Summer Cure Makes Me Feel Fine: Tropical-Rouge! Precure

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Wellness for the Self, Wellness for the World: Healin’ Good Precure

Healin’ Good Precure might be either one of the best-timed anime ever or one of the worst. With themes of environmentalism, medicine, and even personal wellbeing, the anime began in February 2020 right as the threat COVID-19 was starting to increase. As a result, the series lost about a month’s worth of episodes (ending at 45 instead of around 50), and the pandemic only further increased the importance of its message. As it came back from the production delay, I myself wondered if the series would change anything to directly address COVID-19, like facemask equipment or social distancing beams.

The answer, it turns out, is “not really.” In hindsight, however, this might not be such a bad thing. Although often fairly simplistic in its messaging, Healin’ Good Precure focuses less on harsh and gritty truths, and more on the idea of trying to take care of both people and the planet together, with a few surprisingly insightful gems along the way that I hope the kids watching take to heart.

The premise: Hanadera Nodoka is a kind and gentle middle school girl who, not long ago, was hospitalized with an unknown illness. Having finally recovered and now moved to Sukoyaka City with her parents, she looks forward to doing all the things a healthy person does, but her life changes when she encounters a magical rabbit. The rabbit, named Rabirin, is one of three “healing animal” trainees who have escaped from the Byo-gens, virus-like invaders whose goal is to “undermine” everything they infect. Bonding with Rabirin to protect the healing animal princess Rate, Nodoka becomes Cure Grace, one of the legendary warriors known as Precure. Soon, she’s joined by other girls at her school who also bond with healing animals, and they fight to treat the Earth’s maladies.

In terms of overall cohesive storytelling, Healin’ Good is not one of the strongest Precure entries. It takes a mostly episodic approach with major narrative developments at mostly abrupt and expected intervals, and some of those developments are actually kind of bizarre if you think too hard about them—like something that could be read as a pregnancy metaphor but probably isn’t supposed to be. 

That said, the series sports some impressively expressive animation, and the fights often feel like the characters have some real heft to them—not always the case in Precure. The main cast of characters are also interesting, relatable, and inspiring enough to make the watching experience enjoyable overall. The contrasts between the three main Cures—Nodoka, Chiyu, and Hinata—mean that each girl has their own challenges they need to face and overcome, though the amount of attention paid to each of them can feel weirdly lopsided. More episodes seem to be devoted to Chiyu’s more ambitious goals of becoming a competition high-jumper and family innkeeper, though I don’t know if that’s just a result of losing those five or so episodes to the production delay.

Another factor to its credit is that I think Healin’ Good has not only some of the least annoying mascots ever, but they’re also some of the best support characters Precure has ever seen. Rabirin, along with her companions Pegitan and Nyatoran, act as both foils and complements to their human partners, and their desire to get stronger in order to keep the Earth from experiencing a fate similar to their own world feels genuine. Moreover, Rate gets a surprising amount of development that’s actually welcome rather than overshadowing the Cures.

While the series takes a fairly kid-gloves approach to the challenges it presents (not surprising from a kids’ show), there are aspects of Healin’ Good that I think are meant to teach the young viewers to face up to a world that’s increasingly headed towards multiple disasters both potential and real. When the Byo-gens infect an area of the city, failing to stop the infection only makes the monsters stronger. In this, I can see a metaphor for climate change and the need to slow it down as soon as possible, because while keeping the Earth from warming up to the point of substantial environmental change is a monumental task, it’s a lot easier than trying to bring the Earth back from that point. Additionally, all the doctor imagery strewn throughout Healin’ Good, from parents’ professions to the idea of “treating’ the planet to even the girls’ transformation lab coats might encourage more girls to go into pursuing careers in medicine and fight the sexism that pervades medical schools in Japan. In that sense, I think it builds on some of the positive messages found in its immediate predecessor, Hugtto! Precure.

It’s also notable that those very same kid gloves start to come off towards the end. There is a moment late in the anime where Nodoka is faced with the dilemma of trying to help an injured enemy who is responsible for much of her pain. But where many past stories would make its heroine some kind of saint, Healin’ Good emphasizes the need for self care, and that there is no requirement to lend a hand to someone who has harmed you, especially if you only end up feeling more hurt as a result. In other words, kindness is not a resource that should be exploited, and girls should not be expected to sacrifice their well-being because they’re supposed to be “caring.” Similarly, the environmental message calls out the complicity of humanity by the end, though is ultimately positive, as expected.

