Shoujo – Comedy, fantasy, magical girl, romance
12 Volumes (complete)
Everyone sees Amu as a cool, confident young girl with a bit of a rebel streak. In truth, Amu is shy, easily flustered, and wants to be more feminine. After wishing to be more like her true self, Amu discovers three eggs have appeared out of nowhere. Before she knows it, she’s boldly confessing to her crush in front of the entire school. What is going on?!
I consider Shugo Chara! to be the last of the “old-school” magical girl stories. Outside of PreCure and revivals of old magical girl stories, most stories involving teams of young ladies transforming into short skirts to fight mysterious foes since then have been deconstructions (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) or parodies (Magical Girl Ore). You might see them in manga, but you don’t see them being the stars of a series targeting the elementary to middle school demographics.
As such, it features many of the traditional hallmarks popularized by the Sailor Moon era, but it also has the advantage of learning from some all its predecessors. For example, the series concentrates on one organization instead of having multiple groups of foes. Nobody is spending volumes going, “Who’s that?!” in response to a masked stranger who otherwise looks exactly like someone they already know. But yet you still get the magical girl classics like English-named attacks against a backdrop of a coming-of-age story.
But it’s the latter Shugo Chara! tends to focus on moreso than its competitors. The manga explains that all children have something inside called a heart’s egg. While these eggs normally disappear as children grow up, some people are special and hatch a Guardian Character — a version of that person’s ideal self. Amu is special and has three:
- a cheerful, athletic girl (Ran);
- a calm, artistic girl (Miki);
- a gentle, homemaker-type girl (Su).
Each spirit can cause Amu to temporarily have a different personality and special talents. Later, her Guardian Characters can also give her the ability to transform to fight against people whose heart’s eggs have been corrupted (X Eggs). Together with a group of special students known as the Guardians (who all have their own Guardian Characters), Amu searches for something known as the Embryo in hopes of finding it before the Easter corporation does. (Yes, the egg theme is rather prevalent.)
Obviously, if you don’t like magical girl stories, you can cross Shugo Chara! off your list. Even if you like some of the spins the series puts on the formula, like changing the team, it’s still a Sailor Moon-type story through-and-through. However, the heroine is younger than most of her contemporaries. When the series starts, she’s just finishing up fourth grade.
“Wait! Sakura was in fourth grade in Cardcaptor Sakura!”
Well, yes. And, like Shugo Chara!, it also has some problematic age gap relationships. The person she confesses to in the opening chapter is also just about to enter fifth grade: Tadase, the leader of the Guardians. Ok, that’s fine; young children have crushes all the time. Amu also keeps running into a boy named Ikuto. Ikuto senses Amu’s eggs at their first meeting, and he starts searching around for them… on her person. Later, he wants her to lean in closer so he can tell her something; instead, he bites her ear. He might be considered a little trickster if he’s around 11-12 years old, but he’s 16-17!
I really wish Peach-Pit had either aged Amu up or Ikuto down to make this much less problematic. It’s a very uncomfortable situation that really didn’t need to be in the story. After all, middle school is often considered the transitional years, so the theme of being who you want to be still would have strongly come through. Other Peach-Pit works have that ecchi flair, but “elementary students” and “risqué” should never be used in the same sentence. Plus, there is another crush that will likely make readers uncomfortable. Again, a slight change, and it wouldn’t nearly be as much of an issue. This definitely could have been an All Ages series instead of 13+, or it could have gone heavy into more mature relationships if the heroine wasn’t in elementary school.
But Shugo Chara! lays on the charm. The cute chibi Guardian Characters all have their own quirky personalities (a baby, a perfect female dancer, etc.), but the main characters themselves — and there are quite a few of them — are all navigating the gap between who they are and who they want to be. One girl, for instance, is quiet and rather cold, but her Guardian Character is a clown so she can make people smile. Another is a samurai wanna-be. Everyone can relate to the struggle of finding who we are, and most of us can also remember feeling frustration or disappointment when we weren’t matching up to our preferred (or ideal) self. And a bunch of us probably wanted to play magical dress up to fight as a hero. Shugo Chara! does a good job of connecting to readers at these levels, whether you are struggling over taking the family business or just feel alone. Plus, Amu herself isn’t one of the usual crybaby, scholastically challenged heroines, so the cast doesn’t feel like a rip-off of other magical girl (and guy) teams.
However, after the age issues I referred to before, Shugo Chara!‘s second biggest weakness is the unbalanced story across the volumes. The series switches gears at the halfway point. Before, Amu and the Guardians face off against various Easter plots and help out those who have had their heart’s egg tainted. Some of these are the usual monster-of-the-day format, and sometimes, someone besides Amu takes the lead for the chapter. Then, once the Guardians think things have settled down, they must save one of the main characters in an extended raid/rescue arc. It feels a little weird to have the final confrontation or solve the mystery after some relatively peaceful chapters, but it’s not terrible.
