Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11, 2013 -- Les Cinq Lumieres

Merde. Mon ventre.

This post is coming a little later than I would've wanted. So much happened this Saturday night, the night I usually write these. I was planning on getting started after playing Dead Space with my best friend in the world, but my stomach and lower intestines had a slightly different idea.

In hindsight, that linguine was pretty sketch.

So then I alternated between one hour of sleep and fifteen minutes of something we won't talk about for the next few hours. This would not have been too detrimental to my well-being if it hadn't occurred during

Yeah. So this is coming in late.

Speaking of long, drawn-out intestinal distress, we're continuing Pretty Cure month with Yes! PreCure 5! It's a fan-favorite, but how strongly did it make an impression on me, an expert on all things magical girl? Have I already given away the answer to that? Find out after the break!

This week we're looking at Yes! Pretty Cure 5, which is actually the fourth season of the franchise, though it is the third series overall. See the original PreCure actually had a sequel series called MaxHeart before giving rise to a new series called Pretty Cure Splash Star. Then came Yes! and it was (I believe) the first of the franchise to feature five members in its primary cast, which makes it a bit more Sailor Moon-like in its execution.

Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on your personal tastes.

Unfortunately, with this series you get a very mixed bag in terms of quality. For the average watcher, I'm not convinced that this show would sell you on the franchise. I want to offer a disclaimer that not all of the things that bothered me will bother every viewer. Let's look at what makes this show such an underwhelming experience.

What Worked:

1) Believable Protagonist

Even though I liked the series, Megumi from HappinessCharge might not have been the most believable protagonist in the world. She is unflappably chipper and positive, able to pull Hime out of her shell and inspire her to be a better person. Granted I like Megumi just fine, as I think she's still the kind of person that would be easy to hang out with, but it doesn't make for a character that is easy to identify with.

At least it wasn't as bad as DokiDoki, whose main character Mana was so perfect and beloved that the sun itself all but shone out of her ass.

Pictured above: Buttz
That's why Nozomi was a bit of a breath of Fresh air for me.

That's not what I meant by Fresh.

Nozomi is a girl that is very easy for the viewer relate to. She's just a regular girl who seems to be surrounded by extraordinary individuals at her school. You've got her best friend Rin who is a super-boss athlete, who has every athletic club in the school begging her to play for them. You meet Urara, a girl who is working hard to become an actress. There's also Komachi and Karen, an aspiring author and super-boss student council honor student respectively.

Meanwhile you have Nozomi who... doesn't really have any aspirations. Becoming a Cure was probably the best thing that could've happened to her because it gave her something to strive for. Before that, she was clumsy, aimless, and had no real goals to speak of. Who among us hasn't gone through a time like that, where we're unsure of ourselves and not certain of what we want to do with our lives? Some of us are going through that right now.

In a way, we are all the pink one.
2) Cool, Intimidating Villains

Holy crap, this guy right here.

This is Girinma, and he is one cool customer. For the most part. The image doesn't do him justice, because he has one of the best villain voices I've heard from a kids' anime in a LONG time. He usually speaks very quietly and carries himself with a cool, composed demeanor. My speakers were turned up pretty loud, but I had to lean in to listen to him.

Then he yelled and I about fell out of my chair. When you can make the simple act of a villain raising his voice into something that intimidating, you're doing something right.

Yet in spite of this, Girinma is a complete wuss. He's terrified of his superiors and does not want to disappoint him, because he knows something bad will happen if he does.

In the presence of his bosses, he struggles to maintain his cool, calm, and collected persona. I found this very effective in granting legitimacy to the antagonists. After all, if the big bad can make THIS guy scared, I'm definitely uncomfortable at the prospect of seeing what they're capable of.

3) Corporations are Evil

The antagonists of the series are part of an organization called Nightmare. This organization is structured very much like a corporation, complete with a board of directors and large meeting rooms. They even have their own corporate headquarters.

For the love of god, don't forget to put a cover page
on the TPS reports.
The key figures of this evil corporation are all humanoid insect/amphibian demons who love to spread misery throughout the world. You know, just like real executives!

I'm definitely down for watching a bunch of magical girls take down EvilCorp.

Now before the stick in your butt starts yelling at me, you should know that I don't actually think that all corporations are evil. What I am saying is this:

I don't for a second believe in any crazy conspiracy theories about the lizardmen or anything like that. Let's not be naive, though. If it turned out that the board of directors for NewsCorp, Citigroup, or any of the telecom companies were all insect/human polymorphs, would you be at all surprised by that?

Thought so.

4) Brief Transformation Sequences

One of my biggest pet peeves of the genre is annoying, minute-long transformation scenes. They serve no other purpose than making the viewer uncomfortable and come across as blatant padding. It doesn't help that generally, they're also not very interesting to watch.

The scenes in this show last less than 30 seconds and get the point across rather nicely. I really appreciate not having to linger on the legs and midriffs of underage girls for what feels like an eternity. It's nice to not feel like I'm about to get fired from my real job because of my silly hobby.

