Precure: The Crossroads of Voice Acting

Fifteen years is a long time for an anime to continue running strong, and Precure still stands at the apex of the magical girl genre in terms of prominence and notoriety. In that decade and a half, numerous voice actors have lent their performances to Precure, and it’s made this franchise into one in which seiyuu of all stripes, from anime veterans to relative newbies, intersect. To be involved with Precure can become a defining role, or an affirmation of an illustrious career.

In the original Futari wa Pretty Cure, Cure Black was played by Honna Youko, who at the time had more experience playing small roles in live-action series. While the few voice performances under her belt at the time were big deals—starring roles in Studio Ghibli films Omohide Poroporo and Whisper of the Heart—she wasn’t an anime industry juggernaut. Opposite Honna in the role of Cure White was Yukana, who was coming into her own as a fan-favorite due to roles such as Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura and Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic! Since then, Honna has earned some major roles in anime, notably Sumeragi Li Noriega in Gundam 00, but the bulk of her career is in voice-overs and narrations for television. Yukana, meanwhile, has become an anime industry veteran.

Mizusawa Fumie, voice of Cure Marine

Another voice actress who had a career-defining performance in Precure is Mizusawa Fumie, voice of Cure Marine. Prior to Precure, she was relatively unknown, playing roles mostly in small and relatively obscure anime. Now, she’s beloved by both children and adults for her energetic performance in Precure, and is considered a highlight of every crossover movie she appears in. In contrast, Mizusawa’s counterparts—Nana Mizuki (Cure Blossom), Kuwashima Houko (Cure Sunshine), and Hisakawa Aya (Cure Moonlight—were in 2009 already known for numerous characters in extremely popular series. These include Naruto (Nana as Hyuuga Hinata), Azumanga Daioh (Kuwashima as Kagura), and Sailor Moon (Hisakawa as Sailor Mercury).

The list of veterans goes on. Sawashiro Miyuki (Mine Fujiko in the more recent Lupin III works) became Cure Scarlet. Kugimiya Rie, the tsundere queen, came to Precure as Cure Ace. Tamura Yukari (the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha to Nana Mizuki’s Fate Testarossa) is Cure Amour. Koshimizu Ami, who originally began her career as Nadja Applefield from the 2003 Toei anime Ashita no Nadja, became Cure Melody. In each case, there’s a sense that they’ve “arrived in Precure” at long last.

One unique case is Miyamoto Kanako, who began her Precure career as a theme song vocalist across multiple series. In time, she landed the role of Cure Sword before going back to performing more themes. Other Precure singers have made cameo appearances, but only Miyamoto has made it as a Cure.

Various levels of acting experience existing in a production is hardly unusual, anime or otherwise. However, what Precure has is sheer longevity and the constant reboots to bring in new blood. It’s been around for so long that girls who grew up with Precure are now old enough to audition for it. To that point, according to the original producer of the franchise, Washio Takashi, 2017’s Kira Kira Precure a la Mode was the first time that girls who grew up watching the series became the voices behind the Precures themselves. Precure is in a unique position to push younger talent while also celebrating the efforts of voice acting’s Titans, and it should continue to do so for as long as it’s around.

Advertisements

A Look at Precure Popularity

I’ve been looking at various Precure polls lately, in part due to a desire to see how a franchise that’s 15 years old is remembered. The polls I consulted were Japanese character rankings from 2015, 2016, and 2017 as compiled by user insight_led, as well as a more recent one from the Japanese-language anime news site Anime! Anime! Being a decade and a half old means opinions can change over time (or according to the age of the voters), which is what I normally would expect, but there are some surprises.

Character Popularity

Looking at the Naver rankings, here are the top 10 characters from each year, along with the tallies each one accrued, based on comments on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Also, kids were not included in the votes; if that core audience was allowed to vote, there’d likely be a significant difference.

