For the most Part, Smile PreCure has rested its laurels on its main characters and leaving the overall plot as simple as possible, comparative to that of the show’s most recent predecessors. The extent of plot development within the framework of the entire show took the form of various clocks which ticked down each week to a culminating episode that depicted the consequences of reaching the full revolution. While the show has two concurrent clocks winding down at the moment (pierrot’s clock and the royal clock), the first half of the series was spent ticking away at a single clock, counting down to some certain doom that didn’t necessarily loom over the show, but was always something on its audience’s mind.
When the clock finally hit not-24, shit hit the fan in the most interestingly shocking way, and by this I don’t particularly mean on the same sort of shock value you would see in Madoka Magica. The audience may or may not have seen their defeat at the hands of Joker coming, but the manner in which Joker taunted the girls after the fact, leading to their utter despair, was disturbing in ways I have not seen in the franchise. This fight that took place in the first half of episode 22 was a demoralizing defeat in which the girls directly provided the bad energy for Pierrot to be resurrected.
While the girls from Smile took on a similarly desperate situation as Madoka and Sayaka did in the aftermath of episode 3, theirs were more of a reflective nature, in which they had a choice to make in the face of improbable odds (how successful would they be against Pierrot, if they couldn’t even defeat Joker barely a few hours earlier?). There was enough doubt from their defeat that the choice was at least believably difficult to make; even though we knew in the end that they would eventually come around to saving Candy, the way it happened was a wonderful execution of writing, cinematography, and characterization.
Writing-wise, their personal monologues cut in and out of each other, pondering the same circumstances, but digesting them in their own individual ways. Akane, for example, admitted that she did not fully understand the weight of her decision, but only knew of the feeling inside her that she wanted to save Candy. Nao, on the other hand, rejected the notion of having to choose between saving Candy and going back to her family, as she valued them both equally and unconditionally.
Looking back on this particular shot of Nao, I only realize now the setting in which they had to think about their decisions: the ruins of a ravaged Marchenland at the hands of the Bad End Kingdom. The responsibility of saving the two worlds rested on the shoulders of these five girls, and it weighed heavily on the audience’s expectations of the girls as well. Would they rise up and overcome their failure? Definitely, but for just a few moments, it wasn’t so clear, and that made all the difference for this show.