The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Tropical-Rouge! Precure ?
What is this?
Manatsu Natsuumi moves from an island to Aozora City, to live with her mom. There, she meets Laura, a mermaid, who makes her a Pretty Cure using the power of makeup. Manatsu and her fellow Pretty Cures fight against the servants of the Witch of Delays, who stole the motivation power from Laura's Mermaid Kingdom and are now trying to steal it from the human world.
How was the first episode?
The Pretty Cure franchise becoming available in English is a pretty huge deal. It's not just that it's a positively gigantic multimedia franchise in Japan, or that it's a juggernaut that has completely dominated the magical girl scene since it first debuted in 2004. It's not about the merchandise, or its position as a crossover hit that has an audience well beyond its intended demographic.
It is the simple fact that in the US, there are very few anime released aimed at young girls. Boys' series like Bakugan and My Hero Academia exist, and many have female fans, but the primary audience is undeniable. There are relatively gender-neutral options like Pokémon as well, but other than that, girls' anime are even less than an afterthought here. Precure marks the first time in recent memory that an anime unabashedly aimed at little girls has come out in the US.
This is exciting, and I hope it does well enough to merit a dub so it can be enjoyed by the audience it's actually aimed at. But for my own viewing purposes… eh.
Now, I fully admit this one is on me. I haven't been into super-girly toy commercials content since I outgrew Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony. The feminine strength that Precure peddles, with makeup and compacts, was just never going to connect for me. It's also basically a tokusatsu show a la Power Rangers/Super Sentai, except dressed in frills and makeup, and you know what else I never cared for as a kid? Power Rangers.
But like I said, this is fully a Caitlin problem and a matter of personal taste. If this is the kind of thing you're into, Tropical Rouge! Precure is a lot of fun. The heroine Manatsu, excited at the prospect of moving to be with her mother, is a ball of pure brainless energy. She's the epitome of “No thoughts, head empty,” but her enthusiasm for, well, everything is absolutely infectious. She contrasts well with the exotically-named mermaid princess Laura, who is sneaky, ambitious, selfish, and sure to be won over by Manatsu post-haste. The animation is great, all bright colors and bouncy motion. Since it's a kid's anime, the animators didn't shy away from goofy-looking squash-and-stretch that makes everything so much more expressive and well-animated.
I'm not going to watch Tropical Rouge! Precure; not because it's lacking in any way, but because it's just not my thing. Still, I encourage everyone out there to give it a try. If it is your thing, you're sure to be delighted and, even if it's not, it probably won't offend or upset you, so what do you have to lose?
I've never watched a single episode of Pretty Cure before Tropical Rouge rolled up in its Day-Glo wave of technicolor splendor, but I've seen a lot of Power Rangers and Super Sentai in my day, and there's an unsurprising amount of crossover appeal between live-action tokusatsu shows and anime about teams of magical girls doing battle against nefarious forces. Given that I'm a nearly thirty-year-old man whose tastes tend more towards rubber-suited kaiju and heroes decked out in elaborate helmets and garish spandex uniforms, I enjoyed this first episode of Tropical-Rouge! Precure about as much as can be expected. That is to say that, while I have my reservations, there is only so much I can do to resist the charms of an unreasonably chipper heroine and her mermaid best-friend as they lipstick and rouge their way to victory against the forces of darkn— er, Delay.
The problems I encountered with Tropical Rouge were not altogether different from when I found myself reviewing the latest Pokémon series not too long ago. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem engaging with media made for kids — one of my favorite works of art in any medium is Paddington 2, for goodness' sake — but Tropical Rouge falls into that younger range of the little kid spectrum that simply isn't made for me. Nearly every single line that our heroine Natsumi utters is done so at a full-bodied shout, for one, and there isn't a speck of nuance or complexity to be found in the setup. Natsumi goes on her dream trip to the big city, meets a fancy mermaid named Laura, and finds herself embroiled in battle with a grumpy crab person and his evil palm tree. One transformation sequence and a couple of quick action beats later, and the day is saved! Based on the screenshots of the other episodes that have come out since the show's early premiere, I can only assume that this pattern will be repeated ad infinitum, featuring all of the shiny merchandise that my little heart could ever desire.