2015 (Go! Princess Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (1,541)
  2. Cure Marine (1,224)
  3. Cure Passion (1,107)
  4. Cure Twinkle (750)
  5. Cure Pine (624)
  6. Cure Happy (580)
  7. Cure Ace (575)
  8. Cure Lovely (489)
  9. Cure Peace (440)
  10. Cure Heart (432)

2016 (Maho Girls Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (20,041)
  2. Cure Happy (15,580)
  3. Cure Marine (12,824)
  4. Cure Peace (12,682)
  5. Cure Passion (8,107)
  6. Cure Twinkle (7,750)
  7. Cure Heart (7,432)
  8. Cure Lovely (6,999)
  9. Cure Scarlet (6,890)
  10. Cure Miracle (6,619)

2017 (Kira Kira Precure a la Mode airs)

  1. Cure Happy (12,450)
  2. Cure Beauty (11,394)
  3. Cure Marine (8,924)
  4. Cure Peace (8,804)
  5. Cure Passion (6,409)
  6. Cure Flora (6,102)
  7. Cure Lovely (5,877)
  8. Cure Heart (5,322)
  9. Cure Blossom (5,285)
  10. Cure Chocolat (5,180)

Based on these three rankings, what surprises me is how little recency bias actually seems to influence results. Cure Beauty and Cure Marine are consistently top 3, even as the total counts fluctuate. There appears to be something enduring about both of those characters, which is all the more interesting because they’re 1) in unrelated series 2) almost polar opposites in personality.

For Cure Beauty, the reasons generally given for her popularity are that she’s an ideal combination of strength, intelligence, and beauty. Out of all Precures, Beauty most closely matches the yamato nadeshiko (traditional ideal Japanese woman) in both looks and demeanor, so I wonder how much that’s a factor.

When it comes to Cure Marine, however, the queen of comedic intensity defies expectations for why fans come to love Precure characters in the first place. As mentioned in those rankings, while pretty every other character generally gets comments like “I want to be her” and “I want to be with her,” Marine’s are mostly “I wish she were my best friend.” Seeing as Marine is my favorite Precure character, I’d like to think the Japanese fans also just have incredibly good taste.

Show Popularity

According to the Anime! Anime! poll, the top 3 most beloved Precure series are as follows:

  1. Go! Princess Precure
  2. Futari wa Pretty Cure
  3. Heartcatch Precure!
  4. Kira Kira Precure a la Mode
  5. Smile Precure!
  6. Maho Girls Precure!
  7. Fresh Pretty Cure!!
  8. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go!
  9. Yes! Pretty Cure 5
  10. Futari wa Precure Max Heart
  11. DokiDoki! Precure
  12. Suite Precure
  13. Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star
  14. Happiness Charge Precure!

It should be noted that given the purpose of the site, the general audience for Anime! Anime! would skew towards older and more interested in anime as an industry. One goes there to read essays about and interviews with creators, as well as following general anime news. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that the most popular iterations of Precure are 1) the original pioneer 2) the series with (in my opinion) the strongest narratives and overall messages. What I’m more surprised about is how well this top 3 aligns with my personal tastes. I consider Heartcatch and Go! Princess to be #1 and #2, respectively, and the unrefined, yet innovative quality of the first Pretty Cure to be a big part of its charm.

While the character rankings and the series rankings are from two different sources, I find it remarkable that character popularity and series popularity don’t really line up. Based on my personal experience, this isn’t a complete shock, but I think it really goes to show that memorable characters can exist almost apart from their sources. Cure Heart is a top 10 (out of 51) character, but Doki Doki! Precure is a bottom 5 (out of 14) show, according to the above sources. It’s also interestingt to me that Cure Marine comes out ahead here. She’s considered a top 3 character, and Heartcatch Precure! is seen as a top 3 show.

Go! Princess Precure is considered the best Precure anime, but interestingly enough, it also has among the worst toy sales out of the entire franchise.

Go! Princess Precure is third from bottom

One might assume that a greater focus on quality storytelling might conflict with how one of the purposes of Precure is to sell toys, but this is not necessarily the case. According to the chart above, the most successful Precure in terms of merchandise sales is actually Heartcatch Precure! There’s perhaps a challenge in being able to achieve high marks in both, but it’s not impossible. The fact that one doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the other is simultaneously reassuring and daunting.

Conclusion (or lack thereof)

I’m not a statistician and I don’t pretend to be. I’m also unsure if there are any truths deeper than what I observed, like how Cure Marine is the Nintendo Switch of Precure (doesn’t compete directly with other Precures and is the better for it), and that toy sales and show quality almost exist on separate planes.

