Sugar Princess, despite it’s girlish title and subject, is a title that deserves it’s "All Ages" rating. Though, I think a "G" (General Audiences) may be a better rating, as this book has the ability to appeal to everyone; old and young, male and female. It’s a short story, only lasting 2 volumes, but is able to tell a complete story, and develop the characters to the point that we don’t mind when it ends.
When ice-skating novice Maya Kurinoki lands a double axel for the first time, coach Eishi Todo sees her potential and vows to make her a figure skating "princess". All Maya has to do is convince famous skater Shun Kano to become her partner. Too bad Shun doesn’t want to have anything to do with her!
by Hisaya Nakajo
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: All Ages
Price: $8.99 (ea)
Volume one is all about introducing the characters and letting us get to know them. Maya, our female protagonist, isn’t exactly typical of a shojo story. She’s not shy, racked with problems, surrounded by pretty boys, or orphaned and looking for a place to belong. Her family, isn’t super rich or poor. They are what I would call lower middle-class. Maya is just a well adjusted middle school girl who shows potential to be good at figure skating.
Shun is a little more stereotypical. He is the good looking, aloof, loner guy that hides a kind personality. He has the one friend that his outgoing and cheerful, seemingly Shun’s opposite. Pairing Shun and Maya doesn’t seem like a good fit at first. Shun doesn’t want to work with her, and doesn’t see her potential at first. But Maya, being the kind of person who doesn’t back down from a challenge, doesn’t give up, and tries learning by herself with the help of the other novices at the ice rink. Shun finally relents when he sees her trying so hard. This is the strength of the first volume. Shun and Maya’s relationship is the heart of the whole story. It needs time to develop, and fortunately, the creator takes that time to, so that by the end, when the conflict of the story is finally introduced, we’re comfortable with Maya and Shun.
The first volume ends with our "villain" being introduced. The owner of the ice rink Maya and Shun skate at has fallen sick, and his son has taken over handling the business. He announces that his intends to close the rink. Mr. Todo, Shun and Maya’s coach proposes that if one of their skaters place in one of the top places of the upcoming competition, that he would reconsider. Shiozawa agrees, only if it’s the newest member. The stakes are upped one further when it is suggested that she skate with Shun as a pair. This is the set up for the final volume.
Volume two is all about Shun and Maya preparing for, then performing in, the competition. And there’s a lot to do. Choreographing their performance, making a mix tape of the music, and getting a costume. Shun and Maya’s friends help out. Oda makes the mix tape as he always does for Shun, while Nanako and Chie help her make a costume, as her family can’t afford one. While I was reading this volume, I was waiting for something shojo-ishly bad to happen, like Maya’s costume getting ruined, but I was happily surprised that nothing of that sort happened. Their performance does get a set back with their mix tape getting lost, but quick thinking and a reworking of their performance keeps them from forfeiting. I won’t reveal the ending, but suffice to say it’s a satisfying one.
The art of Sugar Princess is like the story; clean and simple. It’s not loaded with speed lines or too much detail. Instead, it’s all clean, bold line work. There are no chibis or outrageous changes in the characters expressions. There are some comedic expressions though.
There is nothing objectionable in this title. There is no fighting, violence, guns, smoking, drinking or even suggestions of sex/romance. The closest it comes is a scene where Shun is getting cleaned up after having so soup spilled on him at dinner with Maya and her family. Maya walks in on him while he is undressed. He is traumatized, but she is unfazed as she leaves him some clothes to change into. Sharing a bedroom with her younger brother makes his state no big deal to her, and the whole scene is played for laughs. In all the interactions between Maya and Shun, there is no suggestion of romance between them. Maya is more interested in learning to be a better skater, and Shun is rediscovering why he enjoys it so much.
All in all, Sugar Princess is a fun, light read. The story is solid and the characters are well developed. Even though the main character is a girl, the lack of romance makes this a title reachable to both boys and girls. The story’s theme, that nothing is out of reach if you work hard enough, is one that everyone can understand and relate. This is a title I would highly recommend.
This review is based on a complimentary copies provided by the publisher. Cover art © 2008 Viz Media