Redemption arcs as a whole are pretty popular in all forms of media, most likely due to the fact that the concept of redemption usually requires a lot of focus and development of the character being redeemed. Precure too has had various different redemption arcs for its villains, but the most known arcs are the ones where the villain ends up becoming a Precure as well. In the currently airing Go! Princess Precure, we also have a villain who sees the light and becomes a Precure, but with three other varying redemption arcs straddling behind it, how does it fare compared to its redemption arc ancestors? Note! Spoilers for Futari wa Precure: Splash Star, Fresh Precure, Suite Precure, and Go! Princess Precure will be discussed here.
There are four redemption arcs in Precure in which the villains become Precure themselves – though in the case of Splash Star, our redeemed villains gain the power of Precure a while after they’ve been redeemed, as they’ve also been technically shunned out of existence as Precure. Regardless, I’m still going to discuss their arc since 1) it’s technically the first time that the franchise redeemed villains
and had them become Precure in the end, and 2) everyone forgets about Michiru and Kaoru and it’s just not fair anymore. ;_;
It’d be a bit boring to talk about and dissect each and every arc individually, so I’ll be more or less comparing multiple redemption arcs at once. For reference, The Kiryuu Sisters Arc refers to Michiru and Kaoru’s redemption in Splash Star, The Eas Arc refers to Setsuna’s redemption in Fresh!, The Siren Arc refers to Ellen’s redemption in Suite, and The Twilight Arc refers to Towa’s redemption in Go! Princess Precure.
Each of these redeemed villains have a unique upbringing and backstory, and as a result don’t just stem from “evil girl becomes nice from love power” crap. The Kiryuu sisters and Eas were both born and raised as bringers of evil, whilst Siren and Towa were victims of brainwashing, though the circumstances between these two and their brainwashed, villainous state varied greatly. From the start, the Kiryuu Sisters and Eas already had a bit of an advantage over the other two arcs. This is due to the fact that these girls were redeemed from a villainous upbringing that was rooted, not brainwashed, into them from birth. Perhaps it’s just me, but when I see characters who were nurtured through an evil upbringing and led to believe their heinous actions were the correct approach, it hits me quite hard. It’s difficult to unlearn and go against what you’ve known for so long, and watching characters do just that is quite inspiring.
That’s not to say that the technique of brainwashing a character isn’t effective either. It definitely stung my heart to see Hummy continuously have hope and endlessly reach out to Siren, despite the latter deceiving her time after time. It even hurt a bit to watch the climax of the Twilight arc, where Towa’s brother kept trying to get through to her. Watching the desperation of the loved ones of a brainwashed character attempt to breakthrough the evil that’s coated them can be heartwrenching, so I believe that what brought down such a powerful feeling in the Siren and Twilight arc were individual flaws in their execution, which I’ll get to later.
It’s uncommon to have a proper redemption arc without developing the characters in which you choose to redeem. After all, the entire point of the arc is for that character to essentially align their beliefs and goals with the protagonist and possibly even join them. But by having a character go from one point of view to another isn’t that effective of all. Think of it this way: you’re having a character go from fighting directly against our protagonist and indirectly (or even directly) harming them and loved ones to fighting by their side and protecting the same people they previously wanted to destroy. That’s a complete 180 – and you have to have stepping stones during this arc that leads to our redeemed villain coming to the conclusion that they shouldn’t be sending monsters off to attack girls who just want to save the world.
The stepping stones that each of these girls take from villain to Precure vary greatly. For example, in the Kiryuu Sisters arc, Michiru and Kaoru begin to have a change of heart after infiltrating the school of our heroes, Saki and Mai, in an initial attempt to find and exploit their weaknesses. It’s after Saki and Mai show genuine love, care, and friendship towards Michiru and Kaoru, feelings that have never been shown to them before, that they begin to change. What starts off as gradual gestures like stopping a fellow villain from offing these two develops into the sisters actually lashing out against Saki and Mai, revealing their affiliation with the villains. Yes, this does count towards their development considering that they definitely weren’t attacking out of pure hatred towards the two, but rather their conflicted feelings. To top off the change of heart that takes place after Saki and Mai convert them to their side during their attack with the power of love and friendship, we even get to see the sisters help attack the big-bad villain that they used to work for (even getting
temporarily killed off in the process)! The Kiryuu sisters end up gaining the power of Precure during the finale, but that’s not something they would have been able to receive at all had they not changed their outlook on life.
Developing characters to go from attacking someone to sacrificing their very lives for them is huge, but Splash Star has the Kiryuu Sisters walk across the stepping stones of redemption. Whilst it is a bit of a shame that their arc lasted a mere eleven episodes (episodes 14 – 24), one could also praise this arc for being able to accomplish so much in such a short time span.
