the_sun_is_up: Fugo and Abbacchio standing extremely close together while making model faces at the camera. (giogio - personal space invasion)
[personal profile] the_sun_is_up
Previously, I’ve discussed the trend of bad-boy romances in girls’ media, and how it’s apparently really difficult for authors to write such romances in a believable and non-gross way. Sugar Sugar Rune isn’t one to buck trends here: Chocolat’s endgame boyfriend is Pierre, a black-hearted blonde ice king whom Chocolat defrosts and redeems over the course of the series. So the question must be asked: Does SSRune succeed with its bad-boy romance?

Uh...... kiiiiiiiinda?

I really like the romance in this manga, and in a lot of ways, it does a good job and is certainly miles better than many of its shojo peers (SO MANY MILES BETTER), but in other ways, it kind of falls on its face. It’s a mixed bag.

First, let’s look at Pierre’s character and his suitability as a love interest. He does have a lot in his favor:

a) He’s not a rapist. I really wish there was no need to even mention this, but a lot of shojo series have the love interest commit rape or attempted rape, or just be a sexually harassing creep, and then expect us to forget all about that once he gets redeemed. Pierre does nothing of the sort, so he gets a brownie point, because the bar is just that low.

b) He has a legit motivation for being horrible to Chocolat: he’s her mortal enemy, on the opposing side of a cold war that’s much bigger than either of them. He’s not just being cruel to her for his own entertainment (though there’s certainly some of that) — he’s doing it because he wants to beat her in battle.

c) He has a concrete magical reason for being horrible: as a child, he was kidnapped by the ogres and had a noir heart stuffed into his chest, making him evil. When Chocolat finally extracts his noir heart, Pierre becomes a lot nicer.

d) While Pierre is plotting to kill Chocolat by seducing her and extracting her heart, Chocolat aspires to do the exact same thing to Pierre. The jerkishness in this romance is a lot more mutual than usual.

On the downside, I think the best gold-hearted jerks are the ones who aren’t cruel or mean and don’t go out of their way to hurt people, but instead are just grumpy or pessimistic or have lousy people skills; they only seem like jerks, but they’re really not. Pierre unfortunately is a cruel bastard who likes to manipulate other people’s insecurities for his own profit, so it’s harder to buy into his heart of gold when it’s buried under so much genuine intentional douchebaggery.

On the plus side, Chocolat does remain consistently aware of Pierre’s nastiness, and doesn’t forget his evil deeds even when she starts thinking that he might not be so bad. However, her awareness and good sense arguably makes her look even more foolish for trusting Pierre and believing in his good side. The worst example of this happens in Vol 6: Chocolat and Pierre have officially fallen in love after getting trapped together in the Magical World, but once they return to Earth, Pierre goes right back to fomenting jealousy and hatred at school in order to collect more noir hearts, leading Chocolat to give him a piece of her mind:

Chocolat: I can’t believe you would make our classmates foster noir and then try to take them! That’s awful! You told me to believe in you, but I can’t forgive you for this. What’s the truth and what’s a lie?

He doesn’t answer her. Now, we the audience know that Pierre has a heroic ulterior motive for fostering noir, but Chocolat doesn’t know this. Okay, Pierre did drop some hints a couple chapters earlier, telling Chocolat that no matter what happened, he was still in love with her, wink nudge, but that’s still pretty vague. Chocolat has every reason to write off Pierre as unreliable and untrustworthy.

A few chapters later, the girls are taking a “face your fears” magical test, and long story short, Chocolat starts thinking about Pierre and has this revelation:

Chocolat: I keep believing his words, even though I know he’s lying. My tears are proof that I love Pierre so much. I still don’t quite understand what Pierre is doing, but I don’t care if he deceives me! I’m going to believe in him! That’s the proof of my love!

