‘Shugo Chara!’

Surprisingly sophisticated but unfortunately creepy.

Shugo Chara!, written and illustrated by Peach-Pit. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita. 12 vols. Kodansha Comics (New York): 2013 (2006). Rated T (ages 13+).

Shugo Chara!Shugo Chara! Doki, and Shugo Chara! Party!, directed by Kinji Yasuta. Satelight and TV Tokyo, 2007-2010. 127 episodes of 25 minutes (approx. 53 hours). Not rated. Available on Crunchyroll.

The Background

In the midst of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s magnum opus, there are a number of screwball gag episodes dedicated to the side character Nanami, a spoiled rich girl who laughs inappropriately, a requisite character in shoujo anime. In one of the most fascinating of these gag episodes, Nanami awakens one morning to find an Easter egg in her bed. Convinced that she must have laid it, she first tries, from embarrassment, to hide its existence, but on account of some misunderstood conversations, she eventually comes to the conclusion that egg-laying is normal for girls. In keeping with the coming-of-age theme of magical girl shows in general and Utena in particular, the egg becomes over the course of the episode a multivalent symbol by turns representing puberty, menstruation, childbirth, and child-rearing.

This one-off episode apparently became the inspiration for another whole magical girl franchise, Shugo Chara!, by Banri Sendo and Shibuko Ebara, the two-woman manga-ka team known collectively as Peach-Pit. They got their start with works aimed primarily at a male audience: the little-known harem comedy Prism Palette, the raunchy magical girlfriend series DearS (which is sort of like Chobits with more bondage), and an action series called Zombie-Loan. In the U.S., probably their most famous title is Rozen Maiden, an unusually classy harem series that’s something like a cross between Pinocchio and Highlander with a veneer of Gothic horror. It’s spawned Internet memes and a modest cult following.

The History

Shugo Chara! was Peach-Pit’s 2006 foray into shoujo manga, appearing in Nakayoshi, a magazine aimed primarily at girls aged nine to fifteen. This same magazine has hosted such titles as Sailor Moon, Sugar Sugar Rune, Saint Tail, and various adaptations of the Pretty Cure franchise. So it’s a magical girl powerhouse.

Shugo Chara! seamlessly blends together several elements of the different sub-genres of magical girl and puts them together in a story that is by turns original and conventional. It showcases both the typical strengths and the typical defects of the magical girl genre generally, and for that reason I like to point to it as the quintessential magical girl series. Everything right and everything wrong with the genre is here. It’s also no secret that Shugo Chara! was the direct inspiration for Jake and the Dynamo, though the two ultimately don’t much resemble each other except in the heroine’s wardrobe.

The anime adaptation consists of three series. The first two, Shugo Chara! and Shugo Chara! Doki contain 102 episodes covering the story of the first ten volumes of the manga, as well as adding additional side stories and a rather involved original plotline. The final series, Shugo Chara! Party!, takes the franchise in a new direction and diverges from the manga considerably. The three series ran from 2007 to 2010 under the direction of Kinji Yasuta.

The Plot

The heroine of Shugo Chara! is one Amu Hinamori, a student at Seiyo Elementary, and the story follows her as she progresses from fourth grade through sixth (she’s already in fifth grade in the anime version, but in the manga, she starts in fourth). Amu’s name is actually a transliteration of the English word “am,” which is key to one of the manga’s main themes, as I’ll explain shortly.

Amu and an egg.

Amu has a “problem,” the kind of problem that only afflicts anime characters and that a lot of real people would probably like to have: for no particular reason, everyone in her school—heck, everyone in the whole town—is convinced that she’s a badass. Known by the nickname, in English, of “cool and spicy” (changed to “sassy” in the translated manga to better reflect the intended meaning), she is seen as aloof and punkish. Bullies are terrified of her because of the rumor that she beat up an entire boys’ soccer team, and her classmates have convinced themselves that her parents are famous and she has an older French boyfriend.

So, apparently, in Japan, you just have to not talk to people, and everyone will assume you’re awesome. I wish grade school had been that easy when I went through it.

