2nd year middle school student Tsubomi Hanasaki has just moved with her family to the town of Kibougahana to live with her grandma. She is shy and introverted, but is determined to start off her new school life at Myoudou Academy as confidently as possible.
Lately she has been having the same mysterious dream again and again, of Cure Moonlight's defeat at the Great Heart Tree. She wonders what it all means. Then suddenly, two fairies from the dream appear to her, and before she knows it, she is transformed into the legendary Pretty Cure, Cure Blossom!
Later joined by her high energy classmate and new friend Erika Kurumi as Cure Marine, the two girls vow work hard to protect everyone's Heart Flowers from the evil gang, The Desert Messengers.
I was hesitant to jump into the Precure Franchise due to the large number of seasons, and how similar people said they were. I asked around for the best of all seasons. All signs pointed to Heartcatch and even now watching the very good Smile Precure, I agree that Heartcatch wins by a mile.
[ Story ]
The story is pretty typical for even a Precure season. A great evil was sealed away long ago and is returning to wreck it's own special brand of havoc on the world. Since Heartcatch is flower themed, this comes in the form of desolate wastelands, specifically of the desert variety.
And so our Precure warriors must band together to combat the threat of this evil's band of minions, the Desert Apostles.
Watching Smile Precure at the moment I'm able to see one thing that really stands in Heartcatch's favor, the limit on main characters. At the start of the show, Heartcatch only has two active fighters, as opposed to Smile's ensemble of five warriors. This allows the two fighters to take on a single monster without the need for blatant methods of disabling all but the focus character of the episode.
The fighting is probably one of the things most older male viewers are going to remember from this show. Precure in the past have always been known for being super strong and having enhanced combat ability, but these girls spend much of the fight rumbling with their foes in an impressive display that would be welcome in a Cartoon Network lineup alongside Powerpuff Girls. But, true to Magical Girl fashion, they always finish with a flashy Magic attack.
One of the things that works against Heartcatch is it's victim of the week formula. A standard filler episode features a random background character with an emotional problem. Our leads, Tsubomi and Erika associate with this character before said character becomes the power source for the latest monster of the week. It can get really predictable at times, to the point that you can tell right away who's going to be the victim. Their problems are also very easy to see through at times, and you can tell exactly how they're going to overcome it. It gets downright repetitive at times, where the monster of the week will stop in the middle of the fight to cry over the problem the victim is having. "Girls aren't allowed to play on the boy's soccer team!" and such. The villain who summoned the monster will 9 out of 10 times, laugh about the problem the victim is having, saying that it's stupid and pointless. At this point our heroes will make a big speech about how important that problem is, followed by catch phrases and then the aforementioned magic attack. On a bad filler episode, the lead characters get maybe... five minutes of screen time, aside from the fight.
One interesting thing to note is that the show is somewhat savvy toward the cliches of the genre. If you're watching online. Just when you think there's going to be a typical stock footage finish attack, a villain interrupts it and the fight continues.
Despite the aforementioned filler there is a surprisingly gripping and sometimes dark story taking place amid the colorful scenery and cutesy designs. At the focal point of is Cure Moonlight, a fallen Precure who spends much of the series recovering from the emotional damage of her last battle prior to the start of the story.
[ Art ]
With an animation style reminiscent of Ojamajo Doremi, it's easy for those who aren't fans of the genre to be put off by this show. If you can get past the flurry of pink and rainbows that is the opening theme, the show itself is vivid and gorgeous, showing just how beautiful the world is despite the hardships these characters endure. The character designs all come with round, lovable faces and dazzling eyes that convey their personalities so well.
You would think that this art style would have a bad effect on the darker, more serious moments of the show, but amazingly it works in their favor. Even with the color toned down, the smooth animation style stands as one of the best aspects of the series.
Edit: How could I forget to mention the most gorgeous transformation sequence in Magical Girl history? Blossom and Marine's dual transformation is absolutely stunning.
The ending themes feature the cast of characters in CG, dancing to the song. This animation is nice, but seems awkward compared to the style of the series.
On a personal note, I wish I had watched this show after receiving this gorgeous flatscreen monitor I have now. My last one was pathetic, so I wasn't able to appreciate the animation style like I can now.
[ Sound ]
The soundtrack of Heartcatch Precure is another thing that helps it vividly display the joys and hardships of life. Gorgeous melodies accent the peaceful serenity that comes with the flower motif. In particular, the transformation sequence music is among the most upbeat and inspiring of any in the Magical Girl genre. This series has something for every occasion. Powerful, upbeat music for dramatic action moments, gentle, mellow tunes for the tragic, emotional moments and plenty of cheerful, upbeat melodies to suit the fun of being a girl and having great friends.
