The most Heartcatch Precure that wasn’t quite Heartcatch Precure, but still Precure nonetheless.
Anyone who knows me on a more personal basis will know that I’ve been a pretty big fan of the Precure franchise for quite a few years now – my more vocal moments probably putting most of the target demographic to shame. Despite stagnant plot progressions and the occasional infantile moralizing, I’ve come to enjoy (most) Precure seasons immensely for their lighthearted charm, energy and colourful casts. As such, it’s no surprise that I could barely contain my excitement last night, while waiting for the premiere of the newest installment.
Many long-time fans of the franchise will know that Precure seasons aren’t exactly known for their innovative premises. In fact, they’re about as inspired as the current seasonal lineup of anime – which, if I may spoil a perfectly good joke, is to say not very. Although some may disagree, I’d have to say that going headfirst into a brand new Precure season knowing exactly what to expect is part of the fun. For a viewer such as myself who has seen every Precure season out there, I know the set-up is going to involve some evil B-list organization trying to destroy the world, a happy-go-lucky girl who becomes a Precure and some drop-kick mascot that 10-year old girls probably go gaga over (seriously). Because of this, the first episode of Happiness Charge Precure was less about surprises and more about the new cast, production aesthetics and most importantly of all, FABULOUS TRANSFORMATION SEQUENCES. But you weren’t really expecting more than that from a first impressions post about a little girls’ propaganda cartoon, right?
To start, the characters were easily the main draw of the first episode, since I already mentioned why the PLOT is of little concern in the grand scheme of things. The season’s main heroine, Megumi Aino, is your typical energetic girl, who never hesitates to lend a helping hand to others (beware of optimism). Her qualities make her the spitting image of most of the franchise’s previous Pink Cures, so there’s not a whole lot to say here. As you could probably tell from reading this paragraph, she’s not exactly a character type that I’m fond of, as she runs the risk of being a Mary Sue, which was exactly the case with DokiDoki Precure’s Mana. At the very least though, Megumi doesn’t seem to be as flawless as that other abomination of a Cure, as she ended up making more of a mess of things when helping someone. That counts for something, no? Character flaws are good!
Anyway, the real star of the show was undoubtedly the season’s Blue Cure, Not!Erika, otherwise known as Hime Shirayuki. Fans of Heartcatch Precure will immediately get my lame attempt at cracking a joke here, as in many respects Hime is very similar character-wise to her Blue Cure brethren. Thankfully, being compared to another Cure is anything but a bad thing in this case, as many fans will probably agree that Erika Kurumi/Cure Marine had the most entertaining personality in the franchise. Of course, it’s not difficult to see why, as her actions were almost entirely dictated by her whims; moving to the beat of her own drum most of the time. Erika was also one of the most expressive characters, with many of her exaggerated facial expressions acting as a great source of background comic relief.
Back on topic, a lot of what I’ve just described about Erika applies heavily to Hime, though that isn’t to say we’re dealing with an exact carbon copy here. Unlike Erika, Hime also appears to be more withdrawn, having difficulties communicating with people and resorting to stalker tendencies when scouting out a Precure partner. The good thing though is that Hime’s personality isn’t entirely overshadowed by one set of traits, as she abruptly goes back and forth between in-your-face energetic and sulky depending on the situation. And speaking of being sulky, she has a good reason, as in a bit of a cruel twist she’s an outright incompetent mess of a Cure. Although this sort of goes against the franchise’s goal (since the Cures are supposed to be role models), it’s an entertaining bit of viewer sadism nonetheless. Or maybe it’s just something people call moe. I don’t really know. What matters is that Hime has already claimed the title of best Cure in the show for me.
Oh yeah, and overalls, I guess…
One aspect of Happiness Charge Precure that I found kind of neat by the franchise’s standards was the setting. While still a typical civilian town pervaded by Japanese values, the active presence of the show’s evil organization, the Phantom Empire, provided a nice twist. Usually in Precure seasons, the bad guys’ presence is only acknowledged by the ordinary citizens when they summon a giant monster. Then for some unexplained reason which can either be deux ex memory resetting, lazy writing or some combination of the two, people forget entirely about the entire ordeal. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Happiness Charge Precure, as the remnants of the monsters’ attacks still linger in the background and the NPCs are (somewhat obliviously, mind you) aware of the threat at hand. More importantly, the Precure are acknowledged by the civilians, so they’re actually regarded as superheroes unlike a few of the other installments where they were closet warriors. Sure, the flavour of the setting will undoubtedly fade out into the background as time passes, but it’s an interesting detail nonetheless – at least in my obsesses-over-settings-more-than-I-should view.
Finally, the show’s aesthetics and art direction were quite pleasing, though what I really enjoyed about the production in Happiness Charge Precure were the myriad of small throwbacks made to Heartcatch Precure. From the sickeningly bright colour palette to Hime’s exaggerated facial expressions, I had to rub my eyes twice to conclude that this wasn’t a direct sequel but rather a spiritual successor. It stands to reason though, as the director of Happiness Charge Precure, Tatsuya Nagamine, had previously worked on Heartcatch Precure. As a result, the episode retained a lot of Heartcatch’s colourful energy, flashy style and overall sense of fun – just with a slightly lower animation budget. It was a nice visual treat for long-time fans, and will at least ensure that the show’s direction remains entertaining.
So what can I say, I’m sold. Happiness Charge Precure had a terrific first episode and I’m glad to be excited about Precure again after the disaster that was DokiDoki. Additionally, elements such as the Cures’ multiple forms and the return of Yoshimi Narita as the primary writer have me extremely hopeful for this one. That said, it remains up in the air as to how this one will turn out, as although I have faith in Yoshimi Narita as the primary writer (Yes! Precure 5 being one of my favourites), Precure seasons can quickly turn sour due to stale episode plotlines and contrived excuses for conflict. There’s also the slight fear that Happiness Charge may attempt to recreate the same success of Heartcatch Precure, and fall flat by failing to forge its own ground. Regardless of the eventual outcome, at the present moment, there’s only one thing I can say about my happiness.