Retro Review: Shugo Chara! (Volume 1)

The desire to change oneself is one that’s likely familiar to everyone. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve wanted to become someone else entirely, strengthening ourselves to overcome difficult ordeals or altering our personalities to fit our needs so we can accomplish what we need to. Peach-Pit’s Shugo Chara! is a magical girl series about doing just that. While it does tend to stagnate in some areas, the first volume manages to garner enough interest to keep it afloat during its less engaging moments.

Content

Amu Hinamori is a “cool and spicy” elementary student admired by all of her classmates. Her style, attitude and personality are hot topics for the student body at Seiyo Elementary, though the real Amu is much different than she lets on. Her “editor” mother is a small-time editor at a womens’ magazine and her father is nowhere near the high-class “fashion photographer” her classmates dream of. Her punk lolita wardrobe isn’t even her own choosing, and deep down Amu is just dying to change her persona. It’s a genuinely stressful existence, exacerbated by the fact that even when she attempts to act out and change the way the public sees her, it usually backfires — the other students still find her irresistibly awesome.

So when one day she finds herself in the possession of three strange, colorful eggs, Amu is understandably freaked out. With all of that stress on a daily basis, now she’s got to worry about those weird eggs, too. Amu wished for a way to change herself, but this really isn’t what she had in mind. What are they, and where did they come from?

The answers come slowly but surely, as Amu finds one egg in particular seems to be making her act bizarrely, in a much more outgoing and girly manner than she’s used to. The Guardians, an elite society at her school looked up to and respected as though they’re celebrities, are suddenly keeping tabs on her, as well. When Amu comes to school bearing the three eggs, the Prince of the Guardians takes a special interest in her, as it appears the entire group are all Guardian Character egg owners, too. Together, they’re looking to find a special item known as the Embryo, said to grant anyone’s wish.

Of course, there are those who want to use the Embryo and their own Guardian Characters for evil purposes. Amu, as a newly-minted Guardian, must join the fight as she comes to terms with life with her Characters: a sporty, carefree types, a quiet artist and an excellent cook. These are all the selves Amu wishes to be, but can she learn to embrace her true self without using the strange little beings as a crutch?

The first volume of this quirky magical girl series is reasonably paced, with an interesting premise and a colorful cast of characters. However, it tends to fall victim to many of the same shoujo cliches you’re probably already familiar with, if you’re a genre fan. Motivations of villains are a bit silly, there’s a “monster of the day” format to the tune of “X eggs” that must be defeated to save the dreams of innocent people and it’s clear the story will drag on for quite some time until an ending can be established. You see shades of this early, so while the premise is somewhat fresh, this is a story that will continue for quite some time. I surmise an entirely different conflict will arise as well.

Characters

Amu is an elementary school student — in fact, most of the characters are, but they act far too mature for that age group. The flirting feels a bit off because of that, and I frequently found myself forgetting this wasn’t a middle or high school adventure. With that aside, Amu herself is a little too wishy-washy to be able to root for. Her anger seems a little unfounded at some points, and one wonders why she can’t be a better person or at least a little less rude to others, especially in a world where some students would give anything for the love and admiration other students heap upon her. The Guardians themselves are unexpectedly kind, and nothing but welcoming to their newest member, and their respective characters are an interesting bunch, including Amu’s bunch. I’m not so sure I’m attached to them yet, however, there was something innately likable about the cast that kept me reading in light of the overtly familiar dialogue and character relationships. I’m hoping now that all of the expository elements are out of the way, the second volume will improve upon the basic structure considerably and we’ll see more growth.

Adaptation

I found no obvious issues with the translation or personalities of the main cast, and as usual Kodansha Comics is on the ball when it comes to retaining honorifics, providing concise translation notes at the end of the book and keeping with the same honorifics used in the original work.

Visuals

Peach-Pit has a distinct art style that serves them well, and the soft lines and curves are attractive in Shugo Chara! with plenty of fun outfits for Amu and sappy shoujo sparkle. For once, it’s easy to distinguish between multiple characters despite male characters taking on a decidedly feminine look; and I particularly enjoyed meeting the “tiny” versions of each Guardian’s self. It’s clear Peach-Pit has come a long way since the bizarre proportions of DearS, though facial structure still remains the same.

Closing Comments

Shugo Chara! isn’t a perfect tale so far, but it’s an interesting premise that has the potential to improve over time. It’s a by-the-books magical girl odyssey otherwise, but it will be intriguing to see how Amu evolves and changes over the next several volumes. Here’s to hoping she finds inner strength on her own, without Guardian Characters.

Publisher: Kodansha Comicsscore3.5