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.

Dark-skinned Precure: The Importance of Cure Soleil

In terms of representation, the Precure franchise has always been in an interesting place. To say that it’s all about reinforcing gender stereotypes isn’t true, but neither is claiming that the series has no stereotypes at all. The girls fight on their own terms, dream big, and the importance of romance waxes and wanes from one series to the next. However, they’re also often in “girly” colors like pink, they have a tendency to wear high heels, and pale skin has been the default for every prominent Cure since the very beginning. Change has occurred over the years, mostly for the better, but there’s a constant push and pull between challenging social norms and following them for mainstream appeal.

As the very first dark-skinned major Cure in franchise history, Star Twinkle Precure’s Cure Soleil (real name Amamiya Elena) is in an interesting position. Not only is Japan still a country where the mainstream beauty standards assume whiter skin to be better (though this is by no means universally agreed upon), but more conservative sections of Japan view “Japanese-ness” as a unique and special phenomenon. In their eyes, even if you were born and raised in Japan, being Korean, Nigerian, or anything else disqualifies you from being “truly Japanese.”

In contrast to these views, Cure Soleil is presented as having partial ethnic origins from Mexico, her family flower shop “Sonrisa” and her cathphrase (“Chao!”) being the primary indicators. She also isn’t talked about like she’s a foreigner. Elena was born in Japan and has lived there all her life, and she’s not exoticized by her friends or the show itself. Further, having dark skin and being considered one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school sends a strong message to those growing up in Japan who don’t look like the assumed default. This is a far cry from the previous attempt to have dark-skinned Cures, as the briefly shown Wonderful Net Precure from Happiness Charge Precure! are barely tan to the point that it’s hard to tell that they’re Indian at first glance.

As a country where its well-known ethnic homogeneity is reflected in its media, stereotypes about foreigners are unsurprising. In that context, I have to wonder if the reason Cure Soleil is a part of Star Twinkle Precure is because dark-skinned women have made an impact in recent years. There’s Miss Japan 2015, Miyamoto Ariana, who is half-Japanese and half-African-American. More recently, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka (half-Japanese, half-Haitian) has been taking the world by storm and has even appeared in commercials in Japan. Whatever the actual case may be, I hope that characters like Elena can help normalize acceptance and celebration of girls and boys who look like her.

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.

Winter 2019 Anime Impressions

We’re a couple of months into the winter 2019 anime season, and I was asked by Johnny, one of my Patreon sponsors, for my thoughts thus far. Here are the current highlights, in my view.

The Promised Neverland

Based on a popular Shounen Jump thriller/psychological horror manga, it’s very notable that this adaptation is airing during the Noitamina timeslot–a space generally dedicated to appealing to older audiences. While I follow he original comic and thus know many of the spoilers, it’s still an incredible watch. If anything, The Promised Neverland is strong enough to carry the entire season by itself.

I was surprised to find out that the anime’s director is Kanbe Mamoru, who also directed one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. Both shows have an amazing sense of almost palpable atmosphere, so maybe it’s not so unusual after all.

Boogiepop and Others

I recall the 2000 Boogiepop Phantom anime being amazing, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I barely remember what it was about. Thankfully, the current Boogiepop and Others (which is actually a prequel to Boogiepop Phantom) is plenty strong. It’s a bizarre occult mystery series where it feels like each discovery is just one small step in an infinite void of darkness. Even the characters themselves have this almost numbing quality that makes you want to sink further in. There are few characters I want to simultaneously know more and less about than Boogiepop.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Elite, super-rich schools are a fairly common trope in anime, from Boys Over Flowers to Ouran High School Host Club, and they can be pretty hit or miss. I was pleasantly surprised by Kaguya-sama: Love is War because while it’s pretty much a “will they or won’t they” romcom, the premise is almost backwards compared to expectations. Rather than it being about hopelessly oblivious teens not realizing their own feelings for each other, it’s about two characters who are clearly interested in each other but see romantic confession as a sign of weakness. Thus, they’re constantly playing a game of chicken to see if they can get the other to ask them out first.

I like to think of it as like a mirror version of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. The only thing is that while I’ve enjoyed the episodes I’ve watched, I wonder if the joke might wear itself thin eventually.

Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan

Adapted from a manga that ran in Monthly Afternoon, Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan is an eccentric series about a single woman living in Tokyo. The anime is made all the more absurd by a Pop Team Epic-esque approach, where each episode is animated and directed by a different staff. The after-episode interviews last a liiittle too long, but it’s almost supplemental so not a big deal.

Star Twinkle Precure

Does this count as a winter 2019 season anime? The year-long franchise always runs on Precure time (starts and ends in February), but I’m going to include it because the series is already awesome. It’s taking a different approach compared to its predecessor, Hugtto! Precure, but I appreciate that. The outer space/aliens theme is a welcome first that I hope they explore in greater detail. The main character, Hoshina Hikaru, fulfills the “energetic and enthusiastic lead” role like so many other central Cures before her while still managing to feel unique. The show is vibrant and fun, and I expect good things from it.

So what series have been catching your attention? Which have you stuck with? Let me know in the comments, if you’d like!

This post was made possible thanks to Johnny Trovato. If you have any topics you’d like to see on Ogiue Maniax, check out the Patreon.