Contrary to that, the Eas arc can be said to begin at either episode 1 (when Eas is introduced) or episode 7 (when Eas begins disgusting herself as Setsuna to steal the girl’s Pickruns) and ends at episode 24 (after she’s become a Precure and accepts her role as one), but either way the redemption payoff is far greater.
I could ramble on for ages about how excellent and strong I find the Eas arc to be, from the subtle foreshadowing like where all the girls go bowling and Setsuna hesitates between choosing the red or black bowling ball, to her ongoing desperation to please Moebius – one that becomes so obsessive that when she fails to defeat the Precure with her last overpowered monster, she is mentally and physically exhausted. So exhausted that, when Love embraces her whilst she’s Eas and attempts to comfort even this villainous side of Setsuna, she breaks away and just reveals herself to be both Eas and Setsuna, despite the fact that doing so would have no benefit to her whatsoever. It was something that she did out of desperation to stop Love – the first person to show genuine love (pun totally intended), compassion, concern, and trust for her well-being – from leading not only Setsuna, but now Eas too, down even more internal conflicts and feelings. Look at that, I’ve already begun my rambling!
To put it in a way that won’t turn into a novel, the Eas arc grants us a character who is rooted from birth to be evil and only follows the orders and values of the main villain. It takes this character and exposes her to Love, a character who is intent on giving anyone and everyone happiness and trust – something that Setsuna tests herself, and is shocked to find that Love truly views her as a good and trustworthy person. Being raised in a dictatorship, one where you’re told that you aren’t of value if you can’t be of use to your dictator – doesn’t give you many chances to feel anything beyond loyalty towards said dictator and their villainous orders. We have a solid root for her character, one solid enough that watching those roots be pulled out and replaced with budding flowers of redemption becomes extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, direct connections that villain-to-Precure characters have with our main villains cease here. The Siren arc in Suite has Ellen connected to the villains through a form of brainwashing, and the Twilight arc does the same – only Towa was kidnapped and brainwashed at a younger age. But even without having evil roots, the brainwashing concept still has the potential to be just as powerful, and it can do so by tugging at the viewers heart strings by having the loved ones of a brainwashed villain try to turn them good again.
Sadly, a pretty vital mistake was made in the Siren arc which lessened the impact when her brainwashing was broken. Let’s just call it “mind-control reset.” To put it simply, there are numerous times during Siren’s arc where she seemed to almost, or fully, break out of her brainwashed state… only to be brainwashed again and revert back to square one. The writers doing something like that just causes annoyance. I mean, you think you’re about to see this villain become good again! You’re excited, you’re hyped, you’re… watching them go right back to being evil. It happens perhaps once or twice throughout the arc, but even once would have weakened the impact. Yes, there is a rocky road from evil to good, but the rocks and struggles presented in other villains’ arcs were inevitable baggage that came as a result of their emotional struggle. This choice in Suite seemed to be a result of needing to draw the plot out for a couple more episodes.
That’s not to say that the Siren arc isn’t strong in other regards though. An episode or two after Ellen is redeemed as Cure Beat, she also expresses hesitance towards joining the team, along with regret and shame for all the people she’s harmed. Having her immediately join the team as Cure Beat would’ve felt forced, and thankfully it followed the pattern of Eas’s arc where Setsuna hesitated to join the team, even after awakening as Cure Passion.
There are some pretty common strengths among these three mentioned arcs – the time taken to develop the characters, the importance of having your villain take steps towards becoming good, how the upbringing of the villain can affect the arc itself, and how these girls (mostly Setsuna and Ellen since the Kiryuu sisters didn’t transform until later on) react to their sudden role as a warrior of justice, a Precure. You may also have noticed that I’ve neglected to speak of the Twilight arc from Go! Princess Precure, and that’s because I wanted to first point out the things that made these redemption arcs the strongest, which will further emphasize why I firmly believe the Twilight arc to be the weakest.
Ah, the Twilight arc… I had a bit of a bad feeling towards this arc when GoPri had a good eight or nine episodes released and no official appearance of Twilight outside of the OP. Okay, Splash Star managed to make the Kiryuu’s redemption work in limited number of episodes, but that was years ago, and the last time Precure introduced a villain 10+ episodes in and attempted to redeem them was in DokiDoki! with Regina (which resulted in a mind-control reset and a “I trust this girl because instincts” up the ass). Needless to say, I was hesitant.
And rightfully so.
