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When I look at Smile Precure! in hindsight, I feel like its status as a hit was almost inevitable. The 9th entry in the mega-popular Precure franchise, it’s in many ways a return to the tried-and-true, but it ends up pulling off those well-worn aspects with such confidence and excellence in execution that it never really comes across as stale.
The premise is typical magical girl and typical Precure: Hoshizora Miyuki is a girl who loves both fairy tales and spreading happiness, and when her family moves to a new town she not only makes a bunch of new friends but ends up encountering Candy, a young fairy from the land where all fairy tales come from, Märchenland. Miyuki turns out to be one of the legendary warriors capable of saving Märchenland from the dreaded “Bad End Kingdom,” and so becomes the pink beam-firing Cure Happy. Later, she’s joined by her friends, the quick-talking Hino Akane (Cure Sunny), the shy but imaginative Kise Yayoi (Cure Peace), the straight-forward Midorikawa Nao (Cure March), and the graceful Aoki Reika (Cure Beauty).
The simple mix-and-match character design philosophy sometimes (and somewhat erroneously) referred to as “database” character design is quite easy to write off as inherently lazy or artless, but Smile Precure! shows that there is a strength to being able to convey characters so succinctly. For quite a few people I know, Smile was the first Precure series they really got into, and though the reasons might have differed, in the end it all boils down to a cast of characters who each possess an immediate and unique appeal which stays consistently strong throughout the series. While it might not have the inspiring feeling and depth of character development of Heartcatch Precure! or as much rough-and-tumble action as the original Futari wa Pretty Cure, what Smile Precure! does, better than any other entry in the franchise for the most part, is give each of its characters an extremely vibrant and magnetic sense of presence.
Thus, even though Candy of all characters gets the most development in Smile Precure!, the robust representations of the entire cast allow the show to place them in all sorts of Silver Age superhero comics-level wacky situations, from turning invisible to getting lost in Osaka to transforming into a giant robot, and have it be as memorable as the rarer episodes of heartfelt personal exploration and growth. It also helps that the villains of the series are equally fun. Derived from recurring antagonists in fairy tales, the werewolf Wolfrun, the red oni… Red Oni…, and the witch Majorina humorously approach the task of being up to no good with such carelessness that I think they could possibly carry a show all by themselves. Rounding out the villains is the masked Joker, who is menacing enough to give the story an injection of seriousness when needed, and whose appearance usually signals an upping of the stakes.
In many ways, Smile Precure! feels like a more refined version of Yes! Pretty Cure 5, and not just because of the obvious similarities (five-man team with the same color scheme and roughly comparable personalities). Smile has the same type of fun and silly character dynamic as Yes! 5, but brings to it those stronger individual characterizations, and adds to the mix a better design sense, more consistent art (especially when it comes to the action), and stronger comedic timing. The places that Smile feels a little weaker are that sometimes the interactions aren’t quite as clever as Yes! 5, the humor of the characters is more reactive than active, and the conclusion (which is pretty similar) isn’t quite as satisfying. That said, I would dare wager that anyone who enjoyed Yes! 5 would get into Smile as well (unless you like Cure Lemonade so much that Peace is a poor substitute), though I’m not sure if the opposite is true.
Also somewhat similar to Yes! 5 is the fact that some of the more minor characters have a surprising amount of popularity. In the case of Yes! 5 it was the handsome princes who were really mascot characters, and for Smile it’s the Precures’ moms. Go figure.
Smile Precure! isn’t darkly experimental, nor is it a representative pinnacle of where the very concept of a magical girl anime can go. Its presentation is mostly conventional, and its similarities to previous shows, especially within its own franchise, are numerous. However, Smile Precure! also has a level of polish that allows it to extend its appeal beyond its expected audience. It’s no Heartcatch (admittedly an incredibly unfair benchmark), but overall its characters and just sheer fun factor makes for a memorable show that’s very accessible and rewarding in its own right. It wouldn’t be so bad to introduce people to Precure through Smile Precure!
I was originally going to make my next Precure review about the recently-concluded Smile Precure!, but because of its many similarities to Yes! Pretty Cure 5 I thought it would be better to talk about that one first so that when I do get around to Smile you’ll know where I’m coming from. Do keep in mind that I haven’t seen the sequel, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, all the way through yet, so this review is “incomplete” in that sense.
