We've reached the end of magical girl month, so let's dive back into the Precure franchise. It wasn't that long ago that I looked at Doki Doki Precure, one of the more recent installments in the franchise. This time let's go far, far back to 2004 when Toei animation first started the franchise with Futari wa Precure. Was the series as good back then or is this one of those franchises that got a rough start? Let's take a look and find out.
Young Misumi Nagisa is in her room when she notices falling stars. One of them crashes into her room, hits her in the head and turns out to be a strange creature that had turned into a cell phone like device. He calls himself Mepple and asks Nagisa to take him to Mipple. She goes out, following his directions only to run into a classmate she barely knows, Yukishiro Honoka. The two are attacked by a strange villain called Jean Luc Pisard, who looks like he belongs in a Kabuki theatre. To fight him, they hold hands, go through rainbows and transform into Precure. After fending him off they find out that Mepple and Mipple are denizens of the Garden of Light, which was invaded by the Dark King. In order to save it they have to defeat his minions and get the seven Prism Stones, two of which they already have.
Let's open, as usual, with the narrative problems. The first is that the story arc is kind of bizarre. It's like the writers thought that the series was only getting twenty six episodes only to find out that it was going to be nearly twice as long when they'd already set everything up for the finale and they had to backtrack to rekindle the conflict. I'm glad that the series has the extra twenty three episodes because a lot of them are really good, but they still involve a lot of re-treading, at least in terms of the conflict. Another issue is that the characters who are supposed to be aiding them are frequently pretty useless. Take Wisdom as an example. He's so useless that the one time he actually does anything he has to be told to act by Pollun of all people. Bloody Pollun.
Now, I'm going to talk about the gratuitous romance separately since I wouldn't call it bad, but I also wouldn't call it a good element since it is pretty pointless. However, it is kind of interesting in its execution. What do I mean by that? Well, it has to be the most passive aggressive inclusion of a gratuitous male love interest ever. It's like the writers were told that they had to include a male love interest but they didn't want to so they gave the guy a boyfriend who would always be by his side and engage in typical romance story tropes with him. Like one running happily to the other and apologising for making him wait. They sometimes bring up Nagisa's crush on him and then use it as an excuse to develop her relationship with Honoka while avoiding doing anything between her and him. It's like they're actively sabotaging it with the combined power of yaoi and yuri. To be fair to the writers, if I was writing something for a studio and they insisted on it having het I'd do pretty much the same thing and it does lead to some funny moments.
There's a lot about the series that's praiseworthy. Futari Wa has a lot of really fun and funny moments, including an episode that focuses on Honoka's dog taking care of a puppy. More magical girl series need episodes about dogs. But it's not all fun. There's some emotional depth to the series. It manages some really good tragic moments. Sure, they're used sparingly, but they're still there and they really work. There are some good tense moments too. The series is also good at building up major plot points and giving them a strong payoff.
Nagisa and Honoka are really strong leads and they have an excellent dynamic. Their families and friends are well fleshed out, with pretty much all of them having verisimilitude. There are also some strong interactions with them and their family and friends that really help flesh out their characters. I even like Fujimura and his boyfriend, and it's rare to find a likeable character who is technically there as a gratuitous love interest.
The villains are the big weakness. They're largely pretty one-note characters without much personality. To be fair, there is a reason for their actions that makes sense, but they still aren't developed or interesting in the least. There is one major exception with a sympathetic villain who gets complexity, but I won't spoil who it is. I also kind of like the two butler Zakenna. They aren't developed but they are pretty hilarious. The Garden of Light denizens are another weakness. Most of them are just bland. The exception being Pollun. If he's not as annoying as Ai was in DokiDoki, he comes really close. He's bratty, obnoxious, frequently throws tantrums where he repeats the same phrase in the most grating manner possible and just causes problems for everyone. Especially the audience.
The art and animation are largely really good. Futari wa has good designs, except for the second set of villains who just look boring. It also has really good physical action sequence and detailed backgrounds. The monsters are nice and creative and I do like the little black stars who start apologising when they lose. They're simple but well done. It does suffer a bit from repetitive stock footage. Especially in terms of special attacks. Nagisa and Honoka have two major attacks they use in the series and the animation used for them setting up even looks pretty similar. The big difference between them is what kind of beam gets fired. They get downright lazy with the Queen of Light too. Her design is pretty cool, but she doesn't really move or change expressions.
Honna Youko and Yukana both deliver strong performances as Nagisa and Honoka. Really, most of the cast does really well in their roles. Sendai Eri and Kiuchi Reiko both do really well too and Ono Kenichi makes for a pretty intimidating villain. The big issue is Ikezawa Haruna. She's not a bad actor, but she does voice a character who constantly whines, yells and is generally just painful to listen to. Honestly though, I don't think anyone could have done better with a character like Pollun since his main purpose as a character is to be an annoyance. The music is stellar and there are several cases where they incorporate lyrical works into episodes to great effect. The choir episode in particular.
I touched on this a bit when talking about the romance, so I'll refrain from repeating too much of that. For ho-yay we've got Fujimura and his boyfriend. There's a bit of les-yay between Shiho and Rina. The main source of les-yay comes from our leads, Honoka and Nagisa. Even ignoring the rainbows and hand holding, though they hold hands about a hundred and thirty three times, there is a lot of homo-eroticism between them. For every awkward scene that goes nowhere with Fujimura, Nagisa gets ten really adorable scenes with Honoka. These two talk about how close they've gotten and share a bed while holding hands. They also play Romeo and Juliet and Nagisa forgets her lines and speaks purely from the heart in an amazing scene. Even with the gratuitous male love interest, the series earns a 6/10 for ho-yay.
Futari wa Precure is a really strong series. It has a nice level of emotional depth, it's fun, hilarious. a lot of the characters are well developed, the action is great and the acting is strong. Still, it does suffer from some story issues, Pollun, bland villains, Pollun, over-used stock footage, Pollun and some laziness. My final rating is an 8/10. I do suggest checking it out if you're a fan of magical girl works or if you like super subtexty les-yay. So, that's it for magical girl month. Next week we'll open February with Natsu no Arashi.