As much as I would have found it interesting, I realize now that Healin’ Good Precure did not need to tackle COVID-19 head-on. Face masks are already commonly accepted in Japan, so there’s no need to encourage people to wear them. The infection rate, although a real concern, is not nearly as bad in Japan as it is in other parts of the world (especially the good ol’ US of A). And as for not emphasizing social distancing, the series was probably created with the hope and expectation that we’ll eventually be able to return to some semblance of our former life, and that kids should be able to see what normal social interaction looks like.

Instead, we have a Precure anime that aimed to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world through an approachable lens of the familiar magical girl tropes. Although the final product doesn’t have the riveting and finely tuned narratives of some of its predecessors, that’s not the only measure of an anime’s success—and no, I don’t mean toy sales. What Heain’ Good Precure has in spades is ambition to make improve society by encouraging a positive and humanitarian spirit in its audience. The world thirty years from now will hopefully be a better place.

A Beam Rifle in Precure?! Z Gundam’s Iconic Sound Effect

Mobile Suit Z Gundam is a classic anime series, a successful sequel and a template for other 80s robot anime. One aspect of it that really sticks in my mind but is less talked about is the sound design. In particular, the sound of beam rifles in Z Gundam is rather iconic, as it’s noticeably different compared to every Gundam anime before and after.

I basically never hear that distinct Z Gundam beam rifle sound anywhere else (that’s not just featuring the Z Gundam itself), with one big exception: the fighting magical girl franchise Precure.

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the use of the Z Gundam beam rifle sound in Precure—I think it might have been in Kira Kira Precure a la Mode—but ever since then, I can’t help noticing it. In Episode 32 of Healin’ Good Precure, the monster of the week makes pretty much that exact sound when firing a blast of energy (see 17:43 in the link).

It’s so strange to me. Of all the places for the beam rifle to show up, why Precure? There’s no studio connection (as Gundam is from Sunrise and Precure is from Toei Animation), so they’re not necessarily working from the same stock library. You won’t even find the sound in other mecha series—though maybe hearing it in a giant robot anime would bring up too many comparisons? I wonder if the sheer genre distance between the two allows Precure to use the SFX? Or could there be some Gundam fans in charge of sound production at Toei who like to incorporate the beam rifle into episodes. For that matter, I think I’ve even heard the classic Newtype flash on occasion while watching Precure.

More broadly, this all makes me want to know why the Z Gundam beam rifle sound just never really went anywhere beyond that one series. Personally, I think it has a great tone that sounds like a powerful yet precise weapon. Perhaps it was too iconic for its own good, but I guess for now, it’ll live on in the battles of modern anime’s most prominent transforming heroines.

Healin’ Good Precure and the Age of Coronavirus

In recent weeks, many of the anime that were on hiatus due to COVID-19 have begun returning, and one question that arises is how these series might be affected by the delay going forward. Many, like Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and The Millionaire Detective, are adaptations, and so wouldn’t be affected content-wise. Similarly, historical fiction like Appare Ranman! can easily ignore current events. But there is one series I’m looking at as potentially being deeply impacted by coronavirus on a story level, and that’s Healin’ Good Precure.

The main motifs of Healin’ Good Precure are healthcare and the environment. The girls essentially act as doctors trying to heal different Earth spirits when they fall ill, their interactions with their fluffy mascots take a veterinary angle, and their magical dresses briefly resemble physician lab coats during transformation. It’s an incredible coincidence that this would be the Precure series we have in the middle of a global pandemic, but here we are.

The Precure franchise as a whole does not have any source material—the anime are the original works. Everything else, from manga to video games, are subordinate to it. What this means is that there’s no source material to reference or adhere to, so it likely has a degree of flexibility in terms of potentially changing its story. The fact that Precure shows are typically around 50 episodes also means there’s plenty of time to pivot and try to take into account current trends and real-world concerns. Also, while the series was on hiatus, the official Precure LINE channel actually had videos featuring Precure stuffed dolls talking (via the voice actors) to kids and playing games with them, so i think there is an awareness that children are feeling the effects of self-quarantine and the like.

