The ideals represented by the hero of a fictional work are often examined through the appearance of the shadow opponent. This trope is fundamentally different from the dark magical girl archetype, such that this counterpart character is an extension and variation of the original magical girl, rather than her own individual character. In the case of the PreCure franchise, that distinction is present in Heartcatch PreCure, between Dark PreCure and Mirage Moonlight from the PreCurePalace in episodes 37 and 38.
AJTheFourth from Altair and Vega extensively covers the utilization of this concept, but beyond the Mirage PreCure, the Dark clone concept is found in other shows in the franchise, namely Yes! Pretty Cure 5, and as of episode 46, Smile PreCure. This week’s episode adds another entry to the “repetition and variation” identity that the franchise as a whole exudes, and despite some missteps in the episode itself, brings its own interpretation to the table compared to the others.
As referenced above, while the Mirage PreCure represented the Jungian shadows of the main cast of Heartcatch, Smile’s Bad End PreCure fall under the “perversion of ideals” aspect of the trope, and are unsurprisingly much closer to the Dark PreCure 5 from the Yes 5 movie, which focuses on the concept of mirror images and exact copies unburdened by obligations to friendship and the like (appropriate to the title of the Yes 5 movie itself, Adventures in the Mirror Kingdom).
It’s worth noting how this minor difference between the two is developed in their own respective series to establish their own messages in the context of the fights between their shadow selves. Smile is about not giving up hope in the face of a bad end, while Yes 5 focuses on the power of friendship to improve and become the best version of oneself. It’s a fundamental difference between the two shows as a whole, and separates the two from each other thematically, despite sharing a glaringly large number of superficial similarities.
Just for fun, though, let’s do a Dr. Jack breakdown of the two fights to see which one was better.
Red PreCure: Cure Sunny vs. Cure Rouge
Sunny and Rouge are ostensibly the closest-related precure with regards to their respective life outlooks, and as such are reflected by two very similar dark counterparts in Dark Rouge and Bad End Sunny. The red cure is a symbol of passion and personal freedom, which is perverted by Bad End Sunny into a battle to see who is the “true sun.” Dark Rouge, however, flaunts her superiority due to her non-reliance on friendship, claiming that not relying on others is the ultimate path to personal freedom and power.
Sunny defeats her foe by declaring her dream to become a sun that shines brilliantly and radiantly over her friends, filling them with the warmth that she has received from them tenfold. Cure Rouge’s victory comes from her connection to her friends, knowing that they’re fighting the same tough fight elsewhere:
“All my friends are fighting as hard as they can. So how could I not fight just as hard?”
It’s the best line from both fights, and is far more visually appealing. The outer-space backdrop in the Yes 5 movie felt more appropriate for Sunny’s battle than vice versa, but the execution in Rouge’s fight was miles ahead. Sunny is the better character, individually, but in terms of the Dark counterpart fight, Yes 5 gets the clear advantage.
Green PreCure: Cure Mint vs. Cure March
For the better of both shows, Mint and March are perhaps the most superficially different PreCure out of their respective colour compatriots, and as such, their respective dark counterparts are similarly varied. While M&M both value the ones they care about, Mint specifically seeks the power to protect her friends by her own power, where March emphasizes the power of the bonds with her loved ones which give her and others the greatest power.
In their dark counterparts, Dark Mint is unhindered by friendship, and as such feels no need to protect anyone, which is why she is perhaps the most formidable opponent from an offensive standpoint. Her Darkness Spread attack nearly destroys Komachi outright (just a warning shot, but nonetheless effective) , and Mint’s facial reaction is of legitimate fear.
Despite that, the best offense is a good defense, and that only comes when you have something that needs to be defended. Mint’s friends are the source of her power, which is even drawn from Dark Mint herself. Cure Mint pities her to the point where she is torn on being unable to protect Dark Mint. It doesn’t really make too much sense if you think about it, but having two Mints is never a bad thing. Ever.
March’s fight with Bad End March focuses on the perversion of the perception of a straightforward fight. Bad End March is unhindered and is more powerful, and as such will simply overpower her enemy and dominate completely. Her strength is strength itself, and it works at first. However, March’s true powers come from being in the toughest of pinches (of note, the sports festival), and by drawing on the strength of her bonds with her friends, she can March forward through any adversity. She uses March Shoot Impact to kick the Bad End Shoot right back at her enemy. That’s pretty damn cool, and I’ll give the nod to Smile in this case.
