Sugar Princess: Skating to Win

March 27, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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Originally posted on Feb. 10, 2010. Edited on Mar. 27, 2010 to update out-dated information.

TITLE: Sugar Princess: Skating to Win
RATING: All Ages
SCORE: 8 (Very good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Hisaya Nakajo (mangaka of Hana-Kimi), The Cherry Project, Ginban Kaleidoscope, Kaleido Star, Princess Nine, sports, comedy

In addition to my overwhelming love for manga/anime, I am a figure skating addict. Never been out on the ice myself — I am klutzy enough when not walking on slippery surfaces, thank you very much — but I never miss a televised competition or exhibition if I can help it. The Nationals are my World Series, the World Championships are my Super Bowl, and the Winter Olympics are practically my reason for living. (Okay, maybe that last part is overstating things just a tad, but the hyperbole isn’t too far off the mark…) I am, without a doubt, a huge fan of the sport.  

So taking two of my favorite things — manga and figure skating — and putting them together? Instant love.

Sugar Princess is a cute story about an eighth grade girl named Maya Kurinoki. Her first time on the ice, her younger brother dares her to do a “twirling jump” like the skaters they saw on TV. Not one to back down from a challenge, Maya amazingly lands a jump on the first try, the difficult double axel. Her impossible feat catches the eye of Eishi Todo, a figure skating coach. Offering to make her a “princess”, he convinces her to join the local skating club and introduces her to handsome but aloof Shun Kano, a former pairs skater who attends the high school affiliated with Maya’s junior high. Coach Todo thinks Maya should become Shun’s new pairs partner, but Shun is not interested in pairing with anybody, much less a total amateur like Maya, and says he’s only wants to skate singles.

Coach Todo makes a deal with Shun: if Shun can coach Maya up to the junior level, then he doesn’t have to partner with her and can continue doing singles. Though he initially refuses the offer, after seeing how determined Maya is to learn how to skate, even if she has to do it on her own, Shun agrees to coach her. When their rink is under threat of being shut down, however, Maya and Shun are forced to compete as a pair during a skating competition to win a bet between Coach Todo and the son of the rink’s sick owner to save it.

Maya’s a likeable lead. She can be a little dim-witted at times — at first, she thinks Coach Todo scouted her for acting, and she doesn’t even know the difference between pairs and singles skating until she reads a book on skating — but she’s very enthusiastic and determined to become a good skater. Shun takes a little while to warm up to. He’s a bit of a snob and isn’t very friendly to Maya at first, but he has a good heart under his harsh exterior. And, of course, as seems to be almost a prerequisite of most shoujo male leads, there’s a tragic reason why he decided to quit pairs and become a singles skater instead, although I like the fact that he doesn’t really brood on it. It’s rather refreshing for a change. 

One thing I preferred about this story over the unlicensed Naoko Takeuchi skating series The Cherry Project (which is my top “most wanted license” pick) is the fact that Maya isn’t some kind of superhuman skating prodigy. Granted, she is a bit of a natural when it comes to skating, and she’s a fast learner, but other than that double axel she lands at the beginning of the story (after which she falls, by the way, and hasn’t tried since), she’s not doing amazingly difficult jumps. By the end of the story, she’s only doing double toe loops, the easiest of the double jumps, and she and Shun don’t do any of the more difficult pairs moves like throw jumps and twists.

I also appreciated the attention given to the costs of being a figure skater. Figure skating is not a cheap sport, and as the third of four children, Maya does her best not to burden her family financially by finding ways to offset the costs — like (hilariously) making her own skating costume out of her school swimsuit (her more talented friends rescue her effort) and entering the competition not only to save the rink, but to win a pair of figure skates being offered as one of the top prizes. (She had been renting her skates from the rink.) Even having Shun coach her helps, since he’s not a professional coach.

Unfortunately, romance is weak and pretty much non-existent next to Maya sometimes thinking Shun is handsome. You can tell that Maya and Shun were intended to become a couple eventually, but their relationship doesn’t really go anywhere in these two volumes. This is largely due in part that the overall story the mangaka had in mind is incomplete. While Sugar Princess can be read as a complete story as is (and is marketed as such in the U.S.), it’s clear that this arc was intended to be the beginning of a longer series. Nakajo put the series on hiatus back in 2007 to work on character designs for a video game, and as far as I know, she has not resumed work on it. I have my fingers crossed, though, because I would love to have more of this series.

The romance aspect might be poor, but one thing this title definitely has going for it is comedy. There’s lots of chuckles to be had, mostly coming from the comic relief characters of scruffy Coach Todo and goofy Oda, Shun’s best friend. Maya’s and Shun’s budding relationship also provides some laughs, pitting Maya’s inexperience and general cluelessness against Shun’s more poised and mature personality. One of the funniest moments in my opinion is when Maya walks in on Shun naked in the bath (he spilled food on his clothes during dinner with Maya’s family). Switching their usual roles, he’s totally mortified, but Maya doesn’t even react and thinks it is no big deal since she shares a room with her younger brother.

Another plus that feeds right into my figure skating addiction is that between the chapters of the first volume, Nakajo has provided beatiful drawings of her favorite real-life figure skaters: 1998 Olympic gold medalist Ilia Kulik, 2008 and 2010 World champion Mao Asada, 2002 and 2006 Olympic pairs bronze medalists and 2010 Olympic gold medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, 2002 Olympic ice dance gold medalists Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, 2003 World ice dancer champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, and 1994 and 1998 Olympic bronze medalist Philippe Candeloro. (By the way, I also love how Nakajo is such a huge fan of skating! If we met and could speak the same language, I have a feeling we would be total BFFs.) Too bad she didn’t continue the practice into the second volume. I would have loved to have more, but considering how many chapters are in the second volume — I’m guessing that there wasn’t enough to release a third volume separately — I suppose there wasn’t enough room. I also wish that she had drawn the manga itself more in the style of her skater portraits. The artwork is…fine, I guess, but nowhere near as pretty as the portraits.

Overall, I really liked this series. It’s not quite a good as The Cherry Project, but it is licensed and easily available, which is a definite plus in its favor, and very cute. Since it’s rated All Ages, it’s also appropriate for young kids. I think it would make a great introduction to manga for the younger set, especially the little girls who fell in love with skating after watching the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (And on a purely selfish note, I would love to see more figure skating manga — and sports manga in general — be licensed here in the U.S., so if you’re the same, let your wallets do the talking and pick up this series. It’s only two volumes!)

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