My name's Jim and I need help. Actually I need to write. You know, things ended on a bit of a sour note last time, and that sucks because I really enjoy writing things. Sometimes you watch a show and it just breaks you. For whatever reason you see something you don't like, and you lose your passion for whatever it is you once loved, like anime. I don't want that to happen to me again though. I need to find something to cheer me up. No more super-dark, dreary shows. No more depressing dramas, at least for now.
I need to return to my roots.
Oh my. This is going to be something special.
Welcome to March. Or as I will be calling it: Pretty Cure Month. All this month I'll be looking at select Pretty Cure titles and discussing the highs and lows for each. It won't be as in-depth or detailed as Madoka Month, because there are FAR too many PreCure titles to cover in one month. As such, I'll stray away from the detailed review format and instead give the lowdown on what potentially makes a series stand out over its siblings as well as what could deter you from fully enjoying it.
We're starting with HappinessCharge PreCure! Check it out after the break!
I consider myself to be something of a magical girl scholar. I've got enough experience under my belt to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the good taste to separate your Cardcaptor Sakuras from the Ojamojo DoReMis of the world. Point is, I know a thing or two about the genre, and as we all know, I'm never wrong about anything.
I showed that I had what it took last March in my award-eligible Madoka Month series of review synopses of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but as I said at the end, Madoka really isn't a magical girl series. It's a series that happens to have magical girls in it, and if we want to be technical Princess Tutu did it first. I said it.
I want to watch something a bit more innocent, something I'll still feel uncomfortable while watching, but something where good things happen to good people, instead of
That's where Pretty Cure comes in. It's a franchise that has now officially existed for ten years, and this one happened to premiere within one day of my birthday. I checked it out and was actually quite surprised at what I saw.
That's the picture I posted above, and if you don't see the significance... I don't blame you. Let me help you if you aren't familiar with Pretty Cure, or if you are but just don't recognize it.
I mean it was almost exact. HeartCatch PreCure is probably my favorite Cure series and one of about three that are even worth watching in my humble opinion. I was inspired to do more research and I found out that it was more than just a resemblance. Turns out that the new PreCure series, entitled HappinessCharge PreCure, actually has the same director as HeartCatch. It also has the same writer as Yes! PreCure 5, but we won't hold that against them. I said it.
I try not to be one to judge a book by its cover, but I wasn't totally keen on the designs of HappinessCharge at first. It looked like a knock-off of HeartCatch without the heavily stylized designs of its predecessor. Fortunately, it grew on me for one very important reason:
Dat Hurr. For me, the worst part of any Pretty Cure series is the hair. Look at some of these nightmares.
|DokiDoki was just the worst for this. Who thought this plastic-looking|
abomination could pass muster as legit a hurr-do.
It legitimately bugs me when bad hurr happens to otherwise good shows (DokiDoki notwithstanding). I know stuff like this makes me sound like one of those perverted weeaboos that watch magical girl shows made for children, but I've always liked things that are cute. I'm not a very traditionally masculine guy. I have tons of stuffed bears and puppies, and I always spend way too long in character customization when I play video games, because I want my characters to look perfect and cute (if possible). It's why when I got Tales of Xillia, I spent over an hour trying to do this:
That's Elize with a boss pair of aviators. I know you're jealous.
Point is, with this kind of show, the aesthetics can kill it for me. If there's one thing that makes me turn into a catty, E! Network-type fashion critic, it's bad hurr. Hair is serious business.
Point is, HeartCatch didn't have any magical girl hair that offended me, and HappinessCharge doesn't either. The designs aren't too over-the-top and the fashion motifs had me interested in how this show was going to use its artistic themes.
So let's kick off Pretty Cure Month by looking at the latest addition to the franchise: HappinessCharge PreCure.
- Well-Designed Protagonists
As I said before, even without the stylized look of HeartCatch, the design aesthetic of this show is difficult to deny. One of the dangers of this genre lies in the design of the main cast. If you downplay the colorful and silly aspects of the genre, you get really bland-looking characters a-la Pretty Sammy. If you go too goofy and over the top, you get Sugar Sugar Rune.
|I'LL DEAL WITH YOU LATER|
2. Solid Action Sequences
If there's one thing the Cures do consistently well, it's letting their fists do the talking. I'm a fan of "classic" magical girl anime like Sailor Moon, but one of the biggest problems I have with some of these classics is that the main cast doesn't really do anything.
Again, I'm not bashing on a classic, but the sailor senshi did a bunch of jumping out of the way to avoid attacks and not much else. It never felt like they were ever in battle against any foe they faced. Usually, one or more of the cast would get incapacitated, beaten, tied up, or whatever while the one left over realizes whatever lesson she was supposed to learn and saves the day with her special attacks.
