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Fighting Evil By Moonlight – Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel

Heartcatch Precure! is, to date, the strongest entry in the Precure magical girl franchise. It’s a series that works incredibly well in an episode-by-episode basis but also in terms of long-term narrative. This success comes from successfully building upon itself, and one of the anime’s high points in this regard is the story of Tsukikage Yuri, aka Cure Moonlight, a veteran Precure whose defeat triggers the start of Heartcatch Precure! A recurring character, Yuri’s arc of forgiveness and redemption is one of the most satisfying and inspiring moments of the series.

Yuri is more of a strong supporting character than a main protagonist in the anime, which leaves a lot of questions to be answered. For example, how did she become a Precure? Fortunately, Yuri is actually the star of the Heartcatch Precure! novel spinoff, which retells the story of the TV series from her perspective. Simply titled Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel, this book adaptation takes a somewhat more mature alternative view of the story already familiar to fans.

The novel is divided into four large chapters: how Yuri first became Cure Moonlight and how she lost her powers, the arrival of Tsubomi and Erika (the heroines of the anime), Yuri’s return, and the finale. By far the most “new” content is in the first. Here, we get to see a younger Yuri in junior high, her friendship with Erika’s sister Momoka, how she meets her fairy Cologne, and her interactions with Tsubomi’s grandmother Kaoruko, the former Cure Flower who ends up training Yuri. One of the main focuses of Yuri’s path to becoming a Precure is the way in which Kaoruko tries to drill into Yuri that she needs to be at the top of her game. There’s also a great amount of attention spent on Dark Precure and her thoughts and feelings. As Yuri’s “shadow,” it’s only appropriate that the novel delve into her story as well.

The other three chapters don’t hold up quite as well. While they still do a fine job of telling the story of Heartcatch Precure!, they have this problem of rushing to the Yuri-centric scenes so as to refocus the narrative back on her. The consequence of this pace is that huge swathes of the novel feel like recaps, such as quickly introducing Cure Sunshine without much fanfare. At other points, however, because the core narrative is still about Tsubomi, the retelling of the anime’s events still draw much more attention to her than Yuri. The actual material is still quite satisfying, and the major moments resonate emotionally, but at many points it starts to feel less like a true Cure Moonlight novel. The points at which the novel does emphasize Yuri usually come from her conversations with Kaoruko, as well as any moment where she’s trying to use her experiences to teach or warn the new Precures.

It’s unclear if this novel is meant to be read by people who have already seen the anime, but there is a recurring trend where it quickly and nonchalantly drops information that was gradually revealed in the TV series, such as the true identities of certain characters. This isn’t even about “retelling” parts of the anime; one of the late spoilers in the series (the identity of a Tuxedo Mask-esque figure) is revealed in the first chapter, before Tsubomi ever shows up.

The story also occasionally deviates from the anime’s events in small ways, making it uncertain whether or not the novel is canon. For example, in the final battle against the main villain, Dune, he explains his origins and why he carries such hatred in his heart. This didn’t happen in the anime at all, and the lack of development for Dune is one of the anime’s few weak points. The climactic punch is replaced by an embrace because the running gag throughout the series, where Tsubomi uses a hip attack and calls it a “butt punch,” never occurs in the novel. It also expands on the epilogue of the anime, refocusing back on Yuri at the very end.

Given its length (over 300 pages in Japanese), the lack of furigana to help younger readers, and the complete absence of images aside from the cover, Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel skews older than the target young elementary school audience of the anime. While it’s an open secret that teenagers and adults watch Precure too, this book appears to be a specific targeting of that more mature audience. While the novel might feel a bit much like supplementary material, it’s still an enjoyable read that carries all of the strengths of Heartcatch Precure!, particularly its thoughtfulness in characterization and character development.

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A New Way to Look at Precure Character Archetypes

The Precure Pretty Store in Tokyo has a new batch of idol-style merchandise around the theme of “summer festival.” For it, each of the girls are wearing special outfits and have been separated into different groups around a common theme.

While that’s not unusual in itself, what I find fascinating is that the groups for the most part are not along traditional lines, like “show origin” or “color.” In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any real consistency from one theme to the next. Even so, I think it provides a new perspective on shared values between individual characters, so I’ve decided to lay out the categories below.

