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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The “Character Development” Crutch

In response to recent shows such as Kill la Kill and even Dokidoki! Precure I’ve been seeing a particular criticism thrown around lately:

“These characters are bad because they have no character development.”

In a way, it’s pretty much the go-to question for a lot of things, because when we traditionally think of a character-driven narrative, a character starts off in one place and ends up in another. Sometimes it’s a physical displacement, sometimes it’s an emotional one, and often times the two go hand in hand. When it comes to basic storytelling, it’s about as reliable a structure as it gets.

Reliable, yes. The formula by which all characters should be judged, no.

I understand that character development can be a powerful thing, and seeing a character grow can be a tremendously satisfying experience, but when “character development” is bandied about as doctrine it comes across as a Beginner’s Guide to Criticism. People end up being so eager to establish the “right way” to construct a story that they effectively throw out the baby with the bath water. “Static” characters, or even static elements of characters, have their own place, and are capable of being part of great stories. However, the narrative arc need not be about them in particular.

There are many ways to portray characters, and not all of them need to have the hero go through the typical kind of character progression. Does anyone watch Akagi asking, “Where’s Akagi’s character development?” Is Kenshiro an issue because he doesn’t have “character progression” beyond getting angrier and sadder as the series goes along? Raoh’s “development” is more a retcon which turned him from just an Evil Guy to someone who wanted to bring order to chaos. Yet all their characters work for what they are and what they need to be. That’s not to say that character development shouldn’t ever matter at all (and both Kill la Kill and Dokidoki! Precure have more character development than either Akagi or Fist of the North Star), but it shouldn’t be held up as holy doctrine that a story can only succeed if its character progression is sufficient.

I think this is why people are so often eager to point out that some character is a “Mary Sue.” This character who is on some level larger than life or a product of wish fulfillment is assaulted by the big book of how narrative tropes are “supposed” to work, and the attackers don’t care about anything but the idea that stories should adhere to it.

They’re Better Than You: Dokidoki! Precure

If there’s one thing about Dokidoki! Precure that really stands out, it’s the characters.

You might be thinking, “But isn’t that true for just about every other Precure you’ve reviewed?” It’s certainly true that the characters tend to be a substantial part of Precure, and with its “enemy transforms people’s selfish desires into monsters whom the heroines must fight with the power of magic sparkles and martial arts action” premise Dokidoki! Precure is pretty typical for the franchise. However, with respect to its heroines, Dokidoki! Precure differentiates itself from its predecessors in that it really pushes the concept of its main cast as role models and targets of wish fulfillment. The girls of Dokidoki! Precure are larger than life even before they transform into magical girls.

Take Hishikawa Rikka, Cure Diamond. She’s a level-headed student council vice president, the best friend of main character Aida Mana, and the top student at their school. Her dream is to become a doctor, and the fact that she’s already studying medicine in middle school is pretty amazing. In terms of ambition and power, she’s already at a level higher than most previous Precure characters, who are usually just the ace of their athletic teams or club heads or whatever. She’s also in a way the least impressive of the Dokidoki girls.

Left to right: Kenzaki Makoto, Yotsuba Alice, Aida Mana, Hishikawa Rikka

Mana, Cure Heart, is student council president. She also gets high grades (though not as high as Rikka), and is sought after by all of the sports clubs because of her all-around amazing athletic skills. On top of that, Mana is relentlessly energetic yet cool under pressure, able to handle the work of ten people without breaking a sweat. Mana is perhaps the most effective leader in Precure history, and yet even she’s no match for Yotsuba Alice (aka Cure Rosetta), who is the kind-hearted heiress of a powerful business conglomerate, well-versed in a variety of martial arts, and is basically what you’d get if Daidouji Tomoyo mega-evolved into Batman (complete with badass butler). And even that arguably pales in comparison to Cure Sword, the last surviving warrior of a kingdom destroyed by evil and greed, who has escaped to the human world in the guise of Kenzaki Makoto, pop idol sensation, while bearing the burden of having to restore her fallen homeland.

All of the central characters in Dokidoki! Precure are outstanding beings, and the degree to which the anime is able to live up to that standard is essentially what dictates the strengths and weaknesses of the series. Dokidoki! Precure follows a pretty typical children’s anime pacing, where there’s a lot of episodic content and then a swell of story during the end of each approximately 13-episode chunk, and although there are plenty of episodes which explore the characters’ impressive qualities, there’s a sense that they could have done more. Alice is  the biggest example of this, as every episode about her ends up being amazing but are also few and far between. Similarly, I thought Makoto’s reverse-identity (her real name is Cure Sword) wasn’t portrayed with as much consistency as the concept could have handled.

Also I really wished they kept using the awesome bows from the middle of the series, perhaps the most impressive Precure toys ever in terms of giving young viewers the chance to wield things that look like actual weapons. …Maybe that’s why they went away.

