The first ten or so pages of Kigurumi Guardians are a gas. Hakka, a cheerful fifteen-year-old, comes home from school to find a kigurumi (animal mascot) in her kitchen. Though Ginger’s appearance makes him look like the product of a Holstein/penguin tryst, no one in Hakka’s family is fazed by Ginger’s arrival; he even ingratiates himself to Hakka’s brother with a display of video game prowess. And if the Sasakuras’ warm embrace of Ginger wasn’t strange enough, Ginger’s method of communication puts things over the top: he’s reduced to scrawling short messages on cue cards, a la Trumpet of the Swan or Love Actually. Not until Hakka attends a school council meeting does she learn that Ginger is one of three animal-shaped guardians defending Earth from a race of puppet masters, and she’s his new handler.
So far, so good: the oddball premise, brisk pacing, and tart exchanges between Hakka and Ginger are executed with comic zest. As Hoshino begins laying the groundwork for the magical combat, however, it becomes clear that she’s making it up as she goes along. That tendency is most pronounced in the fight scenes, which are devoid of any tension, surprise, or humor, since it’s a forgone conclusion that Hoshino will think of a new rule or magical power that helps her heroes win the day.
More problematic is the dynamic between Hakka and Ginger. Bickering leads are a staple ingredient of romantic comedies, but the main point of contention between girl and mascot gets hammered into the ground by the end of chapter three. That joke — if one can call it a joke — is that Hakka must kiss Ginger to activate his magical powers; when she does, he immediately transforms into a dashing young warrior. Hakka hates kissing Ginger, but is repeatedly forced to go against her own wishes because, y’know, Earth’s future hangs in the balance. In our current #MeToo moment, this gag is an unpleasant reminder of how many books, movies, television shows, and manga reinforce the idea that women who refuse unwanted hugs and kisses are difficult, confused, or selfish.
It’s a shame that this gag is so central to the story, as Hoshino clearly intends Guardians to be naughty fun for teen girls — why else would all three mascots transform into tousle-haired bishonen?— but gets too caught up in drawing costumes and mascots to pay careful attention to the plot or consider the full implications of Hakka and Ginger’s relationship. By the end of volume one, the story has traded wacky hijinks for messy fight scenes and sappy conversations, losing its screwball zing in the process.
The verdict: File under D, for disappointment, and S, for squandered potential.
KIGURUMI GUARDIANS, VOL. 1 • STORY AND ART BY LILY HOSHINO • KODANSHA COMICS • RATED: TEEN (13+) • 160 pp.