Doki Doki! PreCure Episode 1: A Heartful Debut

Doki Doki! PreCure

[Doki Doki! PreCure Episode 2]

The first episode of a precure series always provides an excellent opportunity to draw comparison with its peers. The legacy of a group of magical girl warriors always originates from a starting point, right from the first few lines spoken in the cold open. Doki Doki! PreCure’s first episode shocased a few things that provided the general feel of a show from the franchise, and by seeing the differences and similarities with the other premiere episodes, its debut can be appreciated even more.

Synopsis:

Student council president Aida Mana goes on a school trip with her classmates to visit the Tokyo Clover Tower, a notable landmark in Japan. She lines up with her friend, Rikka Hishikawa, to visit the observation deck of the tower, but along the way, runs into breakout celebrity idol Kanzaki Makoto. The daughter of the tower’s owner, Alice Yotsuba, also lines up. One of of the tourists waiting in line considers cutting in line to get to the front, but his heart is manipulated into a crab monster known as a Selfish that runs amock at the top of the tower. Aida follows it to the top of the tower and meets Cheryl (Sharu), a fairy from the Trumps kingdom. She tries to transform into a PreCure, but fails. Aida is temporary saved by a mysterious PreCure named Cure Sword, but another Selfish appears and ambushes them both. Desperate to save Cure Sword, Aida Mana awakens as a PreCure and transforms into Cure Heart.

When watched alongside the first episodes of the other PreCure shows, Doki Doki! certainly finds a place among them, and even though it has a noticeable amount of departures from the typical monster of the week formula, it more often than not borrows from its predecessors, resulting in an all-too-familiar debut that actually borders on typical, even average. That shouldn’t take away from its execution, since it did a very thorough job at executing all of the introductory tropes, regardless.

Prologue: Heartcatch PreCure, Suite PreCure

Doki Doki! PreCure

In both Heartcatch and Suite PreCure, the first scene of the series focuses heavily on an event on the past, which affects the driving plot of the present. In the former’s case, the important scene is the defeat of Cure Moonlight at the hands of Dark PreCure. In the latter, the Legendary Score, a book containing the Melody of Happiness is broken up into notes, which are scattered across the human world. In both shows, the mascot character(s) is/are tasked with finding the PreCure.

Doki takes the same route in this case, borrowing the tragic past elements from Heartcatch. Cure Sword struggles against the Selfish as she watches the Trump Kingdom fall to ruin (In the English fansub release, Commie translates Jikochu as Selfish, whereas Doremi uses Selfishness; due to laziness simplicity reasons, I’ll be referring to them as Selfish). This flashback serves as the context for Cure Sword’s appearance later on in the episode, and serves as the main plot point for the show. Unlike other series in the franchise, prologue usage highlights an overarching plot centered around Cure Sword and the fallen Trump Kingdom, particularly the Kingdom’s missing princess; don’t be surprised if the princess turns out to be Cure Sword herself, or that weird-looking baby in the OP.

In Cure Sword, there’s a tinge of regret in her inability to save her kingdom, which affects her attitude towards other characters, namely Aida early on. Her aloofness is similar to that of Cure Muse (the black-costumed version) in Suite, which indicates that the first arc of the series will involve her acclamation to the team after Cure Diamond and Cure Rosetta awaken. This will occur pretty soon, as the promotional material from the new All-Stars movie suggest that Sword joins the group to some extent.

Establishing Setting: Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star, Fresh Pretty Cure

Doki Doki! PreCure

Of all the PreCure in the series, Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star does the best job in establishing the show’s setting early on. This is important for Splash Star in particular due to its thematic emphasis on nature and animism. Setting is also important to Fresh Pretty Cure, as the setting’s community greatly affects the lives and actions of the main cast over the course of the series. The two shows do a very good job at doing so compared to the other series, whose events are centered mainly around middle school and random town locales.

What makes Doki Doki really interesting, in this case, is that the story does not take place at school at all, the first time ever in the franchise. I fully expect the school to be an important setting for the girls, but having the show take place away from there establishes a few important points from a functional standpoint. First, it immediately thrusts the show into the episodic formula on which the franchise rests its laurels. Having the tower be the focal point of the episode’s story, in which a linegoer has his heart manipulated into a Selfish. Secondly, it further establishes the characterization of Alice Yotsuba, whose family owns the tower itself, providing a subtle nuance to her actions.

