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I was recently asked about why I don’t seem to like Puella Magi Madoka Magica nearly as much as other anime fans, bearing in mind the degree to which the show seems to garner an extremely devoted, I might even say evangelical fanbase. “Have you not seen Madoka Magica?” they ask.
While I think it’s quite a good show, even excellent in a number of respects, my opinion is that unlike so many others Madoka Magica did not open the world to me. It is not the greatest magical girl anime I’ve ever seen, let alone the greatest anime, and rather than showing me that it’s possible for such a genre to be full of rich depth and interesting ideas it just reinforced my already existing beliefs in that regard. So, yes, an excellent show and a fascinating twist, but something I always knew was possible (in a good way).
What I’ve kind of noticed is that the people who seem to be the most awestruck by Madoka Magica are the fans with little experience actually watching magical girl anime, and so when they discuss what makes the darkness of the series so special, it always feels less like people are talking from actual experience with the genre and more with just their idea of the genre from watching some Sailor Moon. Or if not Sailor Moon, their experience is comprised primarily of watching the genre exceptions, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.
This is not to deny the legitimacy of other people’s watching experiences, as telling someone that they don’t have the right to enjoy a show without x or y prerequisites is pretty ridiculous. However, I feel as if many people who think the world of that show and have an opinion on how it’s done so much with the magical girl genre, while in some ways right, have only experienced the “darkness” of mahou shoujo without being familiar with the “light,” in other words the shows which manage to achieve genre highs without falling into themes like subversion or dark parody. Even in the past decade or so you’ve had shows like Heartcatch Precure!, Ojamajo Doremi, and Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san which are able to achieve a lot without flipping conventions all the way upside down.
It doesn’t take a Madoka Magica to realize the potential of the magical girl genre, which is something I hope more and more people come to learn.
If you’ve watched Smile Precure, you’ve probably noticed that while the villains have an overall dastardly goal (revive their evil leader), most of the time their motivations are incredibly shallow and petty, something along the lines of “Eh I’m bored, what evil can I do?” Contrary to it detracting from their characters, however, I feel like it actually makes them more enjoyable to watch, humanizing them beyond simply the idea that they’re “bad,” while also still keeping them cartoonishly villainous. It also adds to the overall feel of the show as fun and enjoyable with a lot of big, vibrant personalities. In this sense, the villains are kind of like K-On!
Another thing I enjoy about the villains, Wolfrun, Aka Oni, and Majorina, is that they have a consistent theme as fairy tale villains which makes them a bit more memorable. That might not seem like much, but at least in terms of the Precure franchise it’s a significant step up. Previous series would utilize such memorable combinations as “a bunch of evil muscley dudes,” or “a plant guy and a gold guy,” and even probably the show with the best villain concept in the series, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 (whose staff I believe is also responsible for Smile) with its evil corporation (complete with evil salaries, evil promotions, and evil quarterly evaluations) basically turned into a mishmash of designs once they transformed out of their (evil) business suits.
Wolf, Ogre, Witch. It works, and the fact that they’re so dumb makes it even better.
Smile Precure! began this month, and it’s bringing back the five-man team back to the Precure franchise. Incidentally, Yes! Precure 5 was also the first Precure to use a widescreen perspective, and when you compare Smile to Yes 5 and its other widescreen predecessors, Smile’s transformation scenes really stand out in terms of how they utilize screen space, particularly with the individual transformations.
Let’s take a look at the old ones first.
Cure Dream, Yes! Pretty Cure 5
Cure Dream, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go
Cure Peach, Fresh Pretty Cure
Cure Blossom, Heartcatch Precure!
Cure Melody, Suite Precure
Now here’s Smile Precure!‘s heroine, Cure Happy.
Cure Happy’s pose fills the screen in a way that I very rarely see in any sort of transformation sequence, whether it’s Precure, mahou shoujo, anime in general, or even live-action tokusatsu. Happy is not only shot closer, but her body is also slightly angled with both her arms and her hair spread out wide. This makes it so that her body is contact with all four sides of the screen while also occupying the majority of the space in between.
Then we have Cure Sunny, who doesn’t take up quite as much space as Happy does, but still has a body which cuts the shot in half diagonally almost perfectly, again emphasizing the length of the screen.
Granted, not all of the transformation poses in Smile Precure! are done in this manner, as can be seen by Cure Peace above. But whereas the previous series in the franchise stuck to the single figure in the middle of the screen as almost a rule of thumb, the large amounts of empty space on either side of her becomes more of an individual character flourish, and is perhaps even an indicator of her personality. Though I’m not 100% on this, I get the feeling that leaving that much space around Peace has the effect of emphasizing her clumsy, crybaby personality. In contrast, Happy’s personality is the kind that can fill an entire room just as her image fills the screen during her pose.