Yes! Pretty Cure 5 comes from the time when the official English still demanded that you refer to it as “Pretty Cure” in spite of the Japanese pronunciation, and it’s the first series in the franchise to step away from a pair oriented cast of main characters and do a full-on Sentai/Sailor Moon-style five-man team. As the story goes, one day an energetic girl named Yumehara Nozomi encounters a small mascot creature named Coco, a prince who asks her to become a legendary warrior and help restore his kingdom, which had been destroyed by an evil organization called “Nightmare.” Nozomi agrees and becomes Cure Dream, and is later joined by the athletic Natsuki Rin (Cure Rouge), the idol Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade), the gentle Akimoto Komachi (Cure Mint), and the intelligent Minazuki Karen (Cure Aqua), as well as Coco’s best friend and fellow prince, Nuts.
Out of all the Precure shows, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 ranks as one of the least visually impressive. Its animation is frequently awkward and off-model, and the transformed costume designs are awkward and unmemorable, but Yes! 5 is able to make up for those issues through really, really genuinely fun character interactions and antics. The five Cures all have dynamic characterizations, and seeing their personalities bounce off of each other is simply a joy. This even extends to the side characters, especially the school newspaper’s reporter, Masuko Mika (above), and her infectious Lois Lane/April O’Neil-like desire to get the scoop on the Cures.
Because of how entertaining the lunch-time and after-school banter can be, I sometimes refer to Yes! Pretty Cure 5 as the “Real K-ons, ” a comparison all the more appropriate because they girls are shown eating all the time. Four out of the five Cures have huge appetites and/or are obsessed with sweets, and the only one left out, Komachi, is the daughter of traditional Japanese candy maker. It makes for a show where just seeing the five girls hanging out at school is in many cases far more engaging than the action scenes, something which is often the opposite case when it comes to Precure.
That said, when the two halves of talky comedy and action come together, the result can be some incredibly solid episodes. My favorite example is when you find out that Rin (“the red flame of passion”) and Karen (“the blue spring spring of wisdom”) don’t get along quite as well as the others, but when a villain tries to use their lack of cooperation against them, it actually backfires: their rivalry ends up egging each of them on to perform even better, ironically improving their overall teamwork. Smile Precure! has a similar episode but the conclusion isn’t nearly as hilarious. Also, Cure Aqua takes a lot of her attacks from pro wrestling.
Speaking of the villains, Nightmare may be my favorite antagonist group in all of Precure because it actually runs itself like a corporation, albeit one inhabited by otherworldly monsters. You have the CEO, who can only be contacted through an intermediary. You have board meetings where the bad guys discuss their latest plans, end-of-year staff performance reviews, and of course promotions and demotions. For the most part the individual antagonists aren’t much to speak of, but there are a couple of notable exceptions, the aforementioned intermediary, Kawarino (think of him as the equivalent of Smile‘s Joker), and Bloody, a wizened veteran who attacks the Pretty Cures less through brute force and more through psychological manipulation.
Also of note is the fact that the mascots in the show, Coco (right) and Nuts, are the first in the franchise to be able to take human form, and in this case the two turn into handsome fellows. There’s a not-so-subtle undertone of Coco and Nozomi having feelings for each other, as well as Komachi and Nuts, but it remains just ambiguous enough that it needs to be inferred. Somewhat predictably, Pretty Cure 5 is the Precure most popular with fujoshi; if you ever wondered where Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei character Fujiyoshi Harumi’s favored pairing of “Pine x Napple” comes from, it’s a parody of Coco x Nuts.
Yes! Pretty Cure 5 is most certainly a show with its fair share of flaws, but also really noticeable strengths which make the show great to watch one episode at a time or in semi-large batches. The show’s antagonists make for a decent enough threat to motivate the story along, but the real fun is in seeing the antics of the five Cures, as the series does an excellent job of showing the main cast as friends who trust and love each other. Even more fortunate is that the direct sequel, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go seems to make up for a lot of the problems of its predecessor.
PS: Cure Rouge is one of my favorite Cures. Yes, more than Sunny. No, not nearly as much as Marine.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Heartcatch Precure!‘s Kurumi Erika, so when I saw that the Megahouse “Excellent Model Cure Marine” had come out some time ago, I considered purchasing it, only to be held back by the fear that the figure might not be worth it. However, when I happened to see this figure in the Dealer’s Room at Otakon, I found myself immediately drawn to it. Debating the purchase, I took the advice of my good friend and mahjong comrade, Astro Toy columnist Dave, and went for it anyway.
