There’s something wonderful that happens when a show deviates slightly from formula. The whole idea of having a formula inherent in magical girl shows like PreCure, Sailor Moon, and the like, is that it establishes something effectively familiar, which makes those uncommon, unfamiliar moments all the more effective. In episode 36 of Smile, the Akanbe fight ends quite a bit earlier than normal, allowing time for the story to resolve Akane’s fleeting first love with a foreign exchange student named Brian, culminating in the most effective emotional payoff in a romance story that I’ve seen this year.
I’ve talked about these kinds of romantic moments in the past, and just last year, I devoted one of my 12 Days of Anime to another similar romantic moment in a show that’s far away from the romance genre. Just like episode 7 of SKET Dance, Smile PreCure’s crowning heartwarming moment is built on the same three principles: a running theme (saying thank you/ookini), romantic buildup between the protagonists, and a well-balanced supporting cast from the other PreCure girls.
This episode of Smile PreCure saw its romance bloom under the context of two people from different sides of the world sharing their experiences with each other, and making their limited time together all the more enjoyable. It starts off innocently enough in the beginning of the episode, with a mysterious foreigner helping Akane up after she takes a goofy tumble from practicing volleyball moves. But when Brian is revealed to be a new exchange student in Akane’s class, she shows him around the school and around the city.
A key moment in this romantic development takes place in Akane’s Okonomiyaki shop, where, after serving him a warm meal (after all, the fastest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach), she teaches him the word Ookini, which means thank you in her native dialect. Their relationship is based on this gratefulness and hospitality, and that Akane never admits explicitly to having romantic feelings for Brian; in her emotion-driven world, she doesn’t recognize it, and it suits her character perfectly.
When Brian says goodbye to his classmates after his stay, Akane is nowhere to be found. She runs away to her personal spot underneath a bridge overlooking the river, and her friends, her support network, have to call her out on her denial. Akane suddenly becomes this increasingly multidimensional character with the goofy, yet passionate personality that we’ve always picked up on ever since episode 7, but now see in action in a truly emotional situation.
It’s during the Akanbe fight where she realizes her red side, that she doesn’t know what the emotions that drive her actually are, but she acknowledges their existence and has to respond to them accordingly. After making quick work of the Akanbe (with a pretty ballin’ fire sword, no doubt), she realizes her folly in running away. She has to race back to say goodbye to Brian, otherwise she will regret everything.
Like the SKET Dan in the post mentioned above, the other PreCure girls are her main source of support, and during the climactic scene, they all do their part in making sure that Cure Sunny gets her happy ending:
In the fine tradition of living for the moment, Akane’s final resort after everything breaks down is to simply run for her (love)life, resulting in a riveting cinematographic sequence of her running in profile, shifting between different gears of laboured jogging and forced sprinting.
When she finally gets to the airport, she thinks she’s too late, but we can’t have that in a romance story! Brian was waiting all along, and they finally get to spit it out their feelings. Most importantly, they don’t resort to the trappings of declaring true love or any of that nonsense. They’re still in middle-school. They have a lifetime of love to experience. Instead, they thank each other for the experience they got to share together during the short time Brian was there.
The Pretty Cure franchise has its fair share of heartwarming moments, but very few involve genuinely romantic moments between characters. We’ve seen how boy-crazy some characters can get, particularly that of Rin/Cure Rouge from Yes! Pretty cure 5. Akane’s experience in this particular episode, however, is a wonderful story of a precocious young girl who knew nothing about love and romance, who experienced something for the first time, and will remember everything that she had learned.
Pretty heavy stuff for a kids’ show, if you ask me.