One of the most popular manga genres is the “magical girl” story. Initially inspired by the domestic and mischievous witches from the American sitcom Bewitched, magical girls are often the natives of a realm where magic is commonplace and taken for granted. Their stories revolve around the development of their magical abilities – which, much like superheroes gaining control of their powers, is typically framed in terms of coming of age and growing in maturity and responsibility. They’re also usually really cute.
Moyoco Anno’s Sugar Sugar Rune is a top-notch recent example of the genre. Two young witches, Chocolat and Vanilla, are the best of friends, but they must compete to determine which of them will become queen of the magical realm. The form of the competition is a race to collect the hearts of human boys: humans have stronger emotions than witches, so witches can collect their hearts in the form of brightly coloured jewels without harming them. Every emotion has its own colour: yellow for fear, orange for an instant crush, pink for sweet love, red for passionate love. Each of the girls needs to make human boys fall in love with her, so as to collect a valuable pink or red heart. But they must not fall in love themselves, for witches only have one heart, and if a witch loses her heart when it’s pink or red, she’ll die.
Complicating the story is the fact that Chocolat and Vanilla have opposite personalities: while Vanilla is shy, sweet and nervous, Chocolat is pushy and fierce; and while Vanilla is happy for Chocolat to win, she finds that the boys of the human world are much more attracted to her than to Chocolat – quite contrary to their expectations. A further complication is added by the appearance of “Prince” Pierre, a mysteriously aloof older boy at their school in the human world. Chocolat is enthralled by him, but she must fight her feelings so as not to lose her heart; meanwhile, Pierre has his own sinister agenda.
Sugar Sugar Rune is exactly the kind of sweet, light, fluffy treat the title implies: it’s very much an all-ages book, and although it’s not without its serious moments (as when Chocolat remembers her dead mother and resolves to win for her sake), it’s got a gentle, light-hearted tone that stops it from bogging down. With a message of “be true to yourself and stick with your friends”, it’s not going to win any awards for originality of ideas – but it doesn’t need to. Sugar Sugar Rune is a perfect example of a comics work that hews to the conventions of its genre with such charm and wit that it would be churlish to ask for more. It is what it is, and what it is, is delightful.
Katherine Farmar writes regularly on comics and culture from around the world, you can read more on her comics blog Whereof One Can Speak.