No! That is a terrible idea! Blindly trusting someone who’s done little to earn that trust, just because you love him and ~love conquers all~ is a terrible idea! Desist, retreat, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars! I could maybe buy this as a case of “teenagers sometimes think and do stupid things,” but Chocolat never suffers any realistic consequences for this foolhardy decision. Everything turns out peachy keen, because apparently she was totally right to trust in Pierre! *headdesk*

But that’s not the big problem with the Chocolat/Pierre romance. The big problem is the pacing. Or lack thereof. Allow me to draw up a timeline:

During Vols 1-3, things stay pretty consistent: Pierre doesn’t give a crap about Chocolat. He just wants to kill her because she’s an enemy to him and his people. On the flip side, Chocolat’s feelings are conflicted from day one — she knows he’s evil and an asshole, but he’s so goddamn handsome and charming that she just can’t help getting flustered whenever he shows up.

At the start of Vol 4, we get a bit of progress: At the Magical World’s New Year’s party, Pierre gets in a fight with some powerful witches who prepare to blast him into the stratosphere, and Chocolat intervenes, partially deflecting the spell and saving Pierre’s bacon. Pierre goes off alone to brood, and Chocolat uses an invisibility spell to spy on him. She sees him crying and is moved to glomp him from behind, running off embarrassed when he recognizes her by her chocolatey scent. It’s a nice scene, giving both characters a glimpse of their enemy’s cuddlier side, and giving Chocolat her first opportunity to see Pierre with all his artifice stripped away.

However for the rest of Vol 4, the two go back to business as usual, with Chocolat collecting hearts and Pierre sabotaging her efforts from afar. They don’t have much interaction until the very end of the volume when everyone’s at the beach and Chocolat starts to drown and Pierre dives in to save her because.....

No seriously, why does he save her? She’s his enemy; he wants her dead. Only two volumes earlier, he nearly succeeded in killing her. Did her rescuing and invisi-hugging him at the New Year’s party really have that big of an effect on him? Even Pierre himself wonders why he saved her, but that acknowledgement doesn’t make it feel any less random.

And all of a sudden, Pierre starts being a lot nicer to Chocolat. He gallantly gives her his jacket to keep her warm. He asks her to trust him. When they fight a giant spider together and Chocolat goes against the plan, Pierre chews her out for risking her life and gives her an “I’m so glad you’re not dead” hug. All that in the span of one chapter. Where is all this coming from? I get that they’re trapped together in a magical pocket dimension (long story) and must learn to work together to if they want to escape, but this isn’t teeth-clenched teamwork we’re seeing here. Pierre suddenly seems to have some genuinely squishy feelings for Chocolat, even though until very recently, she was just another bullseye to him.

Things get more forced after the spider fight when the two pass into another pocket dimension where they see their own memories projected in front of them. It’s a sweet scene, but that has got to be the laziest possible way for Chocolat to find out about Pierre’s sad backstory. No need for him to work up the nerve to tell her about it himself, or for her to go interrogate his allies and dig up some insight — memory screen! Easy peasy!

The rest of Vol 5 is somewhat of an improvement: Chocolat and Pierre are stranded in the Magical World and have to work together to get back to Earth, and when you throw two people together like that, it’s understandable that they’d grow fonder of one another, so I mostly buy it when Pierre confesses his love to Chocolat at the end of the volume. Vols 6-8 continue in that vein: Chocolat and Pierre are firmly in love but still on opposite sides of the witches-vs-ogres conflict, so they have to figure out how to deal with that conflict of interest. Honestly I think their romance arc would have been just fine if there’d been more build-up in Vol 4; instead, we have Pierre’s rescue of Chocolat coming out of left-field, heralding a jarring gear-change in his behavior towards her. As much as I think they make an adorable couple, I just can’t overlook how clumsy their shift from “bitter enemies” to “budding romance” is.

In the end, on a scale ranging from Ren Tsuruga and Ikuto Tsukiyomi all the way down to any male lead from the Shojo Hall of Shame (which isn’t a real thing but totally should be), Pierre falls in the middle: he’s miles more palatable (heh) and sympathetic than the Hall of Shamers, but his romance with the heroine still feels rushed and forced in places, and while I never had reason to lament “What the hell does she see in this asshole!?” while hurling my book at the wall, I still wish Chocolat hadn’t been so naively trusting of Pierre especially when he was being so unnecessarily uncommunicative. Like I said, he’s a mixed bag.
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