I’ve been impressed by the writing on the Pretty Cure series from the very first. It’s a great example of Hopepunk, positive and uplifting, with the characters making tough decisions and coming up with different solutions and unconventional tactics. They make things better, but not perfect.
Precure is an ‘all-ages’ show, though the youngest viewers are the prime toy-buying customers. The contrast with Ojamajo Doremi, Toei’s previous magical girl series for the Sunday morning timeslot, makes that clear. Doremi is cute, fun, and positive, also well-written, but it’s primarily for a gradeschool audience, without putting in a lot of work to foster a passionate connection and anticipation among adult fans.
Precure was never childish, but when Fresh Pretty Cure aired (2009) it quickly gained a large adult fanbase. I’m sure Toei and Bandai found real advantages to that, and have worked to maintain it. For one thing, if a girl wants a Hirogaru Sky Mirror Pad (about $70) her parents aren’t going to say “What is this crap, and why is it so expensive?” They know what a mirror pad is, they’re going to get the right product, and they’ll probably buy that Cure Butterfly figurine for themselves while they’re at it. They’re also good series for parents to watch with their children- many of the episodes would be good subjects for discussions.
In a way, it’s a lot like the Batman franchise- kids love Batman and want the related toys, but a lot of it will go right over their heads. Even Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) has story elements that the young kids won’t understand. Precure’s not as dark as some of the Batman movies, but Toei does not hesitate to pour on the tragedy in Precure and set everyone in the room crying when the story demands it.
Pretty Cure doesn’t require nostalgia to become a fan. New fans of Precure on mastodon call it a bright spot in their week.
One of the things I loved from the very first episode of Futari wa Precure was that Nagisa, the outgoing sports girl is afraid to become a Cure, and initially refuses the call, while reserved science girl Honoka’s on board from the first. Honoka’s able to talk to guys naturally, while Nagissa is totally flustered. And Nagissa’s locker is filled with love confessions from the girls, while Honoka gets love letters from boys. It’s interesting that Nagisa is Cure Black, which associates her with the receptive “feminine” Yin, with Honoka as the active “masculine” Cure White! They flipped the obvious Yin/Yang association to make more interesting characters.
AzenZone on youtube, looking back on Futari wa Precure, the first series, said:
… some really nice subtle direction hints at how Nagisa deep down was actually the far more reserved of the two girls, while Honoka was almost like a typical shonen protagonist based on how sociable she was.
I think a strong theme that this series and many that followed it was the dismantling of preconceived notions. Basically they really explored the idea of not judging a book by its cover, and in turn encouraged the target audience to find differences in themselves. These characters could discover other interests or hobbies that don’t seem to match up with their initial tropes, and yet make sense from an IRL standpoint as sometimes humans are just that unpredictable and more importantly, we’re never truly stagnant with our development. … it’s still a strong storytelling tool that this franchise has used effectively over the years.
… people tend to remember this OG for supposedly dismantling some old tropes by bringing in more (close-quarter-combat) than usual, but really I think it should be more praised for how it approached developing its characters
Complex characters mean they can have personal issues to work through that may or may not relate to a character stereotype. Some problems might be resolved in one episode or a short arc, others run through a whole series.
Then there’s the “Girl Power” thing:
Winter // Juno on mastodon wrote:
#precure might be the only anime i know of where not only are the girls strong and well-developed characters but there are boys who look up to them. for their strength, their resolve, and their reliability.
despite that, they’re still flawed characters who undergo a lot of growth themselves.
it’s a subtle thing that’s hard to notice at first, but they’re doing something very right.
it isn’t your “girls can be interesting and capable too!” message. well-meaning but ultimately still putting girls second
it’s not your “girls rule boys drool” message either
it simply says “girls are awesome and cool!!!”
there’s no “but”, there’s no comparison, and there are no conditions
it’s just purely positive and supportive and i absolutely adore it for that
we need more shows like that
The only time they lost their way on this was in Delicious Party (2022-2023). Takumi / Black Pepper is a childhood friend of Yui, the lead Cure. Of course she doesn’t recognize him with the mask. He often appears in battle to save Yui, but at least he doesn’t finish off the monster and win the day. Fans immediately identified him with Mamoru / Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon, and weren’t pleased.
