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A Look at Precure Popularity

I’ve been looking at various Precure polls lately, in part due to a desire to see how a franchise that’s 15 years old is remembered. The polls I consulted were Japanese character rankings from 2015, 2016, and 2017 as compiled by user insight_led, as well as a more recent one from the Japanese-language anime news site Anime! Anime! Being a decade and a half old means opinions can change over time (or according to the age of the voters), which is what I normally would expect, but there are some surprises.

Character Popularity

Looking at the Naver rankings, here are the top 10 characters from each year, along with the tallies each one accrued, based on comments on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Also, kids were not included in the votes; if that core audience was allowed to vote, there’d likely be a significant difference.

2015 (Go! Princess Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (1,541)
  2. Cure Marine (1,224)
  3. Cure Passion (1,107)
  4. Cure Twinkle (750)
  5. Cure Pine (624)
  6. Cure Happy (580)
  7. Cure Ace (575)
  8. Cure Lovely (489)
  9. Cure Peace (440)
  10. Cure Heart (432)

2016 (Maho Girls Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (20,041)
  2. Cure Happy (15,580)
  3. Cure Marine (12,824)
  4. Cure Peace (12,682)
  5. Cure Passion (8,107)
  6. Cure Twinkle (7,750)
  7. Cure Heart (7,432)
  8. Cure Lovely (6,999)
  9. Cure Scarlet (6,890)
  10. Cure Miracle (6,619)

2017 (Kira Kira Precure a la Mode airs)

  1. Cure Happy (12,450)
  2. Cure Beauty (11,394)
  3. Cure Marine (8,924)
  4. Cure Peace (8,804)
  5. Cure Passion (6,409)
  6. Cure Flora (6,102)
  7. Cure Lovely (5,877)
  8. Cure Heart (5,322)
  9. Cure Blossom (5,285)
  10. Cure Chocolat (5,180)

Based on these three rankings, what surprises me is how little recency bias actually seems to influence results. Cure Beauty and Cure Marine are consistently top 3, even as the total counts fluctuate. There appears to be something enduring about both of those characters, which is all the more interesting because they’re 1) in unrelated series 2) almost polar opposites in personality.

For Cure Beauty, the reasons generally given for her popularity are that she’s an ideal combination of strength, intelligence, and beauty. Out of all Precures, Beauty most closely matches the yamato nadeshiko (traditional ideal Japanese woman) in both looks and demeanor, so I wonder how much that’s a factor.

When it comes to Cure Marine, however, the queen of comedic intensity defies expectations for why fans come to love Precure characters in the first place. As mentioned in those rankings, while pretty every other character generally gets comments like “I want to be her” and “I want to be with her,” Marine’s are mostly “I wish she were my best friend.” Seeing as Marine is my favorite Precure character, I’d like to think the Japanese fans also just have incredibly good taste.

Show Popularity

According to the Anime! Anime! poll, the top 3 most beloved Precure series are as follows:

  1. Go! Princess Precure
  2. Futari wa Pretty Cure
  3. Heartcatch Precure!
  4. Kira Kira Precure a la Mode
  5. Smile Precure!
  6. Maho Girls Precure!
  7. Fresh Pretty Cure!!
  8. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go!
  9. Yes! Pretty Cure 5
  10. Futari wa Precure Max Heart
  11. DokiDoki! Precure
  12. Suite Precure
  13. Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star
  14. Happiness Charge Precure!

It should be noted that given the purpose of the site, the general audience for Anime! Anime! would skew towards older and more interested in anime as an industry. One goes there to read essays about and interviews with creators, as well as following general anime news. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that the most popular iterations of Precure are 1) the original pioneer 2) the series with (in my opinion) the strongest narratives and overall messages. What I’m more surprised about is how well this top 3 aligns with my personal tastes. I consider Heartcatch and Go! Princess to be #1 and #2, respectively, and the unrefined, yet innovative quality of the first Pretty Cure to be a big part of its charm.