It was usually a one hit kill with little resistance. Fortunately there were interesting characters and moments of genuine drama, but it left a lot to be desired from what should be empowering superhero-style shows geared towards girls. I think that girls need action heroes of their own to look up to, and I've always though that PreCure did a good job of balancing characters with "girly" interests with sporty, action-driven characters and bookish, intelligent characters.
This show seems wastes no time getting started, it begins with a fight between one of the cures and a monster called a Saiark. Fists fly, volleys of magic are shot back and forth, and the action is well-presented and paced.
Of course, there are also smaller foes and fights to be had. They're called Choiarks, and they pretty much exist so that the Cures can absolutely demolish between 50 and 100 enemies at a time and it's absolutely glorious.
|Like this. God it's fabulous.|
Hey, I love cute things but I also have a lust for violence that PreCure rarely leaves unsated. The fight scenes are gripping and the special attacks are cool. What more could you ask for?
3. It Does Things Differently and Has Unique Ideas
Remember how I said the first episode begins with a fight scene? Well it also begins somewhat unconventionally in that the Pretty Cure are already an established force in the world. Seriously, in the universe of the show, people are aware of the existence of magical girls and the monsters that they fight. Also worthy of note is that unlike many magical girl shows where the heroes fight to stop monsters from overrunning the Earth, in HappinessCharge, they pretty much already have. The Saiarks and their masters are running rampant in cities all over the Earth, and there's not much people can do about it.
I wouldn't say the show is uniquely subversive, but it certainly is a change of pace from the cliche of each girl discovering their powers one at a time. They even handwave the part where the mascot character explains to the heroine how to transform and unlock her powers. Megumi literally interrupts the fairy to say "Yeah, yeah, I already know that part. I already saw how Hime did it."
This show also has different outfits and alternate transformations, some used in battle and some used outside of combat. Every time they defeat a monster they get a
dressphere PreCard with a different transformation. In one intance, Megumi/Cure Lovely transforms into a Flamenco Dancer dress to clear out a crowd of Choiarks with explosive results. Earlier, she used a card to change into a detective outfit that heightened her awareness and observational skills to help her track down Hime who had gone into hiding.
I like the idea of the girls using their powers outside of battle to help people and make the world a better place. You know, like superheroes would. At their core, magical girls are basically superheroes, and superheroes do more than just punch bad guys in the face. There's a lot of that, but they also find other ways to use their fantastic abilities. I hope we get to see more of that in the show.
This show also gives its monsters the chance to have a tangible effect on their world. Namakeruda, one of the first villains of the show, controls monsters that cause the city to grow fuzzy mold all over it, as though causing the city to rot in a festering despair. Hosshiiwa's monsters cause the world to turn into desserts and candies, which is much less unsettling in my opinion. Either way, this show has some pretty cool artistic elements and interesting story aspects that it utilizes well. It's refreshing to see a show that picks out its themes and sticks with them.
|Look, all I'm saying is that if Ichigo got her powers from the DNA of an Iriomote Wildcat, wouldn't|
it make more sense for her cat form to be, oh I don't know, AN ACTUAL EFFING IRIOMOTE CAT!?
THIS ISN'T DIFFICULT PEOPLE! WHY IS THIS SHOW SO DUMB!?
4. It has an active male character
Certainly there's no shortage of active male leads in... any genre of fiction ever, but in magical girl shows its very easy to screw up. On one hand you get male characters who serve no other purpose than to be brooding love interests.
Or who also gain/have superpowers but really don't do much to help out. These are your Tuxedo Masks, your... whatever that guy in the white bedsheets who wasn't Tuxedo Mask but kind of was, or in the absolute worst case your
|Hey, Aoyama! chaos from Xenosaga called. He told you to put on some damn pants!|
In this show, the male lead is Seiji, and he's one of the first civilians to learn about Megumi and Hime being PreCures. He seems totally cool with it and offers to help them in his own way. Again, this is something I really like about this show. The main cast has other friends who don't have any powers but still get to help out, because that's what friends do.
He also gets some of his own fighting in, taking down more than a few choiarks with his martial arts skills.
It's also an instance of a male and female lead who don't really have any annoying romantic tension. In one scene, Blue (the godlike character of the show) asks if they are romantically involved and they simply and very bluntly state that they're just friends and they have been since they were young. They don't do the cliched "WUT!? NO EEEEEEEEW! DAS GROSS! >:(" that a lot of shows would be tempted to do.
It actually makes it kind of funny and out of place how Blue God goes on to lecture them about how PreCures aren't allowed to fall in love because relationship drama would ruin the team dynamic. It makes him sound like a petty nice-guy MRA who's been "friendzoned" one too many times by girls who only date "jerks".
|I'm now picturing Blue God calling Megumi in the middle of the night,|
crying because the girl he bought a teddy bear after they went out one time
didn't want to immediately sleep with him.
