Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 24th 2009
Episodes 1-14 Streaming
Orange-haired tomboy Nagisa is a boisterous 8th grade lacrosse ace with an annoying kid brother. Dark-haired Honoka is a popular, smart, and feminine science ace who lives with her grandmother while her parents work abroad. Though very different in many ways, they are drawn together when each comes into possession of special cell phones that are actually the aliens Mepple and Mipple, refugees from the alternate world Garden of Light, which has been overrun by the Dark Zone. When threats originating from that place appear (typically in the form of monstrously-possessed objects, animals, or people), Nagisa and Honoka use the cell phones to transform into Cure Black and Cure White respectively, who together make the magical girl duo Pretty Cure, a legend from Mepple and Mipple's world. In this role they must protect the Prism Stones the two cute aliens hold, which are the last things the Dark King needs to gain eternal life and dominance. Their opposition is a succession of the Dark King's chief agents, starting with the evilly handsome Pisard and later progressing through the bruiser Gekidorago, the shape-changer Poisonny, and the boy Kiriya, who employ an array of different tactics (typically involving the evil spirit Zakenna) to try to secure the Prism Stones and eliminate the troublesome Pretty Cure. Nagisa and Honoka, meanwhile, gradually become close friends as they fight together and muddle through complications beyond the Dark Zone's threats, such as the occasional spat, Nagisa's growing attraction to a boy who turns out to be Honoka's childhood friend, a pair of imposters, and dastardly math tests.
Let's get right to the point: the series commonly known as “PreCure” by fans is hard-core magical girl fare. It is squarely aimed at preteen and early teen girls and fully exploits almost every common composition point and plot element of the genre, so those outside of that demographic who do not normally at least tolerate mainline magical girl series may have a difficult time appreciating it.
That being said, PreCure does distinctly differ from other magical girl series in two important ways, and it is these two ways which give the series some hope of appealing to a broader audience. One is that, unlike most magical girl series, the headliners are a duo and operate strictly as a duo. Nagisa and Honoka cannot even transform into Pretty Cure without being in each other's presence, and the most powerful abilities they demonstrate in the first fourteen episodes – the bizarrely-named energy attack Marble Screw and the possession-dispelling aura Rainbow Therapy – require them to recite incantations in synch and firmly holds hands as they fire the ability off. They also equally share effectiveness and screen time when transformed, although through these episodes Nagisa tends to get more story emphasis during their downtime. (That she is generally livelier than Honoka, and thus more prone to generating strife, might have something to do with that.) How their status as a duo is both their greatest strength and biggest vulnerability even occasionally becomes a plot point, though by the end of episode 14 the villains have yet to figure out how to intentionally exploit that.
The second and more important difference is the way PreCure handles its fight scenes. Unlike in most magical girl series, where a male character typically does the dirty work while the magical girl uses magic of some sort to resolve the battle, the Cures take their own direct physical action in fights. Flying kicks compose most of the maneuvers, but punches and judo-type throws are not unusual and both girls are regularly acrobatically flipping around or careening off of walls to get position on a foe. They also get knocked around quite a bit, too, although they rarely seem worse for it. Sure, nearly every encounter is eventually finished off with their trademark Pretty Cure Marble Screw energy blast, but even this approach involves a more direct application of brute force than normally expected from this genre. If you want to see a magical series with more shonen action-like combat scenes, this is the one to check out.
Beyond those two factors, though, PreCure is entirely mundane in construction. The personality types for the leads are a typical dumb tomboy/smart pretty girl contrast for anime (or live-action series, for that matter) and the setting and story elements for each episode could have come out of practically any other magical girl series ever made; the only significant variation is that Nagisa is into lacrosse and not some more common sport. The villains are likewise very typical magical girl fare, which means that for all of their power they are mostly incompetent and serve a dark lord who needs them to obtain something so that said dark lord can gain ultimate power. The series also shows little inclination towards an involved ongoing plot beyond Kiriya's school infiltration mission beginning in episode 14. Concerns and story elements brought up in earlier episodes do occasionally pop up in later ones, however, and the Nagisa/Honoka relationship does develop over time, so the series is not entirely episodic.
