"Waffo!"- Sugar, the Snow Fairy in Training
What does the word "cute" mean to you? Frisky kittens, fuzzy bunnies in fields of flowers, cutesie-wootsie-baby-bunkins? Dancing hamsters singing in unison, perhaps? A Little Snow Fairy Sugar: Sweet Mischief has redefined cuteness for the next century. Whatever definition you had in mind for the word "cute," upon watching this DVD you will reevaluate your position. Kittens, bunnies, and hamsters will worship at the altar of Sweet Mischief, kneeling in supplication to Sugar and her pink-haired, white-gloved divine cuteness.
Knowing what I've told you, you might have already written this series off. "Not my thing, thanks," you say to yourself. Not so fast. Given the pure sugarwater coursing through its veins, Snow Fairy Sugar is surprisingly enjoyable. It is difficult to attain absolute cuteness and still have substance left, but Snow Fairy Sugar manages. In fact, the cuteness wasn't the first thing I noticed; stellar animation caught my eye instead. First and foremost, Snow Fairy Sugar is a high-quality anime series.
Facts of the Case
As a young girl, Saga was lost in the frigid wilderness. Weak and still she lay in the snow, hallucinating visions of grand pianos and fairies. She is rescued by a search party and taken back home.
Years later, Saga has lost her parents (perhaps to the same storm that nearly overwhelmed her). She lives with her grandmother in a quaint European town. Disciplined and likeable, Saga has many friends and admiring adults. Saga is driven by optimization. She keeps a tight schedule and crams as much into her day as she can. One day she falls victim to an incorrect weather report and is delayed by rain. Resting beneath an overhanging roof, she spies a delicate fairy snoozing in midair. Saga is startled but writes it off as an illusion. When the fairy realizes Saga can see her, she follows Saga home.
From that day forward, Saga is plagued by the pretty puff with a pesky personality. She is Sugar, a snow fairy trainee. Along with her friends Sun Fairy Salt and Wind Fairy Pepper, Sugar is trying to learn about the human world. She must find "twinkle," an element that will allow her and her friends to produce weather. While she looks, Sugar wolfs down waffles, snoozes in midair, and causes sweet mischief.
As Sugar and her friends seek "twinkle," Saga tries to regain her sense of composure. It is difficult to be with her friends and fend off the troublesome Greta when Sugar keeps interfering! Talking to midair and waving her arms at nothing is making Saga seem daft.
I'm a cynical twentysomething programmer with a low tolerance for BS. My gag reflex is on a hair trigger. When manipulative "emotional" sentiments creep into my media diet, I deride them with resentful sarcasm. Artificial sentimentality turns my heart to stone and my tone to hearty venom. All I ask of my movies is sincerity if they want to earn my respect.
Somehow, Snow Fairy Sugar has earned my respect. It is cute, but not cloying. Careful craftsmanship has gone into this world. Within its defined parameters, the story has depth and emotion. Saga is not buddy-buddy with Sugar, she is exasperated. Sugar's overbearing cuteness both charms and annoys her friends. We are given downtime and a sense of normalcy that resets our cutesiness meter. The show is well aware of its hallmark, and integrates the cuteness into the story. As a result, it feels completely authentic.
Ordinarily, a show devoid of controversy, violence, pain, adult considerations, or objectionable content is also devoid of entertainment. I've watched that bloated saurian eggplant prance around with his empty-eyed automatons of cheer. I've seen the glossy, overproduced, half-hour infomercials that pass for girls' cartoons. I've listened while nubbly teddy bears preach at me with thinly-veiled morality. Cuteness has been warped into a marketing weapon. Snow Fairy Sugar recaptures the innocent, genuine goodness that cuteness used to indicate. You could watch this show in front of anyone without remorse, unless you have an image to maintain.
Snow Fairy Sugar is an anime television series, and must be judged on those terms. The quality of the animation is superb. Drawings are rendered with fluent grace. Frequent movement results in few dead spots that could lull viewers into a stupor. The colors are strong but natural. Realistic backgrounds and environments remind me of Miyazaki's work, though not as detailed. Occasional CGI is used for drifting snow, gossamer trails of magical energy, and other effects that mesh well with the two-dimensional animation. Snow Fairy Sugar is simply beautiful to watch.
The music reminds me of those meditation CDs you hear in bath stores at the mall. Soothing, synthetic strains cradle the delicate creatures onscreen. The music didn't distinguish itself as particularly inspired. On the other hand, it didn't detract from the experience or rely on infinite repetition, which irks me in other animated series. The voice acting did distinguish itself. The Japanese cast gets the edge: Saga's flustered frustration and adherence to efficiency seem somehow truer in Japanese. The fairies are slightly less saccharine as well. Both versions feature distinct and believable characters, erring on the side of naturalism. The exceptions are Sugar, whose dizzying tantrums are an assault of sonic buffoonery, and Greta, whose haughty preening contained an edge of desperation. Other reviewers have targeted these characters as annoyances.
Their voices did not bother me, though I can see how they would bother others. Greta is a particularly pathetic character. She is bound by the elite attitudes of her family, yet clearly lonely. She tries to win temporary admiration by flashing her jewelry and being bossy. Beneath her haughty hijinks lies a normal girl who simply wants to be liked. Is she annoying? Sure, at times. But her annoying qualities speak to her character.
A bright transfer shows Snow Fairy Sugar in its best light. The anamorphic widescreen treatment is pristine, which is not unusual for animated features. There was no softness or bleeding, and the black levels were consistent. I have seen bad looking anime, but this one is in the pack of fine transfers.
The heart of this show is gentle humor. When confronted with a waffle for the first time, Sugar sniffs delicately and digests a tiny nibble. Her eyes grow wide as saucers and she takes another cautious bite. Then, her face splits into a gaping maw of hunger as she devours the whole waffle, spewing crumbs like sawdust. Antics like this permeate the series.
After enjoying hearty belly-laughs at Sugar's antics, I felt clean. I remembered why kid's shows sometimes appeal to adults. It is nice to be entertained without ominous threat or edgy violence. I can't say that A Little Snow Fairy Sugar: Sweet Mischief erased all memory of brooding efforts such as Blood: The Last Vampire or RayEarth, but it is a welcome addition to my anime shelf.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The extras are somewhat weak. The character profiles should be a standard extra on any anime DVD, and I'm glad to see them included, but there isn't much to say. The story speaks for itself (for once!). Besides the ubiquitous promos, the only extras are different versions of the opening credits and a brief interview with the creators in the liner notes. The interview pushes the extras into acceptable territory.
As I've pointed out, Sugar and Greta have high potential annoyance factors. My wife, idly observing from the other room, said "What are you watching?" This is always a bad sign. Those subtle condemnations speak volumes. One of the episode titles is "Twinkle-Twinkle, Comfy-Warm, Puffy-Fluffy." If that phrase turns your stomach, let that guide you. I will say this: the rationale behind the title is remarkably sound.
Beyond any doubt, this series will annoy the pea out some viewers. It plays like a slightly sophisticated Strawberry Shortcake. If you have no children, have no tolerance for sweet stories, or enjoy the explosions and bloodletting in typical anime, your DVD dollars might be better spent elsewhere. On the other hand, Snow Fairy Sugar could be called Kiki Light. Fans of Kiki's Delivery Service might find enough resemblance in tone and animation to enjoy this series.
Sugar! Put down that waffle and behave yourself!
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Scales of Justice
• Textless Episode One Prologue
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