Sugar Apple Fairytale

Shojo manga is something I'm finding more and more enjoyable. This is odd to me, because I've always been more of a shonen type of guy (I mean, I will unironically defend Bleach). I think my reason for this is because I've grown more of an interest in character relationships instead of battle technique mechanics, and the repeated tropes in most shojo manga are generally more endearing to me than the believe in yourself who-rah that has become the entire Shonen Jump thematic core. Well, as long as its not a high school love story. Shojo usually does far better with fantasy, and Sugar Apple Fairytale is a great example of this. It doesn't do anything particularly new, but the execution is almost flawless.

The short, ten plus one chapter manga follows an inspiring silver sugar artist named Ann, who's trying to become a master in honor of her passed away mother. Silver sugar is a special time of magical sugar that gives good fortune to humans and increases the lifespan of magical beings, and is used to make special silver candy statues, mixing in bakery with sculpture. That's all fine and good, but Ann ends up needing to go on a dangerous road to reach the capital in time for a contest to get the title she's after, meaning she needs to get a warrior fairy to protect her. Fairies are the slaves of humans, with one clipped wing directly connected to their life itself, but Ann was taught by her mother to see fairies as equals and tries to befriend her new bodyguard, Shall Fen Shall. He's a sarcastic asshole, so things go slowly. Along for the ride is the pipsqueak Mythril, and rich boy Jonas, who's had a crush on Ann since their younger years (though she doesn't return the feelings in kind).

The big difference between male target fantasy manga and female targeted fantasy manga is how the politics of their worlds get explored. Male targeted works try to examine the politics of the world and create rule sets that get explored and used for story movement and drama. In female targeted works, its a backdrop and used to create the basic set-up, then exploring the character dynamics created from those political issues. It's why something like Fate/stay night will go on and on about how magic works, while something like The World if Still Beautiful will just say a girl can control the rain through emotion, go into little extra detail, and use that established element for emotional set-pieces. With a name like "Sugar Apple Fairytale," you can probably guess where this series falls under.

At its heart, the story is a romance tale about two people in pain finding a kindred spirit within one another. Ann lost her mother not long ago, and her desperation to become a silver sugar master is partly to become more like she was. At many times in the story, she's reminded how weak and vulnerable she feels without her, and she starts to have doubts as her plans get sidetracked and slowed down. Shall is similar, as he lost someone far longer ago and has grown a complete distrust of all humans in general. Only when he starts seeing that Ann genuinely means no ill will and seems to be going through a similar pain he suffered does he start to come around to her and sees that he may be able to find happiness with another person once more.

This relationship arc and the two character arcs that make it act as the crutch of the series, and its a strong one. Miri Mikawa proves herself to be a very talented writer, as she slowly builds the full implications of the two's shared pains, while also balancing it well with comedic dialog and amusing side characters. Mythril, Jonas, and his servant fairy Kathy all make for solid supporting cast members, showing different sides of Ann. Jonas is particularly interesting, as he's an obsessive but well-meaning dolt who challenges Ann's good nature through his constantly questionable actions. Along with the strong character work, Mikawa proves to have a great understanding of pacing and story structure, giving the story a perfect set of beats that would make it perfect for a ten episode anime adaptation. Everything is built up slowly and over time, and even if a few parts are obvious once they hit, a few other curve balls are mixed into the plot to at least make the proceedings feel familiarly engaging. The series does work with clich├ęs, but it hides these parts well through sheer heart and skill.

What really makes the series flair is the strong artwork of Alto Yukimura. She has a very traditional shojo style, but it works great for the setting, especially the touching bits during character inner thoughts. She captures a beauty in all of the characters, and makes the threatening elements stick out equally as well. Emotion always shines through, and the world feels very alive, even if the actual environments are very simple. There's also a good bit of attention to detail in some areas, like the fairy slave market imprisoning various fairies in different types of bottles and cages. All of her touches match perfectly with Mikawa's script and plotting, creating a work that almost flows like a movie at points.

If the series has any issues, it would stem from that it simply doesn't do much different from the pack. It's very much a story that stands on its strong craft and less on the passion of those behind it, except in the main relationship, which has an unexpected spark to it. That element is what makes the series more than just an enjoyable but forgettable shojo romp, even if it plays heavily with story beats we've seen countless times in the genre. Ann and Shall just have such a finely crafted connection that it elevates everything else by association. I also have to say that I think a bit more could have been done with Jonas, though little bits suggest that his motivations are a bit more complex than what he himself says.

Sugar Apple Fairytale is a sweet little love story that doesn't make itself sickening. It has very likable characters, a fun story, and an engaging romance, not to mention some lovely art to back it all up. As far as your basic shojo goes, this is definitely in the upper level of things, and something worth checking out if you want a well done love story. It's a simple little tale about two people finding a connection from their similar circumstances, and it leaves on just the perfect note.

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