I am currently watching Friends, Our Legend. There is a lovely little interlude in the drama where the leading lady is discussing with one of the two male leads about the types of men a young lady wants to encounter. The drama happens to be set in the mid-1980s, at a time where the young lady likely grew up having read the seminal manga from Japan, Candy Candy.
So the leading lady tells of the three men in Candy’s life: (1) there is Anthony, Candy’s first love, who dies tragically young and leaves Candy with a lifetime of what-could-have-beens, (2) there is Terry, Candy’s soul mate, who through machinations and real life obstacles, can never be with Candy, and lastly, (3) there is Albert, Candy’s daddy long-legs, who turns out to be her childhood first crush, and ends up being her forever after (this is alluded to rather than stated).
EVERYTHING I learned about the genre of romance drama, I learned from Candy Candy. I read it when I was seven years old. It’s the first “book” I remember reading. Back then, my version was translated into Chinese. I would continue to read it again and again, every few months for six years, until I had learned to read Chinese fluently to understand all the dialogue.
I watched the OVA, of course. It was THE only cartoon worth watching back then in Taiwan, when there was only three television channels that broadcasted about eight hours worth of content every day.
Even to a child of seven, not fully understanding all the dialogue, I knew I was reading something phenomenal, something magical, something that would change my life forever. Once I understood the entire story, it would become for me the Pride & Prejudice of mangas. Different genres, but both beloved by me and endlessly revisited.
Candy Candy is nine slim books containing a laundry list of every conceivable romance drama set up and plot. Every element was conceived and executed perfectly. And it was all in one story! Mindboggling to consider today, when some dramas can’t be bothered to do one element of romantic pathos correctly, much less a smorgasbord of romantic angst so deep our heroine must be made of Teflon to endure it.
The heroine of the story is Candice (Candy) White, an orphan. We follow her story from infancy to childhood, into the teenage years, and finally to young adulthood. K-drama romances use many elements which I first encountered in Candy Candy. There is nothing wrong with that. I merely want to take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the progenitor of modern K-romance melodrama as we know it.
The following contains parts of a comment I once posted on Dramabeans OT (while hyped up on caffeine, I recollect). What better way to recap Candy Candy than by highlighting all the elements of the story that work so well, which we now often encounter in our beloved K-dramas.
1. The orphan and/ or poor girl as the lead heroine – Candy isn’t just butt-poor, she seriously IS an orphan, abandoned by unseen parents to grow up in an orphanage. She is passed up for adoption after adoption because she is so active and tomboyish (the story is set in turn of the century America). She finally gets chosen by a family not to be an adopted daughter, but as a companion to the Devil’s Spawns.
2. The evil step or adopted family members – Candy is taken at the cusp of her teen years to be the playmate for two incredibly spoiled, selfish children (who she will later become adopted cousins with). Neil and Eliza Leagan are the requisite one-note villians of this story, who tormented Candy with every conceivable trick all the way through their young adulthood.
3. The rich family – The Ardley family is one of the richest in America (where the story begins around Chicago). The Leagans are just one branch (the evil branch), and they take Candy in to be Neil and Eliza’s companion. Later, the nice branch of the family persuades the unseen family patriarch, Grandfather William, to adopt Candy (she becomes American royalty, baby!).
4. The prince charming – While being a companion to the Evils, Candy meets Anthony Brown, one of the grandsons of the Ardley family. He’s the paragon of perfection – blond, blue-eyed, kind, loves roses (ugh, even then, I was like, what a pansy, but I digress). Anthony immediately spots a diamond in the rough, our Candy. [Candy also meets Alistar (Stear) and Archibald (Archie) Cornwall, two other Ardley grandsons, best friends with Anthony, and future friends to Candy].
5. First love – Candy and Anthony experience young love. I tease about Anthony’s flower-loving propensities, but he actually has a backbone. He may be kind of a pretty boy, but he’s fierce when it comes to protecting his Candy. Both Candy and Anthony glimpse the what-will-come of the future, when they are grown up and have that fairy tale wedding. Their burgeoning romance is really sweet, until an unforeseen tragedy happens.