Anyway, in reality, Amu is aloof not because she’s cool, but because she’s shy, and she dresses like a punk not because that’s her preferred style, but because her parents pick out her clothes. Deep inside, she’d like to be a girly girl and make friends, but her façade has taken on a life of its own.

Does not want.

Amu awakens one morning to find three brightly colored eggs in her bed. These eggs soon hatch three “Guardian Characters” (the Shugo Chara of the title), cute little chibis who represent three versions of Amu’s potential future self, and whose symbols are three of the suits in a deck of playing cards: the first is Ran, a sunny cheerleader who represents Amu’s latent athletic ability; the second is Miki, a quiet but tomboyish artist who represents Amu’s creative side (and is the inspiration for Grease Pencil Marionette); and the third is Su, a gentle homemaker who represents her more domestic qualities. She ultimately gets a fourth Character, Dia, but I’ll refrain from giving details to avoid revealing too much of the plot.

Although her three Characters assure Amu that they personify her real potential, she doesn’t recognize either their skills or their personalities in herself, and is slow to accept them. Making things more complicated, these Guardian Characters have the ability to effect a “character change,” which temporarily alters Amu’s personality and gives her the abilities that the Character represents, as well as some magic powers such as the ability to fly. Amu is fearful of these sudden alterations to her personality, not only because they can be embarrassing in public, but because she is fearful that if she changes too much, she could lose her very identity.

The horror.

Like all schools in anime and manga, Amu’s school is ridiculously huge and posh. A typical anime depicts a high school as looking like a European university campus, but Shugo Chara! goes even further and depicts Seiyo Elementary as a gigantic castle, complete with towers, turrets, a rose garden, and secret passageways. Also, like all anime schools, it boasts an absurdly powerful student council, known (confusingly) as the Guardians. In keeping with the playing card theme established by Amu’s Shugo Chara, the “chairs” of the Guardians are the King, Queen, Jack, and Ace. Each of them has a Guardian Character of his own, and after discovering that Amu has no less than three of them, they want her to join their council as a special fifth chair, the Joker.

Some characters with some Characters.

As an aside, I think this must be why Japanese education is so high-quality. It’s because they’ve got these enormous, elaborate school buildings. Next time an American public school teacher walks into the classroom and says, “Yo, how come you kids failed these standardized tests written for retards?” the kids should look up from snorting their lines and loading their Glocks and answer, “Well, how come our school don’t got no secret passageways? I bet we could pass dem tests if we got us some secret passageways. Fo’ shiz.”

Anyway, as Joker, Amu’s duty is to track down and neutralize X Eggs. According to Shugo Chara!’s premise, all children have eggs in their hearts that contain the “self that they want to be,” which is variously represented as either what they can be or what they want to be when they grow up (the series never makes a clear distinction between desire and potential). Although the “heart’s egg” usually remains invisible, in certain strange individuals, the heart manifests externally and hatches a Guardian Character, or else, if the child becomes despondent and gives up on his dreams, it becomes an X Egg and hatches an X Character, which can leave the child permanently disillusioned and even wreak physical havoc like a poltergeist.

In addition, there is a mysterious object called the Humpty Lock, a padlock with a clover-shaped jewel around its keyhole, which never gets an adequate explanation. Although the manga and anime differ on how it all happens, Amu becomes the keeper of the Lock, which gives her the power of “character transformation,” a process more powerful than mere character change. In character transformation, she absorbs one of her Guardian Characters into herself and goes through a typical magical girl transformation sequence, becoming Amulet Heart, Amulet Spade, or Amulet Clover, depending on which Guardian Character she uses. Character transformation increases a Guardian Character’s “power” by “120% percent,” whatever that means.

In addition to altering her personality in the usual fashion, character transformation gives her magical girl powers, including the “Open Heart” spell with which she can cleanse X Eggs, turning them back into regular heart’s eggs and returning them to their owners.