I actually think there’s a practical reason for this change, and that is the fact that Japan is finally going to switch over (almost) entirely to digital TV in about a month. Older series had to take into account a large amount of people with analog signal TVs, whereas now they can rightfully assume that most of their viewers will be watching in widescreen.
With Smile Precure set to debut it’s a good time to look at Suite Precure. I’ve seen the series lambasted a fair amount, and while I believe Suite Precure to be a flawed series and perhaps one that in the end couldn’t quite overcome a good deal of its problems, I find that a good deal of these criticisms kind of miss the mark as to what exactly went wrong, conflating one mistake for another kind. Thus, I intend to give a fairly thorough assessment of the series, especially in terms of characterization and character development.
I will not just be comparing it to Heartcatch Precure! (which is unfair for most shows in the first place), nor will I be trying to ask Suite to be any more than the children’s show that it was meant to be.
Also, this post is FULL OF SPOILERS.
When the previews for Suite Precure started coming out, they advertised the series as being about a couple of girls who have to fight together but have trouble getting along due to being total opposites. While the franchise has always dealt in contrasting personalities, it was never quite to this degree, and the premise stood out to me. And so begins the first episode, where we’re introduced to Hibiki the energetic athlete and Kanade the organized and studious baker, former friends who have since grown apart. Inevitably, they gain the ability to transform into the legendary warriors known as Precure (Hibiki as “Cure Melody” and Kanade as “Cure Rhythm”), help the good guys (Major Land) defeat the bad guys (Minor Land), and begin to mend their friendship, though not without some trouble.
Hibiki and Kanade’s personalities start the series with a fairly interesting dynamic, and at first it’s fun to see their little clashes here and there. Once the show decides that they’ve become good enough friends, however, the two seem to forget their past tension almost entirely, like it had never happened at all. As the show progresses, the way it irons out the “wrinkles” in relationships once development has occurred turns out to be a major recurring flaw in Suite Precure. This problem is most apparent with the villainous cat Seiren, whose turn to the side of good as “Cure Beat” is a satisfying story arc, but who suddenly turns into an almost entirely different character afterward.
That is not to say that the show is devoid of strong and consistent characterizations. Kanade, for one, seems to hold onto her personality much more tightly. In addition, there is the character of Ako, who is revealed in the second half of the show to be not only the mysterious “Cure Muse” but also the princess of Major Land. While Seiren had the more powerful story arc leading up to her reveal, Ako’s revelations manage to build on her existing character rather than rewriting it, resulting in a character who not only sensibly knows more about fighting the enemy (being the princess of the land from which the Precures derive their power), but also works hard to make up for the age difference (at 10 years old when the average Precure heroine is 14, Ako is the youngest Cure ever). She also acts as a potential wish fulfillment character for the younger girl audience.
A special mention needs to be made for the mascot character Hummy, whose ditzy and optimistic personality sets her apart from other previous magical companions in the franchise, and honestly makes her one of the more entertaining parts of the show (something I probably would’ve never expected). Still, the fact that this more thorough and long-term characterization was unable to extend to all of the characters, especially Hibiki (who is the lead of the series), remains a problem.
The Precure franchise for the most part has never had “overarching narrative” as its strong suit and Suite is certainly no exception, but past titles were able to use memorable characters to make the plot feel more involving even when its story is paper-thin. The biggest side-effect of the way character resolution in Suite Precure induces selective amnesia is that the characters’ personalities sometimes end up either under-developed or insufficiently defined, which then results in less emotional investment in the characters’ struggles. As such, towards the end when Hibiki as Cure Melody begins to act the role of a serene savior who expresses the idea that music is better for comforting sadness than eliminating it outright, it feels like an abrupt development in Hibiki’s character that just can’t be explained sufficiently by what had happened up to that point. It is certainly possible for a sudden display of maturity to make sense*, but that wasn’t quite the case here.
Overall, Suite Precure is a series that is capable of both good characterization and good character development, but can’t seem to bridge the gap between them. When it tries to, it often ends up compromising both. Because of the way it seems to not have a firm grasp on its own characters, the buildup of the series towards its climax feels weaker, and I think it makes for a show that, while okay, could have been much stronger had it simply been able to maintain a better long-term memory.
*Episode 40 of Ojamajo Doremi # concerns Doremi’s little sister Pop wanting to play the piano, only to find out that the family had sold theirs years ago. During the episode, we find out that their mother was once a concert pianist whose career was ended by an injury, and whose her lingering regrets ended up making Doremi reject the piano when she tried to learn it. Rather than being against Pop playing piano though, the normally wacky Doremi not only gives Pop the chance the opportunity to practice, but also brings a piano back into their household. Doremi’s mature attitude about the whole thing definitely stands out as unusual for someone who is typically more of an airhead, but comes across as “uncharacteristic” rather than “out-of-character.”