If you’re not familiar with the character, watch this.
The figure cost me about $110, more than I’ve ever had to pay for one, but I have to say it looks really, really good. I mean, I’m no figure reviewer (despite the Hato Kenjirou review from last week), but pretty much all of my fears were assuaged. I didn’t just take photos of her at all of these angles just to have a variety of images to show, I wanted to actually make a point that the figure looks really good from all angles.
The hair alone is quite remarkable, gradually getting more translucent as it reaches the tips, and even giving it a nice silhouette, as can be seen from the shadows above.
What originally caused me to hesitate getting this Cure Marine figure was actually the promotional image used, which revealed a prominent shadow on the figure’s jawline and caused her face to look rather flat and awkward. Another problem I had with it was that the pose felt uncharacteristic of her.
They seemed like rather glaring flaws, enough that I felt it better to hold out and wait for a possibly better figure, but when I actually looked at the figure in person I realized that these weren’t issues at all. Chalk one up for actually seeing the product instead of ordering it online, I guess! This is also why I think the cost was justifiable, as even if I had found a cheaper method online, it would’ve only been about $5.00, maybe $10.00 savings, and I wouldn’t have been able to really make sure that the figure looks good.
The way even intense shadows are cast on Marine’s face don’t end up flattening her face, and the pose itself looks a lot better when not displayed at that very specific angle with that specific lighting. Instead, I feel like it really captures the character’s spirit, though if I were being selfish I might actually ask for a show-specific pose, and possibly even the ability to switch out her face for some of her sillier expressions, a hallmark of the character.
In fact, when you look at Cure Marine up-close, the details really come through. Everything from the bow on her chest to the little pouch where she stores her transformation device (the “heart perfume”) to the straps on her back are painted carefully and clearly, with no real bleeding compromising the look of the figure.
If there’s anything I’m worried about when it comes to this figure, it’s the fact that the whole thing is pretty much balanced on one leg. Granted, it’s more accurate to say that it’s balanced by the large platform that Cure Marine’s one leg is attached to, but I’ve seen medium-to-large PVC figures such as this one get warped over time to the point that the figures start to practically fall over. Obviously I can’t tell at this point, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on it to see if the plastic starts to fail.
Cure Marine doesn’t come with much in terms of extras, but one thing worth pointing out is that the figure includes her animal sidekick, Coffret. It doesn’t really pose, and it seems to be made of a cheaper or at least less smooth plastic than Cure Marine herself, but it’s not much of an issue. All you do is stick Coffret on that clear stick and pose him at any angle.
The “Excellent Model Cure Marine” is my first real figure purchase in a long, long time, and I feel that it was quite worth it in the end. It’s a figure I can look at it over and over and find something good to talk about. The only question left is, will I get other Heartcatch or even other Precure figures? It’s not in the cards at the moment, but who knows? I didn’t think I’d buy this one either.
Otakon is an event I look forward to every year, and to give you an idea of just how much, I actually plan my time in the US to coincide with it. I went in with the intent of getting some autographs (but not too many as I felt a bit autographed-out from my Anime Expo experience), but ironically I pretty much got everyone but the three I was looking to get the most: Hirano Aya, Nanri Yuuka, and Kakihara Tetsuya. Though a bit disappointed as a result, I realized that this is Otakon and it’s always impossible to accomplish everything you want to do. The scheduling is so jam-packed with events that time is always against you, but then you look back and see all of the fun you had.
This year, as seems to be the case over the past few Otakons, Baltimore was hot. Given that most of it is spent inside an air-conditioned space this isn’t so bad, but there always came a time where people had to brave the heat. Taking Megabus to Baltimore, for example, requires one to walk quite a distance to catch the local city bus. It’s a trek I’m accustomed to at this point, but still one I have to brace for. As for the people in elaborate cosplay, you have my pity to an extent, but seriously you guys must have been dying, especially the full-on fur suit wearers.
When it comes to industry guests, my main priority is generally the Q&A sessions followed by autographs, and the reason is that I love to see people pick their brains, especially the creators. I always try to think of a good, solid question or two to ask them, and over time I think I’ve become pretty good at it, because the responses I receive are generally great, though actual credit for the answers of course goes to the guests themselves.