The opening theme is catchy and cheerful, perfectly suited for the bright, optimistic majority of the series. The first ending theme is another of those upbeat, catchy dancing themes that spreads through the internet like Haruhi-ism. The second ending is one I'm less favorable toward, as it's a gospel-style song, a weird choice for a Magical Girl show with no religious symbolism.
[ Characters ]
The characters in a Magical Girl show are usually it's strongest point, and Heartcatch is no exception. This cast is well rounded and colorful, developing beautifully whenever there isn't a filler episode. Our lead, Tsubomi Hanasaki, is a rare treat for the genre. Whereas main leads are often the idiot hero type, Tsubomi is intelligent, withdrawn and insecure. Realistically, she's not at all ready to accept the burden of fighting dangerous monsters, and even when she has no choice but to become a Precure, it takes her a while to get used to this new power. The best thing about Tsubomi is that she doesn't immediately shed her timid self. It's all too easy for a protagonist to become instantly courageous and confident upon receiving power. Tsubomi on the other hand still has her doubts about herself, and spends much of the series growing as a person.
Serving as the foil to Tsubomi's weak exterior is her friend Erika Kurumi. Erika is another unusual character. Her Cure powers are water based, but she's as hot blooded as any Shonen Hero, maybe more so. Erika is loud, obnoxious and incredibly outgoing, making her overwhelming for those around her. That isn't to say she's completely without concerns, she has her own insecurities, but has an easier time masking them through sheer energy. Such energy and yet Erika is lazy at the same time, especially when it comes to school work.
For those who don't mind casting the spotlight away from the lead characters, every filler episode brings us a new character who the show takes the time to develop as a person, instead of simply throwing them on screen, throwing a problem at them and being done with it. The best part is that these characters exist around our heroes long after they've become the victim of the week, offering their support and serving as comic relief.
The villains of the show we mostly see are a trio of quirky characters. Most noteworthy among them is Kumojacky. Just looking at the guy, you can just see him as the hero of any hotblooded mecha series. He is a man who believes power is most important. Of course when you're in a Magical Girl show, this philosophy isn't on the winning side.
Kobraja is another of the more interesting villains. He's a complete narcissist, and FABULOUS MAX at that. He can be both a serious threat and comic relief.
And then there's Dark Precure, the nemesis of Cure Moonlight who's sole goal in life is to eliminate her enemy. This puts her at odds with even the main villain of the series, who wants her to focus on eliminating the Cures who are still in commission. While there's much more to her than meets the eye, the thing that stands out most about her for me is that she is the bringer of the more serious, impressive moments in the series. Every time she shows up I pretty much cheer, cause I know things are gonna get awesome.
[ Enjoyment ]
I admit I was a bit bored during the first few episodes. The victim of the week formula gets a bit tiresome, especially when the main cast is so vivid and lovable. But I'm so glad I stuck with it. Things got much better after a while, and even in the filler episodes, we have the amazing fight scenes and gorgeous animation that make this series stand out even among it's successors, Suite and Smile Precure. In particular, the arrival of the third Cure brings about a change in the formula, as there are now enough able warriors to warrant the villain assisting the monster of the week, or not using a monster at all.
[ Overall ]
Heartcatch Precure is a must see for any fan of the Magical Girl genre. Even if you were bored with the original Precure season, give this one a try. If not for the amazing fight scenes, then just for that beautiful animation style. It's a fantastic series marred only by a bit of tedious filler, which is par for the course in this genre. If has it's dark moments, arguable the darkest in the Precure franchise, but you're looking for lots of angst and despair, you're watching the wrong series. Heartcatch Precure is a fun series with something for all ages and genders, full of cute characters, colorful animation mixed with amazing action scenes and surprisingly dark moments, but in the end, love conquers all!
Heartcatch has one massive point in its favour over every single other Precure: It can do drama. It’s not stupid. I can’t stress enough how important this is. In Heartcatch, the evil monsters that fight the Precure are created using the wavering hearts of humans. What that means is every episode has someone worried about something happening in their life, and the episode tends to revolve around how they get over that problem. Usually the issue is just that they don’t have enough confidence in themselves. A girl is afraid of talking to the Student Council President she admires so much because she gets all
nervous when she’s around her. A boy is afraid his mum won’t approve of his ambition to become a manga author. Very simple little stories, but each one is handled with care and enough heart, without the solution ever being something pathetic and pulled out of nowhere. Sure, the solution is generally “you’re not weak at all!”, but the solution to each problem is generally the person just needs more confidence in themselves. At its centre, that is what Heartcatch is about. Have confidence in your own mental strength and you can achieve anything.
