Why you should watch PreCure

‘Nuff said.

Futari wa Pretty Cure is the first series in the PreCure franchise, which so far has had one 48 to 50 episode series coming out each year since 2004. Each series stands on its own (with the exception of the occasional sequel) but follows the same formula: two or more young teenage girls encounter cute (but usually annoying) mascot animals who give them special powers to fight evil. They use their powers to fight increasingly powerful monsters while encountering various more mundane troubles in their daily lives, but through the power of friendship and the occassional flying kick overcome them, to ultimately triumph over the Big Bad pulling the strings in the background. A typical magical girl/mahou shoujo franchise, one which is incredibly popular in Japan but almost unavailable in its original form outside of it (at least in English speaking countries). You may however have heard of Glitter Force, which adapted one of the series into something supposedly more palatable to American tastes.

True, the PreCure series are aimed at kids and are rather formulaic plotwise: Pretty Cure has to overcome some everyday challenge or adversity, the monster of the week shows up halfway through, they fight and defeat them, cut back to their ordinary lives and the resolution of the problem they faced; rinse, repeat. Personally I don’t mind this, as the execution of this formula is done decently, the characters are likeable and there’s enough “candy” in the form of well executed fight scenes to keep me interested. Not something perhaps to sit down to watch for, but more than good enough to have on while still being able to do something else. And, as you can see, when the animators are on point, they’re on point, like Tatsuo Yamada here in these excerpts.

The original Futari wa Pretty Cure series is available on Crunchyroll (but not in the Netherlands!) while Glitter Force can be found on Netflix. Videos via Sakugabooru.

KyoAni & the road to musical perfection

This is where it started for KyoAni, isn’t it? The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya #12: “God Knows”. There had been music playing in anime before, but this was a piece of technical and storytelling audacity hitherto unseen. Often imitated, it’s still the gold standard for rock scenes. Animating instrument playing must be bloody hard, but KyoAni just plunked it down nonchalantly in a school festival episode, as if to challenge everybody else. Sure, there’s still a fair bit of “cheating” going on, the close ups on the drumming and guitar playing being intercut with crowd reaction shots and such, minimising the need for accuracy.

Nine years later and KyoAni is no longer content with doing the occassional brilliant music scene, but insist on doing a series that’s all about playing and practising music, culminating in the final performance as shown above. Just on its own it’s a marvel of animated perfection, a brilliantly executed showpiece having a complete concert band on stage and playing without cheats. But in the context of the series as a whole, it’s also the emotional climax and more so because it’s so technically perfect. That performance is what the entire series hs worked towards, the culmination of all the effort the protagonists have put into: if it isn’t animated as well as the performance is supposed to be executed it wouldn’t work.

A year further on and the second series of Hibike! Euphonium and KyoAni has raised the bar again. The fifth episode has the same piece as in the finale of the previous series and just as Kitauji High School Concert Band has upped the stakes for the next stage of the competition, so has the animation. KyoAni has come gobsmackingly close to perfection here; even trained musical professionals can barely find anything to nitpick. And again, that technical perfection is what heightens the emotional impact, coming as it does at the end of the first story arc. Bloody cheeky though, to have such a showstopper in only the fifth episode…

Five years later

Sangatsu no Lion: remembrance and grieving

It’s a sentence I associate more with fiction than real life, the title of the epilogue to the real story showing where the characters ended up after all the excitement died down. But it’s the only title I could think for this post, because today is the day Sandra died, five years ago. And there isn’t much else to say. Needless to say that it was the worst day of my life, that it still feels as if it only happened yesterday, yet at the same time much longer than five years ago. There are stil moments when, like Rei in Sangatsu no Lion, something innocent reminds me of what I lost and the tears flow; this seems to happen a lot in the supermarket for some reason.

One of those DAYS

DAYS: taking your kit off is a yellow

Sports anime usually offers an idealised view of sports, so cheating is rarely taken seriously in it, other than to make the underdog protagonist (team) even more of an underdog during an important match. This may not matter much for something like baseball, but for football fouling is an integral part of the game, no matter how much we’d like to pretend otherwise. Even so I could overlook that in the world of DAYS fouls didn’t happen, until episode 17 was a bit too blatant in featuring not one, not two but three blatant fouls. First, we got this joker taking his shirt off without getting a yellow as he should’ve, for celebrating a goal that turned out to be disallowed because he was offside. It may seem silly, but had he’d gotten the yellow card, obviously his play afterwards would’ve been influenced to lessen the risk of a second yellow and a sending off. Games have been won or lost by this sort of thing.

