I’m a woman, you know — Hakumei to Mikochi

How to disappoint me in just two sentences.

Hakumei to Mikochi: asking whether they are a couple

Hakumei to Mikochi is an adorable, warm fuzzy series about two tiny girls living together in a magical forest full of talking, sentient cats and weasels and other critters. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, especially since it comes out early enough on Friday that it’s the perfect end of the working week wind down anime. Each episode has Hakumei and Mikochi going along their daily lives, going shopping in the big town nearby, going to work, etc. Throughout the series so far, they have been shown to care for each other and behave very much like a couple, though it’s never been explicitly stated that they are, just that they live together. It’s only in the latest episode, episode five, in the scene above that somebody asked outright if Mikochi was Hakumei’s wife. And I immediately had a bad feeling about it.

Hakumei to Mikochi: I am a woman

And I was right. Hakumei immediately responds with “I’m a woman, you know” which is the sort of denial that may leave open the possibility that they are in fact a couple, but which is pretty clear that officially, no, they’re not. A bit like having your gaybaiting cake and eating it. It was such a disappointment that it made me physically a bit ill. There are so few canonically gay couples in anime and it would’ve taken so little to make Hakumei and Mikochi one of them, even if only by never stating the question outright and just showing their lives together. But no, they had to make sure we know they weren’t a couple, just good friends living together or some such bullshit. I like the series and will keep watching it, but this still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I hope to be as petty as her some day — Yorimoi ep 5

Because this really is amazing but well deserved pettiness.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: Shirase is petty

It’s typical of any school to take the credit for the hard work of their students after the fact, having done nothing to help or encourage them and considering how long Shirase has been mocked and laughed at for wanting to go to Antarctica, it’s not surprising she keeps her speech to a short and simple “I’m going”. It’s a wonder she didn’t rub everybody’s faces in it more. But she stays calm, cool and if people don’t understand that this is her rubbing it in how wrong everybody was, that’s fine with her. She knows what she meant and that’s good enough. A far cry from how nervous she’s recording one of the promos for the expedition together with Mari and Yuzuki in literally the next scene. When Yuzuki wonders why Shirase is so nervous but was fine at the assembly, Mari theorises it’s because she can only be confident if she thinks she’s surrounded by enemies and her “screw you” switch gets flipped…

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: Takahashi Megumi

But this episode isn’t really about Shirase or any of the four going to Antarctica. It’s about this girl, Mari’s best friend (only friend?) until she met Shirase: Takahashi Megumi, who’d always been there to support Mari. Throughout the series so far she’d been the voice of caution, tempering Mari whenever she gets a bit too enthusiastic about her plans to go to Antarctica, pointing out how it all might happen. Megumi keeps telling Mari not to get too invested, to not try too hard or it will hurt all the more if she fails again. Her concerns are understandable, considering she’s been Mari’s friend since childhood and always had to support her and until now, she always had to pick up the pieces when Mari failed to go through with what she set out to do (as in the first episode, when she wanted to skip school and ended up going there anyway, because it rained). Yet as Mari’s plans to go to Antarctica became more and more concrete, the less convincing Megumi’s concerns became. She has become more of a wet blanket than she’s helpful. Mari takes her advice at face value, but as a viewer you know there’s clearly something going on with this girl.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: four friends

Meanwhile take a look at those four, on their way back from the promo that Shirase had so much problems with. Discussing their luggage quota of a hundred kilograms — which includes themselves–, Mari boasts that she can take “upwards of fiftyeight kilos” with her. Which is such bullshit. I couldn’t even ship myself with that quota. In any case, Hinata on the right immediately goes “not with that arm flab, sister” but you can tell it’s all teasing rather than meant seriously. I really like how the series portrays those four, with Hinata and Mari slightly more sarky than the other two, Yuzuki in particular more serious than the other three and Shirase prone to switching between serious and panicing, as said. Even in this screenshot you can see some of their character shine through. As for Mari, she’s clearly more at ease with these three now than she is with her childhood friend, even as she tries to get her involved. There’s a distance between the two that Mari must’ve subconsciously noticed

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: I came to break up

It all comes to a head on the very morning that Mari leaves for Antarctica, after having her goodbye karaoke with Hinata, Shirase and Megumi, not to mention her farewell diner with her family. When she walks out of the door, Megumi is there, waiting for her. When asked what she wants, Megumi tells her she comes to break up with her. They can no longer be friends and as Mari stares at her uncomprehending, she spells it out for her. She tells her how much of what she warned Mari about she actually spread around, like the rumours about Shirase carrying around a million yen. She tells her how scared she actually is to see her relationship with Mari changed, how she liked being the dependable one but now she no longer had her as a crutch to boost her self esteem. She needs to let go, even if Mari forgives her for her jealousy.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: break up cancelled

Mari has other ideas.

It’s a brilliant scene, the climax of five episodes of buildup, a real serious spot in a series that’s been mostly light hearted. You can so understand Megumi’s frustration, of seeing somebody who has always been dependent on you go their own way, leaving you behind as they find new friends. Her insecurity and jealousy is nasty, but you can sympathise with her; she’s not a total asshole, just scared of losing her friend and therefore deciding to burn her bridges herself. But Mari has other ideas. She understands where Megumi is coming from and can forgive her for it. In any case, they’ll be away from each other for three months, so any resolution can wait until she’s back…

Fresh Precure: the standard Precure experience

Fresh Precure is the Precure series you want to watch if you want a typical Precure experience.. It’s not the best Precure series, but far from the worst and a such exemplifies all the strengths and weaknesses of Precure. There may be some spoilers here.