For the 20th season of Precure, Toei wanted to have a boy Cure as a full member of the team. Anyone can become a Cure (more about that later.) But they learned from their mistake with Black Pepper. Tsubasa / Cure Wing is an equal member of the team; he doesn’t try and take over, and he doesn’t always save the day. He often works with Cure Butterfly, the other “oddball” Cure. He uses his interests and skills, taking the lead or helping when appropriate. He’s definitely got a boy personality too.
Anyone can become a Cure. There’s none of that ‘Yer a wizard, Harry!’ nonsense. No ‘Seventh son of a seventh son’, golden child magical destiny heritage. The defining moment of becoming a Cure is seeing something horrible happening, knowing you don’t have the power or ability to stop it and you might be killed, but still standing up and saying “NO! I will not permit this!” and putting yourself in harm’s way.
And when I say everyone, I mean it. We’ve had mainline Cures who are a cat, alien singing idol thief cat, actress, singing idol, food blogger, flightless boy bird, model, celebrity chef, witch student from a magical dimension, a robot, mermaid, fairies, and more I don’t remember. A couple have been really young (10), most in the 14-17 range, with Cure Butterfly being a legal adult at 18. Cure Flower is a retired Cure, now 67, but she still manages to transform in an emergency. Many are shy, and seem completely unsuited to becoming a hero, with their only hero skills being kindness and a drive to support their friends. Some have been villains- “redemption Cures”, who have been persuaded to switch sides.
Around 40% of the Cures are somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and they don’t adhere to a single stereotype.
Both lead Cures In HeartCatch are- Tsubomi is extremely shy, quiet, and obsessed with flowers, while Erika is loud, outspoken to a fault, with all aspects of fashion as her passion. The girls at school avoid Erika at all costs because of her complete lack of social skills. The autistic Cures don’t “get better”, but they do learn to adapt and cope.
Villains and their motivations are another standout. Some are simply destructive. Dune from HeartCatch wants to end all life in the universe. Some seem silly, wanting to take over the world by stealing the power of sweets. Some are under a past trauma, like the Witch of Delays in Tropical Rouge, who are eventually persuaded to move on. Sometimes the character you think is the Final Boss turns out to be manipulated by someone else. Or they’re disease organisms fighting for survival.
In Hugtto the villains are working for George Kurai, who wants to freeze time forever, so humans don’t fall into the unending despair he sees in the future. They represent the different economic eras of Japan, including Dr. Traum- the early industrial Meiji era, robot Ruru Amour- the future, and Papple- the Bubble Economy that crashed in 1991.
Because the lowest age range of Precure viewers is around 6, many of the monsters in the series are based on everyday objects, and have a somewhat silly appearance. Toei doesn’t want to deal with angry parents whose children have been having nightmares. The damage those monsters can inflict is often stunning, but they’re not showing people maimed and killed. Adults can make the connection and imagine just what would happen if those blades and beams connected. This is one of the influences of those live-action special effects togusatsu shows, from Ultraman to Godzilla.
Unlike most superheroes, who seem trapped in an endless cycle of fighting, descending into dysfunction and bitterness, when the job is done the Cures return to their regular lives, passing the torch to the next generation and pursuing their dreams, using the skills and confidence they’ve gained. In some of the recent series we glimpse the Cures as adults.
KiraKira Precure A La Mode
Looking back, it all went by so fast. It may only seem like a tiny moment of our lives, but that special time we spent together connects us. It’s why we can be this way now. It’s why we can keep moving. So that maybe in some mixed-up future, our hearts will race in time again.
Starting each season with a new group of Cures and a new theme is another technique borrowed from togusatsu to keep things fresh and interesting year after year. It also gives them the chance to correct missteps, and not be burdened by a growing canon that requires them to spin off confusing alternative timelines when they’ve painted themselves into a corner.
Toei’s goal for a Precure season is 48-50 episodes, and they start the new season on Precure Week every year. That’s a pretty ambitious goal for a series that’s so sakuga-heavy. Like a novel, they vary the pace by episode using rising and falling action, or use scene / sequel to give a breather after a dramatic high-point. Some episodes are primarily for character development or fun, with relatively short battle sequences. Sometimes they make an episode with no villains or fights. If the unexpected happens, like COVID during Healin’ Good Precure, or when Toei got hacked during Tropical Rouge, that allows them to skip a few episodes without destroying the story arc.
So there you have it- a mix of Togusatsu battles and craziness, shojo manga emotion, slice-of-life, a bit of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, and even some Iyashikei, all rolled into one!
I’ve found something to love in all the spins of Precure. Some are strongest in a single aspect, like character development, while some are exceptional in all dimensions.