A few months ago when I decided to write my mid-series thoughts on the 80s magical girl anime Mahou no Tenshi Creamy Mami, I expressed some dissatisfaction with the show. With a story centered around a young girl who gains the ability to transform into an older version of herself, and who becomes a beloved pop star as a result, the fault I found in Creamy Mami is that did not do enough to convey its main character Yuu as a normal girl. All of her friends around her age were boys somehow romantically linked to her, and she seemingly never had a normal environment such as as school setting which you could contrast with her adventures.
Shortly after I published that post, I went into the second half of Creamy Mami and lo and behold, the anime now featured her attending classes and talking to female classmates. Seeing as it’s highly unlikely that my thoughts somehow traveled back in time and influenced the production of Creamy Mami, I can only imagine that similar criticisms were brought up at the time, and that at the half-way point they decided to do something about it. At the same time, the show was also clearly successful enough to hit that 6-month mark and continue (and I know there are OVAs and such as well).
While they eventually resolved some of the issues with Creamy Mami, I have to say that it’s the kind of show where even though it gets better, it takes so long to do so that I can hardly expect anyone to stick around, even if it concludes well. Overall, it’s mostly a cute fluff kind of show, which can be nice, but you can also get cute fluff and some more substance from other shows.
Actually, if you want to know the best part about Creamy Mami, it’s probably the second ending theme, Love Sarigenaku. It’s catchy, and kind of a far cry from the rest of the songs in the show, in a good way.
When I originally wrote my Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san review, I mentioned that I had not finished the show simply because not all of it was available at the time. In the three years since I wrote that review though, I have been able to finish the entirety of the anime (sans subtitles), and so I want to make an update, bring some closure, and tell you if my opinion has changed since then.
Pretty much everything I said in the original review still holds true. The pleasant pace, the way it makes everyday life feel worthy of discovery and appreciation, the charming characters that make you want to smile, it’s still all there from beginning to end. Comet never stops growing, Meteor shows that there’s more to her than just snooty princess-type comedy. The way the characters interact with each other shows off their personalities so well that it’s hard to find many other shows that can manage this subdued sense of wonder.
The second half does indeed bring more plot, but Comet-san never stops being an anime that you can ease yourself into. The ongoing plot points build up slowly but surely, and it has what I find to be an appropriately satisfying ending.
In considering how this show might appeal to otaku who might not necessarily be into mahou shoujo, I might compare this show to slice-of-life, but I think that would perhaps be doing Comet-san a bit of a disservice. I like slice-of-life shows, don’t get me wrong. I eagerly await the new season of Hidamari Sketch and I’m a fan of Minami-ke, but those just cover the joys of everyday life. Comet-san does that, better than those shows, but it also shows the great things and bittersweet feelings that can arise from life slowly changing, until the everyday of today is not the everyday of two months ago.
It’s somewhat of a long series at 43 episodes, but I think it’s worth it. This show is really, really good. Ojamajo Doremi good. Heartcatch Precure! good. If you have the chance, and you want to see a simple but poignant show, check out Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san.
I’ve been keeping up with Suite Precure since it began last February, and while it isn’t quite the masterpiece that Heartcatch Precure! is, it’s still enjoyable enough. We’ve hit roughly the middle point of Suite Precure, and quite a few things have happened along the way, including the reveal of a new Cure or two.
I’m going to discuss some of my feelings on these current episodes (as well as previous Precure series), so if you don’t want to be spoiled, turn away.
I’ve been reading the manga Coppelion lately, about three teenage girls who are genetically engineered to be immune to radiation in a post-nuclear apocalyptic Tokyo. One of those girls is Fukasaku Aoi, whose most prominent feature is that she has an incredibly expressive face compared to the other characters around her. It kind of makes her an endearing character even when she complains (which she does often), and I feel like she can really liven up scenes as a result. She shares this trait with Kurumi Erika from Heartcatch Precure!, and as is evident from previous posts, I like Erika quite a bit as well.
I find myself wondering about the candidness of such characters and why they can be so appealing, particularly when they’re grouped with characters who, while not necessarily reticent, still don’t have quite the range of expressions that someone like Aoi or Erika does. In thinking this through, possibly the best explanation I can find is not from manga or anime but from bande dessinée, Franco-Belgian comics. Though all sorts of things have been written about the expressive nature of eyes in manga, I think I might be best served by The Adventures of Tintin.
At the Belgian Comic Strip Center museum in Brussels, there is a Tintin exhibit which features profiles on all of the major characters. Among them is Haddock, a ship captain and friend of Tintin. Like Erika and Aoi, one of his most distinguishing features is his capacity for making wild facial gestures, and a display in the museum talks about the relationship between Captain Haddock and Tintin, who is usually much more calm in his demeanor. I don’t quite remember everything it said, but it mentioned something about how the visual contrast between the two makes for an ideal scenario where both characters complement each other with their respective approaches and make the comic better as a result.