The roots of Twilight as a villain aren’t necessarily an issue, but rather how they’re presented. In the Siren arc, we learned pretty early on that Ellen was at one point Hummy’s best friend, and that now there’s some external force causing her to be evil. Meanwhile, we don’t learn until episode 20 that the identity of Twilight is Towa Akagi… who didn’t exist at all in the show prior to this episode. We then learn that Towa Akagi was actually the younger sister of Kanata… the younger sister that we didn’t know even know existed until episode 19! No hints, clues, nothing. Here we have Twilight – this villain whom we’re told is the daughter of the main villain – that we’ve become slightly familiar with since her episode 13 appearance, who ends up being a completely different character. And not just in name or background either.
Michiru and Kaoru were both reserved, anti-social girls who only really opened up to Saki and Mai. Post-redemption, they retain these personality traits. They get along with others, but aren’t nearly as active or social with as a result of their isolated upbringing. Setsuna, despite faking her friendship, was always a quiet and anti-social, yet polite girl who followed Love’s lead. Post-redemption, she retains these traits, especially the anti-social/following Love traits which are emphasized in the episode where her and Miki are shopping alone together. Ellen is shown to be cunning when need-be, but is also given humorous moments and silly interactions with the main girls and Hummy. Post-redemption, she retains these traits: you can see her cunning mind shine through in battle, and her goofy side make way when she offers to sing for her school introduction. All of these girls kept core parts of their personalities, even after going to the good side.
Twilight was extremely cold, unnervingly serious, strong, and had one goal – to be the only Grand Princess. She was attached to the violin as well. Post-redemption, well, Towa is still strong and attached to the violin? Other than that, Towa is presented as slightly ditsy and completely unaware of the customs of Earth, is shown to be quite goofy and naive in many aspects. See the difference? Now, you could argue that this is due to Dyspear kidnapping Towa and manipulating her memories and mind at such a young age and raising her as this cold and serious villain, which may be the case, sure, though perhaps that entire situation is a flaw in itself. Why make it that Twilight is so drastically different from Towa, especially when no one’s even met or gotten a glimpse of Towa’s existence until episode 19? It would’ve been quite easy for Towa to retain a few of Twilight’s characteristics, or vice versa. Instead, after she’s broken free from her mind-control, it’s as if a completely different character was placed in front of us – with the only remnants of her past as Twilight being reminders from the villains or from herself. If one is going to write a character arc where that character loses all aspect of their personality when they become evil, then one should proooobably rewrite it.
There’s no real progression either towards Twilight reaching redemption, though one could also say that’s due to the nature of her redemption. Rather than slowly being rescued by the love of the other characters, the attempts to bring her to the good side begin immediately after Kanata realizes that Twilight is his sister. Nothing’s wrong with a different approach to redeeming someone, don’t get me wrong there, but the revelation of Twilight being Kanata’s sister and beginning to break the mind-control all took place between the end of episode 20 and all of episode 21. It’s an extremely rushed approach, especially for the existing Cures who are only now trying to convert Twilight to the good side. The fact that we’d only just realized that Kanata had a missing sister and that Twilight was the sister make it seem even more rushed than it probably is. Perhaps revealing earlier on that Kanata’s sister was missing would help ease this rushed feeling her arc gives off, but I digress.
My main disappointment though when it came to this arc were the actions of Towa after being freed of mind-control. Just about every other previous villain had an episode or two where they realized what they’d been doing and showed regret and remorse – to the extent of deciding that they had no right to be a Precure. Towa? She’s rescued from Dyspear at the end of episode 21 and becomes Cure Scarlet during episode 22. If you can’t already assume, there’s not too much going on in terms of self-reflection. Even if that was her under the influence of Dyspear, one would think that she’d still show regret and hesitance towards casually joining and being buddy-buddy with the girls she beat down a few episodes ago. Her character arc just, well, doesn’t do that. She’s rescued, almost falls to despair again, says “nah” to that and becomes Cure Scarlet, then next episode we’re all touring the city. Even just a bit more self-reflection and remorse shown towards the other girls would’ve been appreciated. Instead, we’re left with a villain who pretty casually takes on her new protagonist role and readily accepts her previous enemies.
I want to write about strengths in the Twilight arc, I really do, but either the late hours are getting to my brain or I simply can’t come up with a reasonable one. I’ve heard arguments that the Twilight arc isn’t necessarily a “redemption”, rather it’s more of an arc that rescues Kanata’s sister, but no matter what its purpose is, the flaws within it still remain. The worst part is that many of the mistakes made within the Twilight arc could’ve been solved quite easily: write in Towa earlier, tell us more about her before we learned that she was Twilight, have her and Twilight share more of each other’s personality aspects; little things like that.
The fact that we have these three examples of previous redemption arcs, all which managed to succeed in some way or another at redeeming their villains, makes it even more frustrating that the Twilight arc was written in such a way. There were key elements in past seasons that were successful when writing villain-to-Precure arcs, so where are they now?