While the character rankings and the series rankings are from two different sources, I find it remarkable that character popularity and series popularity don’t really line up. Based on my personal experience, this isn’t a complete shock, but I think it really goes to show that memorable characters can exist almost apart from their sources. Cure Heart is a top 10 (out of 51) character, but Doki Doki! Precure is a bottom 5 (out of 14) show, according to the above sources. It’s also interestingt to me that Cure Marine comes out ahead here. She’s considered a top 3 character, and Heartcatch Precure! is seen as a top 3 show.

Go! Princess Precure is considered the best Precure anime, but interestingly enough, it also has among the worst toy sales out of the entire franchise.

Go! Princess Precure is third from bottom

One might assume that a greater focus on quality storytelling might conflict with how one of the purposes of Precure is to sell toys, but this is not necessarily the case. According to the chart above, the most successful Precure in terms of merchandise sales is actually Heartcatch Precure! There’s perhaps a challenge in being able to achieve high marks in both, but it’s not impossible. The fact that one doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the other is simultaneously reassuring and daunting.

Conclusion (or lack thereof)

I’m not a statistician and I don’t pretend to be. I’m also unsure if there are any truths deeper than what I observed, like how Cure Marine is the Nintendo Switch of Precure (doesn’t compete directly with other Precures and is the better for it), and that toy sales and show quality almost exist on separate planes.

So in closing, Heartcatch Precure! and Cure Marine are the best. Fight me.

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Join the Bakery: Kira Kira Precure a la Mode

According to anime, girls and sweets go hand-in-hand. That’s why it’s all the more surprising that the Precure franchise took this long to create a series specifically dedicated to a pastry and confectionery theme. But Kira Kira Precure a la Mode isn’t merely a baking-themed magical girl show—it’s also quite possibly the Precure most dedicated to its central motif.

Kira Kira Precure a la Mode follows Usami Ichika, a middle school girl who enjoys baking. Learning of a nefarious force that creates havoc by stealing the very deliciousness of desserts—their kira kiraru (sparkles)—Ichika’s resistance is rewarded with the ability to become one of the warriors of legend known as Precure. As Cure Whip, she is joined by other friends and Cure allies to save the sweets, and by extension the world.

Aesthetic themes found in Precure are developed to varying degrees from one show to the next. While Go! Princess Precure directly asks what it means to be a princess and makes this a major narrative focus, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 is a bizarrely eclectic mix. There are butterflies? And dreams? And they fight an otherworldly corporation? But Precure a la Mode goes all-in. The heroes are all based on desserts. Their attacks include chocolate swords and whipped cream. The villains are trying to corrupt pastries and snacks. There’s even a recipe of the week most episodes, and the kids at home can learn how to make all of them! By the end, the show posits the notion that the love and kindness that comes with wanting to bake tasty treats for others can act as an antidote for malice and apathy. A generous claim, perhaps, yet the surest sign that this anime is wholly dedicated to its pro-baking message. It can be a bit ridiculous at times, but I prefer this over not developing the theme enough.

The core cast of Cures is pleasantly varied without falling too hard into generic five-man team syndrome, but their differences are not limited to just their standard color-coded contrasts. While all of them are involved in baking, each of them comes to it in unique ways resulting from what drives each of them. Ichika wants to make people happy through baking. Arisugawa Himari (Cure Custard) is a student of the science of baking, and wants others to appreciate the chemical magic that goes into cakes and cookies. Tategami Aoi (Cure Gelato) is more focused on her dream of being a rock star, but sees baking as a similar space for her passion. Kotozume Yukari (Cure Macaron) excels in nearly everything she does, but her inability to make perfect macarons becomes her opportunity to challenge herself. Kenjou Akira (Cure Chocolat) is the handsome and caring type, who bakes as an extension of her personality, as well as a way to treat her sickly little sister to something delicious. Later additions to the cast, especially a darkly snarky villain named Vibry (or Bibury, if you prefer) further add to the cornucopia of characters that highlight the series.