Doki Doki! PreCure

Despite owning the tower, she would prefer to line up with the commonfolk, but not without the accompaniment of her dear butler, Sebastian (butlers are always named sebastian somehow). Given very few lines in the story, Alice is interestingly presented to the audience, and her relationship with Aida is of unlikely origin, which makes the dynamic quite interesting from the get-go. Compared to the closeness between Aida and Rikka, Alice’s relationship with her (as depicted in the OP in particular) is something I want to know more of, since I’m fairly interested in dynamics between classes depicted in the PreCure multiverse. We’ve seen this with Karen Minazuki in Yes 5, and Alice seems to be cut from the same cloth in this case.

Fairy encounter: Yes! Pretty Cure 5, Futari wa Pretty Cure

Doki Doki! PreCure

Yes 5 features my favourite lead PreCure, Nozomi Yumehara. She shows some common traits with Aida, particularly her selflessness and level-headedness when it comes to novel situations involving the magical elements introduced to the show. Both characters are determined to help others, and when they meet their fairy partners, they are easily accepting of the situation. The first meeting is remarkably similar between Yes 5 and Doki Doki, as seen below:

Yes! Pretty Cure 5

This little meeting aside, there’s a world of a difference between Yes 5 and Doki Doki early on. Where Doki’s mascot transforms into the transformation trinket like in the original Futari wa generation, Yes 5’s transforms into a hunky guy who becomes Nozomi’s teacher and PreCure advisor later on (sounds a bit weird at first, but works pretty well after getting used to it). Doki’s hunky advisor is no slouch either; his Engrish is quite hilarious, but there’s a bit of mystery behind him, as there isn’t too much of a precedent for a humanoid advisor outside of Coco and Nuts from Yes 5, who can transform into a humanoid form, as well as Otokichi from Suite, who emerges later on as a caretaker of sorts due to his past connection with Major Land and his fondness for music.

That said, there’s a common thread that ties the lead heroines together as cure, even with Tsubomi Hanasaki from Heartcatch: they all act selflessly, and are eager to answer to the call of PreCure in order to protect their friends despite the inherent risks. Love helps her classmate confess to an upperclassman; Nozomi offers to help Coco get his kingdom back by becoming a PreCure; Nagisa and Saki both want to protect their mascot companions. Aida embodies this personality trait perhaps to its most extreme, and I wonder if this can end up being a drawback for her as she tries to develop as a legendary warrior. It’s an interesting dynamic with Makoto/Cure Sword, as Aida always wants to help, but Makoto doesn’t want to accept it due to her tragic past. The potential for further development leaves me intrigued and wanting for more.

Self-awareness and genre-savvy: Smile PreCure

Doki Doki! PreCure

Even though Smile PreCure recently ended, there’s still merit in comparing this show to Doki Doki, as it can highlight emerging trends in series design going forward. In particular, the sense of genre savvy in both shows are highly apparent, though perhaps at the expense of the heroines themselves. In Smile’s premiere episode, Cure Happy failed at using her finishing move, Happy Shower, which resulted in further peril at the hands of an Akanbe. Staring down a giant enemy crab, Aida Mana’s attempt to transform into a PreCure in Doki Doki reaches similar levels of comic failure, providing a relieving comic break after a series of increasingly nonsensical events.

This show is serious about not taking itself too seriously, but there’s a balance that will need to be struck with regards to the legitimate plot elements that Smile lacked. Where Smile tried to emulate Yes 5 in many ways, I can see Doki Doki trying to emulate aspects of Heartcatch, Fresh, and Suite in others. Both shows draw major similarities so far, but are doing so with a modernized spin. It makes me feel that Heartcatch has somewhat aged in a way, even though it’s still a wonderful story in its own right. It’s only been two years since Heartcatch ended, but a whole three since it first aired. Considering that two other continuities have aired since, Heartcatch’s slight fading into the background as far as identity is concerned is a good thing for the franchise on a meta-text level, and Smile has done its job in establishing that further. As this post has already indicated, Doki Doki seems to have done the same so far, and will continue to do so. I simply can’t wait!

25 thoughts on “Doki Doki! PreCure Episode 1: A Heartful Debut

  1. The transformation failure scene was interesting to me not because she failed, but because she took the whole idea — along with the weird magic crab — in stride as if it were perfectly normal for a weird Gameboy-animal-thing to tell her to transform.

