Eighth grader Hakka Sasakura is shocked when she returns from school to find what seems to be a giant mascot character—a kigurumi—in her living room. The creature, who introduces itself as Ginger (using a signboard, since kigurumi can’t talk), is instantly accepted by Hakka’s easygoing family. Hakka is totally weirded out. Luckily, the dreamy student council president of Hakka’s middle school provides an explanation the next day: Hakka and two other students, Nobara and Satsuki, have been selected as “Guardians” who must keep the world safe from the Puppet Guild, extra-dimensional enemies who steal human hearts.
The kigurumi have the ability to transform into handsome young men with formidable fighting skills and have been assigned to work with the Guardians. The catch? In order to transform, they must be kissed by their human partner. Only the Guardians can save humans whose hearts have been stolen, but Hakka and the rest will have to learn to deal with their strange allies if they’re going to save the world (or at least their middle school) from destruction.
Kigurumi Guardians is a frothy magical girl romp in the vein of Sailor Moon. Created by Lily Hoshino, known for her work on Penguindrum and Otome Yokai Zakuro, her soft-focus, dreamy art style and attractive character design lend a special charm to this shojo fantasy series that features doll-like girls, sleek-suited boys, and uniformed baddies begging to be cosplayed. Suspension of disbelief is key: Hoshino makes little attempt to ground the story in realism and the manga is cognizant of the magical girl and sentai tropes it uses as a scaffold for its cutesy, absurd premise. Hoshino assumes reader familiarity with her genre and encourages her audience to pay attention to beautiful actors and elaborate costumes, not the stage they’re standing on.
The manga is effervescent and fun, with light humor, a dash of action and mortal peril, and the suggestion of multiple romantic angles. Hakka is an endearing protagonist, good-hearted but immature, and her budding relationship with the older, slightly standoffish Ginger is certainly going to be the romantic centerpiece of the manga. The other Guardians also stand a good chance of becoming romantically entangled with their kigurumi partners. It may be worth noting that one of the pairs, Satsuki and Fennel, is male/male. Kisses between the two boys are treated as normal, but there is no suggestion that Satsuki or Fennel identifies as gay.
Though magical girl series are often targeted at younger audiences, Kigurumi Guardians likely warrants the T (13+) rating the publisher recommends. Hoshino’s manga flirts with the slightly risque—remember, the Guardians must transform their kigurumi by kissing them—and doesn’t shy away from sex appeal: at one point Hakka describe a puppet’s costume as “skanky.”
Despite a certain indulgent sensuality, the manga is essentially pure-hearted, especially when it comes to its heroine. In an early bathroom scene, for instance, Hakka is naked, but the gaze is far from lascivious: nudity is comically covered with Ginger’s signboards and other pieces of scenery. Similarly, the kisses, while breathtaking, are fairly chaste.
Kigurumi Guardians, vol. 1 is a strong start to a fluffy magical girl series with just a hint of edge. It will appeal to fans of Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena; readers of fantasy romance titles like Kamisama Kiss, That Wolf-Boy is Mine!, and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches; and those who enjoy the elegant clothes and female gaze of manga like Black Butler and The Case Study of Vanitas.
Translation notes are included at the end of the volume for terms and practices new manga readers might be unfamiliar with, such as use of honorifics and vocabulary like “tsundere.” Three volumes are currently available from Kodansha Comics, and the manga is ongoing in Japan.
Kigurumi Guardians, vol. 1
by Lily Hoshino
Kodansha Comics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)