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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.
As an anime and manga blog largely focused largely on commercial output, it is rare that I will report on and review an Art Show in all of its capitalized glory. However, I feel it important to discuss the “Empty God Core” show at the B²OA Gallery, featuring the works of Japanese artist Umezawa Kazuki.
I am well aware of the fact that anime and manga have been subjects of exploration, self-discovery, and exploitation since at least Murakami Takashi and his “superflat” movement. Often times challenging and presenting the exoticism of Japan’s visual culture, artists like Murakami tend to feel as if they come not from the otaku subculture itself, but are reacting to it as it has grown over times. While I would not go so far as to say that this is some unforgivable flaw in his work, that he may not be a “true” otaku, it does make me notice when a piece of art conveys the perspective of someone who has embraced the lights and sounds of anime and manga as almost existential hazes.
That is the impression I received from Umezawa’s work, though even before I saw the actual show itself I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time thanks to our mutual friend, Ko Ransom. If there is anything that stood out to me most about him at first glance, it would have been his A Certain Scientific Railgun pins adorning his clothing. The one most prominent could be seen on his chest, a chibi version of Nunotaba Shinobu, my favorite character in the Index universe. A teenage scientist with a propensity for interlacing her speech with English, Nunotaba comes nowhere near the default choices for popular characters in her series, so I knew that Umezawa was serious business.
That being said, while I was aware that Umezawa was an otaku before I saw “Empty God Core,” I would have jumped to that conclusion almost immediately if I had come in without knowing a thing. Umezawa’s works consist largely of collages of anime characters, scrambled to the point of almost losing all recognizable qualities, and then rearranged to create futuristic, apocalyptic landscapes and large, god-like figures. I say “almost,” because the first thing I spotted in one of his digital paintings was the characteristic blonde poof of Cure Peace from Smile Precure! Soon after, I spotted bits of other characters as well, but it made me realize how distinct Precure hair is designed to be, so that, even divorced from the very bodies on which they sit, one can see that, yes that over there is a piece of Cure Blossom, and down by the side is Cure Beauty. The iconic nature of anime and manga characters jumps to the forefront, and their fragments are used to construct worlds.
There is a general idea when it comes to anime fandom that a lot of its qualities arose from the perception of 1980s Japan as a kind science fictional space. Like Blade Runner, which envisioned a future city amalgamated from Tokyo and various Chinatowns, the common discourse positions otaku as products of their time, and their subculture a result of changes to the world, the economy, and the degree to which societal values crumble or ossify in response. In this environment, otaku have historically been viewed in a negative light, people who cannot confront reality, loners who can only consume their media in ways which reinforce their divorce from society, while anime and manga become increasingly shallow and lacking in any real substance. What Umezawa’s work does is flip that script on its head, and show how this otaku subculture and its inhabitants can utilize the “vapid” qualities of anime and manga and its devotion to signs and icons of cuteness, beauty, and sexuality as building blocks, as atoms to form universes. Rather than a dystopian cityscape creating the otaku, the otaku creates the dystopian cityscape. He turns lemonade into lemons.
This post is regrettably a little late, but if you’re in or around New York City, the show is running until November 15th. The B²OA Gallery is at 515 west 26th street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm.
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.
If there’s one thing about Dokidoki! Precure that really stands out, it’s the characters.
You might be thinking, “But isn’t that true for just about every other Precure you’ve reviewed?” It’s certainly true that the characters tend to be a substantial part of Precure, and with its “enemy transforms people’s selfish desires into monsters whom the heroines must fight with the power of magic sparkles and martial arts action” premise Dokidoki! Precure is pretty typical for the franchise. However, with respect to its heroines, Dokidoki! Precure differentiates itself from its predecessors in that it really pushes the concept of its main cast as role models and targets of wish fulfillment. The girl of Dokidoki! Precure are larger than life, even before they transform into magical girls.
Take Hishikawa Rikka, Cure Diamond. She’s a level-headed student council vice president, the best friend of main character Aida Mana, and the top student at their school. Her dream is to become a doctor, and the fact that she’s already studying medicine in middle school is pretty amazing. In terms of ambition and power, she’s already at a level higher than most previous Precure characters, who are usually just the ace of their athletic teams or club heads or whatever. She’s also in a way the least impressive of the Dokidoki girls.
