Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hakko is just an everyday fourteen-year-old girl with a major crush on the hot student body president, but her life changes drastically when one day she comes home and a giant plush mascot named Ginger is standing in her foyer. Her parents tell her that she's been chosen by her school as one of three special students to cohabitate with this kigurumis (who are not humans in costume). Hakko's even less thrilled when she gets to school and finds out that she, Nobara, and a first-year boy named Satsuki are actually the kigurumis' Guardians, and together they have to fight off an otherworldly invasion. The big catch? The kigurumis need to transform into their true selves, really attractive guys…with a kiss!
Somewhere in between the magical girl and the super sentai team are the Kigurumi Guardians. There's transforming – but it's not done by the girls. There's a team of diverse characters – but they don't really work together. And did I mention the fact that the mascot characters are six-foot tall living plush mascots? Welcome to Kigurumi Guardians from Zakuro creator and Mawaru Penguindrum character designer Lily Hoshino. (You may also know her as the creator of Mr. Flower Bride and Mr. Flower Groom, a BL duology published some time ago by Yen Press.) In this first volume, the series is off to a weird but promising start, showcasing both Hoshino's delicate art and a flair for the bizarre that works well.
The story begins with middle school second year Hakko coming home from school to find a giant penguin-like plush standing in her house. The creature turns out not to be a kigurumi in the sense that it is a plushy mascot suit; instead it's basically a living mascot. Hakko is horrified, especially when her mother and father come rushing home to see the honor that has been bestowed upon their daughter by her school – as far as Hakko is concerned, this thing is weird and she wants nothing to do with it. As it turns out, she's not the only one who feels that way – two other students, fellow second year Nobara and a first-year boy named Satsuki also have kigurumis, and both of them are suspicious of them and the so-called “program” they appear to have been chosen for. Their concerns are not allayed when the student council president, feathery-haired Chigaya, tells them that a parallel dimension is trying to take over their own, and that the three students and their new companions are the last line of defense between the invaders and the safety of peoples' hearts. Also, they can transform their kigurumi into their true, human forms – by kissing them.
While the kiss may not seem like a big issue to some readers, for fourteen-year-old Hakko and Nobara, it's pretty much a deal breaker. This does require some suspension of disbelief that's slightly stronger than the subject of kissing in, for example, innocent shoujo romances requires, because at the end of the day, the kiss may be all that stands between world devastation and safety. Fortunately Hoshino has a light touch with the subject and appears to be fully aware of just how silly the issue is in context. Satsuki has no trouble smooching his kigurumi, regardless of the fact that they're both guys, and Nobara slapping her poor partner every time is played off as an over-the-top reaction. For Hakko, the issue seems to be that she feels fooled by Ginger, who first transformed by kissing her when she was unconscious. This seriously undermined her trust in him as they were starting out, especially since they're required to pucker up in front of the boy she likes, Chigaya. That said, with their first real crisis, she does get over her issue when it counts, and even attempts to show Ginger that she's willing to let bygones be bygones.
Ginger's attitude towards Hakko is a bit less clear. While we don't see the other kigurumis interact with their guardians very much, we can observe that Basilico is developing a bit of a crush on Nobara while Fennel and Satsuki just seem to have a very blasé attitude in general. Hakko and Ginger seem to dance around each other, Ginger egging Hakko on (which probably means that he likes her in manga-speak) and Hakko reacting accordingly. The fact that Ginger appears to know more about what's going on than he's willing to say is troubling – if as Chigaya says, trust is key to the relationships between kigurumis and their guardians, why would Ginger appear to be undermining that?
There is a serious story lurking underneath the lightheartedness of the first three chapters. The (incredibly stylish) villain, Lavender, isn't just looking to take hearts, she's trying to control people as puppets to bend to her will, and she may very well be working for someone with far more nefarious plans. Once again, Ginger seems to know both her and who the big boss may be, which could turn out to be important. The concept of people who lose their hearts becoming “shells” before being turned into puppets is a good one that works with the story's magical girl themes – hearts, it turns out, are stolen when someone's dream is taken over by Lavender, and they're allowed to live those dreams until they become hollow. Again, this feels like it will be important going forward, as well as symbolically.
Kigurumi Guardians borrows familiar story elements from the Precure franchise and imagery from Puella Magi Madoka Magica in terms of the hearts filling up, but it does still stand on its own as a fun variation of a familiar genre. Lily Hoshino's art is attractive, with delicate lines and easy-to-read page flow, and the translation reads smoothly. This first volume is more silly than serious, but it feels like it's setting up for a bigger story, both in terms of character interactions and overall plot. It's a fun start to what could be a very enjoyable series, and definitely worth checking out.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Fun premise, attractive art mixed with silly kigurumi designs, handles its material well
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