Before we talk about the substance of these three episodes, we need to get this out of the way. Yes, there is slavery in the setting of the narrative, and yes, the female lead does indeed buy the male lead. Although it isn’t quite as offensive as it might be, Anne purchases the fairy fighter Challe Fenn Challe in order to have some security while she travels. This may have been because it was more practical financially than trying to recruit human mercenaries or guards. Since she rescues another fairy from his violent owner just before she joins the slave market, this might be seen as hypocritical of her. She isn’t purchasing him, at least, because she wants to have total control over his activities, “level him up,” or any of the other flimsy explanations that have been floated over the years. I generally try to keep my knowledge of the source material out of these episode reviews, but I will say that as the story progresses, her apparent hypocrisy becomes less of a problem. It may be best to think of Sugar Apple Fairy Tale as the light novel equivalent of well-intentioned antebellum abolitionist books like India by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth: it tries very hard to make a point that many other similar books glide right over, but it (Since I’m talking about light novels, it seems that this series will adapt the first three novels, which make up the first narrative arc in its entirety.)
Aside from that, the programme does a fantastic job of portraying the intensity of the plot. The newly orphaned fifteen-year-old Anne Halford wants to follow in the footsteps of her late mother by becoming a Silver Sugar Master. In the world of the narrative, silver sugar—the best kind of sugar—is refined from sugar apples. The best candy makers are known as Silver Sugar Masters, and one of them, the Silver Sugar Viscount, is an expert who has been elevated to a nobility and only works for the king. Anne is travelling to Lewiston, the nation’s capital, to take part in a competition for people aspiring to the title of Master since she does not wish to be the Silver Sugar Viscountess. Unfortunately for her, Jonas, a young guy about her age who claims to have fallen in love with her during her mother’s terminal illness, has some very serious objections to her intentions.
You have successfully exposed Jonas’ deception if you sense anything fishy about him from the start. Something about Jonas’ declarations of love simply seems to be deceptive from the start. He comes across as someone who would call themselves “a nice guy” while saying all the things they think they should to make someone like them when compared to Challe, who is never less than aggressively honest about anything that crosses his mind. Even though Jonas’ true colours aren’t revealed until episode three, the situation is undoubtedly doomed. It crosses the line into creepy when he keeps renewing his marriage proposal after Anne has rejected it time and time again.
It could be argued that there is a sad lack of likeable male characters when Challe, who personifies some of the oldest bad boy stereotypes in shoujo romance, appears to be the best option for romance in the story. Hugh, a slightly older man who Anne meets at an inn on the way to Lewiston, is also introduced in episode three. Hugh claims to be a regular guy, but it’s obvious that he has more going on than that when it comes to silver sugar candy, and the way he crushes Anne’s and Jonas’ offerings suggests that he has mentored aspiring confectioners in the past. Even though it still feels like a jerk move, it was clearly made with their best interests in mind. As a result, it might serve as the motivation for someone to steal Anne’s remaining silver sugar. Although Mithril Lid Pod, the fairy Anne freed from his abusive master and who chose to travel with her, is given the blame, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that Mithril has likely been set up. There are two suspects nearby who are much more likely.
As of now, Sugar Apple Fairy Tale does a fantastic job of striking a balance between the blocks of world-building, character development, and romance. At least emotionally, Anne is only 15 years old, whereas Challe is either unaware of or unconcerned with the consequences of his actions. The final scenes of episode three, where Challe disregards her direct order so that he can protect her from the wolves Cathy and Jonas have lured towards her, do a good job of emphasising that Anne is well-intentioned and that Challe is willing to take her at her word and takes his job very seriously. Because each volume of the source novels is about 150 pages long and feels much more likely to fit neatly into four-episode packages, it moves along at a good pace without feeling rushed. This is shaping up to be a good shoujo adventure if you can get past the slavery theme.