NHK’s Precure Mega Poll: Vote for Your Favorites!

The Japanese television station NHK is doing a Precure Poll that asks about your all-time favorite shows, Precures, minor characters, and songs. While there have been polls in the past from other places, none of them quite have the reach of NHK, so this promises to be a massive one. They expect people outside of Japan to vote as well!

This poll includes all TV series and all movies, and the four categories are as follows: favorite work (pick 1), favorite Precure (pick 3), favorite other characters (pick 3), favorite songs (pick 3).

After each pick, you’re asked to fill out your reasons for choosing, your nickname, age, gender (only choices are male and female), and where you’re from. The last choice in the location drop-down is “outside Japan.”

I’ve already made my choices, as shown below:

Favorite work: Heartcatch Precure!

Favorite Precures: Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!), Cure Sword (Dokidoki! Precure), Cure Macherie (Hugtto! Precure)

Favorite other characters: Masuko Mika (Yes! Pretty Cure 5), Dark Precure (Heartcatch Precure!), Tachi Kyouko (Kirara’s manager, Go! Princess Precure)

Favorite songs: “Kono Sora no Mukou” (Dokidoki! Precure ending 1), “Kirakira Kawaii! Precure Dai Shuugou” (Pretty Cure All Stars DX opening), Pretty Cure 5 Full Throttle Go Go! (Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go)

So happy voting, and remember: Heartcatch Precure! is the best, and so is Cure Marine.

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Dark-skinned Precure: The Importance of Cure Soleil

In terms of representation, the Precure franchise has always been in an interesting place. To say that it’s all about reinforcing gender stereotypes isn’t true, but neither is claiming that the series has no stereotypes at all. The girls fight on their own terms, dream big, and the importance of romance waxes and wanes from one series to the next. However, they’re also often in “girly” colors like pink, they have a tendency to wear high heels, and pale skin has been the default for every prominent Cure since the very beginning. Change has occurred over the years, mostly for the better, but there’s a constant push and pull between challenging social norms and following them for mainstream appeal.

As the very first dark-skinned major Cure in franchise history, Star Twinkle Precure’s Cure Soleil (real name Amamiya Elena) is in an interesting position. Not only is Japan still a country where the mainstream beauty standards assume whiter skin to be better (though this is by no means universally agreed upon), but more conservative sections of Japan view “Japanese-ness” as a unique and special phenomenon. In their eyes, even if you were born and raised in Japan, being Korean, Nigerian, or anything else disqualifies you from being “truly Japanese.”

In contrast to these views, Cure Soleil is presented as having partial ethnic origins from Mexico, her family flower shop “Sonrisa” and her cathphrase (“Chao!”) being the primary indicators. She also isn’t talked about like she’s a foreigner. Elena was born in Japan and has lived there all her life, and she’s not exoticized by her friends or the show itself. Further, having dark skin and being considered one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school sends a strong message to those growing up in Japan who don’t look like the assumed default. This is a far cry from the previous attempt to have dark-skinned Cures, as the briefly shown Wonderful Net Precure from Happiness Charge Precure! are barely tan to the point that it’s hard to tell that they’re Indian at first glance.

As a country where its well-known ethnic homogeneity is reflected in its media, stereotypes about foreigners are unsurprising. In that context, I have to wonder if the reason Cure Soleil is a part of Star Twinkle Precure is because dark-skinned women have made an impact in recent years. There’s Miss Japan 2015, Miyamoto Ariana, who is half-Japanese and half-African-American. More recently, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka (half-Japanese, half-Haitian) has been taking the world by storm and has even appeared in commercials in Japan. Whatever the actual case may be, I hope that characters like Elena can help normalize acceptance and celebration of girls and boys who look like her.

Star Twinkle Precure’s Excellently Personal Transformations

Precure as a whole is known for its fantastically animated transformation sequences, but I’ve been especially impressed by the current Star Twinkle Precure. They feel especially strong and consistent, and both the attention to detail and little design flourishes make each character stand out from the others.

As the main character, Cure Star is the standard from which the others are contrasted. She sets up the basic premise of the series’ transformations–waving around a pen and drawing while singing about who she wants to be–but there’s also a spring and a bounce that highlights her personality in full. Her dancing feels very loose and casual, and at the same time conveys her eagerness and curiosity. Cure Star already embraces who she is and who she wants to be in her daily life, so she doesn’t seem especially different before and after changing into a Precure.

