Shugo Chara! Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

shugoheaderIs Peach-Pit's new manga series an exploration of identity development in adolescents, or a fluffy generic magical girl story?

 

 

202 pgs. B&W; $10.95

(W / A: Peach-Pit)

 

Amu Hinamori's detached demeanor has the entire student body of Seiyo Elementary fawning over her, but she doesn't feel too cool for school: she acts aloof because she's just too shy to let anyone know the real her, and she'd like nothing more than to be able to open up and be an honest, straightforward, "normal" girl. Then one day, her wish comes true in the form of three strange eggs, each hiding a "Guardian Character" that can accentuate the parts of her personality that she hides, allowing her to be the self that she really wants to be.

 

Exploring the concept of identity and how to "be yourself" in the face of the pressures of adolescence is a fascinating and worthy one, but despite an intriguing set-up, Shugo Chara! explores very little in that direction. The Guardian Characters' abilities are nebulous at best, and when they declare that they'll change Amu's "character," those changes frequently have little to do with innate personality traits. While Amu's first encounter with a Guardian Character lets her bust through her shyness and admit her feelings for a dreamy classmate, the next time out it's to "transform [her] character from a girl who can't fly to a girl who can fly!" Since when is flight a character trait?

 

The cover to Shugo Chara! Vol. 1. Click thumbnail for a larger image.From there, Shugo Chara! devolves into a fairly standard and uninteresting magical girl story. Amu meets up with the school Guardians, a sort of student council who, unbeknownst to their classmates, have Guardian Characters of their own. And just in time, too, because a cat-eared bad guy named Ikuto — we know he's "bad" because he wears black and does creepy things like suggestively lick one of Amu's Guardian eggs — is keeping an eye on Amu, sure one of her eggs is hiding a wish-granting McGuffin called an "embryo" that the Guardians are also after. Strangely, the Guardians are given a surprisingly villainous motive for wanting the embryo while the actual villains get no motive at all. You don't get much time to ponder the inconsistency, though, as Amu is given another task entirely. What the new task has to do with the embryo, the Guardians, the Guardian Characters, or anything else introduced in this volume is anyone's guess, at least until Vol. 2 comes out and (hopefully) explains what the heck is going on.

 

The plot is riddled with nonsensical turns and the art, unfortunately, has its fair share of nonsensicalness as well. The two-woman artistic collective known as Peach-Pit, the duo behind DearS and Rozen Maiden (both available in English from Tokyopop), split the artistic chores by character. Though the twosome's styles mesh well together, reading the book gives the feeling that neither one of them is really behind the wheel. Layouts are often convoluted and confusing, and the art frequently spreads across pages without taking the margins into account, resulting in things vital to understanding the action getting lost in the binding. Despite being sometimes difficult to follow, overall the artwork looks very nice, with attractively designed characters, rich shading, and a sizzling energy in the action sequences.

 

Shugo Chara! has a fascinating set-up, but with that set-up completely unexplored and what replaced it handled so unevenly, one can't help but view the first volume as a noble but failed experiment. Here's hoping the next chapter fulfills the series' potential. | Jason Green

 

Click here for a 10-page preview of Shugo Chara!, courtesy of Del Rey Manga!

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