Sugar Sugar Rune is a magical fantasy tale, a story of friendship, and a protracted allegory about love, good, and evil all rolled into one and then coated with sparkly colored sugar.
Two young witches, Vanilla Mieux and Chocolate Meilleure, travel to earth from their home in the Magical World to earth to compete for the title of queen. The winner will be the one who can collect the most hearts from humans.
Human hearts appear to the witches as jewels whose colors vary according to the owner's emotion, from pale yellow for mild irritation to deep red for true love. Evil and jealousy create a force called noir, which turns hearts black and makes them poisonous to witches.
Vanilla's mother is the queen of the Magic World; Chocolat's mother lost the contest to her and disappeared. Despite Vanilla's higher status, Chocolat is more popular in the Magical World because aggressive girls are favored there. On earth, however, Vanilla's shyness makes her more attractive to the boys, at least at first.
This story starts out as a fluffy romantic tale. The girls live in a mansion with their guardian, a rock star named Rockin' Robin, and compete to steal boys' hearts, trading the hearts for magic devices from a mail-order catalog. As the series goes on, however, both girls are caught up in a larger struggle between the witches and their enemies, the ogres.
Their mothers had tried to reconcile the two sides and failed, and soon Chocolat and Vanilla are drawn in as well.
The catalyst for this is Pierre, a coldly handsome schoolmate who is also the prince of the ogres. Although he starts out looking like pure evil, Pierre is an ambiguous character and both girls are strangely attracted to him.
The real strong point of Sugar Sugar Rune is the complexity and humanity of the characters. They have doubts, they succumb to temptation, they even switch sides altogether. Pierre tempts Vanilla over to the dark side by sowing doubts about how her family and friends really feel about her--doubts that will seem crushingly real to anyone who has ever been a teenager. Later, when Chocolat sees the world through Vanilla's eyes, she realizes how she had unintentionally hurt her friend.
Anno also brings a great deal of imagination to her story, adding plenty of interesting details and side characters and continually tossing the characters into new environments and situations, from a trek across a magic desert to a visit to the Academy Awards.
Like the story, the art in Sugar Sugar Rune is quite complex. Anno crowds the pages with overlapping panels and fills each panel with detail. Vanilla and Chocolat are incredibly cute, and we get to see a lot of them soaking in the tub or fixing their hair or sitting around in their pajamas eating sweetmeats off a tray, in between bouts with the forces of evil.
Sugar Sugar Rune draws on many folklore traditions, with its magic jewels and its beautiful tempter, but the story always stays down to earth, thanks to the emotional truth of Anno's story and her characters. That makes for both good fantasy and good fiction, and this series is a winner on both counts.
-- Brigid Alverson