The first industry panel I attended was that of Urobuchi Gen, writer of Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, two shows which are the new hotness, and by extension make the man himself the new hotness as well. Surprisingly, there was only one question nitpicking continuity, and the rest were about his work, and even some “what if” questions. From it, we learned that Urobuchi is inherently suspicious and so would never sign a magical girl contract, considers Itano Ichirou (of Itano Circus fame) to be his mentor, that he would never pick Gilgamesh as his servant, that the main reason Kajiura Yuki did the music was because of SHAFT Producer Iwakami’s magic, and that working with both UFO Table and Shaft is like being aboard the USS Enterprise and meeting different alien species. In addition, it turns out that Madoka Magica wasn’t influenced by any magical girl series in particular, and the closest lineage it has is with Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (atypical magical girl show with striking and violent imagery) and Le Portrait de Petit Cossette (a gothic-style show by Shinbo). Given my recent post about this topic, I have a few words in response to that, but I’ll save it for another post.
As for my question, I asked Urobuchi how he felt about influencing such an enormous industry veteran in Koike Kazuo (who is in the middle of creating his own magical girl series), to which he answered that he considers it something he’s most proud of. Though the two have not talked since that interview, he still follows Koike on Twitter. Later, I would get a Madoka poster signed by him.
I also attended the Satelight (Aquarion, Macross Frontier) panel, attended by Tenjin Hidetaka (who technically isn’t a Satelight employee), which was just a fun introduction to their studio. They explored their history, from making the first full-CG television anime (Bit the Cupid), the creation of some of their less-regarded shows (KissDum, Basquash!), and into the modern age. Given the small attendance it actually felt a bit personal, and in this time we had some pretty interesting facts dropped on us. A studio which prefers to do original animation instead of adapations, we learned that they sometimes just like to animate things because they can. Case in point, they showed us Basquash! footage they animated just because they liked the characters and world so much, with no additional TV series planned for it. About director and mecha designer Kawamori Shouji, we learned that he likes to work on 3-5 projects simultaneously despite his somewhat old age (52), that Kawamori is devoted to making anime look good, sometimes at the expense of his budget.
They also showed us some CG-animated clips of concerts by Ranka Lee and Sheryl Nome from Macross Frontier, which were really nice and elaborate. Originally they were meant to be used in commercials for a Macross Frontier pachinko machine, but the 3/11 earthquake prevented the commercial from going on air. Another Satelight anime they showed was the anime AKB0048, which actually looks amazing, and from all reports by even the most cynical of reviewers, actually is. Kawamori even graced us with his recorded presence, giving an interview where he briefly discussed topics such as attending Otakon years ago and making the second season of AKB0048.
Given the flow of conversation, when it came to the Q&A portion there was one question I just had to ask: Why did Kawamori end up directing a show like Anyamaru Detectives Kiruminzoo, a show about girls who turn into animal mascot characters and solve mysteries, an anime seemingly far-removed from his usual mecha and idol work? The Satelight representative’s response was, Kawamori is known for working on anime with transforming robots, and when you think about it, transforming animals are not that different from transforming robots. Hearing this, I actually had to hold back my laughter.
One last thing to mention about the Satelight panel was that the laptop they were using was on battery power, and when it started to run out of steam, rather than finding an AC adapter to plug into a wall, they actually just gave the industry speaker another laptop entirely, also on battery power. An amusing hiccup in an otherwise great panel.
Maruyama Masao is a frequent guest of Otakon. One of the founders of Studio Madhouse, he’s been to Baltimore for many, many Otakons, and it had gotten to the point where I began to feel that I could skip his panels to see other guests. This year was different, though. First, with the unfortunate death of Ishiguro Noboru, the director of Macross and Legend of the Galactic Heroes who had died just this past year, it made me realize that the 70+ Maruyama won’t be around forever. Second, this year Maruyama actually left Madhouse to form a new studio, MAPPA, an unthinkable move for someone in as good a position as he was. The studio was created in order to obtain funding for Kon Satoshi’s final project, The Dream Machine, but in the mean-time it also released its first television anime, Kids on the Slope. Even if Hirano Aya’s autograph session was originally scheduled for that time (it got moved), I felt I had to attend Maruyama’s Q&A. In fact, if you are ever at Otakon, I highly suggest anyone, even people who think they might not be interested in the creative side of anime, to attend one of his panels. His answers are always so rich with detail and history given his 40-year experience that you’re bound to learn something and then thirst for more knowledge.
