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On The Matter Of Guardian Characters

I like to think I've adopted a good habit: every evening, I'll try to burn 500 calories on my PCGamerBike Mini.  I'm no incredible bubble man, I carry my weight well, but 235-240 lbs is still enough to make me feel like crap after a day of general inactivity from abusing my favorite habit in the world, the computer.

However, an active mind requires something to amuse itself while you're busily pedaling away, and I've yet to devise a good solution for my PCGamerBike that allows me to reach my mouse while pedaling.  What's a fellow to do?

Well, I've taken to watching anime.  It doesn't particularly matter what I watch, so long as it occupies the mind.  I might even watch a kid's anime I'm not particularly proud to admit I've caught some 110 episodes of... and this this how I ended up watching enough Shugo Chara to have an opinion on it.

The unique premise behind Shugo Chara is that everyone has a dream, and this dream manifests as an "egg in their heart."  Sometimes, these eggs are unusual, manifesting themselves corporeally as a Shugo Chara (which literally translates to "Guardian Character") cute little characters who support these dreams.  They are conveniently visible only to others who have such characters ("Character Bearers") or apparently to those who know if their existence.  On the other hand, if one comes to give up on their dreams, their heart's egg becomes an "X-Egg" which has a tendency to pop out and manifest negatively in the world. 


Fan made trailer by Shinboffo7
The primary character, Amu Hinamori, is a girl who acts "cool and spicy" on the outside but is really as much a nervous wreck as you'd expect any 21st-century school girl to be.  She manifests not one but three Shugo Chara, which is apparently unusual enough to make her the Joker in the card-themed "Guardians," her school's student council who are secretly a band of character bearers who work to promote the well-being of everyone's heart's egg.  Amu meets a colorful cast of characters, builds friendships, discovers there's an evil organization up to no good, sets out to use her powers to undo their damage, blah blah, tell me if you heard this one before.

Shugo Chara does a bit more than just imitate.  It enhances the magical girl formula with a bunch of cute little support characters, switches the cast of characters to ordinary kids that the viewer can sympathize with a lot more with than (for example) a reincarnated moon princess, and features a powerful but down-to-earth message about realizing your dreams.  Not bad, Peach-Pit, the pseudonym of duo manga authors Banri Sendo and Shibuko Ebara, you clearly know how to draw the viewer in and keep them there.

Another fan work, this time by Poppybreeze, better reflects the tone of the show.

All goes well through the first 52 episodes of Shugo Chara!, most episodes centering around a new X-Egg victim, some episodes reserved for character exposition, and finally the rare plot recap clip show.  The next season of 52 episodes, Shugo Chara! Doki, actually slightly improves the formula by introducing a new kind of foe ("? Eggs" which emerge as a result of uncertainty of one's dreams) a teaser lead-in segment, and new transformation sequences.  By Episode 104, the loose ends are mostly wrapped up and the evil organization has finally been defeated - what new adventure awaits Amu and friends?

Alas, they couldn't leave this functioning formula well enough alone: Shugo Chara! Party, the last 25 episodes, undergoes a dramatic shift into a variety show.  We're suddenly forced to endure segments of live action cosplaying tarts in the intro, outro, and transition segments.  These segments consist of physical challenge games, fortune telling, personality tests, instructional dance, and even nail painting - this is thoroughly shojo stuff.  It's rather tough on an anime enthusiast who was tagging along outside his demographic simply for the quality of the anime in the earlier series.

Remember: The nail that sticks up is hammered down.
This has been your inspiring message of the day from the Shugo Chara Eggs!
The first half of each episode is full of this kind of filler, including two segments of the guardian characters engaged in adorable highjinks in an Adobe Flash puppet show and a segment of heavily garnished clip footage where they reintroduce the characters we've already had 104 episodes to get to know (they run out about halfway through the series and start scraping the bottom of the barrel by naming characters that might have appeared only once, several dozen episodes ago).

If you can survive the first half of each Shugo Chara! Party episode, you're finally treated to about 11 minutes of the decent anime you came here to watch.  It's not bad, possibly even higher quality than in the previous two seasons, but has none of the conflict of the first series.  It's mostly an epilogue centering on their new and rather unusual hyperactive underclassman, Rikku, and the gradual reformation of Hikaru.  Any way you look at it, the shark was jumped at the end of Doki!, and Party! was a creative attempt to meet a demand that Peach-Pit was not prepared for.

Conclusion

Shugo Chara is hardly deep and compelling, nor am I really in its target audience.  It did have a few redeeming plot twists (the best being Nadeshiko's twin) and kept me (perhaps overlong) in suspense about a few things.  The technical aspects are quite good.  However, in the end, I give it a "decent" rank simply due to the overall lack of artistic intensity of the thing.  Sure, it's a kid's magical girl anime, but that does not absolve it of being low key - Princess Tutu, for example, is quite intense!

"Decent" is a rank on Anime News Networks that corresponds to, "I did not lose my time."  Indeed, it occupied the mind and I was able to burn a great many calories pedaling away to the low-intensity trials of Amu and friends, and didn't cost me a thing since it's being streamed over Crunchyroll.  So, thanks for that.

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