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[Shugo Chara!]
AKA: My Guardian Characters, しゅごキャラ! (Japanese)
Genre: Magical girl / romance
Length: Television series, 51 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: Currently available for watch on crunchyroll.com's website.
Content Rating: 7+ (some suggestive themes)
Related Series: Shugo Chara! Doki!, Shugo Chara Party!
Also Recommended: Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne (manga only), Sailor Moon
Notes: Based on the manga by PEACH-PIT, which ran in Nakayoshi. It is also available for purchase in North America from Del-Rey.
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars
 

Shugo Chara!

Synopsis

Amu Hinomori is considered a "cool and spicy" girl among her classmates and even her parents, but in reality she's shy and introverted. Then one morning she finds three eggs under her pillow, who claim to be her "Shugo Chara" (coined by her little sister, Ami), or her would-be selves. Their names are Ran, Miki, and Su, each representing a personality trait of Amu's she wished she had. As if this wasn't confusing enough, she soon finds herself forced into joining a group of students in her school known as the Guardians, whose mission is to protect other childrens' eggs as well from being turned into X-eggs from an evil organization known as Easter. Fortunately, Amu's three charas allow her to find (and fight off) X-eggs as she and her friends slowly learn who's responsible for all of this.


Review

Shugo Chara! is one of those shows that, upon first hearing about, I paid no mind to. After reading DearS at a bookstore one day, it turned me off from anything Peach-Pit did. Still, being a fan of magical girl anime, beggars can't be choosers, so I decided to watch a couple of episodes of Shugo Chara! to see if it was worth my time. Did I like it? I certainly wouldn't bother to watch an anime that lasts 51 episodes if I didn't!

But why do I enjoy Shugo Chara! so much? One reason involves its approach to the typical magical girl formula with the charas themselves. A chara is a little fairy-like creature that represents a person's inner most self, which often (and sometimes humorously) clashes with the individual's personality they show around others. I find it an interesting approach to the typical talking magic creatures a lot of other magical girl anime use, and it leads to some cute, funny moments throughout.

The chara aspect of the show, unsurprisingly, is best played off with its heroine, Amu. Initial first impressions of her show her as a cool, tough girl who doesn’t take crap from anybody, but she's actually pretty shy and girly. And each of her charas represents a point of her personality; Ran is her sporty, cheerful side, Miki her artistic side, and Su her sweet, girly side. But Amu is not your typical klutz or love-struck, girly shoujo heroine; she's sometimes sarcastic, cynical, and even at times uncaring about the situations and people around her. The series is less about chara antics and fighting than it is about Amu changing and opening up as a person, letting her softer, more feminine side open up to those around her. It's not an instantaneous process, nor does her character development get triggered by a large event. Even her relationship with her charas doesn't start off on the right foot- it takes several her several episodes to get the hang of them, and she even loses one midway through the series!

Amu's love interest, the cute, popular Tadase, is also not your typical male shoujo love interest (and is as shy around Amu at times as she is around him). In a nice change of pace for these kinds of shows, it's he relies on Amu for support, not the other way around. In a lighthearted change of pace every now and again his chara, a self-proclaimed king, transforms Tadase into a bossy, demanding figure every time sometimes calls him "prince" instead of "king", leading to some of the funniest moments in the series.

In fact, no one is what they seem at first in this show. Even the other Guardians have their own quirks and surprises that unravel throughout the series, and all of them at one point or another gain at least a little bit in character development. The only possible exception is Yaya, the youngest (at first) Guardian. She has a habit of speaking in the third person and typically acting childish, wishing that she never had to grow up so that her parents could focus entirely on her (her chara, unsurprisingly, is a baby). But even in the case of Yaya she shines through as more than just another stock archetype of shoujo manga when the time does come for her character development.

Of course, even a great show can be hampered by lengths as long as the 51-episode length Shugo Chara! has. Fortunately, this is another pitfall of magical girl anime the show tries to avoid; whereas Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure made you wait a whole season for change to occur in its line-up, Shugo Chara! does it in half that. Not only do the villains swap around fairly often, but so do even the Guardians, which leads to interesting new setups that prevent the show from getting too tiring. The cheerful, older-brother figure Kukai is replaced with the serious, very organized Kairi, and the sweet, friendly Nadeshiko is replaced by the short, haughty Rima.

Even the villains (who work at the amusingly named "Easter") are a refreshing change of pace from the typical kind in magical girl shows. No over-the-top costumes or makeup here; they dress no different than the rest of the cast. And although the (later) premise of using Japanese pop music to brainwash children has been done before in anime, at least in this series they try to explain why they do in such a way that at least makes it sound plausible.

Probably the only character who irks me out in the cast (aside from one minor character I'll mention later on) is Ikuto, a brooding high school student who works for Easter. Voiced by Yuichi Nakamura (Alto, Macross Frontier), he's basically the obligatory older love interest that a typical magical girl heroine must have. It's fairly creepy here, though, since Amu is 11 in the start of the series and Ikuto is around 16/17. His relationship with Utau, a 14 year-old pop idol star who sings for Easter, doesn't help his character, nor does his annoying cat-boy chara voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro (Asako, Toshokan Sensou). Mind you, he certainly has his moments, and I can see why so many fans of the series like him, but he still kind of irked me.

Unfortunately, there are a few more cracks in the Shugo Chara! egg. Although the anime follows the manga as often as it can, all too often it is sandwiched between filler. Also, in contrast to Nana Mizuki's great insert songs and the catchy opening and closing songs by Morning Musume group Buono!, the background music is repetitive, annoying, and heavily synthesized. The transformation sequences of Amu and her friends/rivals are quite lengthy and are repeated every episode. (I started fast-forwarding through them barely a quarter into the series.)

There's also a recurring character in the show who never failed to irk me whenever he appeared: Seiichiro, a younger kid in Amu's school who looks up to her and likes her "cool and spicy" attitude. Unfortunately, he's not funny or cute about it in the least, and is simply an annoying character. He is also the main focus of probably the worst episode in the series, a filler episode that is played out right after a big arc.

Despite these shortcomings, though, Shugo Chara! is cute, funny, and definitely worthy of more attention than it is currently getting. Despite a low budget and annoying filler, it's one of the better magical girl anime to come down the pipeline in a while, and a great show to introduce to the younger daughter/niece/sister in your household.

A cute, fun magical girl show that also serves as a possible great introduction to anime for a younger audience. Remove some stars if you're getting too old for these kinds of shows.Tim Jones

Recommended Audience: Some suggestive themes here and there, mostly in the way of Ikuto and Utau's relationship. Not much else that would startle most viewers of this series.



Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license fansub; crunchyroll.com stream
Review Status: Full (51/51)
Shugo Chara! © 2007 PEACH-PIT / Kodansha / TV Tokyo / Project Embryo
 
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