So in closing, Heartcatch Precure! and Cure Marine are the best. Fight me.

Liked what you read? Why not take a look at my Patreon or Ko-fi?

 

“Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card” Further Acknowledges Meiling

There’s more and more evidence that Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is canon to the old anime TV series, not least of which is the fact that it actually acknowledges the anime-original character Li Meiling. Recently, however, Meiling has graduated from “name drop” to “onscreen cameo,” further showing the new anime’s dedication to bringing back the characters fans love.

In episode 6, Sakura and Kero can be seen having a video chat with Meiling, who’s living in Hong Kong. While showing up on a smartphone screen is not as glamorous as, say, flying in and directly participating in Sakura’s adventures, I’m still quite appreciative of her appearance. In this respect, Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card reminds me of Twin Peaks Season 3, when Dr. Hayward shows up on Skype as part of an effort to have as much of the old cast show up as possible. Before that, I assumed Meiling would be more of a Sheriff Harry Truman—mentioned only in passing.

Like the other characters, they even brought back Meiling’s original voice, the now-famous Yukana. Back in Cardcaptor Sakura, Meiling was one of her first big roles. Since then, Yukana’s become a who’s who among seiyuu fans, for roles such as Teletha Testarossa (Full Metal Panic!), Cure White (Futari wa Pretty Cure), and Kale (Dragon Ball Super).

I have to wonder if the staff of Clear Card are giving a nod to all the Meiling fans, because I believe there are few anime-original characters as beloved as her. Even though she isn’t part of the manga, she blends into the first anime almost seamlessly, and for some fans is even one of the major highlights. I might even put her on par with another famous “filler” story that transcended the label: Naru (Molly) and Nephrite in Sailor Moon.

Here’s to hoping for more Meiling!

Little Witch Academia Translation Trickery

Little Witch Academia has been out on Netflix since last year, and it’s a wonderful show worth everyone’s time. Having watched it with English subtitles, I’ve noticed a few hiccups here and there when it comes to the translation. These are not deal breakers, but it does speak to how translation is more art than science, and it’s worth looking into the fact that translating for anime and manga comes with its own share of unique pitfalls.

One unusual aspect of the translation that even non-Japanese speakers might notice is a tendency to avoid repetition despite it being present in the original Japanese. For example, a character might say, “Witches.” Then another character would ask “Witches?,” in response. In the subtitles, the first character would still say “Witches,” but the second might respond, “What are you talking about?”

This has partly to do with the fact that using the same word over and over again is not necessarily considered bad writing in Japanese, but in English (which is famous for its sheer amount of synonyms), this can make dialogue sound extremely awkward and unnatural. Changing up the vocabulary for English not in itself a bad idea, but it can run the risk of introducing ideas or words into a character’s speech that might not reflect who they are or what they would say. It creates room for inaccuracy even as it ends up sounding a little more natural, and it’s a tricky balance to maintain.

What’s worse is that sometimes the desire to make the English sound good can backfire. Anime and manga come out on a pretty constant schedule, with little lead time between chapters and episodes. Japanese as a language thrives on context to shape meaning, and terms or phrases are often left intentionally ambiguous, becoming clearer as the series goes on. Sometimes a phrase can be so awkwardly ambiguous when translated directly that a translator might feel compelled to massage it, only for it to bite them in the ass down the line. For example, a character whose gender is unknown can get away with never being referred to by gender in Japanese pretty naturally, but someone who doesn’t know this is an important plot point might assign a gender because gender-neutral pronouns in English are not entrenched into the language.

In Little Witch Academia, to a certain extent, one of the series is a quote from the character Shiny Chariot, which translates literally as “A believing heart is your magic.” It sometimes appears in the show itself, in English, so a simple solution would have been to use that directly, but it does sound a bit clumsy. The translator decided to go with “Believing in yourself is your magic.” Initially, this makes sense, as what exactly the heart believes in is unclear, and the heroine Akko uses it as a refrain to keep soldiering on. However, by the end of the series, this turns out to be somewhat inaccurate; it’s not necessarily that Akko believes in herself, but that she is able to believe in what’s possible.

Given that Little Witch Academia was released all at once on Netflix, there was the potential to go back and fix this, but I don’t blame the translator for not doing so. I don’t know what the schedule or system is like for subtitling on Netflix. It’s just a strong case of why translating is a tricky beast.