Pro Celebrities: Kasugano Urara, Amanogawa Kirara

Love: Momozono Love, Aino Megumi, Aida Mana

Otherworld Singers: Kenzaki Makoto, Kurokawa Eren

Fantastic Dreamers: Haruno Haruka, Yumehara Nozomi, Asahina Mirai

Athletes: Misumi Nagisa, Hyuuga Saki, Natsuki Rin, Hino Akane, Midorikawa Nao

Wildly Expressive: Kurumi Erika, Shirayuki Hime

Bookish Glasses Girls: Yukishiro Honoka, Hanasaki Tsubomi, Tsukikage Yuri, Shirabe Ako

Fairies-turned-Precure: Hanami Kotoha, Mimino Kurumi

Creators: Mishou Mai, Akimoto Komachi, Hoshizora Miyuki, Kise Yayoi

Martial Artists: Myoudouin Itsuki, Aoki Reika, Yotsuba Alice, Hikawa Iona

Musicians: Minazuki Karen, Houjou Hibiki

Secret Hard Workers: Aono Miki, Izayoi Liko

Chefs: Kujou Hikari, Minamimo Kaede, Madoka Aguri, Oomori Yuko, Usami Ichika

Aspiring Doctors: Yamabuki Inori, Hishikawa Rikka, Kaidou Minami

White-Haired (Former) Villains: Eas (Higashi Setsuna), Twilight (Akagi Towa)

Princes: Coco, Natts, Masame Oji, Kanata

Villains Disguised as Schoolboys: Kiriya, Luntaro (Wolflun), Kurosu (Close), Rio (Julio)

Young Mascot Fairy Boys: Syrup, Pop, Rakeru, Rance, Aroma

(The One Exception) Kira Kira Precure a la Mode: Kenjou Akira, Tategami Aoi, Kirahoshi Ciel, Usami Ichika, Arisugawa Himari, Kotozume Yukari

So what do you think of these categories? Do you like thinking of Precures along these lines? The one category that still perplexes me a bit is “Secret Hard Workers,” because Liko and Miki have very little in common. Is there something else they have in common that I’m missing?

And where would the a la Mode girls fit if they had to be divided into them? Would they all go into “chefs,” or would that only work for some of them? For example, would Aoi fit better in “Musicians?”

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[APT 507] How the Precure Age Experiment Set the Stage for Yuri in Kira Kira Precure a la Mode

Yuri fans have long been into Precure, but a recent episode of the newest series placed yuri front and center into a world that normally shies away from such a direct presentation. See my thoughts on how character age has paved the way for yuri in Precure at Apartment 507.

Wizards Are Among Us!: Maho Girls Precure

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Witches were the original magical girls in anime, so it’s somewhat surprising that the now nearly-15-year mahou shoujo franchise Precure would take so long to make a series where magic in the conventional sense is front and center. That’s what Maho Girls Precure brings to the table, and the result is a series that, while not terribly ambitious, is a still a good deal of fun.

Maho Girls Precure follows Asahina Mirai, a normal Japanese girl who one day runs into a witch in training named Liko. Searching for a magical item called a Linkle Stone, the two run afoul of a villain searching for the same item. Despite the fact that Mirai knows nothing of magic and Liko’s own skills aren’t the best, they’re able to summon the legendary power of Precure, transforming into magical girls named Cure Miracle and Cure Magical, fighting off the enemy with their new-found abilities. From there, the two become fast friends, even traveling between the magical and non-magical worlds to attend school, have fun, and protect both from malevolent forces.

Given the presence of a magic school, comparisons with Harry Potter are practically invited. There’s even a wise old headmaster (though considerably younger-looking) and a stern female teacher. You might even call Mirai and Liko “chosen ones.” However, unlike J.K. Rowling’s famed series, Maho Girls Precure isn’t a detective story with the elaborate trappings of a magical world, and in terms of seriousness vs. levity remains roughly in the territory of the early, prepubescent Harry Potter stories. That being said, it’ll occasionally raise the stakes at climactic moments and pull it off well. When it comes time to finish, Maho Girls Precure pulls out all the stops in terms of dramatic flair and animation, which is customary for the franchise but always welcome nevertheless. By the end, it’s even the first to really acknowledge the world beyond junior high since my beloved Heartcatch Precure!

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The series is not a terribly bold or daring work, but it also never promises more than it can live up to, which was the issue with the earlier HappinessCharge Precure!—a series that introduced the idea of Precures from all over the world, but never elaborated on it to a satisfying degree. Speaking of HappinessCharge, one aspect from that series utilized to greater effect here is the ability for the Precure to transform into different costumes with different abilities. While it’s not always clear why they use one over the other, they’re all stylish enough in appearance and unique enough in application to not wear out their welcome. My favorites are the topaz outfits, which carry dessert themes and also Green Lantern powers.

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The aspects of the magical world I enjoyed most were the silly little quirks of a different society accustomed to spells and physics-defying elements. From the default incantation of “Cure-up! Rapapa!” to the bizarre shell-shaped sleeping bags found on the snail trains (sort of the Maho Girls equivalent of the Hogwarts Express) to the wizard versions of fairy tales (the fairy godmother is the main heroine!), I looked forward to seeing what simple yet amusing elements of magic would pop up next.