I’ve seen some people be critical of Mana, saying that she overshadows the other characters, but I never found this to be the case. The issue isn’t that Dokidoki! Precure devotes too much to Mana, or that Mana is somehow too perfect to be a protagonist, but that many episodes are designed to be formulaic and self-contained to a fault. If you look at the episodes which are devoted to the greater narrative, they do an excellent job of pushing things forward, and by the end the story wraps up nicely with a conclusion unprecedented in Precure.

While I enjoyed watching every week, Dokidoki! Precure ends up being one of those shows which benefits from having a list of “important episodes,” especially because the show concludes very well in spite of some large plodding spaces in the middle of its run. At the same time, if you’re comfortable with kids’ show pacing, it’s not much of an issue. Dokidoki! Precure is reliable as an introduction to the franchise as a whole, while its different take on characterization can be refreshing for those already familiar with Precure.

PS: The first ending of Dokidoki! Precure is actually now my favorite Precure ED ever. Maybe it’ll be yours too.

Future News: Cure Heart Restores Pulse of Japanese Economy


precuredreams

A trailer for the new Precure crossover is out, and it reveals that they visit the Dream World where you get to live out your dreams. The above screenshot shows a bunch of the main heroines and their aspirations, and they’re mostly in line with what we know about them already.

  • Saki wants to be a baker, like her parents.
  • Nozomi wants to be a teacher, just like mascot sidekick/love interest Coco.
  • Love wants to be a dancer, which we see her work on throughout her series.
  • Tsubomi, who loves flowers, wants to be a florist.
  • Hibiki wants to be a concert pianist, which is part of her general character arc in her series.
  • Miyuki wants to create picture books, which is one of her defining features.
  • And last but not least, Mana wants to be PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN.

I know everyone else’s dream jobs are cool and all, and full of effort and wonder and something we assume they’d be amazing at given their never-give-up attitudes, but I feel like Mana’s is on another scale. Of course, just like the others it’s an extension of her identity in her own series (Mana is class president in Dokidoki! Precure), but even so that is some serious ambition for a girl in middle school, or a boy for that matter. She’s even able to imagine being selected by the National Diet.

precuredreams-mana-small

The more I watch Dokidoki! Precure, the more I think Mana is probably the best true “leader” character out of all the protagonists in Precure. She’s not my favorite in her series or in Precure as a whole, but just from this trailer she impresses me even more. On some level, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually end her series 30 years in the future and she actually is Prime Minister.

No-Smile Precure: The Transformation of Kenzaki Makoto

Recently,  Dokidoki! Precure revealed all of its main cast and their transformations. In seeing comments about them, I’ve noticed that the transformation for Cure Sword (pictured above), has received somewhat less fanfare compared to the others because it’s not nearly as fanciful as the others. When you look at the Makoto/Cure Sword sequence, it really does lack many of the flourishes of the other Cures, but rather than this being simply a less impressive transformation I do think that the simplicity both in the “camera work” as well as the small amount of details is intentional, as it gives a better sense of Cure Sword’s character.

curerosetta-outfit curesword-armsraised
(All gifs taken from http://lemedy.tumblr.com)

Cure Sword is different from the other Cures in Dokidoki! in that she is a seasoned warrior familiar with being a Precure. Just the fact that she stretches her arms above her head and lets the costume simply form over her is reminiscent of someone just putting on a standard and familiar uniform. When you compare that with Cure Rosetta’s playfulness and spring in her step as she transforms, it becomes especially obvious.

Makoto’s change into Cure Sword is thus rather straightforward. While other girls’ hairstyles bob and flow tremendously, Makoto’s barely does so. And where the other girls move as if they’re dancing while announcing their names, further giving that feeling of excited performance, Cure Sword slashes at the air, giving the impression of a serious fighter.

curediamond-posecuresword-slash

The thing that really differentiates the Cure Sword transformation from the rest of the Dokidoki! team is simply the fact that, unlike the rest of them, she has a glower on her face pretty much the entire time, only changing her expression into a smile during the final team pose. When put side by side with the other Cures, it really makes her stand out, and along with the lack of movement in her tranformation it becomes indicative of her more serious personality.

Makoto is not the first character in Precure to have a stern look on her face as she transforms, as Cure Moonlight’s features a similar expression, and much like Cure Sword, Moonlight’s transformation appears more efficient than the others’ in Heartcatch Precure! There is still a difference, however, and I think the key factor to consider is Makoto’s origin. When you look at the transformations of other characters in Precure, including Dokidoki!, it’s as if they’re undergoing a metamorphosis. Even when you look at the characters who are from other worlds like her, such as Milky Rose, Cure Passion, Cure Beat, and Cure Muse, they take on a new identity by transforming. Makoto, however, is simply returning to her true self. Rather than being a normal girl who becomes a warrior, she is a warrior who disguises herself as a normal girl.