    I liked the approach of Futari, where the fairies’ power compelled Nagisa to say things she didn’t understand, which made the transformation happen. In a way, it feels like the initial transformation is usually something to be shooed away pretty simply as it won’t take up much weight in the overall series, but it could be a lot more fun.

    Heartcatch’s slight fading into the background as far as identity is concerned is a good thing for the franchise on a meta-text level

    Why’s that, exactly? You mention you think it’s aged, but don’t explain that too much. Do you think Precure needs to go back to its roots, so to speak, or something of that nature?

    • The Futari approach of transformation is an interesting evolution throughout the course of the franchise. Splash Star followed suit with not understanding the natural transformation process, whereas later on in Yes 5, Cure Dream gradually gets used to the power and requires some adjustment afterwards (Smile takes after this, naturally). In Fresh, Cure Peach’s transformation and fighting ability came quite naturally, but with the heroine feeling like the entire ordeal was a dream, as if she were someone else entirely. Heartcatch was entirely different because Tsubomi was the weakest Precure ever, and Suite borrowed a bit from Futari wa because of the two-girl approach, but the transformation was notably delayed until the end of the episode.

      As for Heartcatch, what I meant to say here is that it’s starting to blur into the grander scheme of a whole PreCure franchise, rather than being the flagship title of the franchise by virtue of being the most well-received title to date. Well, not “well-received” in the case of ratings or sales, as the ratings for each series has gone down year by year since the airing of Futari wa, with Smile being the first exception in the 9 year history of the Franchise up to that point. Rather, I meant with regards to subjective metrics like MAL score (lol MAL).

      In a sense, yes, PreCure is slowly heading back to its roots, but is still borrowing from previous standout series like Heartcatch as if they were a part of its history, rather than being an exception. I guess it’s a natural effect of time, but it’s treated Heartcatch quite fairly, and it’s still a wonderful series regardless. With the other shows being brought up through numerous references by contemporary series (for instance, Yes 5 through Smile), Heartcatch is slowly passing on the torch in this sense, and becoming a classic itself rather than a contemporary.

  2. Whoa this episode! As soon as I saw it was up I was like DAMN GOTTA WATCH NOW!

    My experiences with any first episode of any series usually is filled with mind blowing animation to get the audience to stick around for more, but since we are dealing with Precure it always falls into the either you love them or hate them. It was cool to see a few twitter folks give it a shot even if half of them end up dropping it after the first episode and who knows maybe Doki Doki Precure will gain new fans? It certainly looked fantastic; however I don’t recall Precure being worldly known for animation…I did enjoy that CGI dancing stuffs at the end .>

    Nice write up as always Krizzly, now to tackle my doki post~

    • PreCure is always a neat little thing within the magical girl genre. Some of the criticisms aimed at it are often aimed at the genre conventions that it follows, but even beyond that, the franchise has its own tropes as well which aren’t necessarily applicable to every other magical girl show to boot. That said, There’s often something likable about the characters at the very least that people can enjoy. The girls of PreCure are quite vibrant personalities, and despite believing in the same ideals as is the PreCure philosophy as a whole, they have such varying personalities, as we’ve seen in Smile. Come for the kick-assery, stay for the character dynamics.

      Thanks for commenting as always fosh, I’m sorry that the website wasn’t kind to your previous attempts at commenting ;_;

    • No worries!

      I think my last two paras were mostly about Luffy’s voice actress from One Piece staring as the kid villain because Smile had Chopper’s actress as Candy, but both of them work for Toei Animation so that kind of makes everything click…

      Oh and I get the feeling that Alice will be the “comedic” character but nothing like Erika or Akane, cause she has a somewhat monotone way of talking? I suspect something like one-liners during or after a battle b/c she was not freaking out and wanted to take the monster home? LOL course I could be completely off xD

    • I think I’m seeing where you’re going with the comedic character aspect. I don’t see a comic relief character in this entire group compared to other series, which actually concerns me a little bit! Even Suite had the comic ribbing between Hibiki/Melody and Kanade/Rhythm, and Ellen/Beat acted comically weird at times throughout the entire series. Yes 5 had some nice manzai exchanges between Rin/Rouge’s tsukkomi (straight man) and either of Nozomi/Dream or Urara/Lemonade’s boke (funny man). As for Doki Doki, though, there isn’t much room for weirdos in this one, which is probably either to make up for Smile’s sometimes overdone silliness, or simply due to us not knowing much about the characters yet. I suppose only time will tell in this regard.