The Cures complement each other well overall, but special attention should be paid to Yukari and Akira. First, their personalities are rather rare in Precure. Yukari’s wry cleverness makes her almost an anti-trope character, frequently figuring out tricks and traps that the typical magical girl heroine would fall for in any other series. Akira is pretty much a Takarazuka Revue star transplanted into the world of Sunday morning children’s cartoons. Second, both are in high school as opposed to middle school, which is the typical age range of Precure girls. Third, though never stated 100% outright, it’s clear that there’s some shared romantic feelings between the two, with episodes dedicated to their trying to understand each other. While Precure is known for its significant yuri fanbase, these two bring it up a notch by combining multiple franchise-defying aspects together.

Overall, Kira Kira Precure a la Mode is a strong and solid entry into the Precure canon. It doesn’t quite hit the extraordinary highs of some of the franchise’s absolute best, but it’s definitely enjoyable from week to week, carries nice messages about how everyone’s unique, and even pushed that yuri envelope judge a smidge further than expected. It’s capable of appealing to the absolute newcomers as well as those with long-time experience, almost like a perfect chocolate chip cookie—simple, yet profoundly effective.

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.

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

curemoonlight

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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Go! Princess Precure and the Flames of Atonement

WARNING: This post contains Go! Princess Precure spoilers

There’s a recurring problem in the Precure franchise, which is basically a post-resolution amnesia to any significant narrative climax. This is especially evident when a new Cure is introduced or an evil character turns to the side of good, complete with a new human guise free of all of the old visual cues that marked her as being on the side of “evil.” In the process, these girls usually not only take the spotlight because they’re so new and exciting, but their newer forms are so fully integrated into their now-human lives that it’s like the show wants you to forget their past.

As a result, while the prospect of a turncoat who sees the light is generally thrilling, the addition of this new Cure to the main team often comes with a small helping of fear and dread. When Go! Princess Precure first introduces its evil rival character, Princess Twilight, the possibility that she would become the fourth Precure in this new series was already there, but the following questions would come up while watching. First, will this new character overshadow the old girls. Second, will the series act as if she’d always been everyone’s best friend?

22 episodes later, we have our answers. Twilight is really Towa, a princess who was kidnapped and brainwashed when she was a little girl, and Cure Flora, Cure Mermaid, and Cure Twinkle are able to rescue her and restore her memories. Thus begins the potential process for Twilight to essentially be “Cure-washed,” but Go! Princess Precure rather impressively makes the misdeeds of Towa’s past a part of her story and her struggle. Even after being rescued and having her original appearance restored (Twilight had long white hair while Towa’s hair is red and done in elaborate curls), Towa is shown to still be in Twilight’s original dress, and the switch away from this outfit is actually a plot point in Episode 23. Even more indicative of the show’s desire to not forget about “Princess Twilight,” however, is Towa’s transformation into Cure Scarlet.

When Towa transforms into a Precure, there are a number of interesting visual cues that she seeks not to totally divorce herself from her problematic past. First, the villains of the series have pointed elf ears, and when Towa becomes Cure Scarlet she also retains this feature. Not only that, but the transformation sequence actively emphasizes the shape of her ears.

Second, her her hair goes from being a bright red to a pale pink, closer to the white of her Twilight form.

Finally, the ever-present fire in her transformation sequence, though a different color from the flames used when she was evil, are so powerful and overwhelming that they appear sinister and frightening. While past fire-themed Precures also had blazing infernos bursting forth from their bodies, in the case of Cure Scarlet it’s almost as if they’re hinting that she’s liable to commit arson. Of course, that’s not the actual point of the transformation, but it again points to a character who might be “good” but hasn’t necessarily forgotten or ignored her wrongdoings, even if they were arguably beyond her control.

The overall result is a character that I’m looking forward to seeing develop. While there’s no guarantee that she won’t end up overshadowing the rest of the characters, I have greater faith in Go! Princess Precure because of how consistently impressive and high-quality the series has been up to this point.

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