“Candy Candy” is a Japanese historical Shoujo (girls) manga written by Keiko Nagita (名木田 恵子) which was originally published in the magazine “Nakayoshi” serially from 1975 to 1979. It was quite popular, and spawned an anime, theatrical show, and several novels. To give an idea of the popularity, around 12 million copies were printed in total for the Manga books, and in one year around $8 billion yen (around $65 million dollars with current exchange rates) were made from dolls themed around the various characters of the series.
A three-volume novel was published in 1978 and 1979 with some plot differences from the original comic books. The books which I am reviewing, “Candy Candy Final Story” (キャンディ･キャンディ Final Story), are a rewrite of that, including some changes in places like place descriptions. I haven’t read the original novels but I’ve heard the main plot doesn’t change much, if at all. The story is comprised of two books, notated in Japanese as 上 and 下 (common conventions that literally mean “up” and “down”).
“Final Story” follows Candice (nicknamed “Candy”), a young girl, who was abandoned as a child and raised at an orphanage. She is eventually adopted, but struggles with cruel treatment from her new family because of her background, and eventually manages to get out into the world and make a living for herself. No coming-of-age story would be complete without romantic elements, and this book is full of those including several people Candy becomes interested in. It has been said the original creators (Nagita plus the illustrator of the original work and someone from the publisher) took elements from several classic works such as “Anne of Green Gables”, “Daddy Long Legs”, and “Heidi”. Reading through, I was also reminded of “Cinderella” in a few places.
In spite of the fact this tale was originally written for young girls, as a man in my thirties I was still able to associate with the main character’s plight, especially regarding the romantic elements. My interest waxed and waned at various points, but some of the plot twists at the end made the ride well worth it. This work contains several important universal themes woven into it, including acceptance of the unchangeable past and unforeseeable future, as well as a belief that all people are good at heart.
As with many works which went on to gain major popularity, sometimes it’s hard to put your finger exactly on why it became so big. Despite the fact that there aren’t too many new elements in this story, it’s reason for greatness is the way everything is put together as a whole, and ultimately how it sways your emotions and makes you really feel for the main character. I also have a hunch that giving the story a Western setting (America among other places) contributed a large part to Candy Candy’s success in Japan.
Linguistically, the level of the Japanese is much lower than many other works I’ve read, though you still would probably need at least a year or two of study to be able to make it through. The Kanji level is also pretty reasonable, and I’d say that roughly 80% of the characters are in the standard Joyo kanji list. The beginning of the book is heavy on description, which can take more time to read, but at a certain point dialog dominates the story. Letters to or from Candy make up a portion of the novel, and those provide an interesting change in style. One of the things that did trip me up was the many references to flowers (and flowers are major part of the story, as you can guess from the book’s cover), because looking those up in a dictionary returned unfamiliar flower names. For times like these, I would suggest just doing a Google image search with the flower name in Japanese.
Regardless of your age or sex, if you are studying Japanese I think the Candy Candy series is a great way to learn more about Japan’s Shoujo genre, whether you start with the anime or novel. If you do try the anime, keep in mind it’s from the 1970s, so don’t expect too much from the visuals.
There doesn’t seem to be a English translation published for “Final Story” yet, though a French version does exist. Supposedly they are in talks to make one, though I don’t think there is anything committed yet. There is a fan-fiction piece which has been written in English that you can check out here, though this is only loosely based on the original plot. I wasn’t able to find a fan translation of “Final Story” in English, which was surprising. I am actually toying with the idea of trying to translate a small portion of the novel myself, though it would be mostly just for practice and completely unofficial. If this something you would enjoy reading, please let me know.
(Note: There has been some backlash regarding these two books because of the title “Final Story” and the fact the publisher seems to have marked it more as a new story instead of a re-write of an existing one, although the author has stated it was never intended to be a completely new story. But if you are new to Candy Candy, then this probably won’t concern you too much.)