What They Say:
Amu Hinamori is a 5th grade transfer student who is fashionably cool, tough and independent. Despite this, she is also a girl who seems unapproachable, both at home and at school. In reality, the “Cool and Spicy” role is just a facade that she unconsciously plays. With her guardian characters, she fights the Easter Company who is extracting people’s eggs to create X Eggs & X Characters in search of a special egg called the Embryo.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Shugo Chara! (also known in English as My Guardian Characters) is an adaptation of the 2006-2010 manga series by the two-woman team known as Peach-Pit, who were also the creators of Rozen Maiden and DearS. Unlike those earlier works, which were targeted largely at a male audience, Shugo Chara! is aimed at young girls (shoujo). The anime adaptation produced by Satelight began in 2007 and ran for 51 episodes. It was followed by two sequels, Shugo Chara!! Doki (which also ran for 51 episodes) and Shugo Chara! Party! (which ran for 25). The anime adaptations ended with that last series in 2010. Crunchyroll started streaming the show in 2008 and all three series are still available, though I will only be reviewing the first series, in segments.
The story follows a young elementary school student, Amu Hinamori, who attends Seiyo Elementary School. Her classmates call her “cool and spicy” because of her standoffish personality combined with her fashionable dress sense (which is characterized in-show as kind of gothic punk), though we learn from Amu’s inner monologue that this impression everyone has of her is nothing more than a misperception on their parts. In truth, she is a shy and timid young girl hiding a great deal of insecurity, which creates within her a strong desire to change her inner self. It is that desire for change which results in her transformation from classroom lone wolf to the central focus for a grand battle between good and evil in the world centered around Seiyo Elementary. For after a strange dialogue with a TV psychic, the next morning Amu suddenly finds herself possessed of three brightly colored eggs decorated with three of the four standard suits of a deck of playing cards (there is a reason for this, as there is a card theme going on for Amu and her soon to be friends). Naturally, she is initially freaked out by this event, but over the course of the first episode the special (there is a regular one as well, but we see almost nothing of it) student council of Seiyo Elementary, known as the Guardians, inform Amu what these eggs are and what they mean.
For after the first egg hatches to reveal a little version of Amu who calls herself Ran and has a strong athletic inclination, the Guardians inform her that she is a Character Bearer. As the opening narration to every episode (which is in slightly odd, but actual English, not Engrish, and spoken by a native speaker with Japanese subtitles underneath) tells us, “All kids hold an egg in their soul, the egg of our hearts, our would-be selves, yet unseen.” Inside these eggs are the future hopes and dreams of the children, which remain hidden even to them. In some cases, however, the egg manifests itself outside of the body and gives birth to a Guardian Character, a Shugo Chara. This marks the child as special, one who has special powers in tandem with their Guardian Character. Even among Character Bearers, Amu is extra special as she has three eggs. The members of the Guardian Council, King’s Chair Tadase Hotori, Queen’s Chair Nadeshiko Fujisaki, Jack’s Chair Kukai Souma, and Ace’s Chair Yaya Yuika, in contrast, only have a single egg/Guardian Character each. To complete the card theme, Amu is son inducted as the Joker among the Guardians, her role being that of a trump card to deal with those who pose a threat to the students of Seiyo Elementary.
Over the course of this first segment of the show, it is slowly revealed that the members of the Guardian Council have been tasked with finding a very special heart egg, call the Embryo, an egg which has the power to grant the holder’s wish. The Seiyo Guardians, however, are not the only ones in search of the Embryo. A sinister corporation called Easter is also in search of the Embryo, for reasons which are not made entirely clear. Their chief agents in the search are a mischievous Character Bearer named Ikuto Tsukiyomi, a high school boy (thus quite a bit older than Amu and the Guardians) whose Guardian Character is a little catboy called Yoru, and a dissembling teacher named Yuu Nikaido, who has the ability to manipulate heart eggs. We also see glimpses of a beautiful teenaged girl named Utau Hoshina, a budding singing idol who is also tied to Easter and their search for the Embryo.
Many of the episodes are formulaic: children with heart eggs become discouraged in various ways, and either on their own, or through the nefarious intervention of Nikaido, the heart eggs inside turn black and develop an X on them, becoming X Eggs. If the negative feelings are strong enough, the egg hatches to create an X Character, an evil version of a Guardian Character. It falls to the Guardians, particularly Amu, to stop the X Character from running amok and hurting people (the child whose egg turns bad falls into a temporary coma). While Character Bearers have special powers, Amu is unique, so far, among them in that she can go a step further than just tapping into her Guardian Character’s powers: thanks to a special artifact she possesses, the Humpty Lock, she can undergo a full Character Transformation, combining with one of her three Guardian Characters, giving her extra powers, including the ability to purify X Characters and X Eggs. So, many episodes in the first cour of the show play out as Purify-Egg-of-the-Week installments.
