First Impressions – Suite PreCure

Tee-hee sparkle sparkle!

Sometimes, you just need to think like a teenage girl.

I’ve been meaning to start watching PreCure after Sailor Moon introduced me to the wonders of magical girls last year. Like its predecessor, PreCure is one of those shows that everybody has heard of but nobody has seen. In Japan, it’s a hugely popular merchandising juggernaut aimed at little girls, much like My Little Pony in the United States. Perhaps because of its target audience, it has never received much attention in the Western otaku community. Regardless, with a new PreCure show just starting up, I figured it was the perfect time to see what this franchise is all about. This review covers the first two episodes.

From the very first scene, Suite PreCure dives headfirst a Power Rangers style black-and-white moral morass. Mephisto, the evil ruler of the musically themed Minor Land, is trying to steal the notes of the Melody of Happiness in order to transform it into a Melody of Sorrow. When the queen of Major Land scatters the notes all around Earth, Mephisto sends his transforming cat/girl minion Siren to retrieve them. However, Major Land’s adorable mascot Hummy manages to thwart Siren by transforming two girls, Hibiki and Kanade, into Cure Melody and Cure Rhythm. Thus begins the musical battle against the forces of sadness!

More after the break.

What I Liked

Cower before my ridiculously huge twintails of JUSTICE!

Pink Extraordinaire: I freely admit that PreCure is a show for little girls, and enjoy it regardless. Hey, if Dusty gets to fawn over My Little Pony, aren’t I allowed my own guilty pleasure? And when you get down to it, PreCure is really just a vehicle for selling overpriced plastic toys to the young female demographic. They could put up any old pink, sparkly thing on the boob tube and girls would be begging their parents for the toys regardless.

But the folks at Toei didn’t take the easy way out. The opted to create something with a fresh story, well-designed and memorable characters and excellent production values. Of course, the story adheres to the same old monster-of-the-week cliches that have defined the magical girl genre since Sailor Moon, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. PreCure knows it’s a silly, lighthearted show for kids, and works hard to be the best silly kids show possible. And when the creators put so much effort into their work, you can’t help but enjoy it… no matter how hamfisted or cliched it may be.

Away with the Grey: One of my favorite lines in first season of Sailor Moon came when Usagi was considering using her magical transformation pen to enter a beauty pageant. Her incensed mentor Luna responded with “No! You’re only supposed to use that for JUSTICE!” Just drink in the wonderful hamfistedness of that line for a moment.

PreCure has a similar black-and-white approach to its morality. The magical girls literally derive power from friendship. Mephisto and Siren hate said friendship and try to make everybody in the world sad. There’s no moral ambiguity, no grey areas. The heroes and villians are clearly defined. Such a clear-cut tale of good versus evil is archetypal.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with ambiguity or complicated villians. I enjoy Madoka just as much as the next guy. But in this era of antiheroes and existential angst, it’s nice to have a show with such a clear-cut morality. It might not be especially deep or meaningful, but it’s still enjoyable enough to provide a nice contrast to this season’s darker offerings. Consider it a form of pink, frilly detoxification, if you will.

Just like classic myths such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, this anime has a hero we can cheer for and a villian we can hate. There’s something cathartic about that.

Marvelous Music: Since this incarnation of PreCure has a musical theme, Toei has serenaded our ears with some sweet tunes. The transformation and fight scenes in particular feature tracks that mix a classic operatic chorus with more fast-paced synthesizer beats; I found myself tapping my feet more than once. Sadly, there’s a bit of a caveat here… not all the music is quite that good, as I’ll detail below.

DAT TRANSFORMATION: The most important aspect of any magical girl show is the transformation scene. Since it’s recycled as stock footage in every episode, it has to be visually appealing enough that the viewers won’t get tired after seeing it fifty billion times. They really pulled all the stops out for Cure Melody and Cure Rhythm’s shared transformation, creating one of the most impressive pieces of animation I have ever seen. Sadly, the HD version of this scene keep getting taken off YouTube due to grumpy old Japanese men who hate free advertising. If the embedded video doesn’t work, a backup low-res copy can be found here.

What I Hated

On the downside, you're about to get dropkicked in the face. On the upside, those high heels match perfectly!

Sloppy Writing Seconds: The main story of PreCure is competent enough. After all, it’s not hard to screw up a simple “magical girls fight evil” plotline, is it? Sadly, even something so simple offers plenty of opportunities for failure. There were a few moments in the that felt like they should have been left on the cutting room floor. One example from the first episode is where Hibiki and Kanade, prior to transforming into PreCures, decide to have an argument while being stared down by the villain and her goon squad. This is totally inappropriate, and ruins the tension and pacing. Even worse, this entire scene is redundant… a simple rehash of an fight they had earlier. Was the editor asleep at the dubbing machine?

The other egregious example is the resolution of Hibiki and Kanade’s argument in the next episode. Instead of having their difficulties be a clash of personality, it turns out to be a simple misunderstanding… as simple as Kanade mistaking one sakura tree for another. To me, it felt like the discord between them had been cheapened, meaning the resolution’s emotional intensity was less than nominal. In other words, they took the series’ chief clash of personalities and swept it under the rug. Of course, the two girls are back to fighting by the episode’s end, but the whole thing still felt entirely unnecesary.

Frustratingly, these are two blemishes on an otherwise well-polished story. Hopefully the PreCure writers can fine-tune future episodes to avoid this kind of problem.

BGM Blues: As I mentioned before, the background music during the transformation and fight scenes was fantastic. Sadly, the rest of the music left a lot to be desired. Most of it was utterly generic, no doubt harvested from some sort of budget-priced anime music repository. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big issue (since even anime with high production values like OreImo do the same thing), but hearing a scene’s music transition from “Comedy BGM #23B” to a sweeping choral piece was rather jarring. Unlike the writing issue mentioned above, this isn’t something Toei can easily correct as the show goes on. At the very least, I hope their sound editors get better at managing those transitions.

Overall Thoughts

Like Sailor Moon, Power Rangers or My Little Pony, this show is a guilty pleasure. It’s completely cliche and silly, offering nothing that you haven’t seen a million times already. But even without trying to be deep or meaningful, it still manages to be a lot of fun. It sets out to be a simple and fun magical girl show for kids, and succeeds wonderfully.  If you’re looking for something pink and sparkly to cheer you up after Madoka, or just have a soft spot in your heart for magical girls, you’ll enjoy Suite PreCure immensely. And even if you’re unsure, give it a chance. You may be pleasently surprised.