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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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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Strength in Precure

With its combination of cute characters, kid appeal, and detailed fighting scenes, the Precure metaseries is presently the most popular and prominent magical girl anime. Though each series has its own share of unique features, one constant that always impresses me is the approach Precure takes to showing strength in its heroines.

When it comes to depicting strong female characters, there is a lot of media out there which relies on some sort of conflict revolving around a character’s gender. Confronted with a sexist/condescending/ignorant adversary, the idea is that the girl then shows what she’s made of and proves her equality/superiority. This is not inherently a problem, and there are many examples out there which make such scenes empowering, but there are also many cases where this becomes lazy or uncreative shorthand for conveying “girl power” as a way of achieving the bare minimum of inspiration.

Precure completely circumvents this issue by depicting its heroines as capable in a way where gender doesn’t really matter. Villains will mock them for inexperience, or talk about how hopeless they are for struggling, but the fact that they are girls and not boys is never really considered. When confronted with the question of whether or not girls can be strong, Precure simply says, “Of course they’re strong, why is that even a question?”

The gradual building of inner strength and emotional resolve in Heartcatch Precure! is the obvious example, but let’s instead take a rather stereotypically feminine-looking character such as Kise Yayoi (aka Cure Peace) from Smile Precure! Yayoi can be described as a crybaby who’s full of enthusiasm but lacking in confidence, a point which the villains will constantly bring up to taunt her. In regards to strength, Smile Precure! does two things. First, it provides four other girls to show how crying is not just something girls “do,” but something specific to Yayoi as an individual person. Second, it has Yayoi prove that being a crybaby doesn’t mean you’re incapable, it just means you can be capable while also crying a lot. Even with a character such as this, where it wouldn’t be surprising to see a show  convey her as “strong, for a girl,” Yayoi’s gender is never the issue.

This is not to say that Precure is devoid of traditional notions of femininity, as other signature features are brightly colored frilly outfits and cosmetics/accessories-based merchandise, not to mention the rare romance. With respect to the potential and capability of of girls, just as there’s no need to spend time in a film or cartoon to show that the sky is blue or that fire is hot, this approach treats the existence of strong female characters as such an obvious non-question that it becomes capable of normalizing the very notion that girls are strong. Without the need to “prove” anything, it can tell stories without being bogged by the classic obstacle that is the gender-centered confrontation.

Taking Up Personal Space: Excellent Model Cure Marine Figure Review

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Heartcatch Precure!‘s Kurumi Erika, so when I saw that the Megahouse “Excellent Model Cure Marine” had come out some time ago, I considered purchasing it, only to be held back by the fear that the figure might not be worth it. However, when I happened to see this figure in the Dealer’s Room at Otakon, I found myself immediately drawn to it. Debating the purchase, I took the advice of my good friend and mahjong comrade, Astro Toy columnist Dave, and went for it anyway.

If you’re not familiar with the character, watch this.

The figure cost me about $110, more than I’ve ever had to pay for one, but I have to say it looks really, really good. I mean, I’m no figure reviewer (despite the Hato Kenjirou review from last week), but pretty much all of my fears were assuaged. I didn’t just take photos of her at all of these angles just to have a variety of images to show, I wanted to actually make a point that the figure looks really good from all angles.

The hair alone is quite remarkable, gradually getting more translucent as it reaches the tips, and even giving it a nice silhouette, as can be seen from the shadows above.

What originally caused me to hesitate getting this Cure Marine figure was actually the promotional image used, which revealed a prominent shadow on the figure’s jawline and caused her face to look rather flat and awkward. Another problem I had with it was that the pose felt uncharacteristic of her.

They seemed like rather glaring flaws, enough that I felt it better to hold out and wait for a possibly better figure, but when I actually looked at the figure in person I realized that these weren’t issues at all.  Chalk one up for actually seeing the product instead of ordering it online, I guess! This is also why I think the cost was justifiable, as even if I had found a cheaper method online, it would’ve only been about $5.00, maybe $10.00 savings, and I wouldn’t have been able to really make sure that the figure looks good.

The way even intense shadows are cast on Marine’s face don’t end up flattening her face, and the pose itself looks a lot better when not displayed at that very specific angle with that specific lighting. Instead, I feel like it really captures the character’s spirit, though if I were being selfish I might actually ask for a show-specific pose, and possibly even the ability to switch out her face for some of her sillier expressions, a hallmark of the character.

In fact, when you look at Cure Marine up-close, the details really come through. Everything from the bow on her chest to the little pouch where she stores her transformation device (the “heart perfume”) to the straps on her back are painted carefully and clearly, with no real bleeding compromising the look of the figure.

