Saga Meets Sugar
It’s rare for me to fall in love with a new series by the first episode alone. Usually it takes at least a few episodes for me to even begin to understand everything going on. With Sugar, however, everything was just right from the start.
As much as I love Japanese settings, I also enjoy older European settings. While I’m partial to the middle ages, I have a soft spot for the kind of town and architecture seen in series such as Princess Tutu and Sugar, as well as movies such as Kiki’s Delivery Service. The designs look good, and the colors are well chosen.
The music is very fitting of an European city for the time which this series takes place. I don’t actually know roughly the year, but you get a good feel for the era. The music isn’t quite classical, but makes good use of string instruments, such as during Greta’s appearances.
One of the advantages of having a European town rather than a Japanese town is the allowance for western mythical characters. While it’s very possible to have fairies in a Japanese setting, Japan’s past and culture lend better to Japanese spirits than to fairies and fairy magic.
Another advantage of taking place in Europe, and this is a big one, is the ability to present characters with lighter brown hair and characters with blond hair (such as Phil) without them looking out of place. The fairies are excused from this, of course. It’s nice to sit and watch a series where the lead characters don’t have yellow, blue, and green hair, while still trying to take place in a common Earth town, let alone a Japanese town.
The pace of the first episode of Sugar goes off without a hitch. Saga is introduced nicely and evenly. We’re introduced to some relationship to a piano for her. She lives with her grandmother, and it’s unknown what may have happened to her mother. There’s no mention of a father. From there, Saga is presented as a well organized girl who sets her schedule and plans out her priorities well in advance. She’s not above punishing herself for being late to work, and won’t settle for anything less than best. (I do have to question her getting an extra 15 points for the coffee blend, though. She earned extra points without improving the coffee beyond the given 65 points, which seems like cutting corners to me.)
Saga knows how to enjoy taking time to look out over her town as the morning sun rises into the sky (although that was surely planned out as well, or at least time allocated for it). Already running late, she knows her classmate, Greta, will slow her down, although it’s not indicated whether Saga realized Greta was trying to show off her expensive, quality-crafted watch or not. Saga also makes sure to spend time with her two close friends (Norma and Anne), acting as lead decision maker in their group.
It’s only after we know everything we need to know about Saga’s personality, strictness, and social relations when the titular character, the Snow Fairy named Sugar, may be introduced. This pace pleased me, whereas other series might have started out with Saga and Sugar’s meeting within the first eight minutes, leaving little time to get to know anything about the characters individually.
Even after meeting Sugar, due to Saga’s denial that there’s really a fairy, the creators continue to show Saga’s personality (as well as introducing Sugar’s personality). I fully expect episode two to give its focus more-so on Sugar, then the story can take off from there.
The character designs are similar to typical anime characters, but at the same time have a unique feel to me. It could be because the characters fit into the setting. Phil, the blond-haired boy who ate Saga’s waffle, didn’t look out of place one bit. The books on Saga’s bookshelf are written (if not poorly) in German, and I can easily see Phil as being a German boy. I’ll probably comment on Sugar’s design after her two fairy friends are introduced in a later episode.
An obvious observation: This series is presented in widescreen. That took me by suprise. I realize it says it’s widescreen on the packaging, but who reads that when they can be putting in the DVD and watching it? I’m not sure if the widescreen format was chosen for any specific reason, but I’ll fully enjoy wide views of Saga’s town without the need for panning to present the entire width of the town’s buildings to the viewer.
Because of the widescreen view, I found myself having to improve my screenshot collage generation program, to support wider images; this also meant using only two columns. I knew I’d need this one day, but I expected it to be for movies. The hard decision was whether to include six or eight screenshots. I decided on six, until I had about 14 to choose from, and couldn’t get it down to less than ten. In the end I decided to drop a shot of the younger Saga in the snow with townspeople huddled around her, as well as a cute shot of Sugar eating the first waffle from Saga. I’m sure there will be many more waffles for her to eat in later episodes, so perhaps one will make for a nice screenshot. I am disappointed in not being able to fit any of Saga showing her face from the front, save for the bottom one which is focused on Sugar. In the end, eight screenshots isn’t too bad of a limit, unless I consider how troublesome it is for me to narrow it down to nine for other series.
The Japanese voice actors have a good sound to them. I wasn’t sure about Sugar’s voice initially, as I didn’t know what to expect from her character’s personality, but the voice fit quickly enough, as she started playing around and speaking more lines. She’s quite the playful and energetic little fairy. The youthfulness of Norma’s English voice is a good match for the age of her Japanese voice.
The translation in the subtitles looks decent. Various phrases have been “rewritten” to have the same meaning while sounding better in English, which is understandable, and I’ll even venture so far as to say expected when it comes to the dub portion. After all, awkward-sounding English is one of many things which can making reading subtitles or watching a dub disorienting. As for the dub dialogue, it strays further than the subtitles, but still comfortably conveys the intended meanings.
The dub voices are well matched with the characters. American anime dubbing has come a long way, especially since about 2002 or 2003. There’s no spoken word lip syncing problems. The voices don’t sound fake or forced. So long as there are no unexpected horrors (such as Fredrick’s voice in Petite Princess Yucie, I think I can say this is looking to be one of those series where you wouldn’t know it was a dub if you had never heard of it before. The quality matches that of US cartoons with “anime” style artwork and a cohorent storyline, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender.
As is the case with any series with a decent (or better) dub, I watch each episode first in Japanese, then again later in English before moving to the next episode. Not only do I get to enjoy both the original Japanese dialogue, but the English as well. If I didn’t like Japanese so much, didn’t like many Japanese character voices so much, etc., I’d probably only watch in English. Watching in your native language rather than another language with subtitles is always better (assuming good voice acting) as you can focus more on the visuals and less on the words. I’m used to subtitles enough that I can barely look at them and catch all the text, and still have time to see most of what’s happening, but this cannot compare with watching without subtitles and understanding every word spoken. By watching each episode twice, I’m also able to pick up on things I missed the first time. The show lasts twice as long, assuming I’d normally watch two episodes in a single language otherwise, as is often the case for me with my early morning and early evening work commutes. This has the pleasent side effect of doubling the show’s value. Another way to look at it is that the series is half the cost I paid for it, and I purchased the series in two languages.
The opening looks to involve a younger Saga, lost in the snow without concern. Perhaps the pink-haired fairy flying about the piano is Sugar’s mother. Thus begins a series I’m very excited about.
As a final thought, nothing says adorable like the teddy bear scene. Tasukete!