Other segments are spent continuing to build the world and provide exposition, as we slowly begin to see the evil doings of the Easter Corporation and the cute but bumbling attempts of the Seiyo Guardians and their sidekicks to find the Embryo. There is also a strong subplot involving romance, as Amu is shown to be clearly interested in Tadase, the prince-like (but don’t call him that, as he will involuntarily take on the personality of his arrogant, power-hungry Guardian Character Kiseki, who dresses like a little king and wants to be king of the world, quite literally) leader of the Seiyo Guardians. The makings of a triangle, however, begin to take shape as Amu interacts more and more with the dark and mysterious Ikuto, who openly announces himself her enemy, yet behaves at times in ways that are clearly not that of a hostile opponent. Whatever Amu’s feelings, she has already been marked out as a romantic enemy by Utau, who has very strong feelings for Ikuto.
In other words, shoujo.
What is odd, but interesting, about this show is how power comes to people. Normally, in your garden-variety anime that has a young person gaining great powers, it is through either incredible luck (a giant robot falls out of the sky and you get it) or through the natural lottery of birth, where you were born special, with superior abilities or supernatural powers. In Shugo Chara!, strangely, the most powerful people, in this case children, are so because they have the greatest insecurities. While it does not seem to apply quite so well in one case (Kukai, though perhaps he has performance anxieties related to his involvement in sports), in just about all other cases, the Character Bearers gained their powers because they suffer from either a massive inferiority complex (how else to explain Tadase’s desire to become the all-powerful ruler of the planet?) or have within them deep insecurities that are so intense, they manifest themselves physically as Guardian Characters. This is clearly the case with Yaya and Pepe who wish to remain babies; Ikuto and Yoru who wish to be free of restraint; and most obviously of all Amu, whose massive insecurity and self doubt have led her inner desires to fracture into no less than three different paths of change and transformation. The most broken and dysfunctional girl is the most powerful of them all.
The fact that Character Bearers can Character Change, where the children take on the traits of their Guardian Characters, as well as their supernatural abilities, and in Amu’s case only so far, Character Transform, where the Guardian Character is subsumed into the person forming a super-powered version of the Guardian Character but controlled by the human child, is interesting in itself. This concentrate focus on change and transformation is tied very closely with the child’s disappointment in the person that they are right now. It would seem that in the Shugo Chara! world, the more with-it and strong you are as a person, the weaker you are in terms of being able to tap into any extraordinary powers. In some ways, this stands real world values on their head, as it is the misfit who gets to play superhero, while the child who has the most mature and settled temperament is nothing more than a spectator.
Of course, being aimed at young girls, there is also the usual amount of positive messages about affirmation and self-empowerment thrown at them. While Amu Hinamori has serious doubts about her way forward and what she wants to be when she grows up, at no time do we see her falter to the extent of giving up and settling for being incomplete. Instead, she receives positive encouragement from her friends and continually moves forward, even in the face of self-doubt.
As this is a very long series, with this first segment we only begin to delve into the deeper mystery of the Embryo, learning so far nothing about what it actually looks like and how one can find it. The pieces have now been arranged on the table, but their initial movement has been slow. Not unexpected, as the journey ahead has far to go.
In terms of artistry and animation, Satelight has done an adequate job. There is a great deal of reused animation, especially in transformation scenes and a fairly large number of flashbacks to previous episodes. Well, as they say, recycling is good for the planet, and in that respect, this show is a very good citizen. The character designs themselves are appealing enough, with the Guardian Characters being extra cute super deformed creatures, while the elementary school kids are not made to look like teenagers, not a hint of puberty touching any of them. Amu’s transformation scenes are thankfully done in a tasteful manner, without the somewhat disturbing focus on underdeveloped female anatomy that some magical girl shows displayed in an earlier era when showing transformations. The color palette is exceptionally bright and cheerful for the most part, though Ikuto, Utau, and all of those connected to Easter are done in blacks, browns and other more menacing or somber colors.
Perhaps the greatest draw is the strength of the characters. Because power flows not to the most pretty, the most athletic, or most cool by themselves (even if, oddly, that does seem to happen), but to those with the most flawed internal states of mind, there is an essential equalizer to the positive assets the characters have. While Amu may be thought cool by her classmates, and is probably an object of envy to most of them, we get to see that inside Amu is not at all cool and collected. Quite the opposite, as she is wracked by inner turmoil and confusion. The same is true of most of the Guardians: they may be the cool kids in school, but inside we see that they are not flawless, but instead intensely flawed, as it is that state of being flawed which gives them their powers. This works to humanize them strongly, making them more believable and less likely to irritate or alienate the audience. Most viewers wish to see themselves in the characters on screen, even if it is only one of them. If the Guardians and Amu were perfect and polished, they would be boring. Since they are flawed or even warped to a certain extent, they automatically become more sympathetic, as that makes them more like the audience. Thus, the audience can share in the common desire of the characters that many people have as well: to change themselves into a version that they would like better.
All in all, Shugo Chara! is an entertaining show that likely does very well with its target audience of young girls, providing both affirming messages about the ability to improve yourself, while also giving some romantic adventures to stir budding young hearts. Older viewers will find much to like as well, if they want characters that show a little complexity and all manner of flaws, making them more human.
Streamed by: Crunchyroll
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