DAYS: fouling a striker in the box

More serious is this second foul, a defender pushing the attacker down in the penalty box during a corner kick. That could’ve been a penalty, but here passed without comment. Which does happen in real football, so this is the one I have the least problems with how it was handled. Referees can miss things, especially in a crowded area like this.


But then this happens. A defender kicks down a broken through striker, with nothing between him and the goal, arguably denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. This should be a straight red, not just a free kick. But that’s all what happens. A blatant injustice but nobody remarks on it. The fouled on player is just glad to have won a free kick, as do his team mates and nobody protests to the ref. Not very realistic, but it does fit in the ganbare mindset of most sports anime, where hard work and sheer pluck should overcome misfortune and cheating. I guess that’s what the viewers want, but it annoyed me this time.

Sangatsu no Lion — The Hurting

Sangatsu no Lion: a stormy march morning

After fifteen seconds of abstract swirls moving against a black background, SanGatsu No Lion opens with the silhouette of the protagonist, Kiriyama Rei, hair blowing wildly in the wind, against a cloudy blue sky. The wind is obviously a metaphor for being restless, uneasy, on edge and we’ll see Rei’s hair blowing around in the wind a couple of times more in the episode.

Kiriyama Rei drowning

The opening theme starts and it’s one long sequence of Rei drowning, slowly sinking, getting out of the river to struggle through thorn bushes, sinking back into the mud again. There’s a stillness to the drowning sequences that’s in stark contrast to the wind of the pre-opening sequence. The water/drowning metaphor also re-occurs several times in the rest of the episode; air bubbling up in a bottle of ice tea signalling stress.

Sangatsu no Lion: a smile like a wound

Coming out of the opening, the first thing we see is a close up of a face, a mouth, smiling, but not in a good way. That’s a smile that hurts, in more ways than one. The woman the smile belongs too may be saying hurtful things, but she looks like she’s hurting too. At this point we have no context for this dream or memory of Rei’s. We don’t know who she is or what she is to him, so we have no real idea of why she is saying this to him. Well, I do, but I cheated and read the manga.

As the dream ends and Rei wakes up, the story finally gets underway. Slowly. Almost five minutes are spent on him waking up, getting dressed and traveling to the shogi hall for a match. No dialogue, no narration, just Rei slowly making his way across town. This is rare in anime; normally you’d be right inside the protagonist’s head, but here you actually have to pay attention to Rei’s expressions and body language. And what I see is what I’ve seen with family members struggling with psychological issues or were recuperating from an operation. There’s a deliberateness to how Rei dresses himself in that excerpt above (courtesy of Wave motion Cannon), a way he pulls in his core that speaks to me of being hurt, of remembering pain. You also see how empty his apartment is, the only furniture being a wardrobe and his shogi board. It’s a gorgeous apartment but it feels blindingly cold.

Sangatsu no Lion: Rei, isolated

The other thing that struck is how monochrome Rei is compared with his environment, visually setting him apart from everybody else, with his ink dark hair, white shirt and greenish-brown trousers. The camera angles seem to reinforce his isolation, with closeups being mainly showing his back, while longer range shots show him alone in the middle of the screen, or only half in frame, face cut off. It all works pretty well in establishing something is wrong with Rei, if not what.

Sangatsu no Lion: some hints of trauma

There’s a lot of back story to Rei that’s only hinted at rather than explained in this first episode, as was also the case with the original manga. We get some clue from the dream that opened the episode, some quick flashbacks during his shogi match, but nothing yet ouright explained. Which makes a refreshing change from most of anime, which likes to front load its exposition. So we get the impression that this particular match is a big deal because of who Rei is playing and it is clear they know each other, but just how and why they know each other is only explained much later in the episode. Unexplained remains why the seventeen year old Rei is living on his own, what happened in his past to separate him from his family, or who the woman is he’s having nightmares about.

Sangatsu no Lion: Momo makes everything better

It’s a long and slow introduction to a character and it’s incredibly oppressive, as was the manga when I first read it. Even with just the visuals, with nothing explained, it’s depressive. And then it all changes a third of the way through the episode — but that’s for another post.