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However, the most telling thing about how I view Maho Girls Precure is that my favorite part of the anime is not the heroines or their fight against the forces of chaos, but a side character, Katsuki Kana. A fan of the paranormal, Kana is quick to notice that some unusual things are going on in their town, except no one else seems to notice, and the Precures themselves actively deny it. When she first encounters Liko’s witch friends, they nonchalantly blurt out about how things are so different in “their world,” prompting a frantic expression from Kana in response. In addition to her panicked reactions towards any hint of magic, her ongoing desire to learn the truth, carry shades of one of my other favorite supporting characters in Precure, school newspaper journalist Masuko Mika of Yes! Pretty Cure 5.

Speaking of characters, I’d also like to mention that Liko is pretty much the anime version of Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in both appearance and personality. Any fans of Twilight would probably enjoy her antics.

 Maho Girls Precure only rarely ever had me dying to see what happens next, but its simple yet expansive relationship between its characters and their worlds made sure I never tired of it. It’s a series you can take your time with, and it’ll entertain and move, at least one step at a time.

The Transformation of Time from Manga to Anime

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How much does time pass when the mighty Star Platinum punches an enemy Stand in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? There are many factors to consider, such as how much time has passed in the show itself, as well as how time is being manipulated within the series’ universe itself. Another important element is the fact that the anime is an adaptation of a manga, where the flow of time is abstracted by manga’s existence as a 2-D paper medium.

As far back as Tetsuwan Atom, adaptations of manga have been a common mode of anime production. Manga act as a spring of new stories to present, and the jump from the comic book format to animation opens up many opportunities. An anime can try to forget its own path through interpretation or divergence from the manga (such as both the Ghost in the Shell films and Stand Alone Complex), or they can faithfully attempt to recreate what exists in the original. However, while the latter cases might often appear to be “direct transplants” of the manga to the screen, the act of having to take a physical and spatial image such as a panel and assign to it a finite amount of time can greatly change the impact of a given scene in spite of the desire for faithfulness to the source material.

In a general sense, having to time dramatic beats for an anime often requires playing around with the contents of the manga. For example, in an episode of Dragon Ball Z, filler sequences (such as the infamous minutes-long powering up spots) not only save budget, but can also be a way to make sure the episode ends on a cliffhanger. On a broader multi-episode scale, Initial D: Fourth Stage does something similar by reversing the order of the final two opponents. Originally, the manga has protagonist Takumi race against a man known as “God Hand,” while his teammate Keisuke races against “God Foot” afterward. In order to make sure the series ends with a climactic battle for its hero, the show has God Foot go first instead.

One consequence of this is that there can be moments when a series feels as if it’s dragging. Sometimes it’s successfully padded out or rearranged so that nothing feels particularly off, but in other instances it is possible to sense an uneven rhythm or pacing.

This notion also extends to the transform of panels into time. Consider that there is generally no specific amount of time that is said to pass in a given panel in manga, or indeed comics in general. What makes a panel feel “fast” or “slow” is partially about how long one’s eyes linger on a panel, and it’s dependent on the amount of content there and the flow of the page. But because time exists differently in manga, things that seemingly pass quickly on the page take much longer on the screen.

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A common example of this would be the frantic explanations of special moves in an action or sports series. Because we tend to read more quickly than we speak, it is possible to believe that an elaborate speech or thought is being made within the span of a ball being passed from one player to the next. However, commit that to concrete time in an anime, and suddenly you begin to wonder why no one is doing anything as they talk for 30 seconds. To appreciate those moments, it requires a viewer to understand that time portrayed is not literal. This is the case even with series not adapted from anime. It does not “really” take Voltes V two or three minutes to combine together, or for Erika to become Cure Marine.

So when what is a single, snappy panel in manga gets stretched out into an extended scene in an anime, it can dramatically effect how a person can feel about a particular title. I find this to especially be the case with comedy series. Take Azumanga Daioh, a four-panel series. In the manga, there will be a comedic moment that lasts for only one or two panels, such as Sakaki rolling on the floor while holding a wild Iriomote cat. In the anime, this becomes a full-on extended display of non-stop rolling with musical accompaniment. A small moment becomes a big one thanks to time. A more recent title would be Nichijou, where the staccato presentation of the manga’s gags are the equivalent of sharp, quick jabs. In anime form, however, the characters’ movements are exquisitely animated and exaggerated, and the result is a series that is in a way much more physical and almost “luscious” in a sense. While the Nichijou anime pretty much takes things directly from the manga, the two turn out to be pretty different experiences.

