I have absolutely no business liking Shugo Chara!. The series is aimed primarily at an audience with approximately half my age and precisely double my X-chromosomes, and at no point does it betray its target market by veering wildly off the well-trodden mahou shoujo path. As such, the fact that the show found a place deep with in my heart - somewhere between ice-cold beer and mid-week football - is the result of either luck or utter, blinding awesomeness. And I don't believe in luck.
It would serve this review well to point out that the series' allure is not down to it resonating with the mature sections of my cranium or gratifying the unabashedly masculine reaches of my brain. Instead, Shugo Chara! makes a simple but irresistible appeal to my inner child, who is only too happy to leap out at the first mention of the show, and greedily guzzle down its contents like they were vanilla milkshake. There's nothing clever or considered about the plot, the characters or the humour and yet this anime makes me gasp, smile and chuckle just as much as any other you could care to mention.
It may seem an odd thing to highlight, particularly for what is essentially a textbook mahou shoujo romp, but Shugo Chara!'s ability to present action scenes is worthy of praise. Although there are no enormous robots or fancy martial arts moves to be found in the traditional "transform and battle" sequences, the series borrows from the library of shounen tropes in order to augment its combat. As well as a powerful sense of timing, Shugo Chara! has a habit of establishing unspoken rules on how battles will proceed and what capabilities the characters have before breaking said rules with such panache and glee that the only natural reaction is a dropped jaw, clenched fist, and silent mouthing of the word "awesome".
But the fighting is not even Shugo Chara!'s strongest point. Perhaps what makes the show so endearing is the irresistible and irremovable feelgood atmosphere which pervades its every nook and cranny. Of course the anime is every bit as cute and lively as you would expect but it also has an unerring ability to deliver some fantastic moments of emotion. The series is, after all, about attaining one's dreams, and - while avoiding the saccharine sweetness which could have easily consumed it - Shugo Chara! offers many heartwarming moments, which more often than not form a hugely satisfying conclusion to the episode.
Equally ubiquitous is the humour, which tends to make the show an absolute blast to watch. Although many of the jokes are repetitive, there is enough genuine wit on display to ensure at least one honest chuckle per episode. Surprisingly for a show that isn't primarily a comedy, Shugo Chara! has a habit of springing jokes at the most unexpected times, including during serious story moments and intense fights. Unwelcome though this comic intrusion may seem, more often than not it serves as a reminder that this show's primary aim is simple, commendable, and can be summed up just three words: to have fun. There is drama and there is action, but the anime's often rambunctious energy is spent wisely, and it never loses sight of this goal.
The animation is nothing you won't have seen many times before, but to call it competent would be an understatement. Movement is sleek, details are respected and the character transformation scenes are as delightful as you could expect. The show also makes use of quirky but amusing facial faults to support and enhance much of the humour.
Where Shugo Chara! truly shines however, is its bewitching sense of style. The character designs are absolutely exceptional and strong enough to draw attention to the anime by themselves. Equally, the costumes are verging on perfect. Every character dresses in a believable but eye-catchingly stylish way, in particular the heroine, Amu Hinamori, whose razor-sharp punk-goth fashion sense supplements her character marvellously. Needless to say, the outfits which she transforms into are similarly well-designed, even if the frilly green tulip dress of Amulet Clover doesn't suit her quite so well as the other costumes.
The anime may not present the most significant acting challenge imaginable, but this shouldn't detract from the fact that all characters are voiced with skill and dynamism. Of note is Yuichi Nakamura's performance as Ikuto Tsukiyomi, with his smooth, casual tones fitting the enigmatic bishounen to a tee. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that - with this being a shoujo series full of floating fairy-type characters - there are some voices which will grate or possibly even annoy. Precisely how many will depend on individual tolerance levels, but even the most venomously anti-kawaii anime fan should be able to put up with these as just a minor irritant.
When it comes to OPs and EDs, Shugo Chara! is nothing if not consistent, with each of the tracks being the work of j-pop outfit Buono!. The fact that I enjoyed all six and still feel a burning urge to dance to them on occasion should be taken with a pinch of salt, as my taste in music is not to be trusted. More objectively, however, the tunes fit the mood of the show like a glove, matching its liveliness and pep with sugary sweet cute pop and a couple of slightly edgier tracks which make good use of the electric guitar. The background music is just as appropriate, and contains a couple of pleasant numbers which help to deliver the series' more heartwarming moments. In addition, there are a few insert songs (as one of the characters is a professional singer) which are worth listening to in their own right and make for a seamless, believable addition to the show's world.
Because each of the principle characters has at least one "shugo chara" floating around them at all times, it's unfortunate but unsurprising that some members of the cast lack development or complexity. Around half of the shugo charas are entirely one-dimensional, and most of their lines can be accurately predicted some ten minutes in advance. Although this proves frustrating on occasion, they represent but small blemishes on an otherwise colourful and interesting cast.
In addition to her fantastic dress sense, Amu boasts a great personality, which makes her fun to watch and enjoyable to empathise with. On the outside she's "cool and spicy": indifferent, independent and widely respected. On the inside, she's excitable, frequently lovestruck and everything else a magical girl should be. Rather than making her seem schizophrenic, this dichotomy paves the way for humourous and intriguing interactions while also turning her into a compelling and sympathetic figure. However, when it comes to personality traits, even Amu takes a backseat to the smouldering Ikuto, whose sexual magnetism borders on the overwhelming, filling scene after scene with shivering emotional intensity. Although the show never really takes a turn for the mature, Ikuto embodies male sensuality and - almost inevitably - engages in a scene of what can only be described as "metaphorical intercourse". His appearance and demeanour may be hard to look past, but beyond that lies a personality brimming with mystery and intrigue, further adding to his appeal.
The remainder of the protagonists are, almost without exception, pleasant to be around and fun characters in their own right. From Amu's family - comprising an attention-hogging baby sister and hilariously indulgent parents - to her allies - who each have a distinct and colourful personality - there's always room for great interactions and fulfilling developments.
A fellow reviewer claims that Shugo Chara! is like a CardCaptor Sakura for the new millennium. She has a point, of course, but to me it's a little bit more like CardCaptor Sakura's older sister. It offers edge, pizazz and acute style. It's cool, sharp, and clearly trying to be mature. But at the same time, it's every bit as cute, endearing and cheerful as its hypothetical younger sibling and it doesn't want the world to forget that just yet. If you enjoy mahou shoujo, Shugo Chara! is a must see. If you're considering giving the genre a try, this title may well ease you in. Above all, however, this is a fun and refreshing series, and I personally found it a blast to watch. I hope you do as well.
Hinamori Amu is a stylish punk rock girl who is liked and feared by her peers, but there's just one problem: she's actually a shy and quiet girl who can't seem to drop her self-fabricated facade! But when Amu finds three eggs in her bed, she had no idea her life would change forever. Out of the eggs pop Ran, Miki and Su, Amu's Guardian Charas; these being represent parts of Amu that she wishes she could be, even allowing Amu to transform into those parts at will! Now, with pressure from the other Guardians (including her crush, Hotori) to join their midst, dark sides of the psyche known as X Eggs to seal, and nefarious forces after a wish-granting egg known as the embryo, Amu's life has officially become more complicated!
When it comes to anime, I tend to be a fan of comedy, shoujo, romance or anything else that will put a smile on my face. However, I'll review pretty much anything. Whether you like or dislike my reviews, I'm always glad to receive feedback, and I'm always happy to get into intelligent discussions.