Fairy Navigator Runa is an almost perfect example of the magical-girl genre that tweens love so well. Runa Rindo is an orphan who lives in the world's cheeriest orphanage with her good friends Sae, Mana-chan, and Mit-chan. Runa is good-hearted but clumsy, and her only superpower seems to be her ability to predict what will be served for lunch each day. Of course, there is something more: When Runa was younger, a teacher, Ms. Towako (who has since mysteriously disappeared), told her that she had a great hidden power. She was vague about what exactly that was but told Runa that she must always be kind to others.
Unfortunately, others are not always kind to Runa: Her clumsiness has left her vulnerable to bullying, and in the twisted logic peculiar to shoujo manga, her best friend Sae is extra-mean to Runa because she allows herself to be bullied.
The creators jump into the magical part pretty quickly with a boy-girl couple, Mokke and Suneri, who arrive from another world to figure out if Runa is The Princess. She is, of course, and her pendant (which she was wearing when she arrived at the orphanage) clinches it. Runa is a bit slow on the uptake, so she evades the magical couple for a while, and in the process she loses her pendant. Seeing her distress, Sae eases up on her and helps her look for it. Does anything good ever come of young girls wandering around a vacant lot at night? Not this time: Sae and Runa are confronted by a magical raccoon-demon with slashing blades for claws. Younger readers may find this sequence a bit frightening, but for the rest of us, it's simply awesome. Mokke and Suneri step in and rescue Runa, but Sae has disappeared.
Runa still refuses to believe she is a princess, but when her little friend Mit-chan steps in front of a speeding truck, Runa unconsciously turns on her superspeed to rescue her. Eventually, she realizes the truth, and Mokke and Suneri explain that she is the daughter of a fairy princess who fell in love with a human and abandoned her daughter only to save her life. A recent earthquake has not only unsealed Runa's magical third eye but also opened a portal between the human and fairy worlds, allowing evil fairies, like the slasher raccoon, into the human world. Mokke and Suneri give her a quick course in how to manage her powers, and off they go to find Sae and face down the raccoon once more.
This first volume is mostly setup, and the story is very emotional--the characters always seem to be crying or embarrassed, with tears welling up in their huge eyes. Kikuta, who also illustrated Mamotte! Lollipop, crowds her pages with odd-shaped panels and uses lots of diagonals to give the pages energy. She also has a fondness for patterned screentones and bursts of stars and flowers, but the figures stay front and center, so this book is a reliably good read for first-timers and longtime shoujo fans alike.
-- Brigid Alverson