While I don’t think Healin’ Good Precure is going to do anything as drastic as explicitly introduce coronavirus into the show, I do wonder if they’re going to try and incorporate some of the good behavior into the girls’ special moves or equipment. For example, what if one of the mid-series upgrades are special magical masks that give the Precures enhanced powers? What if the girls learn a special attack that requires them to stand six feet (or two meters) apart from one another? Of course, it’s also possible that the show will keep ignoring the environment created by COVID-19 in the hopes of giving young kids an image of how things are “supposed to be.”

Regardless of how far Healin’ Good goes to address current events, Precure’s general positivity and supportive messages are very welcome. I’m just waiting to see how far it goes.

Space Cases: Star Twinkle Precure

The Precure franchise always goes out of its way to convey a positive, inspiring message. 2018’s Hugtto! Precure is all about telling kids that they can do anything and be anything. 2007’s Yes! Pretty Cure 5 focuses on dreams and aspirations. The recently concluded Star Twinkle Precure, then, centers around curiosity about the cosmos and the creative power of imagination, and I think it does a splendid job of marrying its ideas together into an enjoyable and uplifting series.

When the twelve Star Princesses (greater beings based on the Zodiac who are responsible for maintaining the universe) are attacked by an intergalactic force known as the Notraiders, they turn themselves into Princess Star Color Pens and send themselves across the universe to prevent their power from being taken. Three aliens, a girl named Lala, a blob named Purunsu, and a fluffy fairy named Fuwa, are tasked with retrieving and restoring the princesses. They travel to Earth, where they encounter Hoshina Hikaru, a human girl who loves to draw and loves the stars. Hikaru and Lala soon discover that they can transform into warriors known as Precures to fight the Notraiders. Along the way, they make new friends and allies, among them Cure Soleil (Amamiya Elena) and Cure Selene (Kaguya Madoka), as they continue their fight to save the universe.

Star Twinkle Precure is one of the most consistently strong Precure anime I’ve ever seen, with my biggest criticism just being that it celebrates the quackery that is horoscopes. I know it’s popular, though.

The characters–whether or not they’re heroines or villains, stars of side characters–are generally compelling and develop in interesting ways over the course of the series while still maintaining the cores of their identities. This even includes Hikaru, Cure Star, when often times the main heroine in these team-based magical girl shows often end up feeling somewhat generic. The series is also paced well over its 49-episode run, with more self-contained episodes rarely wearing out their welcome, and more plot-oriented episodes successfully building on one another. The theme of space travel means a strong sense of wonder and discovery both internal and external, and as the series progresses, the concept of “imagination” is explored in interesting ways–especially in terms of the heroines’ more positive use of imagination vs. the villains’ “twisted” imaginations that prey upon fears and doubts. The animation also rarely falters, and the big fights during dramatic moments in the series are nothing to sneeze at.

One of the important messages woven into the anime is inclusivity. Not only is there the basic idea of discovering and appreciating aliens from outer space such as Lala, but Star Twinkle Precure is the first series to have a human, Earth-born Precure who is not fully Japanese. Elena is Half-Mexican, Half-Japanese, with darker skin than the rest of the main cast, and her biracial heritage is highlighted in multiple episodes. A few episodes are even dedicated to her or her family dealing with feeling different from other Japanese kids. The only downside is that the series doesn’t come out and say “racism” or “discrimination,” but the implication is there, and it is powerful. I hope Precure eventually finds the courage to bring controversial topics right to its viewers without being so vague, confident that kids are smart enough to understand.

Of the Precures themselves, I’m fond of Hikaru’s love of the unknown and her catchphrase, “Kirayaba…!” but I think my favorite might be Lala, aka Cure Milky. I think her transformed outfit is really great in the way it conveys the space alien motif (namely, the clear shoulder bubbles), but I also like her backstory, about how she comes from a planet where a lot of thinking and doing is done for its people by computers, and how she wants to overcome that. But really, all of the girls are great here, and there’s no wrong answer. I hardly wrote about Madoka, but her story about carrying the weight of her dad’s expectations of perfection is something a lot of kids could benefit from seeing.