Now granted, since they went out of their way to bring it up, it's pretty much guaranteed that they're not going to stay platonic or at least things will get awkward at some point. For now, though, Megs and Seiji have a solid, believable boy-girl friendship that I don't see much of in shows like this.
What Doesn't Work
1. Boring Monster Designs
For everything this show does well visually, it does fall short in one department. The monster designs are completely forgettable. Here's a picture of one of the Negatone monsters from Suite PreCure:
That's a monster made out of a music score. Granted it's not the most fearsome monster ever designed, and it's certainly a silly-looking thing (Suite was a pretty silly series), but part of the PreCure franchise's charm was in its ability to make creative, fun monsters out of everyday objects. You don't really get a sense of that here. Seen one saiark with its Bomberman character proportions and pointy sunglasses, you've seen 'em all.
They don't even look all that different from the choiarks.
The main antagonistic force of this show is just slightly bigger versions of their zerglings. That'd be like if the bosses of an otherwise great video game were just larger versions of the regular game enemies.
... Well crap.
2. Hime is... Hime...
That's right, the second main character of the show is named "Princess". You should know what you're getting into by now.
Hime is the princess of a kingdom that was overrun by the evil forces of the Saiark. Some jackhat opened the big evil box and let out the forces of evil. Now they're free to do whatever they want, and her being a Pretty Cure, she has to fight to save her kingdom. This gives her character motivation and a reason to fight.
I'm kidding, it actually makes her completely incompetent and cowardly, attacking with special moves that either whiff or get instantly deflected. They establish early on that she's not very good at her job, and fair play to the writers. They established a character flaw that needs to be addressed. She's never defeated a monster in her entire career as a Cure, and to overcome her fear she needs a friend to make her feel more relaxed and comfortable in a combat situation.
So she does. And then she still runs away, dragging Megumi with her in their first battle together. The problem with making a spoiled, cowardly character is that the audience is likely to find her just as irritating as others. It's like they combined Erika and Tsubomi's characters from HeartCatch into one person and it just did. Not. Work.
Now, it should be noted that I didn't like Erika from HeartCatch much at first either, and now she's actually my favorite Cure of the franchise. So there's hope that Hime will grow on me as a character, but I definitely like Megumi more for now and am curious to learn more about Cure Fortune outside of her one fight.
3. Certain aspects of the show, while creative and interesting, feel really out of place
You'll also recall that I mentioned there being a variety of forms that the girls' PreCure powers can take. Again, this is a good way to add some depth to their powers and make them useful outside of battle. One of the forms, as seen in the picture above, is a detective costume that makes Megs more capable as a detective, heightening her awareness and ability to track people down. She has a special magnifying glass that helps her search for clues, and her mind is as sharp as a tack, allowing her to remember key details to press witnesses and link said clues to whatever information she can shake out of people.
Does this sound like a video game to anyone else? Give it to me straight, guys: Did you want to make a video game and get stuck making a Pretty Cure series by mistake? When I saw this scene my instinct was to grab my controller and try to start investigating myself. It's a clever concept, but the way it was presented was immensely distracting and took me out of the show.
Not only is the show too video game-y at times, but the merchandising in this show is also pretty blatant. PreCure has always been a market-driven show, like My Little Pony or Strawberry Shortcake is in the US, but I feel like previous incarnations were a little more subtle about it. Sure you had the compacts of Smile PreCure and most of the PreCure transformation gear do look like they came straight from a toy shelf, but this?
Okay, it's a transparency-card dress-up game. This is how they transform in the show. Gotta be the most toyetic gimmick I've seen from the PreCure franchise in a while. And this is coming from the guy who looked the other way on those sparkle doodads from Suite.
4. UNSETTLING CG ANIMATION STYLE SHIFTS
Oh god they escaped the end credits. They're in the actual show now. Kill it! KILL IT NAO!
OH GOD NAO THEY GOT YOU TOO!
5. Weak Opening Theme
Not a show-breaker by any means, but the theme song to this one is forgettable despite being so thoroughly repetitive. Not an awful song, but definitely not anywhere close to the best this franchise has to offer in terms of opening theme tunes.
HappinessCharge PreCure is more than worthy of its name. It's a fun, solid action show for kids. If I had kids of my own, this would be the kind of show I'd let them watch. It's not super deep, but it's good, clean, violent fun and definitely has what looks to be some solid characters kids can identify with and look up to.
It has flaws, certainly, but as somebody who totally is not part of the intended audience for this show, I was entertained. You can certainly do a lot worse with children's entertainment. For better or for worse, Pretty Cure has been doing this for ten years, and with this show, it's not hard to see why. Check out HappinessCharge, even if you don't wind up liking it, you certainly won't regret giving it a shot.
Join me next week when I check out a different PreCure series. Feel free to take to the comments section to tell me how wrong I am or have a civilized discussion about magical girl hurr.