Sugar Sugar Rune Vol. 1
It's always neat to see a creator to do something unexpected. Moyoco Anno is known for her adult romantic comedies that deal with high emotions, especially lust. In Happy Mania, a young woman desperate for a boyfriend goes to embarrassing lengths to hook up with guys. In Flowers and Bees, a young man is willing to go under multiple makeovers to make him more attractive to women. Anno's Sugar Sugar Rune is nowhere near as raunchy as the previously mentioned titles, but it does show that love is a difficult thing to understand, whether you're a twenty-something, a high school student or a ten-year-old kid.
Chocolate and Vanilla are two best friends and candidates for being the queen of the magical world. In order to decide which of the two young girls will be the future ruler, they are sent to Earth to compete against each other. Whoever can capture the most human hearts wins the crown.
To secure a heart, they have to find a boy who feels something for them. If the boy likes them, his hearts might shine with an orange color to show a casual crush. Different colors note different levels of intensity, such as pink for a strong 'like' feeling and deep red for true love. Once a witch finds a heart that shines for her, she says a magic spell and collects the heart to use as currency in the magical world. The human is unharmed, although after the witch takes the heart, he loses any feelings that he ever had for her.
Chocolate is a boisterous, confident kid who thinks that collecting hearts will be a piece of cake. Once she starts going to school in the human world, however, her overbearing personality scares off most guys, much to her irritation. Vanilla, on the other hand, is extremely shy, yet can't seem to help but draw boys' attention. Despite being total opposites and rivals for the crown, the two remain friends and live together in a very posh penthouse apartment.
One kid who won't leave Chocolate alone is Akira, who after seeing all of the strange things that go on around her, is convinced that she's an alien. The other main guy in Chocolate's life is Pierre, a hot but slightly sinister upper year student who has his eye on her. Vanilla has a bad feeling about the mysterious boy, and she thinks that he may be more than what he appears to be, but she doesn't know how to warn the headstrong Chocolate.
That isn't the worst part of it. Chocolate, although she tries to deny it, has a growing crush on Pierre. When a witch's heart turns ruby red, they must give it up to whoever they are in love with. Since witches, unlike humans, only have one heart, falling in love could have fatal consequences.
This series makes me wish that I was in elementary school again and it reminds me that being a kid is not all fun and games. The school that Chocolate and Vanilla attend is in Japan, but it looks more like an expensive British prep school. With its arched ceilings, chandeliers and fountains, it has a bit of a Hogwarts vibe, although only two of the students are witches (and maybe one wizard). At ten-years-old, the different students that Chocolate and Vanilla meet are old enough to fall in love, but they are not quite old enough to deal with it. The different situations that the students get involved in play out with more awkwardness and sincerity then the same scenarios in high school-based manga because of the kidsí inexperience in matters of the heart. Reading each chapter is entertaining, and it may bring back memories of your own elementary school days.
Sugar Sugar Rune is different from Moyoco Annoís usual fare in not just the younger cast, also in the artwork. Happy Mania and Flowers and Bees are drawn in a sparse, almost minimalist style. In stark contrast, each page of Sugar Sugar Rune is filled with detail. Thereís lots of panels, speech bubbles, screen tones, fancy borders and sound effects on each page, pretty much everything and the kitchen sink in manga. The characters and settings are also given a lot more detail than the characters and backgrounds in Annoís other works. For the most part, this overabundance of story-telling techniques makes for great eye-candy, but occasionally a page is hard to read because of all of the visual action.
Once or twice, the wrong text is placed in the wrong word bubble, which tripped me up when reading the book. Del Ray otherwise does their usual excellent job with the title. I was a little worried when I saw that the adaptation of the script was done by a pretty big comic 'name', Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir. I was worried that these two excellent comic book writers in their own right would put their own spin on the manga with their adaptation. I didnít notice anything of the kind at all while reading the book; only that it read very well. Del Ray includes the standard fare for their releases, with translation notes for the story and a few Japanese pages from the second volume. There is a short biography of the author, which strangely doesnít mention Happy Mania and calls Flowers and Bees by its Japanese title. The only problem that I have with Del Ray is that Iím really anxious for the next volume of the series, which wonít be coming out until March 2006! Itís a catch-22 of either producing quality books with long lengths in between releases, or putting sub-standard books on a quicker schedule. Iím glad of the high quality of Del Rayís manga series, but it shouldnít take six monthsí time between volumes.
If youíve never read a Moyoco Anno series, Sugar Sugar Rune is the one that I'd recommend for readers to start with. It may not be as shockingly hilarious as her more adult series, but it's still really funny and it offers some interesting insights through an elementary school kid's eyes. Don't be afraid to have your heart stolen by this fun manga.