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.
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
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!