The cast of Shugo Chara! is sizable, so I won’t bother describing all the Guardians and other characters. Suffice to say, the most important among the Guardians are Nadeshiko, the Queen, a pushy but dainty child who quickly becomes Amu’s best friend and helps to break her out of her shell, and Tadase, the King, a femmy bishounen on whom Amu has a playground crush.

Opposed to the Guardians is the vast and sinister Easter Corporation, which is apparently large and wealthy enough to waste a lot of capital on ventures that have no hope of turning a profit, such as picking fights with schoolchildren. The head of Easter is a mysterious figure known only as the Boss, and is after a special heart’s egg called the Embryo, which is said to be able to grant any wish to its possessor. Easter has acquired agents capable of extracting eggs from children’s hearts, and in the typically inefficient manner of magical girl villains, these agents operate by selecting random kids and taking out their heart’s eggs to see if they’re Embryos, a process that inevitably turns the eggs into X Eggs. In this premise of a vast, evil conspiracy extracting people’s hearts for fun and profit, the reader will recognize the influence of Sailor Moon S, which I’ve discussed previously.

Amu gets news.

The Guardians of Seiyo Elementary cross swords with Easter not only to protect children’s hearts, but also because the shy and effeminate Tadase, whose Guardian Character is a king, has dreams of world domination and believes the Embryo can grant him his wish.

The most important of Easter’s agents are the siblings Utau and Ikuto. Utau is a successful pop idol. She has two Guardian Characters of her own, El and Il, who resemble the traditional angel and devil pair of psychomachy. Utau shuns El because she views her as weak, but frequently character changes with Il while singing in order to steal children’s hearts. She can also character transform into the dark magical girl Lunatic Charm.

Utau quickly becomes Amu’s nemesis not only because they work for opposing factions, but because Utau observes Amu getting close to Ikuto, which makes her jealous, because Utau is sexually obsessed with her own brother (it’s anime, so just roll with it).

Ikuto’s job for Easter is to smash the X Eggs that Utau extracts. After he breaks an egg in front of Amu, he tells her, “Just so you know … even if I don’t break it … a lot of people break their own Egg. All those adults walking around with tired faces … They’ve thrown away the ‘person they want to be.’” A broken egg leaves a child permanently disillusioned and unable to recover his dream. Ikuto has a catlike Guardian Character called Yoru, and can character transform into Black Lynx (mis-transliterated in the English manga as “Black Links”), a leather-clad figure armed with Wolverine claws. Amu initially hates Ikuto, but, of course, also finds herself inexplicably drawn to him.

Although Tadase initially rejects Amu’s confession of love for him, he soon develops a crush on one of Amu’s magical girl forms, Amulet Heart, a magical cheerleader armed with weaponized batons and flying roller skates. So Tadase and the seemingly villainous Ikuto form with Amu a standard love triangle, a girl with a nice guy on the one hand and a smoldering bad boy on the other. Their hair is color-coded accordingly.

The Discussion

Comparison

EDIT: I realized after posting that I forgot to discuss the differences between manga and anime. The anime diverges from the manga in several ways, though they do not become crucial until the very end (Party! is considerably different from volumes 11 and 12 of the manga), after the main plot is complete. The anime, as expected, contains filler, such as episodes focusing on the Guardian Characters going off by themselves to have misadventures. But in addition to the padding, the anime gets a chance to flesh out the characters and some of the subplots, particularly the character arc of Nadeshiko, which I’ll discuss further down.

The biggest change to the story is in Doki, which adds an involved storyline about an anime-original character named Lulu and her Guardian Character Nana. This plotline gives a new dimension to the Shugo Chara! universe by introducing a new type of egg, the Mystery Egg, which instead of leaving its victims despondent like the X Eggs, consumes them and turns them into monomaniacal magical girls who try to reshape the world in their own image. Although this storyline isn’t in the manga, it is in keeping with Shugo Chara!’s themes, and it explores a different way that someone might get sidetracked from his life goals. In addition, Lulu and Nana are likeable characters and a worthy addition to the cast. Nana has a strong Nagoyan accent and looks, according to canonical commentary, like a “French doll”; her appearance and speech are apparently meant to contrast, but the English subtitles interpret her dialect as Southern, so she comes across to the English audience as a Southern belle.

