Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 30, 2014 -- The Music Shuns Sunshine (...and Smiles)

Well it looks like the anime convention and the subsequent spring break had more of an impact on my ability to write a post than I'd originally anticipated.

The original plan was to go through a sort of order for the various series I wanted to look at this month. The first week was HappinessCharge, the newest series. Why not save the newest for last? Well, if I wound up liking it (spoiler alert: I did) that would make for a pretty boring finale post. I wanted to save something special for the finale.

Devotees will remember that I watched Yes! Pretty Cure 5 last time, a fan-favorite of the franchise that I found decidedly vanilla and underwhelming. Last week I was planning on following that up with a series that I really liked but other PreCure fans almost universally put at the bottom of their list: Suite PreCure. Then this week I would've reviewed my favorite PreCure series, HeartCatch, which means that next week for the finale I would be watching...

Anyway, I decided to change the rule a bit (as I'm wont to do) by looking at the three series that got me hooked on the franchise. I enjoyed them for different reasons, and I'd only go as far as to say that one of them is a particularly good anime. That said, they all struck a chord with me on some level and hopefully you'll see why after the break.

Let's take a look back at Suite PreCure, HeartCatch PreCure, and Smile PreCure!
Suite PreCure

Let's not be naive: Suite PreCure is by no means the greatest PreCure series ever made. It's probably not even one of the best anime ever made. What I can say is that it is the show that got me hooked on Pretty Cure in the first place.

How can that be? If it's not a particularly good example of the PreCure formula in action, nor is it a particularly stunning anime, then why would it have anything positive to contribute to my slow descent into madness?

It's actually very simple. For everything that Suite PreCure lacks, it makes up for in charm. Nowhere is this more evident than the show's opening theme.

Full disclosure: I really really like that song. It's been my ringtone for the past year and a half and I don't intend to change it anytime soon. It's catchy, punchy, and nowhere near as repetitive as other PreCure opening themes. I honestly don't understand why no other series has had as good of an opening theme as this one. Part of the reason I hold Suite PreCure in such high esteem despite it not being the greatest example of the genre is because the opening theme honestly makes me excited to watch the show. You could set that song to anything and it would be awesome.

... Okay, almost anything.

The show doesn't break any new ground with its plot. As with pretty much every Cure series, there's a magical kingdom being threatened by the forces of darkness and to help fight evil, the kingdom sends a fairy to Japan to find legendary warriors called Pretty Cure. This series is no exception, but I feel like it did a better job of establishing its core conflict than, say, PreCure 5. For one, we actually see the fall of Minor Land and get a good introduction to the show's villains.

Unfortunately, the show's villains aren't quite as good as other series' offerings. The one set up to be the main villain is Mephisto, who looks a bit too much like Pickles the Drummer from Metalocalypse during his early years for me to take seriously.

oh no

The other villains, a group known as "Trio the Minor", aren't much more interesting. Trio the Minor is composed of a Beautiful Man, an Unsettling-looking Man With Pink Hair, and a Guy With Fish Lips.

What's striking about these three individuals is just how incompetent they come across as. Sure the foes in PreCure are supposed to lose so that love and friendship can win the day, but with baddies like Girinma from PreCure 5 or Hosshiiwa in HappinessCharge, you get the sense that their defeats are more like minor setbacks due to their overconfidence in fighting newbie heroes, as though its hubris brought on by the complacency of subjugating the weak.

With Trio the Minor, after a few defeats you start to wonder how they're able get through the day without sitting on their own balls at least twice.

The only legitimately interesting villain is Ellen, AKA Seiren. She's sort of an evil fairy, like the dark version of the mascot characters you have in every magical girl show.

And yes, she does have a cat form, but I promise it isn't as stupid as it is in

I told you to stop it.

Seiren turns traitor against Minor Land, pledging her support in constructing a dark melody of despair for Mephisto. When their plan fails, she along with the Oopsy-Daisy Trio get sent to collect the notes of the Legendary Score before Hummy, the good fairy, can find the PreCure and save Minor Land.

Even though the majority of the villains are largely incompetent and not in any way menacing, I still find myself entertained by them. Being that my childhood involved watching many many episodes of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, I've always had a soft spot for comic relief villains. In a way, I think of Trio the Minor the same way I view Doctor Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder from the old Sonic cartoon. Sure they're collectively dumb as a post, but they make me laugh.