Another point in Heartcatch’s favour is the animation style. It’s done by the same team who did Casshern Sins, which is a bit of an odd mix. Casshern Sins is a great show, but it’s hella depressing post-apocalyptic material, and to have them do a Precure seems like a match made in “didn’t think this through properly” land. But it works, certainly in the animation style department. Heartcatch is stylish. The designs seem to be made with movement in mind, rather than other Precures where the characters don’t move freely at all and every fight scene is simply them panning across the screen (*cough* Fresh Precure *cough*). The animators are rather happy to let their characters go deformed for the sake of more fluid animation, but the artstyle suits the free-flowing designs quite well. Heartcatch’s fight scenes are far and away the best out of the Precure franchise, albeit that’s not particularly high praise. In comparison to other action anime, it doesn’t compare to Bones or Gainax level material, but it sure is pretty to look at.
The transformation sequences are…well, actually they’re not all that bitching at all. At least, the main two aren’t. They decided a cell phone was too unoriginal for this version of Precure, so instead decided to use perfume as a Precure transformation aid. Full points for originality I guess, but this does mean what you get is a spray-on Precure costume, which is rather underwhelming. It’s only until the third Precure shows up that we get a proper bitchin’ transformation sequence
Not that Heartcatch solved all the problems of the previous Precures. The magical pets are still as annoying as fuck. The BUY OUR TOYS still isn’t that well integrated into the plot. No really Precure, I’m cool with your amazing gospel 2nd ending song having awesome CGI dancing in it, but it’s jarring when every instance of BUY OUR TOYS is accompanied with the product in question being in CGI itself. It makes it stand out all the more jarringly, especially when they have to go through gimicky actions that the toys can also do. Like, come on. What sort of magical girl has to wind up their wand before they can use it? But the fact that it had a brain and wasn’t painfully stupid with its episodic plotlines far outweigh the problems I had with BUY OUR TOYS and annoying magical pets.
Precure is a cartoon aimed at little girls. Kids like repetition, or so I’ve been told. I did too, when I was, like, 4. Heartcatch’s non-plot related episodes follow such a strict formula that they start to get boring after a while. It’s the same problem I had with Hell Girl, and even that tried to mix things up a little more than Heartcatch ever tried to. Every episode follows the exact same damn pattern, to the point that they start to blend together. This is Not Good for an episodic show. Each episode should have something that makes it stand out from the rest. That was the one where they all talked backwards for the episode. That was the one where the colours all inverted. I dunno, I’m not a scriptwriter, but there’s nothing remarkable about most of the episodes. They don’t try to make them stand out, except on very rare occasions. Even the ones where plot-related stuff happen, the show still goes through the exact same motions. It doesn’t matter how great your formula is, it will be less interesting with every repeat of the formula if you don’t mix it up a bit.
Then there was the plot. Yeah. The plot. For gods sake, why do even the apparently good Precure villains fall foul of the pathetically dumb Precure villain syndrome? Dark Precure is Cool. She has a single black wing and is amazingly overpowered compared to our heroes. Then why does she not attack them? There is a scene where she is about to deliver the finishing blow, but then retreats because Mysterious Voice From The Sky calls her away. There was no reason for her to be called away either, she just went anyway. And it’s not like the villains don’t realise what a threat the Precures are to them. I don’t necessarily mind that the underlings are stupid, spending their time admiring themselves in the mirror. They’re meant to be stupid, and the show embraces that. But why are Sabaku and Dark Precure not attacking the Precures when they realise what a threat they are? What the fuck do they spend their time doing in the dark castle? She had no problem defeating Cure Moonlight back in the day, why not these two Precures before they get stronger? Oh wait yeah, I know. Precure Villain Syndrome. Give them a stick and a banana just out of their reach, they’ll proceed to choke on the stick.
But even the plot with the good guys is stupid. Every single revelation to the plot was lame. The revelation who the fancy man who kept saving them was an incredible anti-climax. The reveal of who the third Precure would be was a let down. Every time a plot related incident would occur in the episode, it would never result in something I particularly cared about. The plot related episodes were never particularly good, apart from maybe introducing a new bitchin’ transformation sequence or new move. The best episode of the series was the Mother’s Day one by an absolute mile, and that had nothing to do with the plot. It was just a well-directed episode that told a powerful message. But non-plot related episodes, as I explained earlier, got repetitive and dull. I found myself watching the next episode previews to see if anything potentially different would happen. But this too was a misnomer, as new events never succeeded in improving the quality of the episodes. Next episode has a new Precure, hopefully that will improve the quality, right? Nope, still the same old stuff it has been pumping out since episode 1, except now there’s an extra part to the transformation sequence.
