Precure is not exactly what you would call a dark franchise. While it’s capable of addressing serious ideas and can communicate mature messages, the brightly colored heroines and generally upbeat tone bring a certain expected level of happy enthusiasm. Even within this context, 2021’s Tropical-Rouge! Precure is by far the most energetic Precure series to date. From its delightfully spastic opening to its ever-active and ever-cheerful protagonist, the show radiates positivity. But Tropical-Rouge! also proves itself to be capable of tackling tough subjects and giving hope to viewers that they can take steps towards their dreams, whatever those may be.
Premise, Motifs, and Themes
Middle schooler Natsuumi Manatsu has spent most of her life on a tropical island, but has recently moved to Aozora City to live with her mother. There, she encounters a real-live mermaid named Laura, who aims to become the next queen of her people by finding one of the legendary Precure: warriors who can stop the dreaded Witch of Delays from stealing people’s Motivation Power. Manatsu turns out to have what it takes to be a Precure, and transforms into Cure Summer to defeat the Witch’s Yaraneeda monsters. Full of pep like no one else, Manatsu has always wanted to do all that she can, and now that includes being a Precure. As she recruits others in school to become fellow Cures, they form the Tropical Club, a kind of “do anything and try everything” group that’s eager to help others.
Tropical-Rouge! Precure is mostly episodic, so the series operates mostly as a showcase for its cast’s distinct personalities with some occasional Big Plot or Character Development moments that give a bit of forward momentum to the narrative. The primary motifs are makeup and tropical imagery, while the main theme is the struggle between finding the inner will to go and just do “stuff” and feeling the desire to put things off in ways that prevent people from resolving issues in their lives. Not all of it meshes together neatly (the makeup aspect can often feel tacked on), but the way each character navigates the motivation/delay dichotomy makes for a robust cast with complex feelings who have more dimensions to them than their frenetic presentation in the opening might suggest.
Characters and Motivations
Of the main cast, there are those who try to figure out what path they want to take but are having trouble figuring out what speaks to them, and there are those who know full well what their goals are but are prevented from moving forward.
The fashionable Suzumura Sango (Cure Coral) and Manatsu are examples of the former, with Sango gradually learning that not every dream needs to involve being in the spotlight. Manatsu, for her part, is one of the best executions of a “heroine without a concrete direction” I’ve seen in anime. It’s often easy for that kind of personality to feel flimsy or emphasize their generic “everyman” qualities, but the message conveyed by Manatsu is simple and profound: Even if you’re not sure what you want to be when you grow up, you should at least do what you want most in the moment. You remain motivated by staying true to yourself, and the learning process is a reward in itself.
Meanwhile, the athletic Takizawa Asuka (Cure Flamingo) and bookish Ichinose Minori (Cure Papaya) are great examples of those who feel their dreams may be last. As revealed later in the series, Asuka had a falling out with a friend that led her to stop pursuing tennis, and their soured relationship stems from a disagreement over how to react to an injustice done to you when your decision can affect others. Minori wants to be an author, but a bad experience with her old literature club has led her to put down her pen—and has her worried that she’s limited by her focus on reading about the world instead of experiencing it.
The stand-out character to me is Laura; I even picked her to be one of my best of 2021. Laura’s charming-yet-abrasive personality regularly steals the show in more ways than one, and I love how her identity as a mermaid isn’t forgotten or minimized over time. At the same time, you really get the sense that not all mermaids are like her, and that her confidence and ambition are wholly her own. And unlike the others, she understands perfectly well what her dream is (becoming queen) and will do all that she can to achieve it, but the lessons she learns about ambition and sacrifice end up being surprisingly profound and defy the notion that you should be forced to choose the path that causes the fewest waves (no pun intended).
And amidst all these different dynamics, what’s impressive is how Tropical-Rouge! animates its characters such that their general roles are emphasized while avoiding having them fall too neatly into their designated archetypes. Manatsu’s a whirlwind of expressiveness, but she isn’t just blindly optimistic, and this comes across in the fact that her reactions, both happy and sad, are nevertheless big. Minori, in contrast, is often not as outwardly emotional as the others. However, one gets the sense that she has a rich inner world, and that she isn’t stoic—she merely doesn’t react as powerfully on the surface. In this way, the characters feel multifaceted but also easy to understand even for younger viewers.
Best Precure “Villains” Ever?
The strength of the cast even extends to the antagonists. The Witch of Delays’s henchmen—including Chongire the crab chef, Elda the (extremely adorable) shrimp maid, and Numeri the sea-cucumber doctor—are some of the most entertaining villains ever, and it’s mostly because they’re not that dedicated to their cause.
All of them come across as stealing Motivation Power from people because that’s part of their conditions for serving the Witch, and they’d really rather be doing what they were originally hired for—or in the case of Elda, play with dolls because she isn’t that into being a maid either. Seeing Chongi-re stop a fight because he needs to go check on something cooking really says it all, and what I love about that is it gives the bad guys a bit of depth while contributing to the generally lighthearted nature of Tropical-Rouge.
Tropical-Rouge! Precure is the kind of series whose unbridled energy can be both empowering and exhausting, like having a friend who’s eager to contact you anytime to see if you’re up for going out. They have a million possible plans, and you’re not sure where they lead, but one thing becomes clear as you try to find your way. That is, there are many possible paths to take—gentle ones, steep ones, straight ones, winding ones—and none are necessarily wrong as long as they encourage continued movement.
“Moving water never grows stale,” as the saying goes, but neither does the water need to be a rushing current. Between Manatsu, Laura, Sango, Akira, and Minori, viewers can witness a variety of different personalities and how they handle the unique challenges that face each of them—as well as how they can help one another along.