Pretty Cure, the Toei magical girl series where gay magical girls are not ok, but the dorm advisor using a cocktail shaker at an event for thirteen year olds is.
Ages and ages ago, I tried a new anime entitled Futari wa Pretty Cure!. I was still pretty new to digital fansubs, even in somewhat awe of them due to their ease (I can get an episode of an anime a couple days after it aired and it only takes six hours to download?!), and I saw an Ask John that mentioned it and thought – well, why not? I started watching it. I liked it just fine, although it wasn’t a must-watch for me, and, after fifteen episodes, I let it slide – when it takes that long to download a single episode, it can be a bit difficult to keep up with a show that only just sort of holds your interest. I also wasn’t really in a frame of mind at the time where watching a magical girl show weekly worked for me, especially one that was so much a perfect example in that it didn’t seem to do much different from a preceding decade of fighting magical girls. Sailor Moon could get by on nostalgia, which made me want to also watch the later seasons I hadn’t seen yet, and CardCaptor Sakura benefited from months between bursts of four episodes at a time (as did Nurse Angel Ririka SOS) as well as from, quite frankly, having more depth to its proceedings; Precure fell by the wayside. I did try again when Splash Star premiered, but it was too much like the original for me to press forward. “Someday!”, I thought – Precure was quickly becoming something worth watching for context alone, after all.
The TL;DR form is that I am not a Precure fan, and that I’ve tried it in the past and haven’t had a lot of luck. I’ve also seen twelve episodes of Heartcatch and just didn’t click with it. The furthest I’ve previously gotten was with Yes! Precure 5, where I got about twenty episodes deep – although in this case the lack of subs at all past that point tripped me up (it has since been fully subbed; maybe I’ll get back to it someday). I’ve also meant to try Fresh and Suite (ok, true facts here – I was persuaded to consider Suite despite its poor reputation since I’ve been told it leans yurilicious, although of course it never actually goes fully there since Toei’s lost some of its guts since Sailor Moon ended). But each year for the past few years I’ve vaguely thought, “Oh, there’s a new Precure, isn’t there? I should start watching it, maybe I’d do better with it weekly, and no time like the present, right?”, only to stumble and fail. That I couldn’t endure even the full first episode of HappinessCharge didn’t really help matters.
So, as the new year approached, and I anew thought, “Oh, hmm, Precure…”, I was dismayed when I saw stuff for the new series, Go! Princess Precure. Shit, princess? It’s a princess theme this time around? Oh fuck. No thanks. So I guess I should thank Katherine at Yuriboke for piquing my interest by doing a write-up for the first two episodes – she wasn’t wholly positive about it, but the stuff she mentioned that caught her own interest similarly made me curious. The princess thing still had me leery, but I decided to spring for it.
One night, Wedding Peach, Sailor Moon SuperS, Maria-sama ga Miteru, and Revolutionary Girl Utena got drunk together, had an orgy, and nine months later, Princess Precure was born. Marimite and RGU at the very least gazed upon it and vowed to never invite Wedding Peach anywhere ever again because the DNA that seems to be peeled from there is not stuff that contributes in a positive fashion to the show. And it is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the flavoring of SMSuperS is present but not the depth – yes, I said “depth” in relation to SMSuperS, and not in the construction, “It has the depth of a puddle.” I’ve spilled a lot of ink about the fact that there’s a lot more going on in that show than it gets credit for (even as it isn’t a good show – Kunihiko Ikuhara might be getting to say a lot about dating culture/rape culture, but he still was constrained by Toei’s desire to pull in a younger audience by plopping Chibiusa front and center as well as the Monster of the Week format), and Princess Precure absolutely doesn’t have that at all, and I seriously doubt it ever will.
(In a larger sense, I really do think some aspects of Precure pale by comparison to Sailor Moon – there have been characters who’ve pinged as gay in the franchise, and there is at least one in PriPrecure, but Toei hasn’t dared go there, and I don’t think it’s about to change with this season. And while it does continue the message that femininity and being strong are not mutually exclusive matters, Precure doesn’t really do social critique to the degree Sailor Moon managed to. It’s really disappointing, ultimately, to look at a magical girl series that’s over twenty years old and has LGBT characters and then turn back to the current massive magical girl franchise and have nothing.)
I’m sounding really negative, so I do want to say that I like the show, even if I also have some issues with it. But let me talk some more comparisons first.
The show opens in the past, with our heroine, Haruno Haruka, meeting a prince who looks a hell of a lot like Dios from RGU, and similarly gifts a young girl with a special item, and also tells her she can be a princess someday. (Thankfully, when we meet up with him again, he proves to be more like Pegasus/Helios from SMSuperS – thankfully since with this sort of show having a Dios-type prince being the one Haruka warmly remembers would be awkward at best.) He then disappears. Unlike Utena, though, Haruka takes the more expected route of solidifying her desire to be a princess. Years later, Haruka’s off to the fancy-fancy Noble Academy… and still wants to be a princess, although she’s not willing to admit it out loud due to a history of teasing. Fairies appears from a magical world, villains appear and lock up people’s dreams, and, voila! Magical girl time for Haruka!
