Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 29th 2009
With the help of magical abilities granted by her "Guardian Characters," sixth-grader Amu Hinamori has successfully fended off another evil scheme of the Easter Corporation. But no magic in the world can help Amu when she suddenly discovers the mysterious, mischievous Ikuto Tsukiyomi sleeping in her bed! Ikuto is on the run from Easter, and while hiding out in a little girl's bedroom isn't the smartest idea, he doesn't have a lot of options right now. Amu wants to believe that Ikuto's intentions are good, but her schoolmate Tadase isn't so trusting. Why are Tadase and Ikuto so at odds with each other, and which boy will win Amu's heart? Meanwhile, the return of a familiar (but slightly different) face at school shakes up the student roster. It seems that even the new guy has some secrets of his own...
Like all great forms of youth entertainment, Shugo Chara! succeeds because it works on two levels. The first, of course, is the character-transforming, magical-egg-capturing, magical-beam-shooting fantasy level where kids can hope and dream that they, too, have that power hidden within them. And the second level ... is where obsessive, over-analytical fans who are probably too old for this stuff can pick apart all the weird, subversive content that Peach-Pit has woven into the story. Oh, did you think this was just some cutesy monster-of-the-week affair where love and magic save the day? That may have been true about six volumes ago—but this series clearly has all sorts of other twisted plans.
First off, there's the cross-dresser. What was originally a gender-bending side-story development in an earlier chapter suddenly comes in handy, as "newcomer" Nagihiko now becomes available to take a role that was recently vacated. But what is so interesting is that Peach-Pit does not use this subplot to hammer home a message about gender identity issues—instead, they just leave it out there and let the overanalysts judge it as they will. As for the plot mechanics, it does get tiresome having to do the same old nice-to-meet-you routines with all the cast members, but the truth about Nagihiko (which is known only to some) makes for some good comedy moments.
The real controversy, though—and the main thrust of this story arc—is when Ikuto starts sleeping at Amu's place, which is instant fandom fodder for all sorts of debate about age-appropriate relationships. Once again, Peach-Pit leaves it there for the audience to make of it what they will—a passing pubescent infatuation, or a dangerous go-ahead sign for impressionable young girls to lust after older men? Whatever the case may be, it does the job of moving the story in a suspenseful new direction, culminating in the inevitable moment when Amu gets caught. More than just a chronicle of the good guys trying to escape the bad guys, this chain of events has subtext written all over it, just waiting to be discovered.
Then there's the developing puppy-love between Amu and Tadase, probably the most "normal" of all the current storylines so far. This one is pure classic shoujo sweetness, and even that manages to get subverted when Ikuto enters the picture—the love triangle had already been hinted at before, but this is where it comes to a head. Thus, without even a single character transformation, without a single egg-capturing, magic-spewing battle (except for a tussle that happens behind the scenes), the entire series still manages to pull off all sorts of wild twists and turns. However, there's still no strong sense of direction: we have Nagihiko going one way, Ikuto going the other, and Tadase off in his own little corner. Perhaps a little prod from Easter will get things moving?
Regardless of the story content, the delicate artwork continues to shine on both the grand and small scales—from big sweeping declarations of love taking up a double-page spread, to humorous little asides from the Guardian Characters (who, due to lack of battle action, have been relegated to comic relief in this volume). The backgrounds, almost dreamlike in style, are matched only by the precision of the character designs, where fashionable outerwear seems to have sprouted naturally out of these kids' wardrobes. In fact, this entire volume takes place in winter, leading to a panoply of unbearably cute scarves and coats. The emphasis on dialogue and plot development does take away some of the visual sizzle, however—aside from Ikuto or Tadase making kissy faces at Amu, everything else is mostly people standing around talking—and the artistic compulsion to fill every blank spot with screentones does result in cluttered layouts at times.
Dialogue continues to be a weak point for the series, and while it's not as horrifying as the translation debacle of Volume 6, the kindest thing that can be said about this script is that it at least makes sense. The target age range really shows itself in the simple writing (after all, this runs in a manga magazine for elementary-schoolers), where even Tadase's dramatic love confession is something of a verbal clunker. Sound effects, on the other hand, are much easier to get right—the Japanese text is left alone, with small translations placed alongside them. A short glossary also explains some cultural points, although the story is easily understood without having to refer back to it.
In the end, Volume 7 will go down in Shugo Chara! lore as "the one where Ikuto camped out at Amu's house." And it will be remembered, not so much for sparkly transformations and fight scenes (the bombast of Volume 6 was quite enough for a while), but for its continued flouting of the expectations of the magical girl genre—as well as the expectations of polite society. Hey, why not stick a high school boy in an elementary schoolgirl's room?! Why not bring back a character whose biological wiring is different from what it originally seemed? And yet, in the middle of all that, there's still room for nice normal things like confessions of first love and contentious romantic triangles. Shugo Chara! works on different levels, and for those who can enjoy both the kiddie side and the edgy grown-up side, that just makes it twice the fun.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Controversial, subversive themes provide a strong, compelling contrast against magical-girl tropes and delicate art.
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