6. Death of a first love – After Candy’s adoption into Clan Ardley (the family is of Scottish descent), a family gathering cum fox hunt is organized to introduce her to the extended clan. During the fox hunt, Anthony charges after a fox and his horse stumbles (maybe it was an indictment against hunting?). Anthony is tossed from the horse and dies instantly. Seriously, The Single Most Traumatic Scene For A 7 Year Old (ME!!) to watch. It was my first understanding that death happens, and it was irrevocable
7. Earth-shattering grief – The entire family falls into despondent grief. Anthony’s father, who has already lost his wife, must now bury his only son. Candy leaves the family and returns to the orphanage, her real home, and source of refuge in this inconceivable time of sorrow. Back with the Sisters who raised her, surrounding by the younger orphans, our Candy slowly lets the grief wash over her. Just as she is finally at peace, she gets a summons from Grandfather William (the family patriarch) that she has been enrolled in boarding school in London. The Sisters persuade Candy to pick herself off the floor of doing nothing and fulfill Anthony’s fondest wish that Candy becomes a lady.
8. Studying abroad– Candy boards a steamer with her escort, Uncle William’s nice lackey George, headed for London. During the voyage, New Year’s Eve arrives, and the ship throws a party. In the middle of the party, Candy walks outside for a breath of fresh air. She sees a male form in the ocean fog, his shape reminding her of Anthony. As she gets closer, she sees it not him. It’s someone else, and he appears to be crying. When he turns around to face her, the tears are gone. Instead of a gentle soul crying, Candy meets a guy with a prickly attitude and not a shred of gentlemanly behavior. This guy mocks her, flirts with her, and walks away. Let’s not all pretend this interlude isn’t going to have significant meaning soon, all right?
9. Boarding school – Candy arrives in London. She’s not enrolled in just any old boarding school – it was Catholic, had nuns, and everyone wore uniforms. What follows is some of the most classic and amazing boarding school scenes in the history of mangas and dramas. Candy will encounter bullies, popular kids, rich kids, outcasts, mean teachers, nice teachers, enemies, and best girl friends. She will also get into more scrapes than the average young lady at St. Paul’s. She will also make the proper acquaintance of the young man she met on the ship, Terrence (Terry) Grandchester (sheesh, even typing his names gives me shivers of hotness).
10. Opposites attract – If Candy and Anthony got married and lived to be ninety, I highly doubt the two of them would ever have a cross word with each other. They were just so alike and compatible souls. Not so the next guy who is going to come into Candy’s life and kick Anthony’s memory to the curb. Candy finally gets over her idealized first love (and she was called out on this) by meeting the richest, most rebellious kid in boarding school, Terry, who is the antithesis of Anthony – and he and Candy is love/hate at first fight.
11. The bickering of masked attraction – Hello, not in the history of mangas did two people bicker, fight, annoy each other, and generally looked like they should have been trying to tear each other’s clothes off (okay, I know they were only in high school – but their attraction and chemistry was that strong) as much as Candy and Terry.
12. Coincidences aplenty – Terry gets into a fight in London and gets accidentally dropped into the girls dorm. He stumbles into Candy’s room and she fixes him up. Secretly, Candy is constantly visiting her adopted best friend cousins Stear and Archie in the boys dorm. Who should live next to A&A? Yup, of course it’s Terry. And of course Candy drops into the wrong room one day and accidentally finds out Terry’s big secret (he’s the illegitimate son of a Duke and a famous American actress). Terry rides a horse through the campus grounds at night, and who should hear him, wake up, freak out, screaming “Anthony, no!” and gets injured – yeah, Candy. Candy and Terry spend many a lazy afternoon in the secluded glens of the campus, he ditching class to smoke, she finding reasons to reform him from his bad boy ways. What comes next for these two?
13. Forced kiss – This has been done to death in K-dramas. Here, the moment was instinctual and totally swoon-worthy. After the annual May Day Festival, the kids are all dressed for a costume ball. Look who shows up dressed as Romeo and Juliet (totally coincidental, too). Both Terry and Candy are outside when they hear the streams of a waltz tune coming from the party. Terry asks Candy to dance. Lost in the moment, she starts waxing nostalgic about Anthony, how her first dance was with him, how sweet he was, blahblahblah. You can just see how fed up Terry is with her refusal to admit her attraction to him. So he just kisses the bejusus out of her. The collective breathes of young girls everywhere just gets sucked in, and we are all taught an important life lesson – we must find our very own bad boy. Yes, I think young girls everywhere reading Candy Candy took a giant step into womanhood at that moment.