While all the other girls draw their symbol and stand next to or in it, Cure Milky stays offscreen. She then surfs on top of the heart along a flow of green water, playing off the Japanese word for Milky Way: ginga, or “silver river.” Milky seems to express the most joy over transforming into a Precure, which makes sense, given that she’s the only who even knew about the legend of Precure already. Her outfit has a number of elements that suggest her extraterrestrial origin, but my favorite are the clear, bubbly shoulders. They’re reminiscent of old-fashioned portrayals of aliens at the same time that they adhere to the general Precure aesthetic.

The first really noticeable thing about Cure Soleil is that as he continuously traces a circle, it gets brighter and more intense, almost like you’re staring into the sun. It’s the only initial drawn shape to create a fully rendered image (a sun, of course), which she then emerges out of, as if the flames are transforming her. Soleil’s Precure outfit resembles a flamenco dress, calling back to her Spanish/Latin cultural background, without making her feel like a “token” foreigner character.

Cure Selene’s transformation whispers elegance compared to the others, which are more energetic. Her initial drawing is the only asymmetrical one, and the way she stands inside the crescent moon without being inside of the shape itself leaves an impression—especially with the way her feet are planted apart, toes in. Unlike the other girls, she actually rides the crescent moon she draws, and the arrow she shoots is based on her archery background. Her transformation feels the most “freeing,” as if she’s finally not being held back by her upper-crust upbringing.

Overall, I love how much personality and individuality these transformations have. They really emphasize the idea that these girls are trying to transform into who they want to be.

Winter 2019 Anime Impressions

We’re a couple of months into the winter 2019 anime season, and I was asked by Johnny, one of my Patreon sponsors, for my thoughts thus far. Here are the current highlights, in my view.

The Promised Neverland

Based on a popular Shounen Jump thriller/psychological horror manga, it’s very notable that this adaptation is airing during the Noitamina timeslot–a space generally dedicated to appealing to older audiences. While I follow he original comic and thus know many of the spoilers, it’s still an incredible watch. If anything, The Promised Neverland is strong enough to carry the entire season by itself.

I was surprised to find out that the anime’s director is Kanbe Mamoru, who also directed one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. Both shows have an amazing sense of almost palpable atmosphere, so maybe it’s not so unusual after all.

Boogiepop and Others

I recall the 2000 Boogiepop Phantom anime being amazing, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I barely remember what it was about. Thankfully, the current Boogiepop and Others (which is actually a prequel to Boogiepop Phantom) is plenty strong. It’s a bizarre occult mystery series where it feels like each discovery is just one small step in an infinite void of darkness. Even the characters themselves have this almost numbing quality that makes you want to sink further in. There are few characters I want to simultaneously know more and less about than Boogiepop.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Elite, super-rich schools are a fairly common trope in anime, from Boys Over Flowers to Ouran High School Host Club, and they can be pretty hit or miss. I was pleasantly surprised by Kaguya-sama: Love is War because while it’s pretty much a “will they or won’t they” romcom, the premise is almost backwards compared to expectations. Rather than it being about hopelessly oblivious teens not realizing their own feelings for each other, it’s about two characters who are clearly interested in each other but see romantic confession as a sign of weakness. Thus, they’re constantly playing a game of chicken to see if they can get the other to ask them out first.

I like to think of it as like a mirror version of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. The only thing is that while I’ve enjoyed the episodes I’ve watched, I wonder if the joke might wear itself thin eventually.

Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan

Adapted from a manga that ran in Monthly Afternoon, Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan is an eccentric series about a single woman living in Tokyo. The anime is made all the more absurd by a Pop Team Epic-esque approach, where each episode is animated and directed by a different staff. The after-episode interviews last a liiittle too long, but it’s almost supplemental so not a big deal.

Star Twinkle Precure

Does this count as a winter 2019 season anime? The year-long franchise always runs on Precure time (starts and ends in February), but I’m going to include it because the series is already awesome. It’s taking a different approach compared to its predecessor, Hugtto! Precure, but I appreciate that. The outer space/aliens theme is a welcome first that I hope they explore in greater detail. The main character, Hoshina Hikaru, fulfills the “energetic and enthusiastic lead” role like so many other central Cures before her while still managing to feel unique. The show is vibrant and fun, and I expect good things from it.

So what series have been catching your attention? Which have you stuck with? Let me know in the comments, if you’d like!

This post was made possible thanks to Johnny Trovato. If you have any topics you’d like to see on Ogiue Maniax, check out the Patreon.

Never Give Up: Hugtto! Precure

In the opening to Hugtto! Precure, the very first thing spoken by the heroine of the story, Nono Hana, is a motivational mantra: “You can do anything! You can be anything! Embrace your shining future! Hooray, hooray, everyone! Hooray, hooray, me! Here we go!”