What Doesn't Work:

1) Bland Action/ Transformation/ Animation in General

This show does that thing I don't like that I was talking about last week. It's a problem that several other "classics" of the genre have, so it's not as though PreCure 5 invented this trope, but the early episodes of this show definitely revolve around the "main characters get tied up/immobilized so that the other character can discover their true strength and save the day" plot. I get that they're trying to get the other members of the Pretty Cure team to join the group, but there are other ways to go about it.

HappinessCharge had the right idea. Hime was getting he ass kicked in that fight before Megumi stepped in and discovered her power, certainly, but Megumi was also the catalyst that helped to strengthen Hime's resolve so that she could fight better and achieve confidence in herself. They didn't stick Hime in a glue trap while Megs did all of the work killing the monster. They worked together. It showed them coming together as a team.

This show just treats the others like new weapons to try out for these first few episodes.

This show also has a really muted color pallet too, far beyond what you'd usually see from an anime like this. That's not a problem for shows like Madoka Magica, which relies on contrast to deliver its message. It's not really appropriate for a more lighthearted show like this.

This does not make my eyes pop. This does not
fill my mind with wonder. Maybe I've been spoiled by Shaft.
The characters aren't even all that colorful either. Not a good quality in a genre where part of the distinction between your characters is the color of their battle uniforms.

Thankfully, the hair is pretty inoffensive in this show...

Hairstyle that's unique and identifiable without being
completely ridiculous? Surely there's a catch...
... For the most part...

... Yup. There was a catch...

2) WTF IS THIS SCHOOL!? (And a poorly defined world in general)

Don't be fooled by the scope of that picture; it doesn't do justice to just how poorly defined and borderline metaphysical the layout of the school and the city that surrounds it is.

The main characters go to an all-girl school called (here it comes) L'√ącole des Cinq Lumi√®res. The name is not the biggest issue I have with the school (though believe me, it is an incredibly stupid name despite its on-the-nose signifigance). The issue I have is that the creators seemed like they couldn't decide what kind of school they were going to have.

This place is like an ivy league campus, complete with lecture halls. These characters are in middle school, and their classes are in enormous, multi-tiered lecture halls? What middle school is this? Why can I not tell where anything is in relation to each other? Is there a map? Can I buy the map? Could I please have an establishing shot so I can tell where the different parts of the school are supposed to be?


It gets sillier. The school auditorium is a huge, classically-designed concert hall that you'd go see some kind of baroque-era concerto in. Their auditorium mega-plex is even complete with long, elaborate hallways. It's also apparently so close to the class building that other students were able to feel the vibrations from a fight in episode three.

So if it was so close to the main building, why did we not see any trace of it before now?

The world in this show is so vaguely laid out that it's pretty much impossible to figure out where anything is in relation to each other. This show rarely sets up any establishing shots, so I'm never entirely sure where anything is and how realistic it is for characters to get between locations in different amounts of time.

Really. I'll give you an example. Based on what I've seen from the show so far, I've been able to narrow down the location of the Nightmare corporate headquarters as being either a few miles away from the school or in an entirely different region of Japan.

The bad guys are located somewhere in this general area.
I know that I really don't get to complain about the how the show with transforming thirteen-year-old girls is killing my suspension of disbelief, but how am I supposed to get pulled into the world of the show if I have no idea where anything in that world is?

3) Dull, Repetitive Opening Theme

I don't understand why PreCure has so many bad opening themes.

4) Characters do not speak like middle schoolers (in voice or in actions)

Marcia, call Bob from accounting and tell him that if he doesn't
have the ledger on my desk by noon that he's a dumb weiner-face.

This is pretty low on the list in terms of grievances, more of a pet peeve, really. It's not the quality of the voice acting that's the problem; the actors do a fine job of playing their characters, but Urara is about the only character in the show who comes across as a believable middle-schooler. Everyone else sounds older than they should. Not extremely old, by any means, but definitely like they belong in late high school.

This is something that usually gets brought up when complaining about English dubs of anime, but people seem to be a little bit more forgiving of the Japanese voice cast in this regard. Through a combination of the writing and the timbre of the voices, the characters come across awkwardly. This might not bother those who are more seasoned at watching this type of show, but it was distracting for me.

5) Uncomfortable May-December romance between Cure Dream and her teacher who is also a furry

And lest you think I'm lying about the furry part.

The Verdict:

I want to sincerely apologize for this review. It simply wasn't very funny. In a way, though, this is the perfect article to represent this show. It's so standard, so point-by-point, so forgettably dull that I'm kind of disappointed by what is, by all accounts, one of the more popular entries in the franchise.

Nozomi/ Cure Dream is a decent character, but that's almost completely overshadowed by the boring action scenes, the played-out anime tropes, and the esoteric, Kafkaesque world design. Pretty Cure series have never exactly invented the wheel, but there's usually something in there to keep me entertained.

This face literally got me through my student teaching.
This show has none of that. It's so standard and mediocre that it's not even entertainingly bad. I can't make this funny. It's just forgettable. Nothing about this series will stick with me.

If you're really curious, you can check it out, but there's no reason to watch three episodes like I did. If you didn't like the first episode, the other two aren't going to change your mind.

This post might not have been worth the wait, but next week brings the promise of a brighter future. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 is a fan favorite, so next week we'll be looking at one that is almost universally put at the bottom of Cure fans lists.

Join me next week to look at my guilty pleasure: Suite PreCure

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