14. Moving on – While we are swooning over that kiss (still swooning, today, at my age, still swooning), Candy is livid and she bitch slaps Terry with a “How dare you!” Instead of apologizing (bad boys never need to apologize), Terry grabs her and drags her to the stables. He takes off his jacket (hey, get your mind out of the gutter), grabs Candy, and hauls her on his horse. She hasn’t been on a horse since the day Anthony died, and she’s screaming at Terry to stop and let her down. But he won’t, and as the horse thunders through the sun-dappled meadows, Candy slowly calms down. She opens her eyes to the gorgeous scenery as Terry holds her. During this ride, she finally lets Anthony go, lets the nightmare of that moment go, realizing that life indeed has moved on, and she has moved on.
15. The unwitting love triangle – When Candy finally begins to admit that she likes Terry, Stear and Archie have been watching this happen. Both brothers like Candy. When Anthony was alive, it was unspoken that neither would act on their feelings towards Candy. With Anthony’s death, Archie has decided to press his suit. Stear wisely decides to hide his feelings because he knows that Candy does not see him in a romantic light. Into the fray comes Ms. Annie Brighten. Going back to the beginning for a second, Annie and Candy grew up in the orphanage together and were best friends. Annie was adopted early and decided to stop communicating with Candy so as to hide her past as an orphan. Annie’s adopted family is friends with the Ardleys, so Annie has harbored a crush on Archie. Candy gets dragged into an unwitting love triangle with Archie-Annie. This is resolved quickly as Archie realizes that Candy doesn’t love him romantically and learns to accept Annie. This leaves our delicious OTP free to celebrate their summer of love.
16. The calm before the storm – The OTP usually gets some downtime before the shit hits the fan, so to speak. For our young lovers, summer has arrived, and everyone heads off to Scotland. Candy, Annie, Patty (Patricia O’Brien, their other close girlfriend), along with A&A, elect to attend St. Paul’s summer academy in the Highlands. Terry happens to have a family estate nearby and he joins the group. It’s a sweet summer – where Terry confesses to Candy he loves Shakespeare, and Candy helps Terry reconcile with his mother who can tracked him down to beg forgiveness for sending him away to live with his cold asswipe father, the Duke. But all good things must come to an end.
17. Jealous machinations – Candy’s prissy, petulant adopted cousin Eliza has been secretly hot for Terry. When Terry brushes off her attempts to seduce him, she plots to have the Headmistress Nun catch Terry and Candy in an abandoned room at night. Her plan is successful, and Candy and Terry are to be punished for their infraction.
18. Forceful separation– Realizing that he is still too young to take Candy away, Terry instead quits the boarding school so that Candy doesn’t get expelled. He decides to go to America, knowing that once he becomes self-sufficient (he won’t take another penny from his father) he can find Candy again. Candy realizes what Terry has done, and runs all the way to the London docks. Only she is just a second too late, and must watch the Trans-Atlantic steamer leaving at dawn. This is my single favorite scene in the entire book. She screams Terry’s name, sobbing and just heartbroken. Terry is standing on the deck as the ship pulls away. He thinks he hears her voice, but believes it’s just his imagination and wishful thinking.
19. The journey to adulthood – Candy elects to follow Terry’s footsteps and head to America. Not to track down her beloved (how trite), but to become self-sufficient and grow up. She has no need for lady lessons at boarding school. She doesn’t want to take money from her adopted family and live a meaningless life. But she’s got no money for her return journey, so she hitchhikes through England (meeting regular folks and affecting their lives) and finally boards a cargo ship and pretends to be a lad (awesome sea voyage, very touching). After a series of trials and tribulations, she gets herself back to America.
