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Magical Angel Creamy Mami
I recently learned (thanks to Japanese popular culture scholar Patrick Galbraith’s new book The Moe Manifesto) that Magical Angel Creamy Mami is not only an influential magical girl anime but the very first anime about an idol. In other words, idols and magical girls have been conceptually tied to each for decades now. You can see this not only in the the fact that you’ll get the occasional idol + magical girl still (Cure Lemonade and Cure Sword in the Precure franchise, for example), but the fact that the latest competitors to magical girl anime have been idol-themed shows, such as Aikatsu! and Pretty Rhythm, both of which feature magical girl-like transformation sequences. I think Creamy Mami is especially significant here because the majority of magical girls prior to it were more “witch girls,” characters who already have magical powers without the need for transformation and use them for mischief.
Of course, the common trait of magical girls and idols is that they both feature cute girls, and with idols especially they’ve always occupied a position where they are innocent yet sexual, and I don’t mean that necessarily in an “idols are creep magnets” way. Both men and women respond to idols for a variety of reasons, and a lot of it is tied to the image they present. They can be somewhat literal idols for girls and targets of affection and desire for men, and this can be seen in how idols are used in anime. While Creamy Mami built an unexpected older male audience, for example, Superdimensional Fortress Macross reveled in it by combining the idol with the extremely prominent aspects of science fiction and giant robots. The 1970s brought forth a lot of giant robot anime, and the 1980s saw the time when those who became fans of robots and SF began creating their own works, as seen with Kawamori Shouji and Macross and later Studio Gainax and their Daicon III and IV animations. Many of these creators said, “I like SF, and I like cute girls,” and created a defining combination of anime where mecha and other forms of fantastic technology are mixed with cute girls.
It can also be argued that the girl in the Daicon animations is herself a magical girl, but the connection between magical girls and science fiction is especially evident in the 1990s and the advent of the fighting magical girl, most notably with Takeuchi Naoko’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. While Sailor Moon does not feature giant robots, it’s undoubtedly influenced by the Super Sentai (i.e. Power Rangers) franchise with its own transformation sequences, color-coded costumes, and monster of the week fights. Super Sentai is not only traditionally marketed at boys (though this too changes as they eventually start trying to appeal to the “moms” market), but it’s also more broadly tied to tokusatsu, the costumed fighters and rubber monsters genre that more or less literally means “special effects.” What I find significant here is that when it comes to categorization of genres in Japanese, you often see “SF/tokusatsu,” tying things back, at least somewhat, to science fiction.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
Moreover, the manga group CLAMP have been fans of titles like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Saint Seiya, and Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, and have produced titles such as Magic Knight Rayearth, which features magical girls in a swords-and-sorcery world who also gain the power to summon giant robots. “Rayearth” itself is the name of a giant robot, thus making the title itself reminiscent of the naming scheme of many mecha anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V. It’s as if these female creators have taken the works that were made “masculine” by Kawamori, Gainax, and others, and in a sense re-feminized them in a process that created something new and exciting.
If we’re talking influences though, Sailor Moon and CLAMP works such as Cardcaptor Sakura are huge in and of themselves, and their shadows can be seen in a number of anime from the 2000s on. Sailor Moon basically transformed magical girls to such an extent that many assume that fighting magical girls have always been the norm, and Precure has come up as a spiritual successor that has lasted even longer than Sailor Moon. The protagonist in Sunday without God practically is Cardcaptor Sakura protagonist Kinomoto Sakura, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which has as its primary audience older men, clearly takes a lot from Cardcaptor Sakura as well. In the case of Nanoha, it also incorporates an increasing level of science fiction from one series to the next, as the franchise goes from technology-based magic staffs that shoot lasers in battles reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam to spaceships and interdimensional travel. Once again, the magical girl as cute girl is tied to SF. As for idols, they not only haven’t been forgotten, either in real life or in anime (as seen with series such as Love Live! and the aforementioned Aikatsu!), but Kawamori makes his return in the form of AKB0048, a series that not only features idols as magical girls of sorts both piloting and fighting giant robots in a story that spans a galaxy, but is directly based on one of the biggest real-world idol acts in Japan today.
It’s as if magical girls, idols, and SF have been doing a song and dance for years and years, changing partners along the way but always being drawn to each other. They’re seemingly tied together by the fact that just a few tweaks to either appeal to a male or female audience more, while the fact that people will not necessarily stay within the genres or types of entertainment that they’re “supposed” to remain with. Cuteness is a versatile tool that at times reinforces societal and gender norms while other times becoming a tool to defy them, and this continues to influence anime to this day.
Once again, I’ve sat down with Alain from the Reverse Thieves to talk anime. This time, we discussed the end of HappinessCharge Precure! You can also hear our thoughts on the overall quality of the series, as well as how it stacks up to previous anime in the Precure franchise.
Check it out here.
In Episode 23 of HappinessCharge Precure!, the character Cure Fortune reveals a new attack: Precure Oriental Dream. Cure Fortune appears in a Middle Eastern-influenced outfit and performs a dance that causes the enemy minions to fall over. Upon seeing this, I made the following tweet.
I was making a reference to a seminal book in post-colonial studies, Edward Said’s Orientalism from 1977. In it, he famously argues that the “Orient” is not a neutral description of an area of the world, but a conglomeration of various cultural, philosophical, academic, and imperialist modes of thought and action that position the “East” in such a way so as to define the “West” as superior.
