In a discussion over on urusai.social (mastodon anime instance), I got the idea to watch Hirogaru Sky Precure (new 20th season) and Futari wa Precure (1st season) in synch, and compare them.
I’d watched quite a few magical girl anime series, but I was reluctant to try Precure because there were over 600 episodes at the time, and I’d heard that it was aimed at 5-8 year old girls. My friend Margaret Moon had just written an article: “My Top 20 reasons Why Precure (Pretty Cure) is truly worth watching as a Magical Girl series.” and she was sure I’d love it. I gave it a try. She was right! I’ve watched every episode to date.
First, some history- TV Asahi aired a Sunday-morning Superhero Time program block with shows by Toei. In Japan, Sunday is the free day for students. It consisted of a shojo anime series- like Sailor Moon, Kamen Rider (a tokusatsu -live-action special effects- series with a motorcycle-riding grasshopper-themed hero), and Super Sentai (another tokusatsu which was chopped and edited into Power Rangers).
In 2003 the lead-in show was Ashita no Nadja, about a girl in the early 20th century raised in an orphanage, who joins a circus to search for her mother. A perfectly good, sweet show, but an absolutely wrong start for a thrilling action block.
Toei asked Washio Takashi to create a series to fix things. He’d never done shows to appeal to females, much less a magical girl show, so he took his inspiration from Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and other successful tokusatsu shows, mixing in the emotional content of girl’s manga and anime. Daisuke Nishio directed the series, known for his work on Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, 3×3 Eyes, and a One Piece theatrical movie. Their creation was a phenomenal success, known as Purikuya (or Pretty Cure, Precure, or “The Most Successful Magical Girl Series Ever”).
At this point, Precure has 900+ episodes, 30+ theatrical movies, song collections, manga, light novels, games, and a host of toys that tie-in to each season. Most seasons have a different set of characters and theme, so you don’t need to start at the beginning.
Precure is a major property for Toei Animation, and they don’t stint on it. In addition to top animators for the cutting-edge battle choreography, they bring in the best writers, character designers, and directors. Voicing a Cure is a goal for many voice actresses, and they need a long resume of successes before they’re given a chance. Many are able to sing the themes for the series. Music is another important element. They just released 790 of the songs from the series to streaming services. In addition to the opening and closing themes, there are inset songs and instrumental battle themes. Character songs, which don’t appear in the show, are aimed at adult fans, feature the characters singing about their emotional challenges and relationships.
Most of the series have the Cures doing a flashy CGI dance number for the opening credits, and Toei releases dance lesson videos so fans can learn those dances.
Then there are the live-action plastic head stage shows. A delight to Japanese fans of all ages, they creep out most American fans. These are performed everywhere, from auditoriums to malls, in streets, festivals, and parks. The performers dance and battle monsters, all the while coping with limited visibility and awkward vinyl costumes. They also do meet-and-greets and march in parades.
Bandai designs the toys for magical items and transformation devices before the show is produced. That ensures that your toy looks exactly like the one your favorite Cure wields in the show. Ease of manufacture is one of their criteria, so the price for them is relatively low in Japan. They also make dolls and more elaborate figures in a collector range aimed at the adult fanbase.
Trivia on the name: “Purikura” is Japanese for “Photo Booth”, which you find in arcades and train stations- you and your friends pile in for fun pictures with digital effects. They made a pun with “Pretty Cure”, and fans shortened it to “Precure”.
“Hirogaru” is another pun- it means “boundless” or “spreading”, but sounds like “Hero Gal”.
Next up, I’ll give my non-spoilerific look at episode 1 of Futari Wa and Hirogaru Sky!