20. The near miss – In yet another favorite K-drama cliché, Candy heads back to the orphanage and just barely misses seeing Terry. Terry has visited Candy’s orphanage because he wants to see the place she grew up, since she was always talking about it when they were in boarding school. He leaves after having tea with the Sisters, and Candy arrives a few minutes too late (his cup of tea is still warm on the table).
21. Finding a life’s purpose – Instead of moping, or tracking down Terry, Candy decides to become a nurse (what with WWI on the horizon). She attends nursing school knowing that she will find Terry eventually. This is where our heroine becomes a flesh and blood character for me, her occupation, her devotion, her inherent goodness. These adult themes are so meaningful for a young child to read.
22. Workplace conflicts – Candy enters nursing school and is immediately faced with prickly fellow nursing students. Her nursing experience is very enriching to read. She’s resilient when faced with other nurses who ostracize her. She’s works hard even though she’s not the smartest cookie and prone to scatterbrained behavior. She considers volunteering to be a nurse at the front line in Europe for the troops, but her ice queen roommate goes instead. World War I has broken out, and Candy is not longer a teenager anymore.
23. Amnesia – Yes, Candy, Candy has an amnesia plotline! Whom, pray you ask? Why Albert, of course! Who is Albert? Yes, I have not mentioned him yet. He’s this peripheral young man who Candy meets first in America when she is first brought to the Ardley family, and later again in England. Albert always helps and encourages Candy. He appears to be a mysterious vagrant who loves animals. Albert is brought into the hospital Candy works at. He was on a train when there was an explosion, and has been terribly injured. The hospital is wary of treating him because they think he may be a spy, since no one has claimed him. When he awakens, he has lost his memory and doesn’t know who he is. Candy recognizes him as Albert, not that she knows his back story. But he’s always been a friend to her, and she decides to take care of him in his time of need.
24. Best friends – So Candy nurses Albert back to health and rents a flat to live with him because he still has not regained his memory. Despite all the objections and censure of those around her, she trusts that he’s a good person. This leads to them becoming best friends, always there for each other. But nothing more develops (yet), because Candy is still searching for her Terry.
25. The long-awaited reunion – Terry has by now become a budding stage actor in America, following in his actress mother’s footsteps. His acting troupe brings him to Chicago for a performance, which Candy attends. More near misses arise, but they see each other finally when Terry’s train is leaving Chicago and he steps out on the end platform and sees Candy racing after him. They finally know how to find each other, and they make plans for Candy to visit him in NYC for a long awaited reunion. Everyone is happy, except for Ms. Susanna Marlowe.
26. The weepy third wheel – Yes, no story is complete without a besotted third wheel. Susanna, the lead actress in Terry’s acting troupe lurves him. She is kind and sweet and gentle (barf). At first she tries to prevent Candy from reuniting with Terry, but she finally tearfully confesses her feelings to him, and wishes him and Candy well. However, as they are rehearsing for the upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet, she pushes Terry away from a falling prop light and is crippled for life.
27. Self-sacrifice – Terry should have just wished Susanna luck, and walked away with Candy. Alas, both are too noble. They realize that they cannot be happy knowing what Susanna did for Terry. He elects to fulfill his duty for the dishrag third wheel who saved his life. Their first reunion in NYC turns into their final meeting. Candy leaves that night back for Chicago, and Terry cannot even send her off. He can only hug her from behind as she walks away, the tears he silently cries into back (*sob* geez, my eyes are getting we). As hard as this was to read, this is self-sacrificing love done right. Our OTP feels all the raw emotions, anger, loathing, the unfairness of life.
28. The fallen hero – Candy has Albert to pick her up after she comes home, to cheer her up, her work to sustain her. Terry doesn’t handle this as well. He goes batshit crazy and leaves one day. He goes to some hick town where he becomes a raging drunk acting in penny plays. Candy reads in the tabloids about his plight and goes to track him down.
29. The final catharsis – Candy finds Terry, watching the degradation of his talent in a rundown theater. Terry glimpses Candy in his drunken stupor. She is crying in the audience. he realizes that hot damn, HE made the choice to stay with his no-legged girlfriend, there is no one to blame but himself. He has better get his act together and not disappoint Candy anymore. How can he ever be good enough for Candy if he can’t even make Susanna happy. That is the only thing he can do for her. He finally breaks through his anger and resignation and goes back to his acting troupe to pick up the pieces and start over.