Some of the highlights include the fact that he’d very much like to make an anime based on Urasawa Naoki’s Pluto but thinks the right format, eight hour-long episodes, would be difficult to fund (the manga itself is eight volumes), that half of the animation budget of Kids on the Slope went to animating the music performances, and that he is looking to try and get funding for Kon’s film in the next five years. I find it personally amazing that he would think of the format best-suited for Pluto first, instead of thinking how the series would fit the typical half-hour TV format. In addition, Maruyama pointed out that a lot of work was done in Kids on the Slope to blend and hide the CG, and I think it shows.
In any case, while I would normally be content to just give a summary of the panel, I’m going to link to a transcript just so that you can read the entire thing. The question I asked is as follows:
How did director Watanabe Shinichirou (director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo) become involved with Kids on the Slope?
“I was working with Watanabe from back in the MADHOUSE days. Unfortunately there were about three years where nobody got to see his work — his projects always got stopped at the planning stages. So when I got Kids on the Slope, I handed him the manga and said, ‘here. You’re doing this.’ At MADHOUSE we had developed a feature — it was already scripted and ready to go, but then I left the company and the project fell through, so I gave him this as something to do. I really think he’s one of the top directors in Japan, one of the top 5. That’s why I wanted to create a theatrical animation with him. Up until this project, he’d only worked on original projects, so this was his first adaptation from a manga, and as a result, he didn’t really know how faithful he had to be, or if he had room to adapt, so he put up a lot of resistance at first.
“Mr. Watanabe loves music, and has a lot of deep thoughts on the music. So I told him that it was a jazz anime, and that he was likely the only director that could pull it off. That convinced him. Then Yoko Kanno said, ‘if Watanabe is working on this, I’d like to work on it too,’ and so that’s how that show came to be.”
Also note that in the photo above, Maruyama is wearing a shirt drawn by CLAMP to celebrate his 70th birthday, showing him to be a wise hermit.
Hirano Aya Concert
Partly because of scheduling conflicts, I attended the Hirano Aya concert knowing that it would be my only experience getting to see her. As expected, it was quite a good concert, and I had to get up despite my con fatigue for “God Knows,” but there wasn’t quite this process where I felt won over like I had with LiSA at Anime Expo. Thinking about it, it’s probably because I’m already familiar with Hirano Aya’s work.
I did wonder if her cute outfit was designed to kind of draw some of the controversy away from her, the large bow tie on her head possibly trying to restore her image in the eyes of certain fans. At the same time, given her songs and given her vocal range, I had to wonder if she would benefit from being presented as less of an “idol” and more of a “singer.”
Getting to the concert 15 minutes late on account of 1) the Baltimore Convention Center not being entirely clear as to what can lead to where, and 2) my own forgetfulness from not having done this for a year, I sadly missed the announcement that she would be signing autographs at the end, and ducked out after the encore was over. Alas, I’ll have to wait a while before I get the chance to have my volume of Zettai Karen Children signed.
Apparently Opening ceremonies was ushered in by the Ice Cold Water Guy. Unfortunately I wasn’t there, but I heard it got quite a reaction.
I also attended (the last half of) the Vertical Inc. panel, whose big, big license is Gundam: The Origin. Honestly, I’d never expected to actually see it released in the US, seeing as Gundam is practically seen as poisonous in the States, and I doubly didn’t expect it from Vertical. In addition, though I didn’t attend, some friends went to the Kodansha Comics panel and got me a Genshiken poster! Would you believe that I’ve never owned a Genshiken poster? This one even has Ogiue on it! Granted, I can’t put it up just yet, but it’s basically a copy of the English cover to Volume 10.
Also, while I didn’t attend some of the guest Q&As, I did conduct personal interviews with some of them.
New Anime for Older Fans
A panel run by the Reverse Thieves, I was happy to see that the room was so packed that people were starting to get turned away at the door. The goal of the panel is exactly in the name: the two panelists pointed out anime that have come out within the past five years that they felt older anime watchers, even the kind who have children of their own, could enjoy. By far the most popular show was The Daily Lives of High School Boys, which just got endless laughs. What I found to be really interesting though is that I could tell the panel was working because I heard more than one baby crying throughout the whole thing. Assuming that the babies did not magically crawl in on there own, I could only assume one or more parent was there with them, also learning about New Anime. I even had a couple of old college friends attending Otakon tell me how much they wanted to watch some of these shows.
