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September 4, 2012 / Bradley

Bubble Bubble Pop Pop: A Smile Pretty Cure! Halftime Report

As much as I enjoyed most of what I saw of the first run of Pretty Cure, by the time I got to the mid-season finale, my interest flagged. The series had successfully bucked the threat of being generic for most of its run up to the promised clash against the Dark Kingdom, but when it came time to actually fight ’em, the quirky likeableness that had defined so much of its episodic stories drowned in generic “rah, rah, rah” fights and a bleak mood it didn’t really earn. It was dispiriting to watch, so I left. I’ll return to it someday, but not now. I wanted to experience other Pretty Cure, and since the folks in my timeline had been tweeting about how good Smile Pretty Cure is- “It makes important contributions to the art of silly faces!”- I jumped in to see how the franchise has changed since its first inception. The answer: not much, though it nailed the mid-season finale this time around.

The broad structure of “Light Kingdom in desperate need of warriors from Earth recruit middle school girls to fight off the encroaching Dark Kingdom” hasn’t changed, but importantly, Smile Pretty Cure is loaded with colorful details. This time around, the Light Kingdom is a Fairy Tale Kingdom of cutesy, ditzy fairies in dire need of rescue from a Bad End Kingdom. Those baddies- a witch, an ogre and a wolf- need to suck up bad energy from humans, mostly by making them very sad, in order to resurrect their dark lord, who looks like a giant evil clown. The series benefits from building its story around a hodge-podge of fairy tale themes, and while it’s all based on familiar cliches, it enjoys playing with them enough that whole series becomes a joyous potpourri of worldwide stories filtered through a cheery magical girl sensibility. The evil witch Majorina is one of my favorite examples of this. She looks like the same dumpish and ugly witch that years of illustrations for Grimm Brothers stories has established as the stereotype, and true to that type, she cackles and casts curses with evil spells and artifacts. But she’s really bad at keeping track of where she keeps her artifacts, which means losing them somewhere on Earth for the Pretty Cure to find. So she has to go down to Earth and visit the town’s kindly police officer in his street corner box and ask if anyone has found a Makestuffinvisible. A what? Well, it’s a camera that makes stuff invisible when you take a picture of it, because on top of being poorly organized, Majorina has a terrible sense for naming things. Even the other villains, who aren’t terribly bright bulbs, think  Makestuffsmaller is a bad name for an artifact that does… no points for guessing here. When I wrote about the original Pretty Cure I talked about how details like this make what should be a generic series an entertaining one. So while Smile Pretty Cure! follows the same familiar rhythms as all the other Pretty Cure I’ve seen, it’s things like this that make it immensely enjoyable.

Of course, in Pretty Cure it was the characters that sold me on the series, and while the characters in Smile don’t feel as intelligently executed, they are fun. They’re all a mixture of broad types- the Shy Girl is also the Artist Girl, the Ditzy Girl is also the Cheerful Girl- and while I mean that in a neutral sense, I think that would drag the series if it wasn’t for a key factor: the animation. I don’t write enough how animation can make characters who, as written, could be boring, but they become highly entertaining simply by virtue of how the animators express them. The girls can’t just smile- they will beam happiness. Exhaustion deflates their faces, with their oval faces deflating to oblongs, and then the rest of their body sags. It’s all wonderfully silly- most of the time, when I’m laughing, it’s because of those silly faces. If Cure Happy’s look of utter dejection doesn’t crack you up, you need to consider getting a new hobby. Heck, even the Ojou-sama Girl becomes expressive just because she never strays from her stoic expression.

Come to think of it, this is probably the funniest magical girl show I’ve seen that wasn’t a parody of magical girl shows. It’s certainly more committed to being a comedy than Pretty Cure was, and it doesn’t have any aspect of being a “healing anime” like Cardcaptor Sakura. It’s occasionally bad-ass (fucking laser Pegasus Pretty Cure princesses are gonna fuck up some monsters) but mostly, it’s just funny. I generally don’t like following a series week to week, but I’m making an exception for this one. There’s all kinds of fantastic stuff airing right now, but this is exactly the kind of upbeat cartoon I enjoy.

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2 Comments

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  1. krizzlybear / Sep 4 2012 3:13 pm

    Yep, pretty much. The casting is considerably balanced as far as personality alotment is concerned, but each character has many opportunities to really stand out with both great voice acting and animated expressions.

    While I also consider Majorina to be my favourite villain in the series, I must tip my hat to Aka Oni for being a dumb-as-rock villain amongst dumb-as-rock villains. He just does it so well, and as I mentioned above, it’s all about delivery and execution rather than striving to be anything remotely original.

    I’m glad you’re having fun with the sho9w, as I’ve been rather dormant in my Precure writing, something I really ought to catch up on.

  2. Jun / Nov 23 2012 5:00 am

    I enjoy watching Smile Precure! and it is my first season of Precure series, which meas I started watcing Precure from Smile Precure. I watched other Precures, but I think that Smile Precure is very easy for me to watch because I don’t have to follow a series week as you said. This is a big merit of Smile Precure. Maybe, little girls cannot watch some episode becasue of some thier events, if anime is a series week one, they cannot fallow the story. This sometimes happnens. However, Smile is the anime that mostly ends in each of the story, so little girls may not get upset and smoothely restart watching anime from the last episode they watched.
    Smile Precure is a very awsome anime, even adults can enjoy it. I am Japanese, and I am looking forward to watching this great anime every Sunday. I want Smile Precure! to continue to the next season!!

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