I want to admit something: (Deep breath) I’m a big fan of the “magical girl” genre in Japanese fiction.
I know, I know. The eyebrow-raising is already beginning. A grown man, who is a combat veteran no less, stating he likes “magical girl” shows? And what’s more, not the more “serious” ones like the Nanoha or Madoka franchises, among others. Why?!
The answer is simple. They are really good shows with great writing. As a bonus, more often than not, the stories have good moral and spiritual lessons that are most often made in a subtle, not in-your-face manner.
My goal here is to explore a recent story arc in a current magical girl show to illustrate why I think such shows are worth watching and that the stigma of them as “for girls” is entirely wrong.
Before I get to the spiritual lesson in question, let me begin my defense by giving information on the particular franchise whose show exhibited the edifying material.
Introduction to ‘Pretty Cure’
Pretty Cure, also known as Precure for short, is a long-running franchise. As of this writing it has run since 2004, about 10 years on the air. Like the Super Sentai shows, which inspired Power Rangers (and whose stock footage Power Rangers uses), they have a separate group every year or two. In the case of Precure, that group’s adventures occur in a separate continuity and dimension.
One of the directors of Precure’s first installments had previously worked on Dragonball Z. That fact will come as no surprise to anyone given the elements of the show and its crossover appeal. The show was intended from the start to have such appeal and cross demographic lines, and boy did it ever. Though it’s a shojo show—that is, designed for a demographic of teenage girls and younger—it also was designed to appeal to the seinen or adult male demographic.
Before someone acts like this is strange, this was also the reasoning behind two popular American shows. Both Avatar: The Last Airbender and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic were shows explicitly designed to appeal to both children and adults. Precure also accomplished this in the beginning by having a healthy dose of post-modernism/realism (in a good sense) for such a show, as well as action and dealing with difficult issues.
For instance, in the first episode of the first series, Futari wa Pretty Cure (English: We Are Pretty Cure), the two heroines transform for the first time and utter the typically cheesy badass boasts — but one of them (Cure Black) incredulously asks what she just said. The characters in these shows question things and don’t blithely accept what they do and how they know what to do, very different from how many other shows of this genre have the heroes simply accept such things.
What about action? Well, it has been said that many a shonen—young male demographic—show would blush at the amount of punches, kicks, hitting enemies with another enemy (I kid you not) and so on in this franchise. None of the violence is overly gratuitous or gory, but it does have a lot more action violence than most shows with girl (or boy) hero protagonists.
The show doesn’t shy from deep characterizations and treatments of certain social issues. Instead the stories explore such issues in a mature manner. Some of these social issues only related to Japanese culture. Others cross cultural and national boundaries—and this, along with post-modernism/realism and action, is how the show earns fans from multiple demographics and outside of Japan.
A quick word on the title “Pretty Cure.” The actual Japanese word that comes across in English as “Pretty Cure” is the word “Purikura” meaning “Print Club,” which refers to booths in Japan where you get stickers printed up with your picture on them. What this strange pun has to do with fighting, magical warriors, or justice, I don’t know. My best guess is that it takes the notion of “Pretty” (English translation of a word in Japanese) in Sailor Moon, and is being punny by naming the magical warriors so ridiculously. But that is a guess. It’s a Japanese thing.
Next Tuesday I’ll explore last year’s series, Happiness Charge Precure, and a particular arc of that series that dealt with forgiveness.