Yellow PreCure: Cure Peace vs. Cure Lemonade
While their elemental powers are different (Lemonade is light-based compared to Peace’s electricity), the yellow precure serve similar roles on their respective teams as peacekeepers. However, Yayoi Kise always fit into that role naturally, despite her initially frail crybaby personality, whereas Urara Kasugano’s lone wolf origins as a symptom to her dream of becoming an actor required her to answer to the call of becoming a precure and opening up to her new friends. This difference plays out notably between the two dark fights.
Dark Peace is a nod to the innocent mischief of Yayoi Kise back in the April Fool’s episode close to the start of the series, but other than the comical exchange between the two characters, not a whole lot of fighting actually goes on between the two. She has an interesting use of Dark Thunder, which is turned around at the end with a really awesome camera effect when it looks like Cure Peace was down for the count. Peace’s speech about the love that she has received by her father and friends allows her to spread the love likewise to others, and is the ideal that she strives for, which is why she must not give up hope.
That said, Dark Peace doesn’t hold a candle to Dark Lemonade, who showcases her own star power (speaking of which, she’s even voiced by Rie Kugimiya!) to make quick work over Cure Lemonade from the get-go. She derives her power from not obliging to anyone, which is advantageous over Lemonade’s tendency to think about others first is at the cost of her own self. Lemonade’s friendship wins out at the end, and she emphasizes that she couldn’t be where is today as a PreCure and as an actor without becoming friends with Dream and the others.
“I nearly gave up, but then I heard Dream call me.”
This is a personal call to Lemonade, separate from the Hero’s call that comes standard with all PreCure. Lemonade’s fight is visually engaging in its own way, particularly because of the contrasting personality brought out by KugiRie. Dark Lemonade’s Darkness Flash is pretty much Guile’s flash kick from the Street Fighter series, and while it’s not fundamentally the same as adding Guile’s theme music, it certainly has a similar effect. Advantage, Yes 5.
Blue PreCure: Cure Beauty vs. Cure Aqua
The Blue PreCure have a wonderful tradition of getting all of the awesome powers or having the most awesome characters (Erika Kurumi from Heartcatch, specifically), but nothing beats the surprise swordsmanship from Cures Beauty and Aqua. Even later on, both of them move on to archery with PreCure Beauty Blizzard Arrow and PreCure Sapphire Arrow in Yes 5 GoGo. When it comes to their respective fights with dark doppelgangers, the blue bombshells shine brightly in their own ways.
Cure Beauty’s fight with Bad End Beauty is wonderful in its textual approach and dialogue, despite some shortcut recycling of footage. Both versions emphasize the beauty of things, but the Bad End version is more superficial in that regard. Beauty is strength and independence, and ugliness is weakness and reliance. In classic Reika form, she speaks of the beauty that lies within a noble heart, a line that we’ve heard so many times from her transformation catchphrase, but when contrasted with the perversion of beauty on the outside, it has a more fitting effect, especially when done so well and in-character. It helps that Beauty is just straight-up beautiful all the time.
Aqua’s fight with Dark Aqua emphasizes the strength and competency of Karen as a PreCure. Like her Smile counterpart, she is easily the best fighter, and stands on her own with the sword (the movie takes place before GoGo, and as such she doesn’t have her sapphire arrow yet). Fittingly, they simply engage in a badass sword battle that is on the same level of choreography as Beauty’s fights with Joker (oddly absent against Bad End Beauty). The animation is fluid, and Aqua lays a serious beatdown in order to point out that she needs her friends in order to become the strong warrior that she is. Are actions stronger than words? Probably, but this one’s a wash.
Pink PreCure: Cure Happy vs. Cure Dream
Despite being the leader of their respective groups, Happy and Dream represent different (though not diametrically opposed) ideals that they showcase through their actions as PreCure. By extension, they represent the different presentation approaches taken by their respective series, and give their shows a clear identity of what it is about, and how it differs from the other shows in the franchise. This applies quite well to their fights with their dark counterparts, who are quite contrasting in negative/anti-portrayal of the heroines themselves. Bad End Happy meets the bad end, but Dark Dream is not only defeated in combat, but becomes a friend to Cure Dream and is given identity beyond a mere mirror clone.
