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Review: Thoughts on PreCure

Yeah, we’re going down an anime rabbit hole this week, partly because I splurged on hardbacks that won’t be here for a couple more days, mostly because I’m binge watching and have feelings…and a small part because of an upcoming surprise in roughly two weeks that makes me want to touch on my girly obsessions a little more publicly so no one is necessarily surprised out of liking me.

So I am a magical girl genre fiend…provided the story isn’t stupid and the transformation sequences aren’t sexualizing the characters. That means my options are extremely limited. Sometimes something really cool will happen, like Madoka, that break the genre, but usually you have three options: the classics (Card Captor Sakura, Sailor Moon–I can’t speak on Crystal yet, I hated the animation quality of the first season too badly and I hate Rini as a character and she seems to have an even bigger part in Crystal, soooo I’m dragging my feet, etc.), those gross animes that use a genre meant for young girl viewers as a chance to cater to the lowest denominator, or the one magical girl series that is always putting out new content–PreCure, which is short for Pretty Cure and is a bit like sentai shows, just with magical girls.

Now, PreCure feels like it has been around for ages, but it actually only came out in 2004. It just churns out a new team (with two early exceptions) every year, each with a different theme, and the main focus is supposed to be on these girls figuring themselves out and female positivity. The year actually surprises me because the first team, a pair actually, have such 80’s designs…and actually some of the others end up that way too. I’m not sure if it’s because the character designers for those seasons are older and don’t know what girls actually wear or if Japanese fashion during those years has gone weird, retro directions, or what.

The idea of PreCure is that the main characters are supposed to be in middle school, and the early seasons kept with that–the characters looked their actual ages. And sometimes, the newer seasons fall back on that. But PreCure 5 actually pushed up the physical or appearance ages of their team a little, and then Fresh! took it even further. While Heartcatch (which is what I saw a couple of years ago) tried to go backwards with three of the four members reflecting more childish bodies, Suite went right back to high schoolers…which sort of defeats PreCure’s purpose in my opinion and plus I just couldn’t fall in to Suite.

Now what caught my attention to PreCure in the first place? …Oh, I got suckered in, badly. They threw a cold, elegant girl associated with moonlight and roses into Heartcatch, I felt obligated to watch because that is my jam to the utmost. (My favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! character is Seto Kaiba and in Yu Yu Hakusho it is Kurama, I have tropes and aesthetics that you are guaranteed to get my attention with.)

Cure Moonlight

Admittedly, Cure Moonlight is a bad one to use as a measuring stick, she’s overpowered as hell, but I digress. I stayed not because there was one character who matched my preferred aesthetic, but because the writing of Heartcatch was absolutely to die for. I bawled at one episode, it was that intense.

The problem is, it seems like PreCure has one writer who is capable of taking the tropey, overly saturated parts of the genre and making them into something that is enjoyable not only for young children, but also for us old fossils who refuse to stay out of the genre. Yes, Heartcatch is fashion and flower centric, which should be too sweet to stand. But then you add that it also addresses familial commitments and pressure, parental abandonment or feelings of it, grief for passed friends, failing and having to figure out what happens next. It’s so hard to balance without going doom and gloom, but God did Heartcatch manage it.

I couldn’t find another one that caught my attention in the same way (I tried Princess, it made me cringe), though now I’m wondering if I was too hasty with some of the more in-between seasons. Why? Because I finally saw all the transformation sequences for the main team of Kirakira, which I initially dismissed as too stupid. Sweets, okay, animals, sure, together? To paraphrase Ginny, “WHY?! Why not one or the other?!” And then I heard the reasoning behind it and that just made it worse. Too stupid for words, hard pass, thank you. But see, it already had a crumb of my attention because the front three were in the same, more childish designs as Cures Blossom, Marine, and Sunshine had been. And the original clips I saw sped past the older two girls. So when I finally saw Macaron, I knew I was sunk.