Genshiken: The Next Generation
If anyone thought this was my panel, my apologies! It was actually run by my old Ogiue co-panelist, Viga, and offered an introduction for existing fans of Genshiken to its sequel, Genshiken Nidaime aka Genshiken: Second Season. Overall, I thought it was a fine panel, though at points I felt like Viga couldn’t quite decide who the panel should be for, explaining some things while omitting other details entirely. Should it assume that people had read the current chapters or not? If the panel could have a tighter focus with a clearer idea of where it wants to go, I think it would be much better.
Fandom & Criticism
This panel was dedicated to introducing and exploring the concept of “active viewing” to a convention audience, which is to say the idea of distancing oneself from one’s own emotions while watching something in order to more accurately gauge what the work is saying. Hosted by Clarissa from Anime World Order, as well as Evan and Andrew from Ani-Gamers, I took interest in the panel partly because I know the panelists, but also because as an academic myself the concept comes into play with my own studies. The discussion was quite fruitful I think, though one thing I do want to say is that I feel the concept of distancing and dividing between the rational mind and how one’s emotions operate while consuming media can make it difficult to see how other people might view a certain show, and that it is important, I feel, to consider emotions and “passive feelings” while watching a show, as they can shape one’s experience in a way that “active viewing” may tend to break down like a puzzle.
Anime’s Craziest Deaths
It was my second time seeing Daryl Surat’s violence smorgasboard of a panel, and probably what impressed me the most wasn’t any single clip, but the fact that the footage was (as far as I remember) 100% new compared to last year’s Otakon, and that a lot of it came from newer shows. The panel is a treat to watch, and that the craziness of a death doesn’t necessarily have to do with its violence level, but it certainly helps. The panel was a full two hours, so the middle felt like it started to drag, but I think it has to do with the basic idea that people’s attentions will slowly fade over time, so it’s somewhat necessary to up the ante as it goes along. I’ll finish this part by letting Daryl himself offer some sage advice.
The Art of Fanservice
The last fan panel I attended was hosted by the third host of Anime World Order, Gerald, and it was a brief look through the history of fanservice, as well as some of the general differences between fanservice for men and fanservice for women. Defining the art of fanservice as titillation which is not just outright pornography, Gerald’s theory, which seemed confirmed by the audience’s reaction, was that fanservice for guys is typically very visual, very isolated, while women usually require some kind of context. A pair of bare breasts, no matter what situation the woman is in, can be enough for a guy, but a girl usually wants some backstory. Possibly for this reason, the clips of women’s fanservice tended to be a little longer. Also of interest was the Cutie Honey Flash opening, which was a Cutie Honey show targeted towards girls, and though Honey is still leggy and busty, I noted that the way the shots are framed is a far cry from its most immediate predecessor, New Cutie Honey.
I think the idea of “context” does definitely ring true to an extent, but I have to wonder about the degree to which people, especially otaku, defy those gendered conventions. For example, there is definitely “context-less” fanservice in Saki, but there are also moments which are meant to thrill based on the exact circumstances of the characters’ relationships, like when Yumi tries to recruit Stealth Momo for the mahjong club and shouts, “I need you!
Speaking of Saki, why I had a panel to present this year as well.
It was likely thanks to Saki: Episode of Side A that Dave and I got the chance to once again present”Riichi! Mahjong, Anime, and You.” The format was essentially the same as our panel from 2010, where we try to help the attendees learn not so much how to play mahjong (an endeavor which requires hours and hours of workshop time), but how to watch mahjong anime. New to 2012 though were the fact that we had two years of additional playing experience, which meant we knew what we were talking about a bit more, as well as a number of new video clips to thrill the audience, including one that Dave was so excited about he was almost willing to skip the order of presentation just to reveal it).
It was held in a larger room than last time, and though there were still some empty seats, the fact that we were able to mostly fill a room at 10 in the morning on Friday pleased me so.