Generally, with the exception of Party! (discussed below), I prefer the anime to the manga, not only because it is able to add some dimensions to the plot and characters, but because its generally good animation and artwork are an improvement on the variable and sometimes sketchy art of the manga. With all due respect to Peach-Pit and their accomplishments, they only know how to draw one face, and their stream-of-consciousness storytelling asks the reader to do a lot of work himself to fill in gaps. Also, most of the alterations that the anime makes (besides the additions and filler) are both minor and judicious, and improve upon the story.

Themes

The story combines elements of a few magical girl types. The protagonists’ ability to “character change” or “character transform” into magical girls and boys representative of what they want to be when they grow up, is reminiscent of the type of magical girl who has the ability to transform into an adult. A good example of this type is the popular Minky Momo from the 1980s, the heroine of which was a space princess who could magically transform into any kind of career woman she wanted, complete with the requisite skillset. Minky Momo and titles like it are celebrations of the possibilities of childhood, and they suggest that the magic of magical girls is due to their youth, because they still have abilities not yet developed. Shugo Chara! draws on this idea but blends it with the magical girl warrior, the magical girl-as-superheroine.

The action in Shugo Chara! is bloodless, and the characters don’t ever really seem to be in much danger, but the use of violence as a means of dealing with despondency and discouragement, as represented by the X Characters, allows the franchise to be refreshingly blunt. In a different shoujo anime, a character getting discouraged might mean it’s time for a group hug, but in Shugo Chara!, when you’re discouraged is exactly when you need your butt kicked. There’s even a two-page spread in which Amu points directly at the reader and yells, “Stop being a wuss!” The overarching message is, whatever you want to do with your life, go for it, and don’t give up. It warns, as when Ikuto smashes the egg, that most people don’t become as adults what they wanted to be as children, and the penalty for failure is unhappiness.

Of course, in the end, it isn’t really quite that harsh. Shugo Chara! develops this further and reveals that even after breaking an egg, a person can develop new goals and make new plans. Still, although it on rare occasion waxes maudlin, it for most part tells it like it is.

And although Shugo Chara! presents adolescence as fraught with peril, it also treats it as something not to be feared. Amu is assured, and in turn assures others, that when change inevitably comes, going through change does not mean a loss of identity. Peach-Pit may not have been aware of it, but they here make the philosophical distinction between essence and accident, metaphysical co-principles by means of which Aristotle described how an object could change over time, such as an apple turning from green to red, while remaining the same object. Shugo Chara! applies this to people: there is a continuity of identity that subsists through the changes that come with age.

It also develops a concept much neglected in philosophy today, that of potency, or potential, which must be understood for a proper grasp of Aristotle’s Fourth Cause. Getting into that in detail is beyond our scope here, but suffice to say, Shugo Chara! represents character change and character transformation as a sudden movement from potency to act, from potential to actuality. By their magic powers, the kids temporarily become in fact what, ordinarily, they are only in potentia.

Defects

How can I discuss Ikuto? Specifically, how can I say what I want about him without being murdered by a mob of rabid twelve-year-old girls? To explain him, I’ll need to back up for a moment and say a few things about Shugo Chara! generally. Magical girl stories, with notable exceptions, are usually aimed at the tween girl crowd, though a lot of them make conscious (and often crass) nods to older male otaku as well. Shugo Chara!, however, really doesn’t fan-pander in that way, at least that I can tell. It’s very much a title for young girls. Thus, Ikuto is a character designed to appeal to a female readership and viewership in the nine-to-fifteen age range. The ladies of Peach-Pit clearly understand their audience, because the typical fan reaction to Ikuto on the interwebs is along the lines of, “OMG so hot.”

Ikuto, according to the Internet.

But I’m not in the intended target audience, and I think Ikuto is creepy as all hell. He comes close to ruining the franchise for me: he’s a high school kid, and his age is given canonically at one point as seventeen, and he repeatedly macks on a girl in elementary school. That is not okay. Shippers in this fandom are always talking like they hope Amu and Ikuto will get married someday, but they’re not going to get married, because a few years from now, the police are going to have to notify residents when Ikuto moves into their neighborhood.