      It makes me wonder who’s going to make the funny faces in this show.

  3. DokiDoki had a strong first episode. I specifically (as you probably already noted) loved the lack of exposition in this episode (which had previously been an issue that I had to get over watching Smile’s first few episodes). Additionally, the return of the 3 friends +1 outlier combination that Fresh was so successful with (I’m not counting Heartcatch only because Tsubomi, Erika, and Itsuki weren’t friends prior to the series’ opening, although there are a lot of similarities) is intriguing. You had mentioned in discussion before that Cure Sword was going to possibly be more of a Mina/Sailor V-type who had already been fighting for a long time. It’s especially interesting that she chose to be an idol as her daytime persona (Mina’s desired job choice) although in this case it looks to be more of a front for her Cure activities than a desired future goal.

    I absolutely loved this episode and thank you for this comparison post.

    • With regards to exposition, I’m highly impressed with regards to the show’s tendency to show instead of tell. The villains, after ambushing Cure Sword, could have gone into “Master Plan” mode, but instead, they just simply prodded her for the location of the lost princess. How did the Trump Kingdom’s princess disappear? How did it fall? I don’t know, but I want to.

      As for the Sailor-V comparison, the difference you pointed out was how they both approached their idol work. There’s a pretty horrid story right now about the AKB member shaving her hair, resulting in a horrid backlash at the idol culture outside the fandom, and it’s a real and uncomfortable thing. I think that PreCure, with all of its family-friendly goodness, might have some interesting things to say about it. They’ve touched on idols before with Urara Kasugano from Yes 5, but Makoto’s idol life seems to be painted in an unfavorable light. She doesn’t seem to enjoy the spotlight and is all alone. I don’t believe that Toei would make any sort of commentary on the real side of culture, but it’s always encouraging to see them saying that it’s not exactly the shining life.

  4. Doki Doki may make me recover from (Smile) Precure loss syndrome.

    I felt fresh idea in Doki Doki. It is the enemies which are somesthing like crabs could speak like human, not just speaking one word like enemies “Uzaina” in Splash Star.

    I felt many simiralities as you pointed out, but Doki Doki did not seem like Smile which was filled with comedic devices, so I’m looking forward to Doki doki style. Especially, I want
    to know what happened to Cure Sword in the past. Can’t wait for it!!

    • I agree Jun, Doki Doki wasn’t really too heavy on the comedy like Smile was. Aida was very straightforward and kind, and didn’t appear to be a ditz in any sort of way like Miyuki or Love were in Smile and Fresh. She’s just a good girl who happened to be caught in the Selfish attack. That said, that one fake-henshin moment was pretty funny by itself, and it added a lot of energy towards the end, and there were a few moments from Alice/Rosetta that were a bit strange, yet quite lighthearted.

  5. @krizzlybear most of the diffrences that unlike the outher series doki doki the cure leader a student concuil prezident the way she got the item which let her transform is diffrent and the monster can speak and not say just one word

    • Yeah, Aida is the only student council president out of all the lead cures, but do remember that Nagisa and Honoka from Futari wa were also class reps as well, so there’s a precedent there for student politics. In Futari wa’s case, it was mostly just a social thing, as both girls are extremely popular in their own public circles. Futari wa and Splash Star have the same transformation item which can also turn into a mascot, but in this case, Doki Doki combines that with Smile/Heartcatch such that they have to put a stone/seed/curio/etc into the item in order to activate it. Heartcatch’s desertarian is capable of speaking multiple words as well, and often they are reflective of the victim’s inner-thoughts.

  6. This was an amazing first episode!

    One thing I noticed in comparison to Smile is that the characters in DokiDoki are much more “remarkable.” Which is not to make any claims about whether or not they will be good characters, but they do feel different. In Smile the girls were all pretty ordinary at the start, with Miyuki the plainest of them all. In DokiDoki, however, the leading girl, Mana, is the student council president, Makoto is an idol (with a history as a precure), and Alice owns the giant tower that featured in this episode. Rikka is the only one we don’t know too much about, but I’d hazard a guess that she is anything but ordinary herself (probably a genius with test scores among the nation’s best or something like that). Anyway, I’m quite excited for these characters because their rather large differences allows for a lot of directions for the story and characters. Not dissimilar to how I liked that the show didn’t start in school (though we will undoubtedly go there).