Bad End Happy is the epitome of character perversion, and while she still symbolizes happiness like Miyuki, it’s the type of twisted happiness that comes at the extent of other people’s suffering. It’s slightly different from Schadenfreude such that this happiness doesn’t come at the expense of others suffering, but rather as a result of their suffering; Bad End Happy feels happy because she is fortunate to not have to suffer. It’s a selfish brand of happiness that Cure Happy would never wish to obtain, which is why they must fight each other.
Dark Dream is a carbon copy of Cure Dream, supposedly unburdened by friendship. She emphasizes in her fight against Cure Dream that she cannot be defeated not only because they have the same strength, but she has the added advantage of not being tied down to others by friendship. It’s a very straightforward depiction, but the way this outward appearance of being a clone is broken down over the course of the ensuing fight, which initially appears to be in Dark Dream’s favour.
The combat sequence between Happys is straightforward, but is highlighted by the quick quips from Bad End Happy, thanks to the disturbingly wonderful voicework of Misato Fukuen. While keeping similar voice actors helps emphasize the copy aspect by keeping the characters’ timbers consistent, Misato turns the bubblyiness of Miyuki Hoshizora into a crazy psychopath of sorts, a Miyuki that could not possibly exist without some sort of Bad End. It is resolved with a beamspam tug of war between Bad End Shower and Happy Shower Shining. There is no love lost between the two, and the victor is clear.
The outcome of the Cure Dream/Dark Dream fight is exended beyond a clear victor and loser (the winner obviously being Cure Dream). After some remarkable animation sequences that could only come from a feature-length PreCure, Dark Dream is broken down to a mere shell of emptiness. This is mainly because of the idea presented that people are always changing, as indicated in one of Dream’s speeches.
“But, I’m not the same me as I was yesterday…The me from an hour ago! The me from a second ago! I will continue to improve myself! So we will continue to work hard as we get older to surpass our former selves. Because I have people I care for, I definitely won’t lose.”
Not only does Dark Dream get the crap kicked out of her, she gradually becomes her own person, rather than just a clone of Cure Dream. It’s quite interesting here that the seiyuu for Dark Dream is different from Dream herself (even more interesting that the seiyuu is Chinami Nishimura, the voice of Reika/Cure Beauty), since it helps distinguish the two characters later on as Dark Dream gets her change of heart. Unlike the other four Yes girls, Cure Dream doesn’t destroy her counterpart outright; Dark Dream is spared for her life and is given the opportunity to join the others and figure out who she truly is, other than just a clone. She becomes Cure Dream’s friend, and someone who helps Nozomi become better with each passing moment.
Because PreCure movies don’t necessarily follow the continuity of their respective series, the majority of the character development and change comes from the side characters that are exclusive to the movies themselves. In this case, Dark Dream is ostensibly the spotlight character of the Yes 5 movie, and with incredible voice acting, she cemented Chinami Nishimura’s involvement in PreCure in the future, specifically as Reika/Cure Beauty. The clear winner in the battle of the pinks is Cure Dream.
Breaking down the two series into their respective characters, it is quite clear that the better Dark Counterpart Fight of the two is the Yes 5 fight, but it wasn’t as lopsided as I initially thought. Going through the specifics of each of the movie’s respective cures by colour, there were some parts that stuck out more in Smile, particularly that of the blue and green cures. That said, going through the comparison between the two series allowed me to appreciate Smile’s fight a lot more. Even though I wanted it to relate more to each Cure’s characterization in their respective spotlight episodes, I don’t think it would be possible to split the time evenly and give proper service to what we’ve come to know about the Smile girls over the course of the show’s run.
That said, it could have been better, and it was definitely Joker’s fault. He talked way too much and stole all the screentime from the rest of the girls. Leave it to the demon jester to ruin shit like that. Oh well. Here’s hoping that next week’s episode continues to develop the closing arc of this wonderful series, and that Candy’s rebirth helps with the resolution of the fall of Marchenland.
Here’s also hoping that next week’s post isn’t as long, either, haha.