By Emi Yamada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterYoung girls transform into warriors and defeat evil to protect their loved ones — that’s the grand concept of popular anime series “Pretty Cure,” known as “PreCure” (pronounced “puri-kyua”) in Japan.
A film celebrating the popular anime’s 15th anniversary opened late last month featuring all 55 fighter girls who have appeared in the series.
The characters are adored by fans in every demographic. What is the secret behind their improbable enduring popularity?
A new “Pretty Cure” TV anime series comes out every year, each time attracting viewers with different themes and characters. Battles by ordinary girls are at the core of each work. The broadcast of the first TV anime in the franchise, “Futari wa PreCure” (Pretty Cure) started in 2004 on the TV Asahi network.
Sports-loving Nagisa Misumi and calm honor roll student Honoka Yukishiro are second-year students in junior high school. As fighters, Nagisa transforms into Cure Black and Honoka into Cure White. Superhero girls clad in black and white crushing villains with punches and kicks amazed viewers.
A typical Japanese anime show for young girls features magic. Add to this some action and an element of a buddy story, like police detective dramas featuring a pair of male inspectors, and you get “Pretty Cure.”
“During childhood, girls grow up faster and tend to be stronger and cheekier than boys, don’t they?” said the series’ first producer Takashi Washio of Toei Animation Co. “We ditched the preconceptions about ‘boys do this’ and ‘girls do that.’ Then we created the characters and the story.”
At first, it was a project for a show lasting one year, so he liberally took on challenges doing things he wanted to do. He said he had never expected the series would last 15 years.
Standing on own feet
The catchphrase of the anime is “Girls, too, want to rage.” Toei hired Daisuke Nishio, famed as the series director of the “Dragon Ball Z” TV anime series, to direct, and prepared detailed settings on costumes, fighting methods and enemy characters. To let the girls move around freely, the creative team decided to put leggings on them under mini-skirts. Loose socks and platform shoes exaggerated their feet, to indicate the characters’ resolution to stand on their feet without relying on anyone.
The first two main characters make facial expressions worth watching. When making her transformation, Nagisa shouts her signature phrase before saying bemusedly, “What on earth am I saying?” After transforming, however, she changes into a cool fighting mode.
“Don’t you agree that anyone would be surprised if suddenly told to transform and fight?” Washio said. Such a realistic feeling is carefully applied to the characters.
Another important point for Washio is that enemies should have their own logic. An antagonist declares, “I’ll do this and this to the world,” and Pretty Cure fighters stand up and say, “Don’t destroy our everyday lives.” They face off making their points in an argument, which makes the story more complex and convincing to grownup viewers as well.
“I’ve never made a compromise with stories because they are aimed at children,” Washio said. “I have always thought and worked very hard to make stories and visual content, and I have taken on many challenges. That spirit has been passed down [to the younger crew] without interruption.”
Dance, mobiles, childcare?!
Story settings in the series are full of variety. The fourth anime, “Yes! Pretty Cure 5” (2007), has a team reminiscent of live-action tokusatsu sci-fi dramas. The five members each have a particular color of hair and costume. They include Cure Dream in classic pink attire with a clumsy yet likable personality; Cure Rouge, an athletic girl with red hair; and Cure Mint in green, a comforting type who can also be scary when enraged.
The sixth work, “Fresh Pretty Cure!” (2009), was inspired by the popularity of the dance scene. The ending theme song created a buzz with fully computer generated images showing PreCure girls dancing.
In earlier works, the items that helped the girls transform included cell phones and electronic notebooks. This became a smartphone from the 10th work, “Dokidoki! Pretty Cure” (2013), an example of the anime mirroring its times and fashion.
The latest “Pretty Cure” TV anime is “Hug! Pretty Cure,” which began airing in February. The show has a surprising secondary theme: childcare. The “hug” in the title refers to holding a baby and the Japanese word hagukumu (to nurture).
The lead characters, led by Hana Nono, are all junior high school students who, besides studying, join hands in taking care of curious baby Hagu-tan. They have busy days gaining work experience and other commitments. The enemy force that threatens their everyday lives is a company called Criasu Co., which is actually an invader from the future. A company that deprives everyone of a bright future may remind one of certain firms that exploit employees excessively to their advantage. Such social issues and problems regarding childcare are incorporated in the story.
Be person you want to be
“Diversity is a keyword in recent PreCure stories,” said Keisuke Naito, the producer of “Hug! Pretty Cure.” The stories the girls tell embrace a candid message: “Believe in the future, and be the self you want to be.”
The girls who went crazy about the first “Pretty Cure” anime, “Futari wa PreCure,” are about age 20 by now. They probably have learned the way of things in the world since and are about to head out into society.
“Having your own will and speaking in your own words, discussing, forgiving — we the creators have put into the works our thoughts on how to do those things,” Washio said. “I’d be glad if they [fans] go forward while keeping such thoughts of ours in the back of their minds.”
New cinematic work stars all 55 fighters
In the latest “Pretty Cure” film, “Hugtto! PreCure Futariwa PreCure All Stars Memories” (Hug! Pretty Cure, Futari wa Pretty Cure the Movie), the five-girl team led by Hana comes under attack by a monster called Miden that can use the skills of all the Pretty Cure fighters from the past. As the monster uses one of their attacks, that fighter shrinks in size, and this continues with one fighter after another.
Memory and recollection are two big themes in the film, which also includes scenes from earlier series in the TV anime.