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Monday, September 26, 2011

Manga Review: Shugo Chara! GN 12

Shugo Chara! volume 12
Author: Peach-Pit
Kodansha Comics
208 pages

The Guardians of Seiyo Academy are all super busy in preparation for graduation. As the day of commencement approaches, feelings are confessed, and secrets are revealed, including the source of the Guardian Characters! Will Amu's Guardian Characters sleep forever in their eggs? And will she ever get to see Ikuto?

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

First things first: this is technically not the final volume of Shugo Chara! Despite what the back cover might say, this is actually the Encore one-volume sequel to the main story, which ended in the eleventh volume. Naturally, the Encore volume is folded into the parent series to make it easier for fans to find it in bookstores and make things less confusing with different titles. Tomato, to – well, you know. It is more a collection of chapters exploring various characters' futures and feelings after the explosive finale to the Easter Corporation arc, focusing mainly on those within the Guardians group, and provides some needed emotional closure to several character arcs, including that of Amu Hinamori and her love interest, Ikuto. This volume ends up not only tying up a bunch of loose ends for various subplots but also brings the entirety of the Shugo Chara story to a sweet, satisfying close that will linger in fans' hearts for quite a while.

Read the rest of my review of the Shugo Chara! finale after the jump!

It can be said that each chapter tackles a different pairing of characters: the first chapter focuses on Utau and Kukai; the second chapter on Rima and Nagihiko; the third chapter on Kairi and Yaya (and to a certain extent, Hikaru); the final chapter, although closes during the wedding of Yukari and Yuu, is inarguably on Amu and Ikuto, the main romance of the series after a point. People who enjoy the romantic angle of the series, an angle which has been growing in importance with each chapter, will certainly enjoy a volume that seems solely focused on the emotional connection of its various pairings. Some of them seemed to come out of nowhere, but somehow Peach-Pit makes them all plausible and enjoyable to watch unfold.

For me, I found the Utau/Kukai pairing to be the best out of those newly introduced in this volume, especially considering it gives Utau a lot of significant character development as she grows over her feelings for Ikuto and into a new relationship with Kukai. It also highlights how difficult Utau’s life as an idol is when it negatively effects her social life as well as Kukai’s home life, which hasn’t been seen very often in the series up to now. Actually, this entire book has been very good at highlighting some of the Guardians which up to now haven’t exactly been center stage – I mean, when was the last time a major subplot revolved around Rima or Yaya? That’s what I thought.

But the main focus of this volume is actually not any of these pairings, or romance, or even Amu Hinamori – although her story is very important to the end of this series. No, the main focus is all about growing up. And no, Shugo Chara didn’t turn into an after-school special on maturity while you weren’t looking; for the longest time, this series has been addressing the issue of adolescence, that messy line between childhood and adulthood, and illustrating how each character has been slowly growing into their own state of adolescence, with their Guardian Characters acting as visible guides through this personal change and the oncoming graduation as the official crossover into that maturity range. In this volume, we see a lot of moments when our Guardians have to make important decisions that will change the direction of their lives forever – Nagihiko choosing to go abroad to study as well as reveal his true self to Amu, Utau abandoning her feelings for Ikuto and pursuing a relationship with actual hope in it, and Kairi’s taking up the position of the Jack Chair yet again among others.

In the end, several things are very obvious: everything is changing, there are no small decisions being taken, and everyone is moving on from who they were at the beginning of the series a little older and a lot wiser about who they are and what they want to do. But they’re not alone, because deep within their hearts are those Guardian Characters who have followed with them throughout the entire series. Although, as future!Tadase – err, I mean, Tsukasa – says that the hearts of grown-ups are more clouded than the clear hearts of children so they cannot see their Guardians as easily, those clouds can be cleared if they truly want to. This is especially true for Amu; she spends so much time thinking her own Eggs are closed forever, it takes her own journey on the road of stars as well as meeting Ikuto again to open her eyes to the fact that they are always within her, giving her guidance when she needs them.

And that is what happens with Amu – by embracing the change in her life as well as her true self that had been hidden for so long under a façade of fakeness set up in desperation for acceptance, she was able to wipe away the things separating her heart from seeing her Guardian Characters, i.e. the reflections of her infinite possibilities. These are the infinite possibilities that live inside all of us, if we’re just willing to believe that they’re still there and reach for them. And in re-embracing these initial ideas of Eggs and Characters, infinite possibilities and endless hope, and living as a child and living as an adult, Peach-Pit ties everything together for an ultimately satisfying finale that befits the Shugo Chara series like no other. As a long-term fan of the manga, I will certainly be sad that this is my last proper go around with Amu and the other Guardians, but the trip has been so enjoyable and the place it ended up at – with each character being able to move on in their own personal journeys as they grow up and explore their own possibilities for the future – that it’s hard not to say goodbye, knowing that they are all in good hands.

Besides, there is always the anime! Quickly – to Crunchyroll, away!