30. Another death – And you thought it couldn’t get any sadder. Remember guys, there is a world war going on around these kids. Stear decides to secretly enlist in the air force and goes to Europe (he also wants to do something meaningful with his life). He sees Candy off at the train station when she went to NYC to visit Terry to say his goodbye without telling her he’s enlisting. When she returns, everyone tells her the news of Stear’s enlistment. Unfortunately, Stear gets shot down over Germany and his death brings the entire Ardley clan back together for yet another funeral. [The boys – Anthony, Stear, and Archie – used to play the bagpipes together when they were growing up, and now only Archie is left to salute his brother and his cousin, both dying way too young].
31. Formalcest – Meanwhile, as everyone has been working on being productive citizens, the worthless duo of Eliza and Neal have been puttering around living the good life on their family dime. Neil, through a series of run-ins, has gradually fallen in love with Candy (I can make a joke about how EVERY Ardley guy under the age of eighty loves Candy, but I’ll refrain).
32. Attempted rape – Since Candy shows no interest in him, he finally lures her to a deserted mansion to profess his love. When she scoffs at his declaration, he tries to rape her. She escapes and Albert finds her.
33. Forced marriage – The matriarch of the Ardley family has decreed that Candy is to marry Neil (who has threatened to enlist in the army and go off to war if he can’t marry Candy, using Stear’s death to his advantage). Candy finally reaches her breaking point. She seeks the help of Grandfather William, the unseen patriarch we have been told about throughout the story, to help her and overturn the grandmother’s decree.
34. Fate – Candy goes to the Ardley country estate, only to find that Grandfather William was all along ALBERT (which is his middle name, William Albert Ardley). Albert, who prefers his middle name for anonymity, is actually the uncle of our beloved pansy Anthony (Anthony’s mother was Albert’s older sister). He had been secretly living the nomadic lifestyle because he doesn’t want the shackles of assuming responsibility for the family and settling down. It was simply coincidence that he was in the train accident, and that he ended up at the same hospital Candy worked at.
35. A happy ending – Albert resumes his rightful place as head of the family and the wedding is called off. Candy tells Albert she wants to goes back to the orphanage to work there. When she arrives, her friends, Annie, Archie and Patty are there to welcome here. She sneaks away to go to her favorite spot, the grassy hill behind the orphanage where she used to go as a young child to cry. This is where a six year old Candy first met this golden young man who wore a Scottish quilt and played bagpipes for her. This young man, whom Candy dubbed the Prince of the Grassy Hill, told her “Little girl, you’re so pretty, you shouldn’t be crying.” As Candy sits on that little grassy hill, lost in her memories, she suddenly hears the exact same words again. She turns around and sees Albert, who was in fact the Prince she met all those years ago.
Candy, Candy was perfection. She ends up marrying one of the richest dudes in America, who is handsome, kind, nice to animals, her best friend, and her genuine first love, as she has had a crush on the Prince of the Grassy Hill since she was a little girl!
However, readers of Candy Candy understand that Terry is Candy’s soulmate (the passionate love, the soul-searching connection that comes once in a lifetime). Much as I ship Terry-Candy until the end of time (the ends of time, I tell you!), Candy-Albert is a fitting conclusion for our darling Candy, whose life goes through first love, true love/soul mate, and everlasting/partnership love.
Candy is an epic heroine, and her journey from orphan to wife of William Albert Ardley is highlighted by how resilient and courageous she is in confronting each barrier, each obstacle, each challenge. As a heroine, she is the perfect role model and ideal for any young girl to admire and aspire to be.
The Candy Candy world also gave K-dramas thirty-five, count ‘em, thirty-five quintessential romance drama elements that have brought us K-drama lovers countless hours or joy, anger, and sadness. All in the name of telling a compelling story. For that, Candy Candy deserves a spot on the pantheon of great stories. For me, the Candy-esque heroine will never get old. As long as she evinces the proper can-do-spirit and gets the living daylights kissed out of her by her bad boy true love, I will always be open to meeting yet another K-drama heroine drawn from her trailblazing ways.