After the panel, I was waiting on line for the Urobuchi panel, when the people in front of me not only recognized me from the panel, but also let me join in a game of card-based mahjong, where instead of tiles playing cards with the images of tiles are used. From this I learned that mahjong cards don’t work terribly well because it becomes extremely difficult to see your entire hand, but I have to thank those folks anyway for giving me the chance to play, and though the cards are less than ideal, they’re still handy in a pinch, especially because carrying tiles takes so much more effort.
Thanks to Dave’s effort, however, we actually brought tiles with us to play, and on Friday and Saturday, Dave and I managed to find time to sit down and play for a few hours against not only opponents we already knew but also people we’d never seen before. The tables at the conference weren’t particularly suited for this, and we had to find a table edge and play the game with the mahjong mat angled diagonally. I ended up doing pretty well overall, including an amazing game where I never won or lost a hand and maintained a default score of 25,000, but what really stood out to me is the realization that we had all improved since we started playing mahjong. I know I said it before in discussing the panel part, but playing live against other people made it so that even my mistakes were the mistakes of a more experienced person who could learn from them.
Apparently we weren’t the only ones doing this, as we saw a second mahjong group as well. I couldn’t stay long enough to assess their ability, but as long as they were having fun it’s all good.
Other Photos (mostly cosplay)
Despite a number of good costumes out there, I actually didn’t take too many photos this year. I blame the amount of times I had to hurry to get to the next thing on the schedule. Also, I saw absolutely no Eureka Seven AO cosplay. Promise me for next year!
This was actually the first Fuura Kafuka cosplayer I had ever seen, and I’m amazed (and grateful) that someone would remember her. A funny story came out of this, as the cosplayer had not been aware that Nonaka Ai (Kafuka’s voice actor) was at the event. I told her about the autograph-signing on Sunday, and I hoped she was able to make it. Now, onto the next.
While at the convention I would notice little things here and there that I thought could use some improvement, the sheer amount of content at Otakon means that with even a few days of post-con recovery the bad mostly recedes away and all that I’m left with is fond memories. One complaint I do have, however, is that because the convention is set up to have some entrances and pathways usable and some off-limits, it is extremely difficult to tell just based on the map given in the con guide how to get from location to location. As an Otakon veteran at this point, I mostly have no issue with it, but even I ran into problems while trying to find the Hirano Aya concert. A combination of better signage to point people to the right locations alongside a clearer map would do wonders.
Even though Otakon had a “cooking” theme this year, I didn’t really feel it, pretty much because I didn’t attend any of those related events. At this point, every Otakon is starting to feel similar, but I can never hold that against it. After all, with a convention this big and with this much to do, I feel that we as fans of anime and manga make of the convention what we want. This isn’t to say that the way the convention is run doesn’t matter, of course, but that it is run smoothly enough that it becomes almost unnoticeable.
Truth be told, I used to take the sheer variety of panel programming and activities at Otakon for granted, but when I attended AX for the first time this year, I realized how limited that event is by comparison. Not only are there a good amount of industry panels with all of the guests they’ve flown over from Japan (or elsewhere), but the fan panels are a nice combination of workshops, introductions, and even philosophical explorations of topics concerning fans. Seeing Otakon once more in person, I knew this was indeed the con I waited for all year.
I might write a full review later, but for now I want to talk about a small scene in the 4th Precure crossover movie.
In the big battle at the end of the movie, the villain takes a ship and pushes it along a track of its own making, turning the ship into a runaway train. Present are four Cures from Smile Precure! and the four from Suite Precure. Working together, they’re able to slow down the ship but are knocked aside by the enemy. When all hope seems lost, the originals, Cure Black and Cure White (along with Luminous) appear at the very last moment and put a complete stop to the ship before it can crash into the city.
Where it at first took eight Cures to halt the ship, Cure Black and Cure White seemed to each have possibly five times the strength of their more recent counterparts. I’m sure someone must have been smiling at this scene.
The reason I wanted to talk about this is because I like how the crossover movies have gone out of their way to establish that the original duo seems to not only be the most reliant on close-quarters martial ability but are by far physically the strongest. It’s something I’ve talked about before, in fact. The original two series did place the most emphasis on just straight-up well-animated fight scenes, and it’s also an interesting way of making those two stand out when compared to their flashier successors.
It kind of reminds me of Simon Belmont’s boss rush in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. Taken straight from the NES Castlevania, Simon has none of the tricks or spells or fancy maneuvers of the post-Symphony of the Night characters, but he makes up for it with raw strength.
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.