That said, this is not me trying to demonstrate my knowledge. Instead, what I would like to point out is the fact that, as important as I’ve known this book is, I’d still never read it, and it was only after making the joking tweet that I decided to actually seriously sit down and look at Orientalism. Seriously, it wasn’t the fact that I should be aware of how my growing up in the United States while being Asian might have influenced my perception of Asia, nor was it being in the company of intelligent people who have used this book as the background for their own investigations into cultural perceptions that prompted me to open it up. It was a dumb joke I made on Twitter while watching a magical girl anime.
I’m not sure if I’m an awesome or a horrible human being.
With its combination of cute characters, kid appeal, and detailed fighting scenes, the Precure metaseries is presently the most popular and prominent magical girl anime. Though each series has its own share of unique features, one constant that always impresses me is the approach Precure takes to showing strength in its heroines.
When it comes to depicting strong female characters, there is a lot of media out there which relies on some sort of conflict revolving around a character’s gender. Confronted with a sexist/condescending/ignorant adversary, the idea is that the girl then shows what she’s made of and proves her equality/superiority. This is not inherently a problem, and there are many examples out there which make such scenes empowering, but there are also many cases where this becomes lazy or uncreative shorthand for conveying “girl power” as a way of achieving the bare minimum of inspiration.
Precure completely circumvents this issue by depicting its heroines as capable in a way where gender doesn’t really matter. Villains will mock them for inexperience, or talk about how hopeless they are for struggling, but the fact that they are girls and not boys is never really considered. When confronted with the question of whether or not girls can be strong, Precure simply says, “Of course they’re strong, why is that even a question?”
The gradual building of inner strength and emotional resolve in Heartcatch Precure! is the obvious example, but let’s instead take a rather stereotypically feminine-looking character such as Kise Yayoi (aka Cure Peace) from Smile Precure! Yayoi can be described as a crybaby who’s full of enthusiasm but lacking in confidence, a point which the villains will constantly bring up to taunt her. In regards to strength, Smile Precure! does two things. First, it provides four other girls to show how crying is not just something girls “do,” but something specific to Yayoi as an individual person. Second, it has Yayoi prove that being a crybaby doesn’t mean you’re incapable, it just means you can be capable while also crying a lot. Even with a character such as this, where it wouldn’t be surprising to see a show convey her as “strong, for a girl,” Yayoi’s gender is never the issue.
This is not to say that Precure is devoid of traditional notions of femininity, as other signature features are brightly colored frilly outfits and cosmetics/accessories-based merchandise, not to mention the rare romance. With respect to the potential and capability of of girls, just as there’s no need to spend time in a film or cartoon to show that the sky is blue or that fire is hot, this approach treats the existence of strong female characters as such an obvious non-question that it becomes capable of normalizing the very notion that girls are strong. Without the need to “prove” anything, it can tell stories without being bogged by the classic obstacle that is the gender-centered confrontation.
Recently, Dokidoki! Precure revealed all of its main cast and their transformations. In seeing comments about them, I’ve noticed that the transformation for Cure Sword (pictured above), has received somewhat less fanfare compared to the others because it’s not nearly as fanciful as the others. When you look at the Makoto/Cure Sword sequence, it really does lack many of the flourishes of the other Cures, but rather than this being simply a less impressive transformation I do think that the simplicity both in the “camera work” as well as the small amount of details is intentional, as it gives a better sense of Cure Sword’s character.
(All gifs taken from http://lemedy.tumblr.com)
Cure Sword is different from the other Cures in Dokidoki! in that she is a seasoned warrior familiar with being a Precure. Just the fact that she stretches her arms above her head and lets the costume simply form over her is reminiscent of someone just putting on a standard and familiar uniform. When you compare that with Cure Rosetta’s playfulness and spring in her step as she transforms, it becomes especially obvious.
Makoto’s change into Cure Sword is thus rather straightforward. While other girls’ hairstyles bob and flow tremendously, Makoto’s barely does so. And where the other girls move as if they’re dancing while announcing their names, further giving that feeling of excited performance, Cure Sword slashes at the air, giving the impression of a serious fighter.
The thing that really differentiates the Cure Sword transformation from the rest of the Dokidoki! team is simply the fact that, unlike the rest of them, she has a glower on her face pretty much the entire time, only changing her expression into a smile during the final team pose. When put side by side with the other Cures, it really makes her stand out, and along with the lack of movement in her tranformation it becomes indicative of her more serious personality.
Makoto is not the first character in Precure to have a stern look on her face as she transforms, as Cure Moonlight’s features a similar expression, and much like Cure Sword, Moonlight’s transformation appears more efficient than the others’ in Heartcatch Precure! There is still a difference, however, and I think the key factor to consider is Makoto’s origin. When you look at the transformations of other characters in Precure, including Dokidoki!, it’s as if they’re undergoing a metamorphosis. Even when you look at the characters who are from other worlds like her, such as Milky Rose, Cure Passion, Cure Beat, and Cure Muse, they take on a new identity by transforming. Makoto, however, is simply returning to her true self. Rather than being a normal girl who becomes a warrior, she is a warrior who disguises herself as a normal girl.
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.
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.
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.