Pretty Cure Then and Now- Episode 01
In the last entry I introduced the project to compare episodes from the 2004 Futari Wa Precure with the new series, Hirogaru Sky! Precure. Here we look at the first episode from both:
Futari Wa Pretty Cure (We are Pretty Cure!)
From the very first, I was sold on this series! The overall theme is the complimentary forces of Yin and Yang. We meet sports girl Nagissa, the school’s lacrosse star, making a great steal and scoring a goal, and science girl Nagissa doing an experiment for the girl’s science club. Nagissa finds a pile of love letters in her locker, but they’re all from girls. The boys all love Honoka. With Nagissa’s red hair and tomboy attitude, and Honoka’s black-haired Yamato Nadeshiko manner they’re like a younger version of Kei and Yuri from Dirty Pair.
Eventually they both get magical cell phones with stacks of cards, Nagissa’s hitting her in the face when it falls from the sky. Both contain fairies, who direct them to an emergency at an amusement park. A supervillain who looks like a fugitive from a glam metal rock group demands the devices. The fairies tell them to swipe a card in the phone slot, and their flashy transformation begins, looking like something from a transforming mecha series.
They alternate between calling out their dramatic phrases, and wondering what in the world is going on. Nagissaa is Cure Black, the ‘masculine’ Yin, Honoka- Cure White, the ‘feminine’ Yang. The Rocker summons a monster that transforms a roller-coaster train into a menacing centipede, and the battle begins, with hand-to-hand combat and the thrilling battle choreography Precure is famous for.
After the battle, the fairies announce that the girls have been given the Power of Pretty Cure and they’ll all fight together. Nagissa freaks out and asks why the fairies get to decide, but Honoka smiles and says it sounds interesting.
Having a girl interested in science, and a “Queen of Knowledge” is rare, and the way they presented Honoka really sold me on the series from the very first. She’s not an obnoxious know-it-all and she tries to explain things so people will understand and enjoy. She even rescues Nagissa from their teacher’s ire when she’s caught sleeping and can’t solve a math equation. Honoka tells the teacher he’s written it wrong, and would give a result like “0 = 26”
We learn that Nagissa and Honoka need to hold hands to transform (a complimentary yin/yang thing), and their first finishing attack- a “Marble Screw” helix of white and black lightning, requires handholding to perform too.
Almost all seasons of Precure have a new group of Cures, and new themes, and different directors and writers. The previous two series, Tropical Rouge and Delicious party, emphasized heartfelt slice of life stories- the serious action was confined to the last few episodes. Fans were worried about declining viewership. Toei did major promotions for the new series, including all-day 20th anniversary displays on the 80-foot video walls of Tokyo train stations, so we were hoping they’d turn things around.
Hirogaro Sky! Pretty Cure (Soaring Sky or Hero Gal Sky)
Episode one put those fears to rest. The main theme is “Heroism”, and this is the most action-oriented first Precure episode I’ve seen. It begins with Sora standing on the back of a big talking bird, flying towards a flying Renaissance-style city. The bird asks her if she isn’t scared, and she says if she was scared of a little thing like that, she couldn’t be a hero. There’s an explosion at the castle, and she asks the bird to rush to the scene. The infant princess has been kidnapped by an obnoxious purple pig, who defeats the guards with toxic farts.
She takes off in parkour across rooftops, confronts the pig, jumps into an interdimensional cloud in pursuit, and ends up hundreds of feet above the Earth, plummeting with the princess. In most of the previous seasons, the Cures have waited to transform before physically confronting monsters. Sora, however, confronts a giant excavator-turned-mech, knowing that she will likely die. And she gets brutally beaten. Still, she drags herself back up. Here’s her transformation, compared to the one in Futari Wa:
When I first watched Futari Wa, I was impressed by the characters and writing, and the animation was very good for 2004. Precure didn’t gain a significant adult audience until Fresh Pretty Cure in 2009, so they were mainly aiming for tokusatsu lead-in and Bandai’s toy market. Still, it holds up well against the other magical girl shows of the time. I find Nagissa’s “Hey, you can’t boss me around!” attitude easier to take than Sailor Moon’s “crybaby” reactions, even though the latter may have been inspirational for young girls.
In Futari Wa, more than half the first episode is spent getting to know Nagissa and Honoka. That’s reasonable, because we meet both characters and can see their first interactions before they’re summoned to the amusement park. By contrast, Hirogaru Sky is action from beginning to end, with breaks for us to catch our breath. This was a good way to differentiate it from the laid-back and charming Tropical Rouge and Delicious Party.
Toei has switched to introducing Cures one at a time, over several episodes, with the first Cure working to find and recruit the others. The need to transform together introduced some plot points, where one girl appears on the scene, but has to hold on till the other arrives.
In later series, the girls confront the baddies because they can’t stand by and do nothing, as we saw with Sora. Nagissa and Honoka were sent to the amusement park, not knowing what was going to happen, and they’re attacked. They could have handed the phones and fairies over to the rocker and went their way, but it’s a different dynamic than the later shows.
Another interesting thing we see in Hirogaru Sky and the later series is that the monsters aren’t killed, they’re “purified”. I see that as a strong connection with Shinto, and its emphasis on ritual purity. It’s like a spirit has been put into the excavator, and enslaved to do the baddies will, and the Cures release it. In Futari Wa, when the Zakenna is defeated it explodes into tiny stars that hop away, saying “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” The purified spirits always sound relieved and happy.
The damage to the surroundings is purified at the same time. This happens in several of the seasons, but not in all. In Delicious Party the battle takes place in a “Delicious Field” desert dimension. In another, you glimpse construction crews repairing damaged buildings that were in previous episodes.
I love Sora as a lead Cure. It’s likely she’s another that’s somewhere on the autistic spectrum. She’s hitting the “Special Interest” axis hard with her hero fascination. She hasn’t just been dreaming about being a hero, she’s single-mindedly working towards it. She’s been recording the qualities of a hero in her inspirational notebook, drawing cartoons illustrating each, with herself in the picture. She’s obviously been training hard, overcoming a fear of heights, and jumping, swinging, running, fighting and negotiating obstacles. We’ll see what else they reveal about her character in future episodes.
Hirogaru Sky is the 20th season. They’ve celebrated other milestones, but this is a big one. These references back to 2004 are a way of thanking their adult fans. A 6-year-old in 2004 watching Futari Wa would be around 25 now! Here are 4 references- there are probably more.
I’m looking forward to episode 2!