Join the Bakery: Kira Kira Precure a la Mode

According to anime, girls and sweets go hand-in-hand. That’s why it’s all the more surprising that the Precure franchise took this long to create a series specifically dedicated to a pastry and confectionery theme. But Kira Kira Precure a la Mode isn’t merely a baking-themed magical girl show—it’s also quite possibly the Precure most dedicated to its central motif.

Kira Kira Precure a la Mode follows Usami Ichika, a middle school girl who enjoys baking. Learning of a nefarious force that creates havoc by stealing the very deliciousness of desserts—their kira kiraru (sparkles)—Ichika’s resistance is rewarded with the ability to become one of the warriors of legend known as Precure. As Cure Whip, she is joined by other friends and Cure allies to save the sweets, and by extension the world.

Aesthetic themes found in Precure are developed to varying degrees from one show to the next. While Go! Princess Precure directly asks what it means to be a princess and makes this a major narrative focus, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 is a bizarrely eclectic mix. There are butterflies? And dreams? And they fight an otherworldly corporation? But Precure a la Mode goes all-in. The heroes are all based on desserts. Their attacks include chocolate swords and whipped cream. The villains are trying to corrupt pastries and snacks. There’s even a recipe of the week most episodes, and the kids at home can learn how to make all of them! By the end, the show posits the notion that the love and kindness that comes with wanting to bake tasty treats for others can act as an antidote for malice and apathy. A generous claim, perhaps, yet the surest sign that this anime is wholly dedicated to its pro-baking message. It can be a bit ridiculous at times, but I prefer this over not developing the theme enough.

The core cast of Cures is pleasantly varied without falling too hard into generic five-man team syndrome, but their differences are not limited to just their standard color-coded contrasts. While all of them are involved in baking, each of them comes to it in unique ways resulting from what drives each of them. Ichika wants to make people happy through baking. Arisugawa Himari (Cure Custard) is a student of the science of baking, and wants others to appreciate the chemical magic that goes into cakes and cookies. Tategami Aoi (Cure Gelato) is more focused on her dream of being a rock star, but sees baking as a similar space for her passion. Kotozume Yukari (Cure Macaron) excels in nearly everything she does, but her inability to make perfect macarons becomes her opportunity to challenge herself. Kenjou Akira (Cure Chocolat) is the handsome and caring type, who bakes as an extension of her personality, as well as a way to treat her sickly little sister to something delicious. Later additions to the cast, especially a darkly snarky villain named Vibry (or Bibury, if you prefer) further add to the cornucopia of characters that highlight the series.

The Cures complement each other well overall, but special attention should be paid to Yukari and Akira. First, their personalities are rather rare in Precure. Yukari’s wry cleverness makes her almost an anti-trope character, frequently figuring out tricks and traps that the typical magical girl heroine would fall for in any other series. Akira is pretty much a Takarazuka Revue star transplanted into the world of Sunday morning children’s cartoons. Second, both are in high school as opposed to middle school, which is the typical age range of Precure girls. Third, though never stated 100% outright, it’s clear that there’s some shared romantic feelings between the two, with episodes dedicated to their trying to understand each other. While Precure is known for its significant yuri fanbase, these two bring it up a notch by combining multiple franchise-defying aspects together.

Overall, Kira Kira Precure a la Mode is a strong and solid entry into the Precure canon. It doesn’t quite hit the extraordinary highs of some of the franchise’s absolute best, but it’s definitely enjoyable from week to week, carries nice messages about how everyone’s unique, and even pushed that yuri envelope judge a smidge further than expected. It’s capable of appealing to the absolute newcomers as well as those with long-time experience, almost like a perfect chocolate chip cookie—simple, yet profoundly effective.

Fan Fan Fine: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2018

It’s February, also known in these parts as “new Precure time!” Satou Junichi (Ojamajo Doremi, Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu) helming the new Hugtto Precure! means I’m eagerly anticipating it, though I’m trying not to get my hopes too high up. As much as I love his shows, he’s not infallible or anything.

Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, the Lunar New Year, or some other holiday, I’d like to thank the following Patreon sponsors for their support.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

My favorite posts from January:

Down-Home Food Therapy: Atari no Kitchen!