At first, it feels a little hokey platitude you say to kids: “You can become president one day!” But over the course of 49 episodes, the words grow and grow in weight and significance. Hugtto! Precure knows it’s not easy to do what’s right, that failure can feel devastating, and that life can turn from joy to sorrow in a moment’s notice. Still, it tells its viewers, both young and old, something ever-important but especially in today’s world: “You define your own success, and who you want to be.”

The premise is standard magical girl stuff: Nono Hana is a 13-year-old girl who won’t let the world get her down, when a mysterious baby named Hugtan nd her talking hamster companion fall from the sky. Gaining magical powers to fight off the nefarious forces after the baby, Hana becomes Cure Yell, and over the course of the series makes new friends and allies who join in her fight. Hugtto! also celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Precure franchise, and it pulls out all the stops as a result. The animation and vibrant, impactful action scenes are frequently among the best in franchise history, and the Hugtto! makes numerous subtle and not-so-subtle references to past series.

But even before the first episode, one bit of news about the show stood out to me more than anything else: the fact that the director of Hugtto! is the famous Sato Junichi—in fact, it’s his first Precure! One of the best ever at making magical girl anime that are both poignant and respectful of the young audience watching them, the same attitude seen in works like Sailor Moon, Ojamajo Doremi, Princess Tutu, and Fushigiboshi no Futagohime is on full display in here. When the primary themes are dreams and motherhood, it can be all too easy to create something contrived, but Hugtto! leaps over that hurdle with grace and enthusiasm.

Major and minor characters alike are robust and fully realized, with their own strengths and weaknesses and unique circumstances, as if they all have their own lives and stories to lead. My favorite character is Aisaki Emiru, a rich girl whose overactive imagination leads her into being overly cautious. However, I think the character who encapsulates what makes Hugtto! so powerful is Nono Hana herself.

Hana’s Precure name, Cure Yell, comes from how “yell” (eeru) is used to mean “cheer” in Japanese. This explains not only her cheerleader-inspired outfit but also her general life philosophy: Everyone needs a supportive voice to lift them up sometimes, whether they’re ultra-talented naturals living their dreams or struggling to achieve anything, and that includes Hana herself. As the series points out numerous times, being that source of encouragement might seem easier or less important than what the superstars around her accomplish—Homare as a figure skater, Saaya as an actress, and more—but it’s just as challenging and valuable to inspire others to not give up. It doesn’t come totally naturally to Hana either; she actively works on it, essentially exuding a motherly and nurturing quality not just towards Hugtan but everyone else too.

People can fail and dreams can change, but “You can do anything! You can be anything!” is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it encourages a mindset that doesn’t let any obstacle, no matter how big or small, trap people into doing nothing.

In terms of messaging, Hugtto! Precure is one of the best in franchise history. It’s very easy for any show of Precure’s kind—a massive merchandising machine—to play it safe and push toy sales, but Hugtto! actively emphasizes a plethora of important lessons that allow it to overcome that pitfall. For example, while Hugtto! has that excellent fighting action Precure is known for, it still foregrounds the idea that violence is ultimately not the answer, that it is the Precure’ s compassion that wins the day in the end. A key instance of this is when Cure Yell gains an elegant and powerful-looking sword, but rejects its violent appearance, claiming that it isn’t what they need in that moment to not just defeat a villain but save him as well.

Other notable stories highlight a progressive bent in Hugtto! Wakamiya Henri, is introduced as a figure-skating rival for Homare but becomes a key figure for challenging gender and sexuality norms. A stand-alone episode about childbirth becomes a lesson to viewers about the wrongful demonizing of Caesarean sections in Japan. The villains, each named after a different era of recent Japanese history, are all portrayed as having succumbed to cynicism and in need of the Precures to show them that they can still believe and dream. As a side note, it’s highly amusing to me that the villain who represents baby boomers, Daigan, loves to talk big about how he’d fix everything with ease, but ultimately proves ineffectual.

So where does Hugtto! Precure rank among its fellow Precure series? A part of me is still more fond of Heartcatch Precure! (which I consider the pinnacle of the franchise), but Hugtto! carries much of the same spirit and DNA that made Heartcatch great. In other words, it’s a top-tier show that’s at once familiar and daring, and perhaps casts a long shadow on what’s to follow. Best of luck to Star Twinkle Precure—it’s going to need some.

Best Anime Characters of 2018

BEST MALE CHARACTER

White Blood Cell 1146 (Cells at Work!)

I have been fascinated by the immune system ever since I could read. That’s why Cells at Work!, a manga and anime that anthropomorphizes the cells of the human body, feels like a dream come true. Among the many highly amusing characters, White Blood Cell 1146 is one of the centers of the series, and his actions and personality as the main representative of immune response is an endless source of education and comedy.

