Despite a lot of naming conventions and references to fairy tales, Smile PreCure does not necessarily have an obviously strong fairy tale motif within the show itself. If anything, Smile was a bit closer to Yes 5, such that the theme was limited to the visual cues of transformations and attacks. If anything, one of Yes 5’s villains, Shibiretta, revolves more tightly around the fairy tale motif, always trapping the girls in fairy tale worlds, and forming the weekly monster from a particular element from that world. At times, Yes 5 executed this idea more often and more effectively than Smile.
Then the Cinderella episode happened and everything about Smile PreCure’s approach to storytelling full-circle. In episode 39, the girls were tasked with saving the world’s Cinderella story by entering a Cinderella origin book from Marchenland, and ensuring that the story reaches a happy end. By entering the world of Cinderella, each character took on a role in the renowned fairy tale, with storybook otaku Miyuki becoming Cinderella and relishing in her childhood fantasy. Even the villains were assigned their in-universe analogs, complete with a stylish Aka Oni in a dress that was a few inches away from bursting at seams.
And the story progressed as any iteration of Cinderella was expected to do, complete with genre-savvy from both sides, as well as snarky remarks from Akane. The classic story had the Smile’s brand stamped all over it, but it was not to last forever. You could feel that this was a special episode as it pointedly noted the finality of this episode, that, when the clock strikes midnight, we could never return to that magic. Miyuki made particular importance of this, most adamant that the story reaches its happy end by using her own powers as Cure Happy. In a way, it’s like a time travel plot in which the characters make sure that events in the past were preserved as is, or at least, the fundamental outcomes remained the same.
At the core of it all was Reika, who relished in her role as the prince. Fully embracing the spirit of takarazuka (and Class S by extension), her portrayal afforded her to relish in the freedom of gender conventions, resulting in a playful otokoyaku (the “male role” played by a female in takara productions) reflective of PreCure, as well as the responsibilities of being the only one in this role. Despite her textbook moment with Miyuki, she also saves the bewitched witch Yayoi, who served a facilitating role for Miyuki, but was then rewarded with seeing her own fantasies personally fulfilled in that one moment, broken up by the comedic timing of a mousy Akane.
There’s so much to love about this episode of Smile PreCure, and it will definitely be fondly remembered as one of the best episodes in this series, and to some, the best episode of all of anime in 2012. Despite having so much love for episode 43, the Cinderella was the high point of the series when it aired, and it was unfathomable to think that the show could ever top this moment. It arguably did, and that only goes to show just how amazing this show was this year.