Cure Beauty is perhaps the most overlooked character in the Smile PreCure cast. She doesn’t get much screen time in the general episodes, and out of the four cycles of character spotlights (Episodes 1-5, 8-11, 35-39, 40-44), her spotlight episode was missing in the second cycle (the one after the first wave of introductory episodes), which was instead replaced by the episode where the girls obtained PreCure Rainbow Healing. In order to make up for this, Beauty was bestowed with superior PreCure ability, marked by her villain rivalry with Joker, the leader of the Bad End trio.
In episode 43, Beauty gets the literal spotlight, and it is perhaps the best episode in the series to date. Presented with an opportunity to study overseas in a prestigious student exchange program, Reika is faced with a decision to accept the offer at the cost of having to leave the PreCure. Her contemplation throughout the episode is muddled by the intervention of Joker, who plays a wicked devil’s advocate, demoralizing Cure Beauty to the point of losing her transformation. She breaks down to tears and sobbing after realizing that she does not want to leave her friends, and resolves to defeat Joker and his mirror Hyper-Akanbe in the best 1-on-1 fight in the series.
I’m not going to get into the details of the fight itself, as it is an instant addition to my 12 Days of Smile PreCure post series, but what makes the fight more noteworthy is the context that sets up that sequence. Interestingly enough, the entire episode hinges upon a single plot point of Reika decision to either leave or stay. Very little time passes by in this episode, as she simply goes home from school, spends the night thinking, and then goes to school again the next morning for archery practice, where she is confronted by Joker.
A good amount of time in this episode is spent showcasing Joker’s pointed monologue attacking Reika’s character as the upstanding individual of the group. She has a responsibility to her friends and family, but to the point of putting them before herself. She was recognized for this in her previous spotlight episode involving the student council election. When you stretch this strength to an extreme, you get a fascinating weakness where extreme selflessness begets self-neglect, which Joker tries to proliferate. He guilt trips her into the mindset that turning down her acceptance will “betray the expectations” of her family and friends. I’m not sure if this was the literal meaning of the words he said, but Doremi did an excellent job at selecting this particular phrase to describe Reika’s dilemma.
Joker’s strategy was perhaps too effective. If he had simply sowed seeds of doubt, it would have strained Reika’s dilemma to the point of absolute indecision, which would likely result in her going along with her peers’ assumption that she would eventually leave. However, by driving her to the emotional limit by revealing the true feelings behind her friends’ support, it ultimately allowed her to make her choice even if she had to suffer for it.
This is why I love the way Reika was established as a character in this series. Despite being the token smart girl in her group, she’s more than just a walking encyclopedia. She uses thought to dictate her day-to-day life, as well as her long-term outlook. This whole concept of the path is one that involves a spiritual type of contemplation as well as reasoning based on facts known to her reality. She doesn’t let instinct drive her like Nao does, nor is she governed by emotion like Akane. However, she was only able to discover the right path after succumbing to her emotions at the prospect of having to leave her friends.
Having only previously shed a single tear in response to emotional moments, this picture of Reika sobbing and unable to process the concept of a life without her friends is a conscientious writing decision, and pays off remarkably well. She needed to tap into her feelings in order to find her path, despite spending the entire series depending on her thoughts.
What emerges from this crumbling shell of a broken Reika Aoki is a balanced, grounded Beauty, who, like all other legendary PreCure before her, is empowered by her own enlightenment, and is bestowed a new power, Beauty Blizzard Arrow. It’s unlike any of the other abilities learned by her peers. It is without flash or firepower. It is simply a single lance of ice shot from her bow, traveling in a single, decided path to its target.