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23 July 2013 @ 05:38 pm
Sugar Sugar Rune, Part 2: Love Will Tear Us Apart  
In my last post on SSRune, I talked about how both societies portrayed in the series have their own narrow expectations about how young women should behave, and how the Queen contest throws our heroines into conflict with those restrictive ideals. But this pressure to conform doesn’t just harm the girls individually; it also drives a rift in their friendship, as each feels jealousy for the other’s desirable traits. Vanilla in particular starts out admiring Chocolat’s courage, reminiscing about how Chocolat was her only friend back home and would always protect and stick up for her, but that admiration quickly turns to bitter envy, leading Vanilla to turn to the Dark Side in a desperate bid to gain the confidence she desires.

Vanilla: I’ve always envied Chocolat-chan, who acts like a real queen. I finally realize my hatred toward her. Things between us can never be the way they used to be. [...] Everyone loved Chocolat-chan. Pranks, jokes, and big laughs... I was never good at any of them. [...] I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. So I can’t let anyone else have that position. To be the queen... that’s the only place I have left to belong.

Which leads into another big theme of Sugar Sugar Rune: Chocolat and Vanilla’s fight to maintain their friendship, even as the Queen contest does its best to tear them apart. This is a theme we see a lot in fiction and real life: in a patriarchal society, women learn to prioritize Getting A Man over everything else, which forces them to compete with other women (since desirable men are a finite resource), making it difficult to maintain any kind of female bonds or solidarity. In fact, you could interpret the Queen contest as a big metaphor for Life Under Patriarchy: In intensely male-dominated societies, the only way for a woman to gain power is by Getting A Man — seducing him, marrying him, being his mistress, or otherwise using sex to manipulate him into doing your bidding. Chocolat and Vanilla are competing for a position of power, but that power is only attainable by G-rated-ly seducing boys.

This conflict comes to a head in one of my favorite chapters, which I call The Parable of the Enchanted Hairpin. Queen Candy gives Chocolat a heart-shaped hairpin as a gift. Already we’re in trouble, as Vanilla feels jealous over her mother seemingly favoring Chocolat. Things get much worse when Chocolat wears the pin to school and gradually realizes that it’s enchanted with a very powerful love spell, making all the boys gravitate to Chocolat like ants to a fallen ice cream cone. The last straw comes when Chocolat bumps into Vanilla while she’s receiving a love confession from a classmate, and the hairpin causes the guy to drop Vanilla like a sack of rotten potatoes and glom onto Chocolat. Vanilla is furious, accusing Chocolat of cheating and running off in tears, and even though Chocolat gains a pile of hearts out of the bargain, the victory feels hollow so she discards the accursed pin. Unfortunately, before she can tell Vanilla that she’s learned her lesson, Vanilla bumps into Pierre in the forest and gets seduced over to the Dark Side in record time.

By the end of the series, the two girls have repaired their bonds and returned to being best friends, but not without struggle or sacrifice. When your two leads vow in Chapter 1 to stay friends forever no matter what, if you’re a good writer, you know you’ve got to throw every challenge you can at that vow, to really test its strength. And that’s exactly what this manga does, which makes Chocolat and Vanilla’s final triumph all the sweeter.

The hairpin debacle also brings up another problem with the Queen contest: When your mission is to get everyone you know to fall in love with you, that’s bound to foster some jealousy and hard feelings amongst your peers, and the manga tackles this issue repeatedly. In Vol 1, Chocolat gains an admirer in the class newshound, Nishitani, but his best friend Akira begins to resent his buddy’s new infatuation, since it’s causing Nishitani to neglect him, so Akira confronts Chocolat, blaming her for ruining his friendship, even though Chocolat didn’t do anything except exist in Nishitani’s vicinity. Chocolat is compelled to hurry up and take Nishitani’s heart before things can get worse, and the boys patch up their relationship, leaving Chocolat feeling rather lonesome.

Speaking of which, when a witch takes a human’s heart, the human is unhurt but his squishy feelings for her are erased. This bites Chocolat in the butt several times, often making her feel lonely and alienated. For example: at the end of Vol 1, Chocolat makes friends with a wild boy named Mimura, who eventually develops a crush on her. Chocolat takes his heart, but the next day when she tries to chat with him, he treats her like an acquaintance, since he’s forgotten his feelings for her, including their brief friendship.

Chocolat: Shoot. I just thought it would be nice if we could go to the pond and stuff... I’m not lonely, am I?

This comes up again in Vol 4, when Chocolat notices a bunch of green hearts (meaning friendship) blooming for her in her classmates, both male and female. She’s tempted to claim the hearts, but decides against it, since she doesn’t want to erase all those bonds. Anyway, I really appreciate it when a work sets up a premise and then explores the pitfalls of that premise in a realistic and thoughtful way.

Back to the problem of envy, even Chocolat’s fellow witches aren’t immune. In Vol 4, Chocolat’s twin bodyguards and childhood friends, Houx and Saule, start getting jealous of how much she flirts with other boys. They know she’s only doing it to earn hearts, and Houx even promises to back off, but Chocolat still worries about the strain it’s putting on her relationship with them. By the end of the chapter, after dealing with another jealous admirer whom Pierre infected with an evil spell, Chocolat has made up her mind:

Chocolat: Instead of putting your feelings first... make my wishes a priority. You two are my fabulous bodyguards that set me free.
Houx and Saule: *mega blush*

Damn, it’s rare to see a female character just go “Nope, I’m not going to be all self-sacrificing and noble — y’all are going to do what I want, since that’s your job.” Bravo, Chocolat!

Given how whack the Queen contest is, you might wonder why none of the previous contestants tried to buck the system. Well as it turns out, they did! When Chocolat and Vanilla’s mothers were competing for the crown, Candy initially refused to compete at all, since she disliked taking hearts from humans. Later on, she and Cinnamon plotted to throw the contest in a gambit to revolutionize the Magical World: Candy would “win” and take the throne, working to change things from within, while Cinnamon would join the Magical World’s enemies, the ogres, to mend the divide between the two groups. And without wishing to get too spoilery, the two were eventually successful in their goal.

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth.
 
 
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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous) on December 15th, 2013 01:10 pm (UTC)
hi
Would you say the old cartoon show Bimble's Bucket counts as an Object User story? After all, according to your post on the subject: "The Object User always starts out as a totally ordinary muggle who is given a magical object. The reasons for why she receives the object vary: oftentimes it's a reward for doing a good deed, sometimes it's necessary to the girl's survival, sometimes destiny is involved, or sometimes she just gets it randomly. The giver of the object is usually a magical entity, often in the form of a cute and cuddly critter. As for the object itself, its magical powers are quite specific and limited (as opposed to the Cute Witch who can pretty much do whatever magic spells she can dream up)."

Yes, Bimble's a guy, and a fox rabbit hybrid creature, BUT he gets his magic bucket after rescuing a man from sinking in a swamp and is given the bucket as a reward, which fulfills the first aspect of the genre. And the bucket will grant wishes if he needs any particular item, but the effects will only last for 24 hours, which fulfills the second aspect.
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