If that’s the case, then taking that idea and applying it to the three-character structure of Coppelion‘s central cast, I have to ask myself what purpose does that middle character serve, the one who is less expressive than the Haddock but more expressive than the Tintin. My initial thoughts towards this is that the middle character, who in the case of Coppelion is its protagonist Naruse Ibara, is that if you think of the three characters as a spectrum to gauge the direness or excitement of a situation, the point at which Ibara starts to get facial reactions close to par with Aoi’s is when you know things are really getting serious. If it gets to the point where the third girl Taeko is freaking out, then it’s doubly so. Proper use of characters with different capacities for strong facial expressions can potentially control the level of excitement in a comic while also distinguishing the characters for variety.
I get the feeling that much of what I said was pretty obvious, but I still wanted to write it all down.
Pretty Cure All Stars DX 3: To the Future! The Rainbow-Colored Flower that Connects Worlds celebrates the 10th
anniversary film of the series, with eight TV series and a whopping 21 Magical Girls featured. Three franchise-wide crossover films. Three instances of combined attacks. Three opportunities to focus on everyone working together, because as the number of Precure shows increases it becomes increasingly difficult to actually have any breathing room or down time in these things.
The plot is that of every big crossover movie ever, where the girls have to join forces to defeat a powerful opponent. This time it’s Black Hole-sama, an amalgam of all of the evil energy from all of the defeated final bosses so far. Its minions are villains from the various Precure movies. Aware that being a Precure means having strong teamwork, the villains split the Cures up from their respective partners to limit their effectiveness, while pursuing the “Prism Flower” which connects all of their worlds together, like a cosmic treadmill.
These types of movies simply have no time to develop any real plot, so the main appeal is generally to show all of the characters interacting with each other and appealing to fans of the franchise. I found the splitting up of the various Cures to be an interesting mechanic to accomplish this, and though it’s been done to an extent in the previous films, this time around it’s done thematically. The first group is comprised of the leaders, the second group is comprised of the smart and supportive ones, and the third group is best described as a mishmash of the rest. Very quickly, the leader group finds that while everyone is good at taking charge, they don’t exactly understand each others’ dynamics, while the secondary group thinks before they act but realize they’re accustomed to having someone else act first. The third group is the most balanced, and seem to have the least trouble overall.
That said, even within those similar groups, the character’s individual personalities highlight a number of differences among the similarities. Among the leads, Cure Black is the first to try and come up with a plan, while Cure Blossom is a little more thoughtful. Cure Marine is more headstrong than the other “cool blue” characters, which makes her the catalyst to inspire the others in the second group to not give up. Cure Berry is a little more devious than the other cool Cures. In the third group, Cure Lemonade is the most serendipitous, whereas Cure Moonlight is the most mature. It all works pretty well.
Speaking of Heartcatch, I’ve noticed that in these crossover movies, the heavily stylized character designs have to be toned down to fit in more with the rest of the series, which removes some of their charm but is also necessary in a way. The only time you get to see the “proper” style is when they’re fighting a Heartcatch villain.
A crossover also means big fights, and the movie both delivers and doesn’t. One notable scene involves the various teams doing what would normally be stock footage special attacks, but in fact are newly animated. Rather than doing what’s expected for example, Cure Black and Cure White deliver a Marble Screw while running in unison. On the other hand, with the final combined attack, it just uses the familiar poses and footage, and the attack itself just combines into a rainbow-colored beam. It’s a pretty good looking beam, but given the variety of attacks, it feels kind of lacking because it fails to live up to the potential for a truly epic combination attack. Part of the thrill of seeing a Final Dynamic Special is seeing how all of the finishing blows interact with each other.
One problem in the previous crossover film, Precure All Stars DX 2, was that it didn’t give enough respect to the rookies at the time, which was Heartcatch Precure! Blossom and Marine often looked weak and ineffectual, and it diminished their appearance. This time around the newbies are the girls from Suite Precure, and they feel nice and strong, still the most inexperienced by far but also clearly able to hold their own. They might take it too far though, as some of the more emotional scenes seem odd when they’ve only just begun doing this.
This film also has millions of mascot characters, and that can be a difficult thing to watch for people. The audience-interaction magic wands (the kids in the theater are supposed to wave them to power up the girls) are also back.
Since the first crossover, these films have felt like they’ve been phoning it in a good deal, but it’s overall acceptable. Obvious this movie is for existing fans, and is not really recommended for people unfamiliar with Precure, as it again doesn’t really bother to have a cohesive story and is only really decent for fans who understand the existing character dynamics. A fun watch, but try the first crossover first.