Left to right: Kenzaki Makoto, Yotsuba Alice, Aida Mana, Hishikawa Rikka
Mana, Cure Heart, is student council president. She also gets high grades (though not as high as Rikka), and is sought after by all of the sports clubs because of her all-around amazing athletic skills. On top of that, Mana is relentlessly energetic yet cool under pressure, able to handle the work of ten people without breaking a sweat. Mana is perhaps the most effective leader in Precure history, and yet even she’s no match for Yotsuba Alice (aka Cure Rosetta), who is the kind-hearted heiress of a powerful business conglomerate, well-versed in a variety of martial arts, and is basically what you’d get if Daidouji Tomoyo mega-evolved into Batman (complete with badass butler). And even that arguably pales in comparison to Cure Sword, the last surviving warrior of a kingdom destroyed by evil and greed, who has escaped to the human world in the guise of Kenzaki Makoto, pop idol sensation, while bearing the burden of having to restore her fallen homeland.
All of the central characters in Dokidoki! Precure are outstanding beings, and the degree to which the anime is able to live up to that standard is essentially what dictates the strengths and weaknesses of the series. Dokidoki! Precure follows a pretty typical children’s anime pacing, where there’s a lot of episodic content and then a swell of story during the end of each approximately 13-episode chunk, and although there are plenty of episodes which explore the characters’ impressive qualities, there’s a sense that they could have done more. Alice is the biggest example of this, as every episode about her ends up being amazing but are also few and far between. Similarly, I thought Makoto’s reverse-identity (her real name is Cure Sword) wasn’t portrayed with as much consistency as the concept could have handled.
Also I really wished they kept using the awesome bows from the middle of the series, perhaps the most impressive Precure toys ever in terms of giving young viewers the chance to wield things that look like actual weapons. …Maybe that’s why they went away.
I’ve seen some people be critical of Mana, saying that she overshadows the other characters, but I never found this to be the case. The issue isn’t that Dokidoki! Precure devotes too much to Mana, or that Mana is somehow too perfect to be a protagonist, but that many episodes are designed to be formulaic and self-contained to a fault. If you look at the episodes which are devoted to the greater narrative, they do an excellent job of pushing things forward, and by the end the story wraps up nicely with a conclusion unprecedented in Precure.
While I enjoyed watching every week, Dokidoki! Precure ends up being one of those shows which benefits from having a list of “important episodes,” which shows in how well it concludes. At the same time, if you’re comfortable with kids’ show pacing, it’s not much of an issue. Dokidoki! Precure is reliable as an introduction to the franchise as a whole, while its different take on characterization can be refreshing for those already familiar with Precure.
PS: The first ending of Dokidoki! Precure is actually now my favorite Precure ED ever. Maybe it’ll be yours too.
A trailer for the new Precure crossover is out, and it reveals that they visit the Dream World where you get to live out your dreams. The above screenshot shows a bunch of the main heroines and their aspirations, and they’re mostly in line with what we know about them already.
- Saki wants to be a baker, like her parents.
- Nozomi wants to be a teacher, just like mascot sidekick/love interest Coco.
- Love wants to be a dancer, which we see her work on throughout her series.
- Tsubomi, who loves flowers, wants to be a florist.
- Hibiki wants to be a concert pianist, which is part of her general character arc in her series.
- Miyuki wants to create picture books, which is one of her defining features.
- And last but not least, Mana wants to be PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN.
I know everyone else’s dream jobs are cool and all, and full of effort and wonder and something we assume they’d be amazing at given their never-give-up attitudes, but I feel like Mana’s is on another scale. Of course, just like the others it’s an extension of her identity in her own series (Mana is class president in Dokidoki! Precure), but even so that is some serious ambition for a girl in middle school, or a boy for that matter. She’s even able to imagine being selected by the National Diet.
The more I watch Dokidoki! Precure, the more I think Mana is probably the best true “leader” character out of all the protagonists in Precure. She’s not my favorite in her series or in Precure as a whole, but just from this trailer she impresses me even more. On some level, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually end her series 30 years in the future and she actually is Prime Minister.
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.