    Another thing that stood out to me about this episode was that ended after Mana’s transformation into Cure Heart. I haven’t seen enough Precure to know how common that kind of thing is, but in Smile and Futari Wa episodes are usually self-contained stories. On the other hand, this episode of Doki Doki leaves things to be wrapped up in the next episode. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it is exciting!

    Thanks for this write-up! It was very interesting for me to see all these different connections to the past series.

    Oh yeah, that ED is the best thing.

    • I think I understand where you’re getting at with regards to the remarkability of the characters in Doki. They have particularly noteworthy qualities that make them stand out from the other background characters in the story. In a way, it’s because of Aida, Makoto, and Alice’s identities as Student Council President/Idol/Heiress that Rikka’s plainness in this episode, by comparison, is highly amplified compared to most other childhood friend precure. Comparing to Yes 5 in particular, we have a similar arrangement of high-stature characters with Karen (Student Council President + Rich + Upperclassman), Komachi (Librarian + Upperclassman), and Urara (Idol + Transfer Student), but the childhood friend analog in this case, Rin, is an athlete and ringer for multiple sports clubs. The ringer characteristic is given to Mana, similar to Hibiki, the lead heroine of Suite. Rikka hasn’t shown anything else so far, but she is the brains of the group and has remarkably high grades. Since they were on a field trip to the Clover Tower in the first episode, we couldn’t see this particular characteristic in action. I fully expect to see this aspect covered in the next episode.

      Speaking of which, the point you made about the episode ending with Cure Heart’s transformation is not entirely new either. Heartcatch and Suite both ended their respective first episodes with the transformation, which carried over into the next episode to wrap up the introductory arc. Between the both of them, Suite’s was particularly interesting, as the episode itself did not contain the OP or ED at all!

  7. I also expressed concern over Aida, as I really don’t see much of an arc for her. She’s the most ridiculously competent character I’ve ever seen. I’m guessing they could play on her being too trusting and getting her involved with one of the villain (which would be yet another callback), but I trust they’ll figure something out.

    • There’s always room for exploration for selfless characters. Love was also one such case when Fresh Pretty Cure aired, and her arc involved her dream with wanting to become a dancer like her favourite group, Trinity. Despite being a ditzy lead, she’s a very capable precure and perhaps the one who had the strongest debut. What held her back was her struggle to balance her schedule of dance lessons with Trinity’s Miyuki alongside her responsibilities as a PreCure. It weaved in very nicely with the Eas/Setsuna arc very well.

      I can see the same thing for Aida, and here’s my theory. Since Sword joining the group is an arc that has to be settled before the All-Stars movie, and with an evil group like the Selfish, who specialize in manipulating hearts similarly to Heartcatch, combined with their search for the Princess of the Trump Kingdom, I’m led to believe the midseason arc will involve the manipulation of one of the main Pretty Cures in order to draw out the Princess. While heel-face turns are now commonplace in Pretty Cure (Cure Passion, Cure Beat) and aloof allies being fairly common as well (Milky Rose, Cure Muse), we could see an arc where a good girl becomes bad, like Dark Mercury from the Sailor Moon live-action.

    • For sure! It’s not entirely out of the question for a magical girl series, and it seems like something that PreCure can totally do! It’s the perfect opportunity, in any case.

    • Exactly. I can understand if Vividred doesn’t really care much about its story because it just wants to do cool action and transformation scenes, but the ridiculous amount of BUTTS that flash on screen each episode is very difficult to ignore. I’d rather watch a more family-oriented show instead.

    • Dear lord Vividred. I can’t even. I’ve been writing a couple of MG articles of late and every time I have to call out Vividred for it’s terrible fanservice. I’m sorry Japan, but I’m not attracted to 14 year olds. Especially when you make them look 8.

  8. Since I didn’t see anyone mention it here yet, I figured I’d point out that the failed transformation was a direct spoof of Kamen Rider Blade. Obviously Mana has seen Kamen Rider on TV before. :) Kamen Rider is also a Toei property, and Kamen Rider Blade featured a playing card suits motif just like DokiDoki Precure does.

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