Overall, Star Twinkle Precure is just an incredibly solid series that I think communicates its messages and themes extremely well. I think it’s great for both newcomers to Precure and longtime fans alike.

One last important note: the second ending is basically Precure vaporwave, and it is fantastic.

Cure Marine is Evergreen: Thoughts on NHK All-Precure Poll Results

The NHK All-Precure Poll announced its results on September 14th, and I’m happy to say that a lot of the things I voted for did quite well. My favorite show (Heartcatch Precure!) and one of my favorite songs (“Pretty Cure 5, Full Throttle GO GO!”) both got 2nd in their respective categories. But there’s one thing that stands out to me above all else, and that’s how Cure Marine, alias Kurumi Erika, aka my favorite Precure character, is the 3rd most popular Precure.

Last year, I made a post about some other Precure polls I found conducted through the website Naver. These polls weren’t as extensive or far-reaching as NHK’s, which ended up receiving over 600,000 votes, and some of the rankings were very different. For example, Cure Beauty was often at or near the top in Naver’s polls, but in NHK’s she’s at a somewhat less impressive 15th place. The OGs, Cure Black and Cure White, took the top 2 spots of the NHK poll but didn’t even get into the top 10 of the Naver ones. Yet, somehow, Cure Marine placed 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd on Naver and 3rd with NHK. While I’m no statistician, to me that consistency seems remarkable.

What appeals to me about Cure Marine is that her infectious energy, her humorous attitude towards life, and the fact that she’s anything but perfect. Her positivity doesn’t come from just being inherently optimistic all the time, and it’s something she clearly actively works at. Marine has a heart as big as her voice and attitude, and her sheer expressiveness seems to make her a hit with both kids and adults. Really, when you’re right behind the prototypical Precures in terms of popularity, I think it says a lot about how the character has affected fans of the franchise and how well she persists in the memories of those who’ve had the privilege to watch Heartcatch Precure! 

10 years later, Kurumi Erika is still unforgettable.

 

NHK’s Precure Mega Poll: Vote for Your Favorites!

The Japanese television station NHK is doing a Precure Poll that asks about your all-time favorite shows, Precures, minor characters, and songs. While there have been polls in the past from other places, none of them quite have the reach of NHK, so this promises to be a massive one. They expect people outside of Japan to vote as well!

This poll includes all TV series and all movies, and the four categories are as follows: favorite work (pick 1), favorite Precure (pick 3), favorite other characters (pick 3), favorite songs (pick 3).

After each pick, you’re asked to fill out your reasons for choosing, your nickname, age, gender (only choices are male and female), and where you’re from. The last choice in the location drop-down is “outside Japan.”

I’ve already made my choices, as shown below:

Favorite work: Heartcatch Precure!

Favorite Precures: Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!), Cure Sword (Dokidoki! Precure), Cure Macherie (Hugtto! Precure)

Favorite other characters: Masuko Mika (Yes! Pretty Cure 5), Dark Precure (Heartcatch Precure!), Tachi Kyouko (Kirara’s manager, Go! Princess Precure)

Favorite songs: “Kono Sora no Mukou” (Dokidoki! Precure ending 1), “Kirakira Kawaii! Precure Dai Shuugou” (Pretty Cure All Stars DX opening), Pretty Cure 5 Full Throttle Go Go! (Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go)

So happy voting, and remember: Heartcatch Precure! is the best, and so is Cure Marine.

Star Twinkle Precure’s Excellently Personal Transformations

Precure as a whole is known for its fantastically animated transformation sequences, but I’ve been especially impressed by the current Star Twinkle Precure. They feel especially strong and consistent, and both the attention to detail and little design flourishes make each character stand out from the others.

As the main character, Cure Star is the standard from which the others are contrasted. She sets up the basic premise of the series’ transformations–waving around a pen and drawing while singing about who she wants to be–but there’s also a spring and a bounce that highlights her personality in full. Her dancing feels very loose and casual, and at the same time conveys her eagerness and curiosity. Cure Star already embraces who she is and who she wants to be in her daily life, so she doesn’t seem especially different before and after changing into a Precure.