Back off, creeper.

I get it that Ikuto was designed as a fantasy for tween girls who think it would be awesome to have a quote-unquote “mature” high school boyfriend. Also, he’s probably meant to represent the simultaneous danger and allure of sexuality. But whenever he’s on the page or the screen, I find myself wanting Amu’s dad to show up and chase him off with a shotgun. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I’d probably be willing to give this a pass if Peach-Pit had at least handled the matter with a light touch, perhaps having Ikuto gradually realize that he admires this girl and thus finally resolves to wait for her to grow up. Something like that. But they instead fill his dialogue with sexual innuendo.

Oh please somebody make him stop.

And on top of that, he’s in possession of the Dumpty Key to Amu’s Humpty Lock, which ultimately devolves into hamfisted Freudian symbolism, instantly quadrupling the awkwardness. Somebody probably should have told Peach-Pit that when you’re making a serious attempt to represent the trials, dangers, yearnings, and joys of growing up, evoking Robin Hood: Men in Tights is not the way to do it.

Shugo Chara! suffers some of the common defects of the genre. In fact, Ikuto is arguably one of them, because he’s sort of like an extension of the stuff Studio Pierrot was pulling back in the ’80s. Among the common defects is that none of the characters, in spite of their alleged ages, actually act believably like grade school kids. This is a constant problem in anime and manga generally, and in mahou shoujo in particular. Everyone wants to write kids, but it is a rare Hayao Miyazaki or Kiyohiko Azuma who’s actually any good at it. Shugo Chara! is not as bad as, say, Cardcaptor Sakura, in which all the characters are ten going on thirty, but Peach-Pit could still have set the story in, say, high school, with very few changes to the dialogue. I get it that the transition from childhood to adolescence is key here, so setting it in the final years of grade school makes sense. Except the story doesn’t have any realistic grade-schoolers in it.

Another of its defects is the perennial problem of vaguely defined magic. Throughout the series, the heroes and the X Characters cast all kind of magic, and with few exceptions, it’s not at all clear what any of it does. The X Characters and X Eggs can shoot purple beams, and those beams break inanimate objects, but they don’t seem to have any effect on people. In fact, at the dramatic climax, a guy jumps in front of a big wave of purple stuff to protect another character … and nothing happens to him. The same goes for almost all of the magical girl/boy attack spells. Toward the middle of the series, there’s a very inventive fight between Amu and Utau, with the two of them swiping each other’s Characters, changing rapidly into all kinds of different magical girls and using all kinds of different attacks. It’s a lot of fun, yet it would probably be more fun if it were possible to tell what they’re trying to do to each other.

No one getting hurt, artist’s conception.

Ultimately, the vague magic makes the stakes appear low. Although losing one’s heart’s egg is clearly a bad thing, during the action sequences, nobody seems to be in real danger.

Perhaps Shugo Chara!’s greatest defect is that it doesn’t know how to end. But I’ll discuss that at the end of this essay.

The Spoilery One

Skip down to the next section if you don’t want a spoiler. I’m leaving out discussions of the various characters’ arcs, both because this is long enough already and because I feel no need to give away the whole plot. However, I do want to focus in on Nadeshiko, the “Queen’s Chair,” but I can’t do so without giving away a plot twist. Amu and Nadeshiko become besties in the early part of the series. Ultimately, Nadeshiko has to leave and fly overseas. When she returns, she’s a he, or rather, she was a he the whole time. His real name is Nagihiko, and he is a member of a venerable old Japanese family that makes its boys spend the first several years of their lives dressing and acting like girls in order to master a traditional form of Japanese dance (and this is not a real Japanese practice, FYI). Once he gets too old to carry on the charade, his family whisks him away for a while and then returns him, posing as his own twin brother. Most of the other characters figure things out pretty quickly, leaving Amu as the only one who doesn’t know that Nadeshiko and Nagihiko are the same person.

