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Review: ‘Kigurumi Guardians’ Vol. 1

Kigurumi Guardians

Kigurumi Guardians, vol. 1
Writer/artist: Lily Hoshino
Kodansha Comics; $12.99
For ages 13+

Manga has become such a pervasive presence in the North American comics market over the last few decades that readers can easily become inured to the sorts of weirdness that our cousins in Japan can somehow shape into long, popular, mass-media narratives. If you’ve sampled even only a handful of manga series over the last few years, then it can be hard to be too surprised, let alone shocked, by the strangeness of Japan’s mainstream comics vs. America’s mainstream comics.

So it’s refreshing to find a new series as deeply strange as Lily Hoshino’s Kigurumi Guardians, which boasts a bizarre enough premise to make even a relatively jaded reader admire its outlandishness.

Bear with me now, because its premise takes a little explaining.

Kigurumi Guardians 1The word “kigurumi” is derived from the Japanese kiru, or “to wear,” and nuigurumi, or “stuffed toy,” and basically refers to a the sort of costumed mascot one might find at, say, Disney World or at a professional sporting event. In Hoshino’s manga, the big, blank-faced, goofy-looking kigurumi just so happen to be the form in which extra-dimensional guardians take when they appear in our world.

They have come to help fend off an invasion by evil forces that seek to prey on the hearts of human beings, and each of these guardians is teamed-up with and bonded to a human partner, a high school student with a pure heart. In order to unlock their powers, the kigurumi and the human must kiss, at which point the kigurumi transforms into a handsome young man–a particular specialty of Hoshino’s career–with greater powers than they have in kigurumi form.

Those are the basics anyway; it’s actually a little more complicated in the manga, particularly the rules involving the bad guys and their methods of attack. Our heroine is Hakka Saskura, who comes home from school one day to find Ginger, who resembles a big, dumpy-looking penguin creature with horns in her living room. Freaked out to find he’s not just a man in a suit, as creepy as that would be, but a living creature that looks like a man in a suit, she is even more freaked out by how easily he ingratiates himself into her family and her school (He and the others have a cover story that they are part of a sociological experiment).

Unable to speak in this form, Ginger communicates with Hakka exclusively through a hand-held dry erase board, which he seems to fill up with dialogue at an amazing rate, almost as if he’s seen the script for the manga.

Much of the humor comes from the ridiculous nature of Ginger and his brethren, and how bizarre they look and act, seemingly unable to emote through their frozen faces. And much more of it comes from how ill-equipped Hakka is to deal with this particular burden, as she sort of backs into the status quo without being fully briefed, and is terribly embarrassed about having to kiss Ginger in either of his forms (Her schoolmates are fine with their kisses, though; Hakka’s female readily kisses her partner, but slaps him afterwards, while the only boy in their group just shrugs off the fact that he has to kiss an eagle-like mascot and/or another guy in order to save their school and the world).

While Hoshino gets plenty of points for weirdness, none of this is weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Instead, it’s a story that points out and parodies aspects of the magical girl genre–there is more than a passing resemblance to Sailor Moon throughout–while carefully setting up extremely awkward, cringe-worthy situations between the characters.

How long Hoshino can keep the joke going and keep it compelling will remain to be seen, of course, but in this first volume she certainly sells the high concept and the attendant melodrama in a brilliantly-drawn, thoroughly engaging comedy that’s unique enough there’s not much else to really even compare it to.

(You can read the first chapter of Kigurumi Guardians for free at the Kodansha Comics site.)

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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