My belief is that the unusual handling of the (broadly speaking) space-to-time transition of manga to anime is a likely culprit of why someone might love a manga but hate its anime (or vice versa!) even if the adaptation process is largely faithful. It’s kind of like when an actor is cast in a movie based on a book; what was once a nebulous image reliant upon visual/mental interpretation becomes a little more solid and finite.

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Here Are My Hopes for Kira Kira Precure A La Mode

precurealamode

I’ve written an article over at Apartment 507 talking about the latest Precure. There aren’t any major details yet, but if you want a quick rundown of Precure as a whole, and want to know how I’d like the series to go, head on over.

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Precure is Not a Lesser Sailor Moon

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A few months ago at Otakon, I was talking with Alain from the Reverse Thieves, who had attended a panel about magical girls and feminism. He had described how the presenter went through the various series she’d be discussing, but made specific mention that she’d be omitting Precure from the discussion, citing the fact that she wasn’t particularly impressed. Although I did not attend the panel myself, I found that to be unfortunate, not because of the dismissal of Precure by the presenter in isolation, but because this stance on the long-running magical girl franchise is not that uncommon. Among many fans, presenters, and even scholars, Precure is assumed to be bland and generic and not worth discussion.

In my opinion, that kind of thinking is a mistake. Precure is not only the biggest and most popular magical girl property of the past ten years, eclipsing even Sailor Moon in certain ways (sales, longevity on TV, etc.) and therefore worth observing for its cultural footprint, but it is also a fount of positive imagery for girls. While there are certain elements that can remain issues, such as the increasing ubiquity of pink as the only possible color for the main heroine and the fact that a lot of the magical girl outfits have high heels, Precure utilizes strong female characters by default, rather than making a big deal out of their existence. What’s more, because the series refreshes itself every year or two, its variety results in different approaches to characterization of female characters and themes pertaining to feminism. You have weak girls who become strong over time (as well as a nuanced exploration of what it means to grow), heroines who are more ideals of human potential, and even characters who try to reclaim the term “princess” to mean something more than “demure.” Even the very first series is significant due to its portrayal of girls having aggressive, hand to hand fights (in a show for young girls, no less), and the fact that its two main characters are more about their life goals than pining at the boys around them.

I have my suspicions as to why Precure has ended up with this reputation, and a lot of it has to do with Sailor Moon. It was the first of its kind, the sentai-inspired battling magical girl genre of which Precure is a part. In terms of cultural influence around the world, Sailor Moon has crossed the barrier from niche interest for anime fans only to seminal work, and is frequently cited as a pivotal show in the development of many young artists. Just the fact that it portrays these mature-looking girls who fight and win is on a basic level empowering and inspiring, and so any similar series gets compared not only to Sailor Moon but also its presence as a kind of nostalgic defining moment where any weaknesses it possesses as a series are forgiven. It’s also very important to point out that, especially in the US, Precure is just plain hard to come by. As a result, for English speakers it has much less potential of becoming part of the fabric of one’s upbringing, with the possible exception of Smile Precure!, which has been loosely adapted to become Glitter Force on Netflix.

I get the feeling that, when the Sailor Moon generation typically sees Precure, a common process occurs. First, they see that Precure is similar, and that its story (depending on which version they watch) is often more lighthearted initially. Second, they see that the character designs are younger-looking, and so it seems less mature as well. Third, they might do a bit of research and become aware that the franchise is also popular with adult men, lending a sort of “creepy pervert” vibe to their impressions. Finally, they fill in the blanks, and without watching much more, jump to the conclusion that the franchise can’t possibly do things so differently from Sailor Moon that it’d be worth looking into more, or that it’s only for sad otaku (unaware that Sailor Moon was the show for doujinshi in its heyday). Moreover, because Precure doesn’t have the more immediately apparent dark appeal of a Revolutionary Girl Utena or a Madoka Magica, it’s further assumed to be generic kiddie fare. That’s not to say that the series isn’t for children, but that the type of maturity it carries is more in how it approaches the task of trying to show strong images for a female audience. As discussed above, I believe Precure does this to great success, and to see it brushed aside saddens and angers me.

I like Sailor Moon, and I don’t mean to paint fans of that series with the same brush. However, because it is a defining magical girl show for a lot of people, it gets written about as if it is the be-all, end-all of its particular brand of mahou shoujo. The reputation of Sailor Moon surpasses what is actually in the series in a certain way, and it casts an unfair shadow on Precure when Precure does many things that I would argue are improvements or directions that Sailor Moon never goes. This is especially the case with its feminist qualities. My hope is that, when people think about progressive portrayals in anime and the magical girl genre, they not only remember that Precure exists, but are aware of all that it offers.

 

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