Tag Archives: well rounded characters

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: Creating Characters of All Types

For me, a story starts with the characters. When I’m writing, reading, watching. If I’m not connected with the character, then I will never get invested in the story. But this begs the question on what makes a good character, and that tends to have a whole lot that goes into it.

First, what kind of character are we talking about here? Are we talking about the main character, be it the protagonist or the antagonist? A party member (meaning someone who works with the main character frequently so they aren’t minor but they aren’t the main character either)? The love interest? Or just Background Pleb Number 32? What goes into each of these characters is different, and it also depends somewhat on taste and genre.

When creating a main character, I like to make a full bio, so I don’t forget any details. Name, nicknames, family make-up, hair color and preferred style and length, eye color and make-up preferences, clothes style. I think about how all these things impact the character. Are they an only child, or are they lost among siblings and how do they cope? Is their hair style functional or is it a time-consuming process? What do their clothes say about them? Popular, trying to be popular, fashionable, or that person in the back of the class who doesn’t care? I make notes of all of that, so I can keep them in mind as I then set out to the hard part. What is their personality like? Are they snarky, or are they sweet? Are they both? What is their temper like? What are their biggest flaws?

Caley is my prime example in all of this. Little facets really reveal a lot about her. Her wardrobe is the epitome of mix-and-match durability, and it all fits into one bag. Her hair is worn long, with little styling, and she doesn’t even own make-up. I have a full map of her family break down, including who lives where, who is married or dating, and who has how many kids. From all this, it can be inferred one of the big parts of Caley’s past history. She’s bounced around between family members her whole life, and has to be ready to leave in a moment’s notice. She hasn’t set down roots anywhere, and doesn’t see any point in trying to impress anyone other than herself. Which as you can imagine, mean her manners are not the best when dealing with other people.

See what I mean? It’s the little details that do a lot to help you figure out the character, or at least for me. You could also do the reverse and start with a particular personality in mind and figure out the physical from there. I’ve done this with party members.

Speaking of party members… Once you have your main character figured out, you now have to figure out what skills they are lacking, and thus get another character who does have those skills added to their friends. Why? Because while a guaranteed way to cause conflict in a book is to give a character a challenge they have no hope of defeating, they need to at least figure out a way around it, and usually this means getting help. For me, party members start with figuring out what that skill is, and expanding upon them based off of what that skill tells me about the character, adding other elements as I go along. While your party members don’t need to be as complex as your main character–and in fact shouldn’t, or else they will start to compete for attention–they do need to have their positives and negatives.

Caley’s got two primary party members, and both serve similar but different functions. Rather than expound on Moonshine (I’ll save him for a magical creature building post next month along with a few others), I’m going to focus on the other human who serves as a sort of foil for Caley: Violet. I haven’t mentioned her much, but Violet was the school outcast before Caley, and on top of being much better at getting along with people, Violet has a better understanding of the mystic side of things. Why? Because Violet is a Wiccan witch, her powers primarily in stone craft. This means that unlike Caley, she can directly impact her surroundings and foes with her powers, and knows some of their weaknesses (see, skills). Personality wise, she is sweeter and far more excitable, and is the definition of Bohemian geek. (Seriously, her dog is named after a cartoon character.) She serves as a foil for Caley, showing where Caley is lacking so she doesn’t come across as boring but also helping serve as a marker of growth, making it easier to see how the girls both change over the course of the series.

Now comes a trickier beast. The love interest. How you go about building the love interest is going to depend a lot on what kind of book you are writing. If you are writing something that is heavy on the romance, the love interest needs treated just as powerfully as the protagonist and the antagonist, because they have to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the other person. If you are doing a love triangle or your romance is very much a subplot for various reasons, you need to create your love interest like you would a party member. (Especially because usually this means your love interest is a party member to begin with.) Just keep in mind some of your favorite relationships in things you’ve seen in books or movies. What worked, what didn’t work, what kind of personality meshes well with your main character.

….Caley’s and Violet’s love interests are unnecessarily complicated by their own shenanigans, and because Ginny says no spoiling, I can’t spotlight either of them. I will say that when I was sorting out personalities and such, I relied a lot on (believe it or not) horoscope books. There are books detailing which signs work best together, and in my case I splurged and bought two books that expound upon the signs in relation to male and female, and even on hetero and homosexual couples. It can give you a nice building block to work off of.

Minor characters should be tropes. Cardboard cutouts. If you add more than a trait or two and some physical tags, they start approaching party members, not background characters. The only time I make exceptions to this is if they are going to be important in later books that you have already planned out. Then you can flesh them out a little bit more, add a couple of more traits and focus to them to get your audience wondering what it is about them that’s important. The important thing is don’t name someone unless they are important. Names are the sign of needing to remember them to the reader. If you add too much detail, it starts distracting from the protagonist and their conflict, as well as distracting the reader.

I might flesh this out more later, but there’s a bit of my character building process.