When he gives up his feminine façade, Nagihiko’s Guardian Character Temari goes back in her egg, and he gets a new egg that hatches a new Character, Rhythm, who can transform him into the super-athlete Beat Jumper. Although Nagihiko had previously had to hide his athletic ability in order to pose as a girl, he is now able to express himself, especially his secret love of basketball.

This causes him some distress, as he wonders what it means for the form of dance he has practiced since he could walk, but he ultimately manages to reconcile his supposedly opposed interests. This gets handled quite rapidly in the manga, but the anime has a chance to flesh it out.

Nagihiko as Beat Jumper.

I like Nagihiko and his subplot. He is basically a role-reversal of the “bifauxnen” characters typical of shoujo anime, such as Sailor Uranus, whom I sometimes enjoy picking on. The girls who act like boys in anime can usually do everything boys can do, only better, which often strains suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. A good example is the archetype of the character, Oscar de Jarjayes from Rose of Versailles. I’m reasonably generous with fiction, so I’m willing to buy it when she out-rides, out-shoots, and out-fences every man, but when she starts winning bar fights, my suspension of disbelief nearly snaps, because any woman, no matter how tough she is, is going to get laid out pretty quickly if she gets in a fistfight with soldiers or farm boys. I give it a pass because Oscar doesn’t quite seem to be a literal human being anyway, but is more like a personality fragment of Marie Antoinette or maybe an incarnation of the spirit of France. But as a more egregious example, I was recently reading a reverse harem comedy called Hana-Kimi, about a girl who dresses as a boy and enrolls in an all-boys’ school where she can wallow in yaoi for three years. For no good reason, she can outrun all the boys on the track—in sprints. The marginal notes indicate that the manga-ka of that series is a cat lady, and I think she simply doesn’t know that high school boys routinely beat the records of female Olympians in track and field events.

Peach-Pit thumbs its collective nose at all this: Nagihiko has to disguise his athletic abilities when pretending to be a girl, particularly how high he can jump. Furthermore, although he’s pretty metro, what with several formative years of playing girl under his belt, he hits a wall in his dance and realizes he’ll never be as graceful and elegant in a feminine form of dancing as a real female. Putting on a boy’s clothes and admitting to being male finally frees him up.

Some time back, I found a rant on the Internet, which I haven’t found again, by a feminist who was really pissed off by all this, and for that reason alone, in spite of some defects, Shugo Chara! gets a thumbs-up from me. It’s remarkably honest in its gender-bending.

The End

The Encore

I won’t give away the ending with its final twist, but the story is basically over after ten volumes (or 102 episodes). The eleventh volume is almost like a long recap episode with a lot of recycled art, but in spite of the laziness, it ties up a few loose ends and reiterates the series’ major themes.

The twelfth and final volume was originally published under the title of Shugo Chara! Encore! Consisting of four separate shorts, it concludes the subplots involving the characters’ romantic entanglements. The final chapter is about Amu and her ongoing love triangle with Ikuto and Tadase. Although fans like to interpret it as indicating something definite, a straightforward reading is actually ambiguous: her love triangle remains unresolved. The series does not end by telling us what Amu finally accomplishes when she grows up, nor whom she marries. Shugo Chara! is a celebration of the potential of youth, so though it allows its protagonist to grow over the course of its run, it leaves her still a child, still full of potential.

In one of the final moments in the series, Amu sits at her desk and looks over her notes from English class in preparation to enter middle school. She writes out the words, “I am,” and her Character Dia explains,

It’s just like you, Amu-can. You use it to describe yourself. “I am a girl.” “I am a student.” The meaning changes depending on what you put behind “am.” The verb “am” only attaches to “I.” So no matter what word comes after “am,” the subject of “I” doesn’t change.

This encapsulates one of the story’s key themes, that essence and accident can be distinguished from each other, that change, particularly the dramatic change of adolescence, does not mean a loss of identity.

The Party that Never Ends … but Should

Finally, I have to spend some time talking about Shugo Chara! Party!, the third series of the anime. From the American perspective, Party! looks like a textbook example of how to piss off a fanbase, but it must be admitted that there’s a cultural barrier here. I don’t know how this series played in Japan, but it must have played better than it does in the U.S.