I reached the episode where we got the fourth Precure. But her becoming a Precure was telegraphed to us for the past several episodes, so there was no joy in seeing it be realised. How she came about gaining the power to become a Precure was done via several randomly introduced plot elements over the past few episodes, such as a magical flying castle and the fact the Heart Tree can apparently travel across time and space, and that magical pets come from heart seeds, and all sorts of totally randomly introduced plot points for the sake of advancing the plot. But it’s not like the show ever changed. The villains were still being stupid. The Precures were still going through the same routine. The end of the episode showed the fourth Precure doing her bitchin’ transformation sequence and getting ready to fight Dark Precure. I thought to myself “well that was boring, but I gotta see the next episode because she fights Dark Precure in it”
…and stopped myself. I had fallen into that trap. I’m not watching the anime to see what’s happening. I’m watching the anime to see what’s going to happen. Nothing that’s ever happening in the present ever entertains me. Only the promise of changes in the future keep me going. Even if there is something worth watching, it comes out of non-foreseeable, non-plot related events like the Mothers Day episode. And there was where I dropped it. Episode 33. At the very point of the grand reveal, I gave up.
So I go and I discover this little girls' anime, having never watched a series of Precure in my life, and I come out, after about 3 months of watching the series front to back, and I've truly become a man.
What this anime is, is about 40 episodes of filler. Filler seems to be the no-no word for an anime to be a very good anime, see anime like Naruto for instance. However, as some hallmarks of anime like Cowboy Bebop prove, filler doesn't have to make an anime bad, and can make the series even greater. This is the case with Heartcatch as
well. While the series uses a pretty distinct formula: the main group of girls have a minor conflict, and we're introduced to a character of the week that is having a similar conflict, that drives them to despair. One of the generals catch them in sorrow and steal their sou- ...um heart flower and turn them into a Deserterian, the girls transform and fight the monster, the general mocks the character of the week for their stress , one of the girls, usually Tsubomi argues for the good nature of the character of the week, the purify the COTW and the COTW's conflict is resolved, we learn about some "Flower Language 101" (which isn't just made up by the creators, Google it) and its case closed. Even though the formula is, for the most part, rigid, it rarely gets tedious and they even throw some new tricks into the bag such as the general piloting the Desertarian like its a mecha. Even though they're only one episode long, two tops, they stand on their own nicely.
But its not just episodic narratives all the way through, about 10-15 episodes is dedicated to advancing the story, whether it be introducing new cures, or the excellent last 6 episodes, which pretty much sealed the perfect 10 that I gave the story. The ending probably ranks along with Code Geass and Madoka Magica among the best endings in my book.
They do cut a lot of corners sometimes with the animation, using a bunch of CG for stuff like the activation items, and occasionally sloppy animation. Also the reuse of animation for things like transformations and finishing moves may turn some people down. However, at several points they show how good the animation team is, especially during the final 6 episodes.
The designs are a whole different ballgame, they are very versatile and can work in many situations. Not to mention they are heart-attack-inducing adorable! Also, the Gold Forte Burst animation is jaw-dropping to say the least.
The soundtrack is very excellent. The series got dark and it got tragic sometimes. The art and the soundtrack really are the two things that made these moments so great. One thing I have yet to mention is how the series uses parallelism to great effect in this series. At one point the song "Heart Goes On", initially used during the fashion show that was built up to for several episodes, is used during the climax of the series. The soundtrack helped the series make me cheer, laugh, and nearly cry.
I'll not spend a century focusing on ALL the characters, but they all are solidly built. Tsubomi develops throughout the series from a coward to a bright and loving hero. Yuri Tsukigage is a minor character for nearly half the series, but nearly steals the spotlight from Tsubomi near the end, not to spoil a whole lot. The rest of the cures are excellently built and a great ensemble. The characters of the week are of special mention as nearly all of them get a detailed backstory, except for the last one, who just gets his sou-...heart flower snatched right after he remarks how he doesn't have a girlfriend, and he is never seen again. They serve as a Chekhov's Gun near the end as they help the cures not lose hope when the bad guy is nearly about to win.
Speaking of bad guys, I guess I have to mention them.
The generals are excellent characters, you sympathize with them, but ultimately root for the cures to triumph. They are quirky but not to be trifled with. Excellent.