Cure Macaron

I knew just from how her face was drawn, this character was too interesting to ignore because that face reflects a lot more personality than usual tropes. A little bit of digging, and I had suspicions that whoever wrote Heartcatch was involved with Kirakira. I am only 17 episodes into it, and I can guarantee that, or at the very least someone there took a few pages out of her book because it is hitting on deeper themes already, and it is also doing it in ways that are different than Heartcatch had previously done (or really, that I had seen everywhere). Cure Macaron being a prime example, who is also smart, finally someone who is as smart as the villains!!! I am also admittedly eating up the Macaron and Chocolat interactions with a spoon…

So, what does that mean about PreCure? Well, it’s like any other sentai show (or the U.S. equivalent which is Power Rangers). Sometimes, everything from story to character designs is on point and something that not only young children, but also older viewers. Other times, the character designs are awful or at least illogical, but the story might be salvageable. Sometimes the character designs are great, and then you are left with superficial garbage for story. And then there are times it’s a total wash. It’s sort of a round robin coin toss on what is going to work, what isn’t, and what is going to survive. But you know what? At least PreCure tries new things with each team, and tries to go, “Okay, you didn’t like this years PreCure, next year is different so maybe it’ll be more your speed.” I can get behind that.


Writing: Helpful (and not) Review Ettiquette

So, have we established enough that I’m blunt when I review something? Because I’m blunt. If there is anything wrong, I am going to call you on it. If there’s anything amazing, I’m going to gush. They are two sides of the same coin, and both can tell the writers/creators (if they ever read this blog, which would mortify me) some of what they are doing right, and some of what they are doing wrong, and it would all be my opinion. But reviewing is hard, and nail-biting, and before you start, you just have to know what you are getting into.

Let’s start with that two sides of the coin thing. The negative is going to hurt. A lot. I don’t like hearing it either, and I had to defend my book to three different people as part of my masters program. How can you make it sting less? Make sure it doesn’t get personal. Even I struggle with that, mostly because insults are sometimes terms of affection with me but I know that doesn’t always translate well in a blogging format. But try not to insult the author when reviewing. If you must imply something is wrong creatively, whether the idea is overused or wasn’t explained well or whatever, make sure you state that’s the problem with it and offer ways to fix it.

This is especially difficult when you are passionate about something. I mean, you all have seen me. I get up in arms over female characters and other concepts that are near-and-dear to my heart. And I will lash out over them. But again, try to find a positive in there somewhere, because the positive gives the writer/person you are giving critique to something to build off of. If you give them that kernel, they can look at everything else you said to try and build around that positive. It also keeps them from completely skim reading the paragraph in question and ignoring the problem all together.

The good is the easy (and the hard) part. It’s both because sometimes finding the good is easy. You fall in love with the characters, or the concept, or the story itself and just need to gush. All that takes is pulling it in so you don’t oversell the subject to your readers. But sometimes a bad element is so overshadowing, you forget what you did like about the book/movie/whatever. Then you have to try and remember how you felt before the outrage, and that can be extremely difficult. This is partly why I don’t write a review the same day as I finished reading/watching the subject. If I’m in love, giving it a couple days helps me figure out the parts that did irk me so the review can be balanced. Similarly, it helps cool my frustration over the ick so that I will remember the elements I did like and the writer/creator can have something to expand on and take pride in.

Doing any sort of negative review, btw, is apparently odd or considered rude by members of the writing community. I learned this at a workshop I attended last week, and it just…boggled me. If you can’t find any positive whatsoever in the book, I agree, don’t review it. But otherwise, shouldn’t you be giving the readers a head’s up? I mean, there is so much literature out there now, most people read recommended titles from friends or reviewers. If I list here are the good, here are the bad, this is my opinion, well, that gives you something to base your decision off of. If you aren’t big on something that is my major hang up, you can go, “Okay, duly noted, the rest sounds great, let’s go!” But at least you know going into to it that the characters are flat or the plot doesn’t climax properly or whatever the problem may be.

Also, negative critiques are how we grow, provided they are done properly. I’m not saying rip people apart, or be trolls about it. I’m saying point out the weak parts of the book/movie/show, and offer suggestions on what could be done to help build them up without writing the story for them. So if the plot is weak, suggest showing more of this or that element that wasn’t completely explained. If a character is badly written and flat, ask questions about the character, likes and dislikes and history. And again, point out what is good about it.

And above all, remember that a review is just an opinion. What one person likes, another person could hate. I have a friggin’ masters in professional writing, loads of experience as a reader, and my opinion is still just an opinion. I just write things out in a way that pokes at the actual story elements instead of going, “I hate it,” or “I love it.” Ginny has more experience than me, less formal education, but her opinion is just as valuable for that reason. And we still don’t agree on things! (Most things, yes, but we have our points of difference.) Just if multiple people are telling you there’s a character problem, start digging for those kernels and look at what they are saying is wrong so you can examine your own writing and improve.