Instead of the typical animated opening credits sequence, Party! opens with a live-action music video featuring the idol group Guardians 4 performing “Party Time.” Hosting the show itself is yet another idol group, Shugo Chara! Egg!, whose members cosplay as Amu’s four character transformations.

The second generation of Shugo Chara! Egg! as they appear in Shugo Chara! Party!

Believe it or not, Egg! was not assembled just to host this show. Egg! was part of an idol project called Hello! Project (are you sick of the exclamation points? Cuz I am), which has a massive number of girl groups under its umbrella, including the perennially popular Morning Musume. What we see in Party! is already the second generation of Egg!, three of its founding members having left to join another group called S/mileage.

Japan has never managed to export its obsession with tween idols to the West the same way it has exported other parts of its pop culture, so this is some serious culture shock for the American viewer. These chicks have no entertainment value. They sing, apparently, but they only do it offscreen. They’re mediocre dancers. They definitely can’t act. Aside from Fukumura Mizuki as Amulet Heart being kind of cute, they really have nothing going for them.

The girls’ job in this show is to waste time in order to give the animators a break. They dance and do these little fortune-telling segments and otherwise dither around. Then comes a Flash-animated segment called Doki!Doki!, which stars the Guardian Characters doing sketch comedy. Then Egg! comes back on for another segment. Then, finally, when there’s only ten minutes left of the program, the actual Shugo Chara! animation starts.

In spite of the shorter running time, the animation quality has taken a hit. Gone are the action sequences from the previous seasons. Also, Amu ends up taking a backseat in her own show to make room for a new, anime-only character named Rikka, a hyperactive first-grader who has a mysterious ability to attract X Eggs.

Rikka … yeah.

A peek around the Internet indicates that a lot of English-speaking fans hate Rikka’s guts. She is a more-or-less standard genki girl, and though she doesn’t have the chance to develop the depth that Amu has acquired over two lengthy series, I personally think Rikka would have been perfectly serviceable as the star of her own show. The problem is, this isn’t supposed to be her show. As an unwelcome new protagonist in a franchise that until now had starred someone else, Rikka is Shugo Chara!’s Scrappy Doo.

Party! touches upon a few of the plot points in Shugo Chara! Encore!, but for the most part it simply wastes time. It’s an entire twenty-four episodes’ worth of filler. In place of the satisfying conclusion to the manga that reiterates the franchise’s major themes, Party! delivers a lackluster final episode that simply stops abruptly.

It’s an unfortunate way to end what is on the whole a solid franchise, but Shugo Chara! Party! is what can happen when a title is successful and the execs want to keep the money rolling in after the sell-by date has passed. I like to believe that my tolerance for girly Japanese crap is pretty high, but Party! taught me that I’m not the weeaboo I thought I was. I had to force myself to watch it, and only my dedication to the genre got me through it. That, and flavored whiskey. I drank a lot of flavored whiskey while watching Shugo Chara! Party! For that reason, I remember fewer details than I probably should, but I do remember that the episode in which Rikka dances with a pink elephant is pretty amusing.

So, to recap, I love/hate Shugo Chara! I hesitate to recommend it to the newcomer, as it would probably be a turnoff to anyone unaccustomed to the genre’s tropes, but I can’t think of a title that encapsulates the genre’s themes, and also its shortcomings, as clearly as this one does.

  • I’ll be awaiting my internet.

    I’m still going through the series. Sorry to hear that about Party! I’ll have to decide whether or not to skip it when I get there.

    • Mostly, I prefer the anime to the manga. The animation is an improvement over Peach-Pit’s scattered artwork, and though there’s some padding, it also fleshes out the characters and subplots. Also, I quite like the story arc with Lulu and Nana, which is anime-original.

      But Party! is a real flub. It was an endurance test for me, and I doubt it has much appeal for anyone over ten. I’d recommend watching the first two series and then reading Encore!

      Come to think of it, I should put all that up in the review.

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