This is no great sin on the series' part, but I'm not all that interested in the makeup theme of this particular iteration of the Pretty Cure team, which certainly limits the show's appeal. I did appreciate the back-and-forth that Natsumi and Laura had going on (surly mermaids are always fun), and I could see the show growing on me when the cast gets expanded and Natsumi has more teammates to play off of, which should help reign in her overbearing personality. Also, the transformation sequence that we get for Natsumi Tropical Cure Pretty Rouge is gorgeously animated, and I dig the aesthetic of the nautically-themed bad guys. So, while Tropical-Rouge! Precure isn't exactly an anime that I see myself clamoring to catch up on every week, it will likely appeal to fans of the genre. If nothing else, it certainly makes me long for the day when we can all enjoy a nice tropical vacation with our friends, again.
It's finally happened. Hell has frozen over, dogs and cats are living together, and a season of Precure is simulcasting in English from episode one. I know quite a few longtime franchise fans who are ecstatic that parts of this series are at last available through legal means, and while I'm largely a neophyte, I'm excited myself. Upfront: I've never actually completed an entire season of Precure. I made it through the first half of Futari Wa and I swear I'll make time to finish Healin' Good one of these days, but I'm familiar enough with the general scope and formula of kids' anime to know more or less what to expect.
And so far, this latest entry is pretty okay. The premiere is standard fare: you've got your genki girl lead, your evil monsters wreaking mischief, and a mascot character handing out magical plastic to any teenage girl with a smile in her heart and $29.99 in allowance money. Said mascot is probably the biggest break from formula for the franchise and easily the highlight of this introduction. Rather than a cutesy plush that can talk, Laura's a full-grown mermaid who is searching for Pretty Cure candidates not out of a selfless quest to save her dying kingdom, but to cash-in the heroic credit and secure her spot as Queen of the Sea. She's more than a little rude, self-centered as all get-out, and just generally a delight to follow as she bounces off the typically altruistic trappings of her role in the story. She's not a total jerk, but has just enough rough edges to be charming and memorable.
The other big plus is the overall design work. While we only see Cure Summer's transformation this episode, what you can glean from the opening and ending animation is a plethora of bright, pleasant, and altogether striking character designs for our main quintet. One of my quibbles with Healin' Good was that the actual Cure forms felt too dissimilar from the characters' civilian looks, but here the individual charm of all these magical-girls-to-be is preserved and enhanced when they power up. And as is tradition, this opening episode is bright, expressive, and always ready to impress with cartoony faces and fluid action. The monster designs feel less memorable, but overall that's small potatoes compared to the fresh fruit of the rest of the visuals.
That said, I do have a few misgivings about this new season. For one – and this may be me showing my ignorance as a dude – I don't really “get” the Makeup vs Lack of Motivation theme so far. The bad guys are trying to steal people's “motivation energy” and the way to combat that is for the girls to put on lipstick and eye-shadow to gird their determination? I kind of follow the logic, but it's a lot more indirect than Healin' Good's “Heal the Earth” gimmick, and in general it feels less thought-out than you'd hope for.
The other issue is our leading lady, Manatsu, who is so gung-ho that I'm pretty sure she yells every single line she speaks this episode. I recognize that if your villains are slothful it makes sense for the heroine to be a starburst of energy, but having the volume set to 11 the whole episode works to flatten her too much for my liking. She's at her best when she has Laura to bounce off of, so this may be less of an issue moving forward, but this just isn't the best first impression.
Still, it's hard to be too down on this series when its very presence is cause to celebrate. If you've never gotten into Precure or are just curious to see what all the fuss is about, Tropical-Rouge has a solid enough start, and if this one doesn't quite work, you miraculously have other options to sample after it.
It's no surprise that Tropical-Rouge! Precure is opting to go in a much perkier direction than its direct predecessor, Healin' Good Precure. The latter got pretty dark, and not just towards the end; its main heroine, Nodoka, suffered from a chronic illness brought on by one of the bad guys, who then tried to use it to control her. So Manatsu, the girl who becomes Cure Summer, being Nodoka's direct opposite is kind of nice. It helps to give Tropical-Rouge a totally different feel than Healin' Good, and it's a bit of a relief to see the franchise take a turn for the astoundingly happy and whimsical.