While all the other girls draw their symbol and stand next to or in it, Cure Milky stays offscreen. She then surfs on top of the heart along a flow of green water, playing off the Japanese word for Milky Way: ginga, or “silver river.” Milky seems to express the most joy over transforming into a Precure, which makes sense, given that she’s the only who even knew about the legend of Precure already. Her outfit has a number of elements that suggest her extraterrestrial origin, but my favorite are the clear, bubbly shoulders. They’re reminiscent of old-fashioned portrayals of aliens at the same time that they adhere to the general Precure aesthetic.

The first really noticeable thing about Cure Soleil is that as he continuously traces a circle, it gets brighter and more intense, almost like you’re staring into the sun. It’s the only initial drawn shape to create a fully rendered image (a sun, of course), which she then emerges out of, as if the flames are transforming her. Soleil’s Precure outfit resembles a flamenco dress, calling back to her Spanish/Latin cultural background, without making her feel like a “token” foreigner character.

Cure Selene’s transformation whispers elegance compared to the others, which are more energetic. Her initial drawing is the only asymmetrical one, and the way she stands inside the crescent moon without being inside of the shape itself leaves an impression—especially with the way her feet are planted apart, toes in. Unlike the other girls, she actually rides the crescent moon she draws, and the arrow she shoots is based on her archery background. Her transformation feels the most “freeing,” as if she’s finally not being held back by her upper-crust upbringing.

Overall, I love how much personality and individuality these transformations have. They really emphasize the idea that these girls are trying to transform into who they want to be.

Never Give Up: Hugtto! Precure

In the opening to Hugtto! Precure, the very first thing spoken by the heroine of the story, Nono Hana, is a motivational mantra: “You can do anything! You can be anything! Embrace your shining future! Hooray, hooray, everyone! Hooray, hooray, me! Here we go!”

At first, it feels a little hokey platitude you say to kids: “You can become president one day!” But over the course of 49 episodes, the words grow and grow in weight and significance. Hugtto! Precure knows it’s not easy to do what’s right, that failure can feel devastating, and that life can turn from joy to sorrow in a moment’s notice. Still, it tells its viewers, both young and old, something ever-important but especially in today’s world: “You define your own success, and who you want to be.”

The premise is standard magical girl stuff: Nono Hana is a 13-year-old girl who won’t let the world get her down, when a mysterious baby named Hugtan nd her talking hamster companion fall from the sky. Gaining magical powers to fight off the nefarious forces after the baby, Hana becomes Cure Yell, and over the course of the series makes new friends and allies who join in her fight. Hugtto! also celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Precure franchise, and it pulls out all the stops as a result. The animation and vibrant, impactful action scenes are frequently among the best in franchise history, and the Hugtto! makes numerous subtle and not-so-subtle references to past series.

But even before the first episode, one bit of news about the show stood out to me more than anything else: the fact that the director of Hugtto! is the famous Sato Junichi—in fact, it’s his first Precure! One of the best ever at making magical girl anime that are both poignant and respectful of the young audience watching them, the same attitude seen in works like Sailor Moon, Ojamajo Doremi, Princess Tutu, and Fushigiboshi no Futagohime is on full display in here. When the primary themes are dreams and motherhood, it can be all too easy to create something contrived, but Hugtto! leaps over that hurdle with grace and enthusiasm.

Major and minor characters alike are robust and fully realized, with their own strengths and weaknesses and unique circumstances, as if they all have their own lives and stories to lead. My favorite character is Aisaki Emiru, a rich girl whose overactive imagination leads her into being overly cautious. However, I think the character who encapsulates what makes Hugtto! so powerful is Nono Hana herself.

Hana’s Precure name, Cure Yell, comes from how “yell” (eeru) is used to mean “cheer” in Japanese. This explains not only her cheerleader-inspired outfit but also her general life philosophy: Everyone needs a supportive voice to lift them up sometimes, whether they’re ultra-talented naturals living their dreams or struggling to achieve anything, and that includes Hana herself. As the series points out numerous times, being that source of encouragement might seem easier or less important than what the superstars around her accomplish—Homare as a figure skater, Saaya as an actress, and more—but it’s just as challenging and valuable to inspire others to not give up. It doesn’t come totally naturally to Hana either; she actively works on it, essentially exuding a motherly and nurturing quality not just towards Hugtan but everyone else too.