White Blood Cell is an absurd entity disguised as a straight-man. His sense of duty and his deep, serious voice present a no-nonsense character. However, when you see him literally biting into a virus as he stabs it repeatedly and then turns to cordially greet his good friend Red Blood Cell, it speaks to an individual who is me than meets the eye. In a way, White Blood Cell being the best is the result of his relationship with Red Blood Cell.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Aisaki Emiru (Hugtto! Precure)

I love Precure in general, and many of its characters among my favorites, but I’ve never seen myself in a Precure character as much as I have Aisaki Emiru. Her initial appearance as an overly cautious girl who over-prepares for the worst spoke directly to who I am, and my similar anxieties on a daily basis. I can’t exactly relate to the enormous wealth and secret electric guitar, but you can’t expect everything.

But it’s not just my similarities to Emiru that make me fond of her. Like all of the girls (and guys!) in Hugtto! Precure, there’s a strong sense of growth and maturation, even for someone as young as Emiru. She learns that friendship can take all forms, that holding back one’s emotions can be harmful, and that a heart which believes in change can make the world a better place. I’ll never forget Emiru’s words as she played guitar that first time: “The ‘nyeowr’ is the shout of your soul.”

THE DAIDOUJI TOMOYO AWARD FOR BEING DAIDOUJI TOMOYO

Daidouji Tomoyo (Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card)

This year brought back to anime one of the best magical girl series ever—Cardcaptor Sakura—and with it the very greatest best friend in anime history. A now-teenaged Daidouji Tomoyo continues to support her beloved Kinomoto Sakura, but now with the power of a personal drone.

What makes Tomoyo great is that she wants the best for everyone she cares for. Wise beyond her years and always willing to dispense advice for her lovely oblivious friends, she’s the one you want in your corner every time.

Basically, I am extremely, extremely biased towards Tomoyo to the point that she unfairly destroys the field of best characters of the year, male or female or anything else. Thus, I’ve spun her off into her own category to make this year’s picks more fair in general.

Hail Tomoyo.

Final Thoughts

There’s one simple word that ties all of my 2018 winners together, including the titanic Tomoyo: friendship. Whether they’re discovering friendship for the first time or long-time believers in its power, all three truly embody the joys and strengths of being a true friend. It’s not just about selflessness, and it’s not just about companionship. There’s a real sense of trust and rapport that come from knowing that you have each other’s best interests at heart, and it lets them overcome just about anything.

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The Dynamics of Hugtto! Precure’s Gay Couple

Following a landmark canon lesbian couple in Kira Kira Precure a la Mode, this year’s Hugtto! Precure (a series that is largely progressive in its views) has established its first clearly gay relationship in franchise history. I want to explore the pairing in terms of how it’s portrayed and its significance because there’s a lot to unpack here.

The couple is two side characters, Aisaki Masato and Wakamiya Henri. Masato is the eldest son of a rich and powerful family who, when we first meet him, is all about maintaining the family image. Henri is a half-French, half-Japanese figure skater who enjoys wearing women’s clothing because he makes it look good. They’re opposites in many ways, and at first, rather antagonistic towards each other. “Aren’t you embarrassed to dress like that?” Masato once snidely asks Henri.

Masato is an interesting character, though he doesn’t initially appear that way. When the show first introduces him, Masato’s main actions are to shame and discourage his little sister Emiru from playing electric guitar—her greatest passion. He nags her about how it’s a low-class hobby unbefitting a proper daughter of the Aisaki family. But after Masato is captivated by one of Henri’s performances and the two guys start being seen around each other much more, Henri is shown to be much more supportive of Emiru. Something changes in him.

For better or worse, Hugtto! Precure never says outright that it’s portraying a homosexual relationship. However, for anyone who’s paying attention, the hints are numerous. In one episode, Henri is skating in a competition, and during his performance blows a kiss at a crowd of mostly girls which “just happens” to have Masato at the center. All the girls swoon while Masato barely reacts, but it’s clear what’s going on here.

Given that relative subtlety (one might call it “plausible deniability”), I would venture to say that Masato is initially closeted gay. The reason he’s so hard on Emiru, and why he’s so adamant about her giving up guitar, is likely because he’s projecting his own insecurities onto her. He has to be the proper son who lives up to the Aisaki name. He has to dress the correct way, act the correct way, be the correct way.

Henri, with his fair looks and unflappable personality, explodes all of that. And so, even though their relationship progression is never shown outright, Masato is a little kinder every time we meet him. “Close friends” indeed.

In the end, the fact that Precure can’t just outright say what it has is somewhat disappointing, but the story it’s telling about two guys in love is actually a lot more robust and encouraging than that it may initially seem. The hope is that eventually, Precure will be able to say what it’s really feeling.