What is awful, however, is how slow the three volumes are. The story could have been wrapped up in a longer-than-usual ninth volume, at worst, the next volume. The tenth and eleventh volumes feature a lot of talking, some flashbacks, and a lot of check-ins that weren’t needed. These chapters take the long ways around to realizations that could have and should have been revealed earlier and/or in a shorter fashion. I mean, who wants to read a magical girl story and then basically have all the characters sit around and talk about what they learned for two volumes? If that weren’t enough, Shugo Chara! Volume 12 was actually released as a series of side stories in the original magazine run. You get a boyfriend! You get a girlfriend! Everyone gets a lover!!
Well, except one person. But still, the point stands that Shugo Chara! goes out with a whimper instead of a bang. Other magical girl manga often end with a time skip, showing the protagonists in the future. I can see why Shugo Chara! didn’t take this route, as Amu has several different eggs; cementing one as the true future version of Amu is far less interesting than leaving it open to reader’s imagination. However, the way the series ends, it seems to me that it goes against some of its most important morals: that everything changes, and people grow up. Amu appears to choose an extended childhood when I think her choosing to stand on her own two feet would have led to a stronger ending.
Moving on to the art. Peach-Pit is a pair of artists. One does most of the girls while the other draws the guys and sharp-eyed girls. However, most of the time, the differences aren’t easily apparent. They do swap characters in a bonus feature so you can see how their styles compare, but if you didn’t know that Peach-Pit was a duo, you might not even notice and just chalk it up to slightly different approaches to males versus females. The art style is a bit unique, but it’s not as different from most shoujo manga as, say, Sugar Sugar Rune. This was their first shoujo manga, but, like their other series, the characters tend to look very mysterious with a glassy look in their eyes. As in most magical girl stories, lots of attention is given to the costumes, but fashion in the characters’ everyday lives is also important as well. I know Amu wants to dress more in frills and lace, but I love her Goth-Loli style. Also, I swear Tadase looks exactly like Kazune from Kamichama Karin.
While Shugo Chara! is technically a shoujo manga, it is also categorized as a children’s (kodomo) manga. As such, the art is straightforward. The manga is designed to be easy for even younger readers with its large panels and lots of images of close-ups or full body shots. The battles are typical poses and beams, although some attacks have some interesting themes. (Did you ever think of using a giant rattle in a battle?) In short, compared to early 90s magical girl series, Shugo Chara! is probably more accessible art-wise since it’s cleaner and brighter.
Honorifics are used. Translator’s notes are included at the end of the volume to explain some cultural things like the celebrities and foods. There is some blending of English-Japanese like “Guardian Angel-sama”. As this is considered to be more of a children’s manga, the dialogue is relatively simple.
The titular Shugo Chara are called Guardian Characters, and they can use either “Character Change” (Charachange) or “Character Transformation” (charanari). The Guardians chase after “X Eggs”. The name in Japanese is ×たま, which is given the reading of ばつたま, batsutama. The “batsu” refers to the X, which is often used to mark test answers wrong and is seen on the X Eggs. Another character’s name in Japanese is ダイヤ, Daiya, Dia which is the Japanese shortened version of ダイヤモンド, Diamond. Her name is given the full version of Diamond, which makes sense because her transformed self still uses ダイヤ despite the obvious Diamond theme and the connection to the others. “Open heart” is sometimes “Open [their/my] heart” depending on the situation.
There are some swapped speech bubbles throughout the series. One character’s name is listed as both “Soko” and “Souko” in the same volume. One of Ikuto’s forms in Japanese is ブラックリンクス, which can be read as “Black Links”. However, considering the obvious cat theme, “Black Lynx” is almost certainly the correct translation. The parts of the lyrics to “Meikyuu Butterfly” and “Black Diamond” that are featured in the manga are translated, but I don’t think these are noted as real songs. They might have been translated slightly differently had the full song lyrics been looked at since I think even parts of the choruses are cut off. Either that or the way they were translated are slightly awkward.
Usually, the last volumes of a series are critical, and that’s not the case in Shugo Chara! The last volume is skippable unless you really want to see the epilogue and everyone paired up, and even the previous volume isn’t necessary. If you are a casual reader, you could probably stop at Volume 10 and not read the last chapter and still feel like you read a complete story. Otherwise, if you don’t mind ignoring the fact a high schooler is hitting on an elementary student, Shugo Chara! is a pleasant example of the magical girl genre, especially if you don’t want one that stars a heroine who bursts into loud crying fits.
Kodansha Comics also released the Shugo Chara Chan! spin-off. TOKYOPOP released Peach-Pit’s DearS and Rozen Maiden while Yen Press released Zombie-Loan. The anime version of Shugo Chara! is available on Crunchyroll.