People can fail and dreams can change, but “You can do anything! You can be anything!” is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it encourages a mindset that doesn’t let any obstacle, no matter how big or small, trap people into doing nothing.

In terms of messaging, Hugtto! Precure is one of the best in franchise history. It’s very easy for any show of Precure’s kind—a massive merchandising machine—to play it safe and push toy sales, but Hugtto! actively emphasizes a plethora of important lessons that allow it to overcome that pitfall. For example, while Hugtto! has that excellent fighting action Precure is known for, it still foregrounds the idea that violence is ultimately not the answer, that it is the Precure’ s compassion that wins the day in the end. A key instance of this is when Cure Yell gains an elegant and powerful-looking sword, but rejects its violent appearance, claiming that it isn’t what they need in that moment to not just defeat a villain but save him as well.

Other notable stories highlight a progressive bent in Hugtto! Wakamiya Henri, is introduced as a figure-skating rival for Homare but becomes a key figure for challenging gender and sexuality norms. A stand-alone episode about childbirth becomes a lesson to viewers about the wrongful demonizing of Caesarean sections in Japan. The villains, each named after a different era of recent Japanese history, are all portrayed as having succumbed to cynicism and in need of the Precures to show them that they can still believe and dream. As a side note, it’s highly amusing to me that the villain who represents baby boomers, Daigan, loves to talk big about how he’d fix everything with ease, but ultimately proves ineffectual.

So where does Hugtto! Precure rank among its fellow Precure series? A part of me is still more fond of Heartcatch Precure! (which I consider the pinnacle of the franchise), but Hugtto! carries much of the same spirit and DNA that made Heartcatch great. In other words, it’s a top-tier show that’s at once familiar and daring, and perhaps casts a long shadow on what’s to follow. Best of luck to Star Twinkle Precure—it’s going to need some.

The Dynamics of Hugtto! Precure’s Gay Couple

Following a landmark canon lesbian couple in Kira Kira Precure a la Mode, this year’s Hugtto! Precure (a series that is largely progressive in its views) has established its first clearly gay relationship in franchise history. I want to explore the pairing in terms of how it’s portrayed and its significance because there’s a lot to unpack here.

The couple is two side characters, Aisaki Masato and Wakamiya Henri. Masato is the eldest son of a rich and powerful family who, when we first meet him, is all about maintaining the family image. Henri is a half-French, half-Japanese figure skater who enjoys wearing women’s clothing because he makes it look good. They’re opposites in many ways, and at first, rather antagonistic towards each other. “Aren’t you embarrassed to dress like that?” Masato once snidely asks Henri.

Masato is an interesting character, though he doesn’t initially appear that way. When the show first introduces him, Masato’s main actions are to shame and discourage his little sister Emiru from playing electric guitar—her greatest passion. He nags her about how it’s a low-class hobby unbefitting a proper daughter of the Aisaki family. But after Masato is captivated by one of Henri’s performances and the two guys start being seen around each other much more, Henri is shown to be much more supportive of Emiru. Something changes in him.

For better or worse, Hugtto! Precure never says outright that it’s portraying a homosexual relationship. However, for anyone who’s paying attention, the hints are numerous. In one episode, Henri is skating in a competition, and during his performance blows a kiss at a crowd of mostly girls which “just happens” to have Masato at the center. All the girls swoon while Masato barely reacts, but it’s clear what’s going on here.

Given that relative subtlety (one might call it “plausible deniability”), I would venture to say that Masato is initially closeted gay. The reason he’s so hard on Emiru, and why he’s so adamant about her giving up guitar, is likely because he’s projecting his own insecurities onto her. He has to be the proper son who lives up to the Aisaki name. He has to dress the correct way, act the correct way, be the correct way.

Henri, with his fair looks and unflappable personality, explodes all of that. And so, even though their relationship progression is never shown outright, Masato is a little kinder every time we meet him. “Close friends” indeed.

In the end, the fact that Precure can’t just outright say what it has is somewhat disappointing, but the story it’s telling about two guys in love is actually a lot more robust and encouraging than that it may initially seem. The hope is that eventually, Precure will be able to say what it’s really feeling.