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.)
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.
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.