The dream theme is reminiscent of SMSuperS, although the prince, Kanata (if you watched/read Uraboku, you might get a little suspicious here, by the way), isn’t hiding in anyone’s dreams. The villains look for people’s dreams to literally seal off, and create a monster from this; these are known as Zetsuborg. The victims are pretty random – we don’t spend any time with them at all before they’re attacked, but this actually works fairly well, since this allows for more time to spend with Haruka and the other Cures, Minami and Kirara.
Speaking of the other girls, when Haruka and Minami are together, I can’t help but think of Marimite. Haruka’s a more genki, less smart Yumi, while Minami is Sachiko without the family issues baggage. My favorite of the three, though, is Kirara, as she frequently comes off as the only sane person in the room. I also appreciated her lack of enthusiasm for the whole magical girl thing – it takes a whole two episodes to get her to agree to actually do it on a permanent basis, with a fake-out in the middle where she transforms to fight off a Zetsuborg but then hands back the transformation items afterward – she was just pissed at the monster for ruining the big fashion show she was in, why would she care about any of the other monsters?
Kirara’s down-to-earth nature, despite her aspiration to be a super model (that her mother is one tempers this somewhat, though), is in play during an episode that delivered the absolutely wrong message. In fact, more recent episodes have had a worrying tendency to impart questionable lessons. Kirara tries to convince Haruka to let her help her when the latter is burning the candle at both ends trying to improve her academic record AND sew a dress (she’s never sewn before) for the upcoming ball. Haruka is on the point of collapse, but Minami tells Kirara she’s wrong to intervene, and Kirara comes around to her point of view when Haruka manages to kick Zetsuborg butt despite having been ready to pass out a couple of scenes before. No! If your friend has worked themselves to such a state, you shouldn’t just let them be! What a terrible idea to give to a kid!
The other one I really had an issue with was the idea that childhood bullies should be given a second chance, even if they’re unrepentant and also are still jeering at you for the same reasons they did back when they used to harass you to tears. The secondary message didn’t improve matters, either – it’s ok to be a jerk if it’s in service of your dreams! For the sports festival, Haruka gets to play pairs tennis, and is matched with a boy named Aihara whom she realizes was a boy who bullied her when she was a little kid. Aihara realizes who she is, makes fun of her dream of being a princess, gets angry that she’s never played tennis before, and refuses to spend time practicing with her, telling her to just practice serves on her own and stand still during the matches themselves because, ugh, he hates losing!!! Aihara’s an asshole. The show later positions him as only being mean to her because he actually has a crush on her. Kids, if someone is mean to you because they don’t want anyone to know that they like you, that means that they’re prioritizing their own social comfort over yours – they’re a stinker, steer clear.
All that being said… I am enjoying the show. I like Kirara a lot, and there’s a real physicality to the fight scenes that is pleasing – the Cures are extremely strong physically, and you really don’t get to see girls in shows kick butt like this outside of tit and panty fests like Ikki Tousen (full disclosure: I kind of like Ikki Tousen). Pafu should annoy me, but I’ve fallen prey to her disgusting level of adorableness; I tend to dislike klutziness as humor, but there is something endearing about her habit of getting so excited that she trips over her own hair.
On the other hand, it really does need to said that a massive amount of time is sopped up with the transformation sequences. PriPrecure features double-transformation sequences each episode, which is to say that we watch the girls transform for the fights, and then get another transformation for them to do their final attack. This was what pinged as Wedding Peach to me (although the two also share in common a distinct lack of progressivism when it comes to the aspirations of part or all of their casts – the Wedding Peach girls dream of being brides, not princesses, and it’s very, very specifically brides, pretty dresses on a wedding day in a pristine church; marriage itself doesn’t really enter the picture, to the extent that, even as love interests develop, it isn’t about being married to a cool guy who is nice, but about THAT dress on THAT day), as there we get an initial transformation into wedding dresses, and then a transformation into battle outfits. For one of the episodes after all three of the Precures are assembled, I decided to time the amount of time taken up by recycled content. The initial transformation takes two minutes alone! Add in OP and ED, the second transformation (which includes an attack sequence immediately), and unlocking the person’s dream, and you’re up to seven minutes of the total runtime. If you count episode previews as being “content”, this means you have seventeen minutes of content each week. That really isn’t much.
So, all in all, it’s most accurate to say that I’m enjoying PriPrecure while also being deeply dismayed by quite a few of its elements. But, here, let’s close with the sequence from episode nine that thrilled me to bits:
I feel a bit guilty about shipping in a kids’ show, but… oh dear… also, boy, you ain’t fooling no one – you’re wearing a powder blue suit, you were SUPER interested in Minami’s dress (and not in a “ur hawttt” manner), and you’re overly demonstrative and courtly about asking a girl to dance. Logo called and they want to make a show starring you.
I agree with your review mostly, especially the tennis guy bit. It is the worst episode that i don’t even bother to finish at the point the villain shown up. I actually confused why the hell haruka (and the audience by proxy) must see him as “admirable”. Also the prince was already set up as love-interest so it make tennis guy’s purpose obsoleted. I also love minamixharuka even though haruka probably got shipped with either prince or the “black magician girl” in the op…
An impressive review, I have enjoyed certain Precure series in the past (especially the fight very physical scenes) but also worried about certain implications in some of the series or stories. You’ve definitely highlighted some recurring and disturbing trends and themes seen in a lot of shoujo shows that very much bother me.
Don’t feel bad about shipping, tons of the Precure series have romantic subtext like that, now if only they ran with it instead of just toying with it.