If there’s anything I’m worried about when it comes to this figure, it’s the fact that the whole thing is pretty much balanced on one leg. Granted, it’s more accurate to say that it’s balanced by the large platform that Cure Marine’s one leg is attached to, but I’ve seen medium-to-large PVC figures such as this one get warped over time to the point that the figures start to practically fall over. Obviously I can’t tell at this point, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on it to see if the plastic starts to fail.

Cure Marine doesn’t come with much in terms of extras, but one thing worth pointing out is that the figure includes her animal sidekick, Coffret. It doesn’t really pose, and it seems to be made of a cheaper or at least less smooth plastic than Cure Marine herself, but it’s not much of an issue. All you do is stick Coffret on that clear stick and pose him at any angle.

The “Excellent Model Cure Marine” is my first real figure purchase in a long, long time, and I feel that it was quite worth it in the end. It’s a figure I can look at it over and over and find something good to talk about. The only question left is, will I get other Heartcatch or even other Precure figures? It’s not in the cards at the moment, but who knows? I didn’t think I’d buy this one either.

It Doesn’t Take a Madoka Magica

I was recently asked about why I don’t seem to like Puella Magi Madoka Magica nearly as much as other anime fans, bearing in mind the degree to which the show seems to garner an extremely devoted, I might even say evangelical fanbase. “Have you not seen Madoka Magica?” they ask.

While I think it’s quite a good show, even excellent in a number of respects, my opinion is that unlike so many others Madoka Magica did not open the world to me. It is not the greatest magical girl anime I’ve ever seen, let alone the greatest anime, and rather than showing me that it’s possible for such a genre to be full of rich depth and interesting ideas it just reinforced my already existing beliefs in that regard. So, yes, an excellent show and a fascinating twist, but something I always knew was possible (in a good way).

What I’ve kind of noticed is that the people who seem to be the most awestruck by Madoka Magica are the fans with little experience actually watching magical girl anime, and so when they discuss what makes the darkness of the series so special, it always feels less like people are talking from actual experience with the genre and more with just their idea of the genre from watching some Sailor Moon. Or if not Sailor Moon, their experience is comprised primarily of watching the genre exceptions, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

This is not to deny the legitimacy of other people’s watching experiences, as telling someone that they don’t have the right to enjoy a show without x or y prerequisites is pretty ridiculous. However, I feel as if many people who think the world of that show and have an opinion on how it’s done so much with the magical girl genre, while in some ways right, have only experienced the “darkness” of mahou shoujo without being familiar with the “light,” in other words the shows which manage to achieve genre highs without falling into themes like subversion or dark parody. Even in the past decade or so you’ve had shows like Heartcatch Precure!, Ojamajo Doremi, and Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san which are able to achieve a lot without flipping conventions all the way upside down.

It doesn’t take a Madoka Magica to realize the potential of the magical girl genre, which is something I hope more and more people come to learn.

“Smile Precure!” Transformations Are Widescreen as Hell

Smile Precure! began this month, and it’s bringing back the five-man team back to the Precure franchise. Incidentally, Yes! Precure 5 was also the first Precure to use a widescreen perspective, and when you compare Smile to Yes 5 and its other widescreen predecessors, Smile’s transformation scenes really stand out in terms of how they utilize screen space, particularly with the individual transformations.

Let’s take a look at the old ones first.


Cure Dream, Yes! Pretty Cure 5


Cure Dream, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go


Cure Peach, Fresh Pretty Cure


Cure Blossom, Heartcatch Precure!


Cure Melody, Suite Precure

Now here’s Smile Precure!‘s heroine, Cure Happy.

Cure Happy’s pose fills the screen in a way that I very rarely see in any sort of transformation sequence, whether it’s Precure, mahou shoujo, anime in general, or even live-action tokusatsu. Happy is not only shot closer, but her body is also slightly angled with both her arms and her hair spread out wide. This makes it so that her body is contact with all four sides of the screen while also occupying the majority of the space in between.

Then we have Cure Sunny, who doesn’t take up quite as much space as Happy does, but still has a body which cuts the shot in half diagonally almost perfectly, again emphasizing the length of the screen.

Granted, not all of the transformation poses in Smile Precure! are done in this manner, as can be seen by Cure Peace above. But whereas the previous series in the franchise stuck to the single figure in the middle of the screen as almost a rule of thumb, the large amounts of empty space on either side of her becomes more of an individual character flourish, and is perhaps even an indicator of her personality. Though I’m not 100% on this, I get the feeling that leaving that much space around Peace has the effect of emphasizing her clumsy, crybaby personality. In contrast, Happy’s personality is the kind that can fill an entire room just as her image fills the screen during her pose.

I actually think there’s a practical reason for this change, and that is the fact that Japan is finally going to switch over (almost) entirely to digital TV in about a month. Older series had to take into account a large amount of people with analog signal TVs, whereas now they can rightfully assume that most of their viewers will be watching in widescreen.