And wow, I have not seen so much third-grader catnip in a series since I first discovered Sudipta Barhan-Quallen's Purrmaids books. (Those would be about mermaid kittens, if you're wondering.) Unlike most other series in the franchise, Manatsu's powers are brought to her by an actual honest-to-goodness mermaid, somewhat prosaically named Laura, and her transformation is full of bright colors, sparkles, and bounciness. Manatsu is thrilled to actually meet a real live mermaid, and that she then gets to transform into a magical girl just feels like the icing on the cake for her. She even gets to incorporate the special lipstick her mother gave her, which makes it all the more special. Not because all little girls like makeup (I sure didn't), but because it confirms for Manatsu that something she already valued as important and a way for her to overcome her fears really IS as magical as she's always believed. No one needs to convince Manatsu to trust the magic because she's always known it was there, imbued in the lipstick her mother gave her. It's a confirmation to younger viewers that the things they value as special really do have the power to help them, and that's a really nice, positive message to send.
In line with the generally lighter tone of the episode, the Big Bad thus far appears to be the Witch of Delays, a vaguely-Andersen (or Disney) inspired evil merperson who seems to want to infect the world with laziness by stealing motivation power. That's a far cry from “undermining” the environmental stability of the planet that the Byogens were up to, and the impressively lazy attitude of the minion we've seen thus far – a blue…crustacean of some kind – is pretty funny when compared to Cure Summer's aggressive amounts of energy. She's busy being Parkour Magical Girl while the blue crustacean just sort of hovers on a giant leaf and watches his evil-infused pineapple fail to stop her. I kind of feel like the Pretty Cures aren't going to have to do much unless the bad guys can be forced to get their collective butt in gear.
Tropical-Rouge! Precure does wear some of its magical girl influences on its brightly-colored sleeve: Sailor Moon's cry of “Moon Prism Power Make-Up” is reflected in the use of actual makeup, which also brings to mind Shadow Lady and Wedding Peach's Angel Lily and her magic lipstick, while the active transformation hearkens back to Phantom Thief Jeanne jumping off of buildings to transform. (Which was for show, but close enough.) Those are all good signs to this magical girl aficionado, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here.
What more do you want from a magical girl show than this? Tropical-Rouge! Precure looks like an island postcard and tastes like a pina colada. Our heroine, whose name is a homonym for “summer ocean” and “midsummer,” exudes that kind of high-octane energy we typically see in shonen protagonists. She bounces from scene to scene as she gets accustomed to her new home on the big island, as if she'd be wasting precious time if she slowed down for just a moment. Natsuumi's boisterous demeanor might be grating to some, but I found her a perfect match for the show's shiny brightness and saturated hues.
She and Laura have the makings of a good duo. Their personalities contrast; whereas Natsuumi is vivacious and well-meaning, Laura is sly and looks out for herself. I wouldn't describe her as “cold”; she just has that affected disposition of being a magical humanoid from a world that rarely interacts with humans and sees Natsuumi's emotionalism as strange. She's a bit conniving too, hoping that if she keeps her nose clean she might have a shot at queendom for herself (even as the castle and subjects fall to magical lethargy).
This intro episode is well-paced. We only get a brief glance at one of the future Pretty Cures here as the rest of the episode itself is focused squarely on introducing the plot, Laura, and Natsuumi's turn as Pretty Cure Summer. For magical girl fans, I can verify that the transformation is DOPE and the attack sequence is equally COOL. Precure Summer runs at villains like an 18-wheeler with its brake lines cut.
If I had to levy one minor complaint, it would be the magical items. I know this is just a Precure thing at this point but there's something about them that screams LOOK FOR THIS ON THE SHELVES AT TARGET that takes me out of the moment a bit. I'll get over it though. Tropical-Rouge! Precure is happily transporting me somewhere happy and warm. Consider it your daily dose of Vitamin D.
discuss this in the forum (342 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history