Fresh Precure: The original three Cures

Fresh Precure is the sixth Precure series, originally broadcast in 2009. By this time the overall Precure formula had long since been worked out and the series followed it closely. So it starts with Momozono Love, a bright energetic 14 year old who is always helping others, going to a dance show by her favourite dance team Trinity, only for the show to be attacked by the first of many monsters. Love saves Miyuki, the leader of Trinity and in the process transforms into a Precure, Cure Peach. In the next two episodes she recruits her two best friends. Aono Miki is the cool beauty type who is good at everything, who turns into Cure Berry, while Yamabuki Inori (Buki to friends) is the somewhat shy animal lover who becomes Cure Pine. Both also join for dance lessons with Miyuki. Finally there’s the inevitable cute animal mascot, the ferret like but actually a cute cute fairy, Tarte, with baby fairy Chiffon in tow. The first is here to explain the plot to the girls, the second is more of a deus ex machina/macguffin combo.

Fresh Precure: Love and Eas become friends

The villains are a trio of standard issue Precure punchclock villains: they show up, goof around a bit in their ‘civilian’ identities, switch over, summon a monster and try to harvest sorrow because that’s what they need for their boss’ plans. Wester, Soular and Eas are fun villains, each with their own quirks, though Eas is the most well defined: she actually becomes friends with Love in her secret identity. Their boss is Lord Moebius of the planet Labyrinth, who wants to conquor all the parallel worlds starting with the Earth. Moebius’ evil is fairly abstract: it would be bad if he succeeds in taking over the world, but as long as the Precures continue to defend the status quo, nothing really bad happens.

Fresh Precure: fighting monsters

As the series progresses, with the Precures fighting each of Moebius’ lieutenants as they summon the monster of the week, while also having to deal with their own every day problems, both the Precures and the villains power up in a slow arms race, all the way to the mid-season climax. Eas in her civilian identity had steadily become good friends with Love, leaving her conflicted about her duties, but with a new powerup she becomes more determined than ever to crush the Precures, even as her new power is shortening her life everytime she uses it. Ultimately though Love and the other Cures’ dogged persistence breaks through her shell and she does a heel turn, becoming the fourth Precure, Cure Passion.

Fresh Precure: and Setsuna makes four

The next run of episodes sees the series lose some focus, as the remaining two villains are much less of a threat and the emphasis shifts more to the Precure girls’ everyday lives. There’s some obvious filler in there, but there’s also a lot of slow burn character development in there, especially as Eas, now called Setsuna, moves in with Love’s family and adjust to normal life. This is always a weakness of any Precure series, that most of the overall plot happens at the beginning as the Cures and their enemies are introduced, a few episodes in the middle as everybody powers up and one of the villains defects and finally the last couple of episodes, as the story reaches it climax and the evil gets defeated. Keeping the rest of the episodes interesting is always a challenge: the best Precure series do so with a combination of interesting monster of the week episodes and character focus specials. Fresh Precure misses some of that, with Cure Berry and Pine getting much less focus than Cure Peach & Passion.

Fresh Precure: the power of love

The series picks up again as the final villain, Northa, is introduced, about three quarters of the way through the series. It was only then I realised that they were actual named after compass directions. As per usual, she’s more powerful and also more evil than the other two and her introduction sets in motion the buildup to the final struggle between Moebius and the Precure. Which happens after Chiffon gets captures to function as the capstone to the parallel world invasion machine thingie Moebius built. As world after world falls and Earth itself is attacked, the Precures decide to reveal their secret to their family and friends before they go on their final mission, to save Chiffon. Once they manage to convince their parents to let them go, they invade Labyrinth, set off a revolution, struggle against Wester and Soular until they get their heel turn after Moebius attempts to kill them and the Cures both, defeat Northa and reveal the true identity of Moebius before defeating him with the power of love. Unironically.

Fresh Precure: everything for Lord Moebius

The regimented life on Labyrinth, where nobody has to think for themselves and nobody has to think about others either, just follow orders, living a life without sadness but without joy too, is an old and familiar evil. It’s contrasted by the much more chaotic, much warmer community life of Yotsuba Town. Ultimately the Precures triumph thanks to the support they get from their family, friends, neighbours and even the awakened citizens of Labyrinth. It’s not a contest of individual will, but community versus the lack of it. The people of Labyrinth live a life in which everything is decided for them, which leaves no room for them to help each other. Whereas in Yotsuba Town, people look out for each other, whether friends, family or just casual acquaintances. Throughout the series you get to see small examples of this, which is what makes the finale works. You could arguably fit the actual plot of the series in a one or two cour series of 12-26 episodes, but you can only have that short of slow buildup in a long series like this. Even if those filler episodes add nothing for the plot, they allow the characters to breathe, to grow a bit.

In short, Fresh Precure has all the standard Precure story beats and executes them well. There’s the Precure origin and debut queue, the struggle against the villians in which both sides gradually up their powers, a new Cure joins the team as one villain has her heel turn, real life challenges to be met, the final battle agains the real evil, followed by a happy ever after. It has the standard Precure themes of friendship, family & community overcoming selfishness, but also of few people, no matter how evil, being beyond redemption. Almost all the villains ultimately end up redeemed after all. That’s what I like best about all the Precure series, that feeling of optimism and good will.

Life inspires art inspires life: the anime

So some very recognisable music started playing when the Japanese figure skating duo of Suzaki Miu and Kihara Ryuichi started their routine:

It’s well know that Yamamoto Sayo was inspired by Olymic figure skating to first create Endless Night for the Nihon Animator Mihonichi project and then direct Yuri on Ice, so to see the main theme the protagonist used to skate to being used by an actual Olympic figure skating pair is brilliant.