Unfortunately, the dumbness doesn't stop there. The show begins by establishing its characters, Hibiki and Kanade, as two girls who can't stand each other. They also hint at some interesting history behind their characters, that they used to be best friends but something happened that drove them apart. When it turns out that the two of them must work together to fight the forces of evil, we find out what drove them apart in the first place.

They agreed to meet up with each other before the school's entrance ceremony in front of the cherry blossom trees. When Kanade didn't show up, Hibiki got mad and stopped talking to her. Later we find out that Kanade and Hibiki waited for each other under different cherry blossom trees.



Yup. The first main character conflict we get is based upon an inability to ask follow-up questions. That means that Suite PreCure has a less believable "ruined friendship" story arc than

Expect the unexpected.

You'll rarely hear anyone claim Suite PreCure as their favorite, and having rewatched the first few episodes, I can definitely see why. I don't know that I would feel comfortable recommending it to someone unless I knew them well enough to know that they were entertained by the things that entertain me.

That being said, this series does have its strong points. As I said before, the opening is very high energy and catchy as all hell. It does a lot to get you excited for the show, even after sitting through a weak episode. The ending theme isn't bad either, and I can't say I've ever been terribly fond of the ending themes of ANY PreCure show.

As is the standard, the action scenes are fast-paced and interesting. Maybe not the best the series has to offer, and I can't think of any major fight scenes that stand out like in other series, but it's definitely a step up having just come off of watching Yes! Pretty Cure 5.

As I mentioned in the HappinessCharge review, the monster designs in Suite are rather cool and creative.

The art direction in this musically-themed shoujo anime
are anything but flat... AHAHAHAHAHAHA
Also, for all that is wrong with their backstories, Hibiki is one of my favorite Cures. She's strong and cares about other people, but doesn't come across like a mary-sue like other PreCure leaders (Here's looking at you DokiDoki). She's flawed and she can kick ass when the chips are down.

I kind of wish the uniforms didn't have the bare midriffs though.

HeartCatch PreCure

HeartCatch is my favorite series in the PreCure franchise. I'm not going to pretend that I'm not biased about this.

Artistically, it's the most unique-looking show of the bunch. From what I understand, the character designer also did designs for Ojamajo Doremi, which is why it's surprising that I liked HeartCatch as much as I did. It probably has something to do with the amazing animation and fight scenes, which make full use of the artistic direction and talent behind the series.

This talent becomes apparent when you watch the opening of the show:

It's not my favorite song by any means, but I really like the animation that they use for the opening. The cheerful, peppy attitude of the early verses of the song give way to a darker tone in the bridge to the chorus which is matched by darker imagery before returning to its triumphant, high energy refrain complete with all the requisite violence I've come to enjoy from this franchise.

This isn't limited to just the opening sequence, however. HeartCatch more than other shows in the franchise makes use of darker scenes and intense moments. It's probably one of the only ones that has killed off one of the fairy mascot characters (

The show does a great job of grabbing your attention right off the bat with a badass fight scene.

... That I unfortunately could not find footage of that wasn't a shitty AMV.

That's Cure Moonlight. But you might better know her by her stage name: Yuri.

I refuse to let this joke go until everyone admits that I'm right.
Fun fact: Moony is one of the oldest cures in the franchise at age 17. That makes it slightly less creepy to make jokes like this.

... Nope, it turns out that was still pretty creepy.

The story begins with her fighting Dark PreCure, and losing spectacularly. It's a wonderfully well animated scene, and it's pretty much the very first scene of the show, so look up HeartCatch PreCure episode 1. If that fight doesn't do it for you, I feel sorry for you.

HeartCatch also gave me my all-time favorite character, Erika.

I've made that face more times than I'd care to admit.
It's probably one of the first magical girl shows I've watched where The Blue One wasn't the bookish one. Erika is a very high energy girl who is very enthusiastic about clothing and fashion. She struggles with jealousy that she has for her sister, however, as she was able to become a fashion model, something that Erika also wanted. To an extent, she gave up on her dream after being overshadowed by her sibling.

It also features my favorite transformation theme music in any magical girl anime.

And the animation is nothing to sneeze at either. I would've shown my favorite transformation sequence from the show, but it's actually sort of a spoiler. You'll just have to trust me that the animation is very very good.

On the downside, the transformation sequences in this show are quite long. Beautifully directed, but long.

