Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 12th 2007
Nina is a middle school girl whose life takes a magical turn when she swallows a piece of hard candy. It turns out that it's not candy at all, but a "Crystal Pearl" that's being sought after by wizards from another world! Because of this vitally important item in her stomach, Nina finds two boys entering her life—wizards-in-training Zero and Ichi. Unfortunately, they're also being tailed by rival magic-users who are after the Pearl. Now Zero and Ichi must protect Nina at all costs, whether she's at home, at school, at a hot springs, or even taken hostage. Nina has always wanted to meet some cute boys—but is she willing to pay the price of living in peril?
If there's anything Mamotte! Lollipop succeeds at, it's in being completely average. An average heroine with average traits is thrust into an average storyline where average supporting characters clash in average scenarios. Clearly, the series is designed to appeal towards the average young girl—what with all the candy and magic and guys swiped straight out of a boy band—but it accomplishes little beyond that. Even above-average young girls won't be impressed. This is a perfectly calculated, by-the-book shoujo adventure, which is fine if you're doing a how-to exercise, but makes for poor reading material. Without a creative spark, this brand of magic just fizzles out.
A lackluster premise is the first symptom of this plague of mediocrity. Many young girls in the history of manga have already stumbled upon life-changing magic, and unfortunately, Nina's story is one that doesn't inspire much interest. It's not like she's destined by some ancient prophecy to swallow the Crystal Pearl—it just happens, as a silly accident. The arrival of Zero and Ichi is equally arbitrary, an event that fills the "And then two hot guys show up" quota. Without motivation, without direction, the plot becomes just a mishmash of clichés; even the hot springs chapter literally comes out of nowhere. (Doesn't this girl have parents to supervise such day trips?) These episodic adventures might make good kiddie fare, but the gaps in logic are too big to ignore.
Not only is the story a lost cause, but the characters involved are equally shallow. You could try get to know them better—to understand what makes them vie for the Crystal Pearl—but the answer only leads to another baseless contrivance: an examination that pits young wizards against each other. Even when the grand master wizard shows up and spirits Nina away, there's never any sense that she's in true danger; it's just a test, after all! Seeing the rival wizards actually use their magic skills in combat might be the most exciting thing to happen in this volume, but even that quickly becomes an overload of worn-out fairytale-fantasy ideas. A one-shot chapter about the master wizard's younger days doesn't help much either; it's more of a fluff piece than any real addition to the plot.
More mind-numbing averageness can be found in the art, which is very sparkly, very friendly, and completely lacking in style. Look for all the earmarks of grade-school shoujo here, with big-eyed characters impeccably dressed in the latest youth fashions, fancy screentone patterns dominating the backgrounds, and borderless, free-flowing panel layouts. To its credit, it does read more clearly than other series in the same genre—the action is energetic and easy to follow, with a smattering of humor for effect. However, the designs are completely forgettable, with Nina indistinguishable from similar heroines, and her male consorts even more nondescript apart from hair color. As for the other rival wizards, well, if it weren't for their outfits and mannerisms—the sexpot, the cross-dresser, and so on—you'd think they were just background characters.
As a kid-friendly series, the dialogue of Mamotte! Lollipop is simple and to the point. The translation makes for easy reading, with no contrivances or awkward phrasing—just a natural representation of how middle-schoolers talk. Only one problem scene comes up: a little quiz that involves Japanese puns, which is handled by rewriting the script with entirely new riddles in English. Purists need not fret, however, as the original puns are explained in the glossary in the back, along with other points of Japanese culture throughout the story. All sound effects are left intact, with small translations placed alongside them; sharp print quality and paper also make the book look attractive (even if the content is less than deserving).
In the end, Mamotte! Lollipop is like an incomplete recipe: the ingredients are there, but they haven't been combined into anything palatable. The heroine is energetic and willing, the guys are attractive and likeable, the elements of magic are set in place—but they seem to be going through the motions more than anything else. There's no verve, no irresistible urge to continue the adventure into the next chapter—clearly, a difference exists between acting out a story and actually having a story. Will it get better as the series charges onward? Right now, signs don't look too promising. If only Nina had been given a proper reason to swallow that magical pearl in the first place.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C
+ Simple, accessible story ideas that will appeal to young readers.
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