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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Manga Review: Shugo Chara! GN 11

Shugo Chara! volume 11
Author: Peach-Pit
Kodansha Comics
176 pages

The Road To The Future. As graduation approaches, Amu's guardians, Ran, Miki, and Su disappear. Led by Diamond, Amu takes a journey on the road of stars to find her missing guardians. Will Amu find her guardians or will she find more than she could have ever expected?

Spoiler notice: Spoilers for the series so far are in this volume. Read with caution! The rest of the volume after the jump.

This is technically the series finale of Shugo Chara!, the twelfth volume being actually Shugo Chara Encore! but labeled book twelve for English readers. For a finale, Amu ends up going on a magical meta trip through the road of stars to rediscover her guardians – and in essence, herself. It may sound incredibly cloying and ridiculous at first, but like many of the mahou shoujo tropes SC! employs and manages to twist into interesting designs, Amu’s self-realizing adventure is a revealing trip all its own for not only Amu but other certain members of the cast. We see how guardians affect the lives of those who hold them and the true story behind the eggs and the Embryo – and that the egg system runs deeper through the hearts of humans than previously seen before. As a finale and the conclusion of Amu’s character arc into true emotional maturity and discovery of her inner self, volume eleven succeeds on all fronts possible.

In this volume of Shugo Chara!, the action post-Easter Corp arc slows considerably as the focus of the series winds down into two main plots: Amu’s quest to find her inner guardians and the romantic entanglements of Utau’s manager, Yukari Sanjo, and her kind yet easily frazzled fiancée, Yuu Nikaidou. To be completely honest, the Sanjo/Nikaidou subplot is adorable fluff to balance out Amu’s heavier emotional turmoil – so it’s not completely essential to the story but it’s an entertaining and lighthearted foil for the other half of the book. Plus, it’s nice to see ‘older’ characters in a mainstream manga get their own turbulent romance arc, especially when it’s about juggling career and marriage, an issue that gets more coverage in rom-com films than manga these days.

However, the main focus is Amu Hinamori, the star of the series, and her personal journey to find her guardians. The sudden disappearance of Ran, Miki, and Su has spurred her journey on the road of stars to find them again; naturally, this involves a lot of event-inspired retrospection back to the moments when her beloved guardians first arrived in her life. This book more than any other really underlines the real reason behind the Shugo Chara! series as a whole; it is a story of emotional maturation, of that unstable moment between adolescence and young adulthood – it is the story of Amu Hinamori’s transformation from an emotionally incomplete girl hiding behind a fake front of ‘coolness’ and ‘strength’ into a young woman who can reveal her true self and stay genuine to her ideals around everyone, not just herself. It’s true that the guardians and her special friendships with those in the student council was the catalyst for the change, but in the end it is Amu’s inner strength that completes the process. To see this unfold so much in the last volume – to see Amu’s progress marked out so explicitly as well as the end of her arc – is incredibly satisfying for me as a reader. Of all the things Peach-Pit gets right in this series, I believe Amu’s personal arc of discovering the real Amu is on the top of that list.

Another stellar aspect of this volume is the introduction of the Egg Cradle which lies at the end of the road of stars; it holds the memories from across all of time as well as guardians who have yet to hatch. Fans of the Sailor Moon manga like me might feel a bit of nostalgic déjà vu while reading about the Cradle, since it sounds like Peach-Pit’s take on the Galaxy Cauldron that is seen in the final story arc of SM. Putting that aside, the Egg Cradle also has another useful purpose, serving as a jumping board to any place in time and space, like a freeform TARDIS for guardians. I won’t spoil you for this particular reveal, but let’s just say the Egg Cradle gets more use out of it than just letting Amu see her beloved Ikuto. Peach-Pit’s crafty use of time travel in this series earns a standing ovation, with a character revelation to rival River bloody Song herself.

And of course, it should go without saying, but the artwork is as lush and gorgeous as ever. How Peach-Pit manages to use the standard sparkles and fluffy tones of other mahou shoujo and turn it into something purely P-P is beyond me, but I love seeing them do it every time. Of course, Hikaru is absolutely adorable in his little school uniform; it turns out the ‘main villain’ of the series is really cute when he’s not trying to hunt down the Embryo. The outfits for Amu’s various transformations have always been consistently awesome – her entire wardrobe is a cosplayer’s wildest dream!

As the actual ‘finale’ of the series, volume eleven of Shugo Chara! ends on a wonderfully hopeful note. How can you not be inspired by the feeling that there’s this limitless Egg within everyone that holds all our hopes and dreams forever? I’m so glad that the Encore! volume will be out sooner than later; I’m not ready to leave Amu and the rest of the council just yet! Peach-Pit has created a landmark shoujo series that won’t be forgotten by its readers any time soon.