It might not be as dark or as deep as something like Madoka, but I don't think this show gets enough credit for what it did for the genre. It took what was by then getting to be a stale formula for the magical girl genre and was able to make it interesting without resorting to completely deconstructing it. I would go as far as to say that it should be required watching for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre and doesn't mind characters that take some getting used to (Erika's charm is an acquired taste. I certainly didn't care for her at first).

But then again doesn't every magical girl anime have one or more characters that start off being insufferably annoying?

And, in some cases, ends with them as well!

Smile PreCure

Smile PreCure is a curious case. On its surface, there is nothing unique about it. It certainly resembles your prototypical magical girl anime, from the character design down to the character archetypes (Red/orange is sporty and strong, Blue is the smart student council type, and Pink/leader is kind of clumsy and aloof). It's cliched as hell but it presents it in such a wonderfully nostalgic way that it's like I'm discovering the genre for the first time all over again.

I don't know if this was the intention, but Smile PreCure may very well be one of the most effective genre parodies I've ever seen, largely because it seems to tell its story with a refreshingly blissful, well-intentioned earnestness.

I don't mean this in a bad way. I legitimately like this show. Not in the same dumb way that I like Amnesia or for any sort of stupidity like the kind I freely admit to enjoying in Suite PreCure, either. For some reason, in spite of the very familiar territory this show treads through, I find it immensely entertaining.

For starters, it's probably the funniest of the ten PreCure series. There's something in each episode that makes me laugh, whether it's something a character does, whether it takes a fight with one of the series villains in a direction I didn't expect (there's a scene in an episode where they have to beat one of the villains in a super-rigged bowling match), or whether it's the infamous

I'm gonna need a minute.

There's a faction in the fanbase accusing the show of being a ripoff of PreCure 5. This is demonstrably false, as Smile PreCure is actually really fun to watch. All joking aside, I think accusing this show of ripping off one of its predecessors only examines the show on a purely superficial level.

Oh and Smile also happens to contain my favorite fight scene of the franchise. It's extremely engaging and is actually an important part of one of the main cast's character arc. It's also a key battle against one of the series' main villains. This puts me in the delicate position of spoiling something about the show.

Fortunately, I found a clip of it that is unsubbed, thus robbing you of any context the scene would have! Unless of course you speak Japanese, which if you did you wouldn't be reading my site. You're probably reading Random Curiosity (which is fine) or (god help you) SeventhStyle.

There sure are a lot of favorites in this post. Suite PreCure had my favorite opening, HeartCatch PreCure IS my favorite, and Smile has my favorite fight scene as well as what might very well be my favorite tone out of any PreCure series. Magical girl is sort of a loaded genre, and its easy to get bogged down by all the cliches and tired premises of these shows. In spite of its cliches (or perhaps because of them) Smile PreCure is sort of a hidden gem among PreCures, glossed over because of its superficial similarities with Yes! PreCure 5. It knows exactly what kind of show it is, how silly the genre can be, and still manages to say "Screw it, I'ma do what I want" and have lots of fun.

The characters are endearing and make you care about the stakes of each fight. Nao Midorikawa is probably one of the best role models I've seen in this type of show, raising and supporting her multiple siblings pretty much all on her own.

We can do it!
The villains of the show are funny and entertaining without being outright incompetent like the villains in Suite. If you can make it through the first five episodes (which have basically the same plot) you'll find a fun show with plenty to offer.

But again, some of those hairstlyes are pretty awful. Try not to let them distract you, now.

Nao, I told you not to let them distract you!

Well that seems like as good a way as any to end things. Thanks for sticking with me through what has arguably been an unentertaining, disappointing Pretty Cure month. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 really killed my enthusiasm with its blandness and my browser's constant freezing makes these posts take longer than they really should to write.

I thought I was being so cute doing this series during Women's History Month and everything, but once again I show that I will never be cute. I'll try and make up for it by getting back to business next month, where I'll have more series to watch. There's a whole 2014 winter lineup to explore, as well as an editorial I've been wanting to write for a while.

So since there's really nothing left for me to say about Pretty Cure, I've certainly explained myself with respect to all of the series that had any sort of impact on me... I think we can stop at Smile PreCure and end on a high note.

... Um, so yeah I'll see you next month for




Fresh hell indeed... Just when you think you're out, they pull you right back in. Come back on Monday and we'll sit down and have ourselves a little talk about Fresh PreCure.

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