A food manga I’ve been enjoying for a quite a while, I finally got around to writing about it!

A Strong Foundation: How the Japanese Smash 4 Tournament Format Helps the Community

A detailed look at what I believe are the underlying reasons behind Japan’s noted character diversity at high levels of competitive play.

“We’re Just Like You!”: The Empathy Scam of the Alt-Right

A post on a more serious topic: how the alt-right’s use of internet memes and subculture might act as false masks to lure in frustrated young men.

Return to Genshiken

Part 7 of my Genshiken re-read delves into the depictions of love and lust in my favorite manga.

Patreon-Sponsored

The Past and Future of Anime Blogging

I wax nostalgic about anime blogging but also how it’s positioned versus other mediums.

Closing

I’m high off of watching EVO Japan 2018 and seeing both Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura win the Royal Rumbles. I’m also hyped for the new Kio Shimoku manga coming out this month.

May your February be as inspired.

Cardcaptor Sakura and the Alternative Canon: What is the “Clear Card Saga” Anime Following?

When the Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Saga anime announced, one of the questions asked was, would it be following the canon of the manga or the anime? Although the two versions share many similarities, there are also some notable differences between them. Now that the new TV series has been out for little while, it’s evident that they’re acknowledging the old anime…but I have my suspicions that this wasn’t always the case.

One of the tell-tale differences between the two iterations of the original Cardcaptor Sakura is how they end. While both involve an exchanging of teddy bears as an expression of mutual love and a temporary separation as Syaoran returns to Hong Kong, the anime has this happen at the airport, while the manga’s version takes place as Syaoran is riding the bus to the airport. Also, while the anime has them reunite in the second film, the manga immediately follows this with a timeskip where Syaoran shows up to greet a now-middle school-aged Sakura. This is roughly the point where Clear Card Saga starts.

Prior to the premiere of the Clear Card Saga TV series, there was a special OVA released as a way to bridge the old and new anime. As seen above, this OVA takes its cues from the manga by having the bear exchange take place at the bus, and then transitioning to the middle school timeskip. With this, I assumed the matter was settled. The Clear Card Saga anime would definitely be sticking closer to the manga.

Then episode 1 hit, and things didn’t quite line up.

When Syaoran shows up again in the manga and OVA, he’s wearing a Tomoeda Middle School uniform. In the new anime, he’s wearing street clothes. Maybe this is just a timing or aesthetic issue. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for Syaoran to have a uniform after just moving back. Maybe the fact that they show Sakura at school before meeting Syaoran means he couldn’t be there (because she or one of her friends would’ve inevitably noticed him walking around in uniform). Either way, here is a discrepancy from the manga.

But they also flashback to the teddy bear exchange, and it’s at the airport! That’s a scene that explicitly calls back to the anime and not the manga. Maybe they just did that for the convenience of the people who watched the old anime.

The smoking gun comes in episode 2, when the characters are having lunch together at school. During their conversation, Tomoyo asks Syaoran how Meiling is doing. The reason this is a big deal is that Meiling never shows up in the manga. She’s an anime-original character, and one of the many elements used to turn a 12-volume manga into a 70-episode anime. Whatever the case may be, we have clear unequivocal acknowledgement that the old anime’s events are either partially or wholly canon in the Clear Card Saga anime.

So why make that OVA? I suspect that it served multiple functions. First, it might’ve bridge the gap between series, as mentioned above. After all, it’s been about 15 years. Second, it could’ve been used to get the staff and actors used to working on Cardcaptor Sakura again. Third, I really do think the anime was going to follow the manga more strictly, as a way to keep things simpler, but that they changed their minds at some point. If this were the case, maybe it was because they realized many had only ever seen the anime, and thus would be confused by the differences.

While the old anime appears to be canon for the new show, the question remains as to how much will actually be different from the Clear Card Saga manga. Referencing Meiling is one thing, but what about having her show up? Will the new anime have more clear cards than the manga, just like it’s predecessor? And what of the fact that Sakura’s dad is a partial reincarnation of Clow Reed—a fact revealed in the manga but never in the anime?

Personally speaking, I wouldn’t mind seeing Yukana reprise her role as Meiling and treating us to some Kung Fu fighting.