Sabbaku is defininely worth mentioning as a great character. His best traits are best left undiscussed due to MAJOR spoilers. But near the end reminds you of a certain other masked villain that you'll probably recognize unless you live under a rock.
Dark Cure while kinda vague, definitely acts as a solid adversary, espescially for the final cure.
The big boss, Dune, is a fabulous villain in more ways than one. He nearly accomplishes his goal, which makes him probably the most capable villain I know of, and takes all the strength the cures can muster to defeat. GG Dune.
I was hesitant to give this anime a perfect 10, but this anime is one of the best series I have watched. And to think its a kids' show.
After Hugtto Precure convinced me hard to give a chance to the rest of the franchise, I went for the entry that seems to be the most loved and popular (except maybe the original) of the franchise, did it live up to the hype? Well, it sure did in my opinion!
Tsubomi, the protagonist of this story, is a shy girl who definitely didn't fit with what the image of what the standard Precure protagonist looked to me, I think that this is played very nicely through the story and seeing her open up more while keeping what makes her be her was so satisfying to
see. Together with the cheerful and absurdly lovable Erika by her side, they form the main duo of the story for a good time before the other Precure join.
Those episodes with them alone were "the weakest" part of the series to me (saying that in quotes because they were still enjoyable) and were focused on giving the spotlight to side characters (mostly classmates or the family of the MCs) and our girls helping them both via interactions, and by kicking ass defeating the "Desertrians", monsters created by the enemies of this story combining an object and the wiltered hearts of the characters. This anime uses the fact that Tsubomi loves flowers very strongly using that detail, with the flower each character has having a meaning that fits with their problem.
Once the other and equally nice Precure join the group, the plot starts to really pick up and only gets better and better, with very emotional moments and solid development for the characters. I don't want to possibly overhype it, but honestly the final episodes were some of the most epic I have watched.
With a nice main cast is also needed a nice villain side, and The Desert Apostles did a successful job on that. Precure does a very good job at being lighthearted while also not shying away when it has to be darker, and the villains were a good example of that in execution, I enjoyed the interactions and comedy moments between them and/or with the Precures a lot and they ended up being very memorable as well when it came to the more serious parts involving their characters.
The art style of the series is so visually appealing and allows for a wide array of nice reactions and goofy movements from the characters while looking perfectly fitting with the show, and the great designs by Yoshihiko Umakoshi (Casshern Sins, Boku no Hero Academia, Doremi, Mushishi...) definitely were a part of that, the action scenes are also solid, abundant and well animated, not to mention the nice transformation scenes of the characters. The soundtrack of the series is also nice and has some very memorable tracks.
After only saying more and more positives I guess that it's time to say the problems I had with the series, which honestly didn't affect my opinion in the long run:
- The first is the already mentioned slower start, while I always enjoyed watching the episodes, I didn't feel that it hooked me in nowhere as much as Hugtto or Princess Precure (which I watched right after) did, so I wasn't feeling as hyped and also a bit worried that maybe I wouldn't end up loving it as much as I wanted to, but yeah, that got fixed later on, boy it did.
- The second is the mascot characters of the main duo, that honestly were pretty annoying at first and I was never a fan of the "a heart seed is coming out!" scene after they defeat the Desertrians they face (and thank god the animation of that part got more polished, they are clearly pooping it, c'mon!) But they grew on me as the episodes passed and even took the spotlight in a comedy focused episode that made me laugh really hard and I loved.
- Lastly, this just seems to be a thing with the franchise as a whole. As a series that lives by selling the toys they make based on the anime they know that they have to advertise them, and how they do so? By making the objects the girls use look exactly like they would as a toy and even use CGI for some, this makes total sense but at times I couldn't help but feel like "man, they are really trying to sell the product here", which let's be honest, it's pretty stupid thinking about it: of course they are not making anime because why not, we wouldn't get more if it didn't sell! It's a matter of getting used to it, and why lie, I freaking want a Flower Tact! I'm not surprised at all that this is the best selling entry so far.
If you haven't watched any Precure yet and you're reading my review you might feel put off by the last two negative points and think that this is in anime that only kids might find enjoyable, but I can promise you that this isn't the case and that anyone has a chance to really enjoy it, the characters are very compelling and likeable, the comedy is solid, the action is nice looking and the story is interesting and has some darker moments that definitely surprised me seeing. This franchise is so painfully underwatched in the west and I hope that this slowly changes as time passes. Nice anime I can't recommend enough and a totally good point to start with the franchise.
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