which just came out on May 10th. (I’m saving that one for an Off the Shelf column on Wednesday.) The series is complete in Japan with twelve volumes, and will wrap up in the US in September. Kodansha has also licensed Shugo Chara Chan!, a spin-off four-panel manga, which will debut in November.
Review copies for volumes seven and nine provided by Del Rey.