Unlike Yayoi’s spotlight episodes, which touch upon different parts of her personality spectrum, Nao is a straightforward individual with very few gears from an emotional standpoint. She ranges from strong and confident to touchingly vulnerable, with not much to show in between. This isn’t to say that she’s a shallowly-written or incomplete character. She is very upfront in the way that she is presented and portrayed, but her character concept provides opportunity to be expanded in different ways.
Nao’s latest vignette in episode 42 touches once again upon the whole idea of bonds, this time re-framed around the context of a prospective new family member to be added to her noticeably large circle of loved ones. It cleverly brings everything back full-circle to her initial introductory episode, showcasing how far she has come since she joined her PreCure friends. She’s the same straightforward girl as always, but she’s taken on a bigger responsibility over time, both with regards to her family, as well as a PreCure as well. The bonds that she has developed with both her family and friends have strengthened, but only through the realization that she cannot do everything all by herself. Relationships are a two-way street, and how Nao’s feelings towards her family and friends are reciprocated in this episode resulted in their triumph over the monster of the week was executed highly effectively. Let’s take a look at how this was shown in her different relationships.
Outside of the obvious detail of expecting a baby sibling, Nao’s relationship with her family has grown with regards to her gradually realizing the extent of which she can support her family and vice-versa. This week’s episode briefly touches upon the beginnings of her family, with a nice little flashback between Nao and Reika, portraying the young Midorikawa as a prospective oneechan, eager to take on the role as a leader amongst her siblings. In episode 4, when she awakened as Cure March, Nao’s will to protect her family allowed her to become a Precure; however, with the power creep that comes with job, the villains (as well as Nao herself) are much stronger, and the ensuing fight is more intense.
Touching back on the full-circle aspect of this episode, I enjoyed how the resulting battle was an exact parallel to Nao’s first fight. Everything has changed. Instead of making short work of the run-of-the-mill Akanbe, Cure March struggles mightily with a much stronger Hyper-Akanbe, controlled by a desperate Majorina, who is at the end of her rope. Taking after the formula that was shown in the other episodes, March’s inability to overcome her one-on-one fight threatens the safety of her siblings, placing much more urgency in this battle compared to that of Cures Peace and Sunny.
It is the siblings, then, that end up putting their lives on the line to protect their oneechan. A different development from that of episode 4, Nao’s strength came from the support that she got from her family, who, after discovering her identity as an empowered Cure March (which is really awesome in itself), she is able to find the will to continue fighting and bring out that power up that was seen in previous episodes. The ensuing second phase of the battle brought about this familiar animated sequence from episode 4 (left screenshot is Episode 4, right screenshot is episode 42):
Culminating with the pretty awesome March Shoot Impact, an esoteric (and literal) tornado kick, March’s journey as a PreCure comes full-circle, and she’s more powerful than ever. At least, for that singular moment.
The other PreCure’s timely rescue followed the formula set by the other episodes in this current cycle of spotlight episodes, but was made its own due to the nature of which March was saved. Firstly, it wasn’t March who was saved by the other girls (as played out in Sunny and Peace’s respective situations), but rather her siblings. They essentially finished the job that March started, which paved the way for March to collect herself in front of her family. As strong as she is while she protects those she cares about most, she is only strongest when she has the support of her friends, and her moment with Miyuki after the battle really brought that point home well.
A really interesting comparison to draw with regards to post-battle is that of Yayoi, whose independence was highlighted as a result of her fight with Aka Oni’s Akanbe. As Cure Beauty stated, the others trusted that Peace could handle Aka Oni all by herself, which paralleled that of her approach towards finishing her Miracle Peace manga. In this case, March’s humble admission that she wouldn’t have been able to protect her family without the help of her friends creates this wonderful dichotomy between her and Peace. Two different kinds of strength were showcased in two consecutive episodes, and were brought out in their own ways, not despite following a strict formula, but because of it. This is the ultimate strength of the Pretty Cure franchise: the ability to do the same things over and over again, but bring new meaning each and every time.
Smile PreCure features a fairly diverse main cast of characters. Despite that diversity, Nao Midorikawa doesn’t show a lot on the outside to draw herself apart from her friends, but that’s the whole point of her being there. In sports, the “glue guy” is that one player on a successful team whose unheralded contributions allow the team to win. They do the little things that make other players around them better, and and are invaluable to the team as a whole. Without them, the team falls apart.
Nao Midorikawa is the glue girl of the Smile PreCure cast, and it’s no surprise that she likes to emphasize the bonds she has with the others. She is the ultimate support, and it’s nice to have an episode like this where the fruits of her efforts allow her to be carried by the rest of the team. It’s a wonderful dynamic to watch!