And then there's Mepple (the protector) and Mipple (the princess), the two cuddly-looking aliens from the Garden of Light. They are almost obnoxiously cute in the way only creations for kids' shows can be and (naturally!) have the annoying habit of ending their sentences with the catch-words “mepo” and “mipo,” respectively. They do have enough of their own individual personalities for their antics to be entertaining, and their lovey-dovey behavior and the way they get fed and cured when sick can be amusing, but they are still essentially the mascot characters inherent to most magical girl series.
Mepple and Mipple are not the only sources of comedy relief, though. A typical episode is composed of light drama with periodic bursts of action, but many episodes do find time for at least a little outright humor. In more than one instance the stupefied expressions on the faces of the Cures when confronted with something completely ridiculous is priceless, and the series even occasionally pokes fun at its genre over the sheer absurdity of the transformation scenes; in one case a villain disappears on the duo while they are transforming, in others the girls question why they feel compelled to say what they do. Other scenes may also strike the funny bone from time to time, such as one where Nagisa has her brother in a wrestling hold when her father walks by and shows her how she's doing the hold wrong rather than tell her to stop. Humor is more a sidelight than a major component of each episode, however.
Visually, the series looks sharp. Its combat animation is more fluid, has more complicated movements, and is less prone to shortcuts than most shonen action series fights, perhaps because Toei Animation saves animation effort elsewhere through use of stock transformation and power use scenes, which vary not at all between episodes and situations, rather than normal corner-cutting. The Cure costumes may be over-laden with heart symbols and frills for the tastes of anyone other than young girls, but otherwise they are stylish, appealing, and satisfyingly individualized; Cure White has a more purely feminine look reflective of Honoka's personality, while Cure Black wears athletic shorts beneath her skirt as a reflection of Nagisa's more sports-minded inclinations. Their black-and-white color contrast always looks neat when they stand side-by-side. Character designs otherwise make the school-aged cast look on the young side of 13 years old (see Telepathy Girl Ran for a similar style), while adults more commonly look like caricatures and the villains, aside from Kiriya, have standard “Hey! I'm a villain!” appearances, including one who looks distinctly like a discolored version of Dragonball's Piccolo. A bit of too-obvious CG shows up in the Dokutsu Zone scenes, but otherwise background art is pretty good, too.
Not so good is the soundtrack, which, aside from the energetic, award-winning opener and a lively, line dance-featuring closer, stinks. The wisdom of the in-episode musical selections has to be called into question, especially those in the most dramatic scenes, as they make the series sound horribly dated; think bad '80s rock twang. Only in a couple of places does the musical score excel beyond that.
Although an English dub has been made by Ocean Group for the current broadcast of the series on Canada's YTV, it was not available for review. (Notably, the dub changes “Nagisa” and “Honoka” to “Natalie” and “Hannah,” respectively, and “Marble Screw” to “Marble Twister,” but otherwise leaves the names intact.) 4Kids Entertainment originally held the R1 license but never ultimately did anything with it, so after a stint of Toei trying to market the title itself, Funimation took over earlier this year. No announcement has yet been made on when/if PreCure will see a DVD release, but the entire first series is readily available via legal streams on Crunchyroll, Joost, and (when it's working) Funimation's own video site, among possibly others.
Though still slavishly formulaic and kid-oriented, PreCure still looks good enough, and is distinguishable enough in its action components, to be of particular interest to magical girl fans and warrant at least a sampling by animes fan with diversified interests. It was popular enough in Japan from its initial 2004 airing to spawn multiple sequels, spin-offs, and side stories for a franchise total of more than 260 episodes and five movies as of this writing, so clearly Toei did something right here.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : D
+ Involved and physical action scenes, sharp costumes, central relationship development.
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