Good pacing in storytelling always involves knowing when to shift gears between action and reaction; while episode one of Doki Doki sets the entire series in motion by transforming Mana into Cure Heart for the very first time, the follow-up episode provides a natural, fitting repose, while at the same time, adheres to the restrictions of the genre’s monster-of-the-week formula. The reaction to becoming a PreCure is explored beyond a typical self-narration from the main character (a cornerstone to the structure of series during the Futari wa period) and is incorporated into the plot of the episode itself.
After purifying the Crab Selfish at the top of Clover Tower, Cure Heart extends an offer of alliance to Cure Sword, which she refuses. After turning back to normal, Mana tries to confide in Rikka about turning into a PreCure. Rikka responds with disbelief, maintaining concern about Mana and her recent activities. Mana is told by the Trump Kingdom fairies to keep her PreCure identity a secret from Rikka, but when a Selfish attacks the school the next morning, she decides to transform into Cure Heart in Rikka’s presence, and asks for her help in purifying the Selfish.
As mentioned earlier, Doki Doki’s second episode takes special care to examine the immediate consequences of becoming a PreCure (and in the context of the genre, a magical girl in general). Too often in previous series, the girls who transform into PreCure immediately acclimate to their new superhero lifestyle without nary a change to their civilian lives. In particular, if the first episode/arc doesn’t immediately result in the first two girls awakening as PreCure (as seen in the Futari wa shows and Suite), the following episode/arc always transforms the next girl in the cast into a PreCure as well. Combined with the fact that the second girl is often the closest friend to the main character, there is little to no opportunity to show any sort of dynamic involving the lead cure and her best friend before the second cure awakens.
The series that comes closest to this sort of dynamic is Yes! Pretty Cure 5. In Yes 5, Nozomi’s immediately recruits her childhood friend, Rin, to become a Pretty Cure and help her restore the SweetsKingdom by collecting pinkys and defeating Nightmare. Like Doki Doki, Rin’s initial reaction to Nozomi’s revelation is utter disbelief, and playing off of her snarky “straight man” personality, the exchange is played for laughs at the beginning of the show. Even after Nozomi introduces her to the mascot character Coco, Rin has a difficult time of making sense out of it all.
Like Rikka (and most people in general), being introduced to such a farfetched circumstance is likely to result in disbelief, and as the childhood friend, Rin has to fare that line of her belief in the rules of reality and trust in her best friend, and her eventual answer to the call to become a PreCure arises out of necessity to protect her useless and clumsy friend. Rikka is no different with regards to Mana’s clumsiness, but in a wonderfully novel approach, she answers the call to help Mana without having to become a PreCure. This establishes a sort of tension that exists within the double-life led by a magical girl, seen in other shows outside of PreCure, such as Cardcaptor Sakura and the Sailor Moon anime. Both shows stretch the gamut of roles that the best friend plays in the magical girl’s life; where Tomoyo is immediately involved with Sakura’s adventures through her resourcefulness in the former series, where Naru remains distant and removed from Usagi’s battle, but nonetheless finds herself unintentionally involved with countless mysterious occurrences in the latter.
PreCure foregoes this tension altogether by turning the closest friend into a PreCure, and Rikka’s civilian involvement highlights the primary message in the episode, that the struggle between the Trump Kingdom and the Selflish is a war that affects everyone that gets involved. Not only is Rikka concerned with Mana’s unspoken involvement with her new PreCure duties, but Mana’s family as well. Mana’s father brings up a point that Mana is unable to disclose what exactly she is involved in, but she simply cannot be ignored by those closest to her. From a distance, all they can do is provide support, but due to the message of the episode, there’s a real threat to their safety that may or may not be addressed later on.
That threat makes Rikka’s involvement with Cure Heart in the last battle all the more interesting. Civilians are rarely involved in a monster fight, but under special circumstances, the weight of their decision to aid the PreCure is considerable and holds merit due to the novelty of its occurrence. What made Rikka’s involvement particularly fascinating are the parallels between the Rikka and Mana’s relationship and the story of the Happy Prince (an actual fairy tale written by Oscar Wilde), which run deeper than the concept of selflessness and interdependence that Rikka tries to explain to her friend.
The relationship between the swallow and the Happy Prince is a two-way street between the two characters, and while Doki Doki examines the Prince’s side of the tale, through which his selfless acts come at the expense of losing his livelihood, drawing the help of a meager swallow. Mana’s insistence to help everyone as a result of her stature and role as the student council president is a trying one, and with the added role of becoming Cure Heart, Rikka’s role as the swallow arises out of meaningful necessity.
If Rikka truly is the swallow in Mana’s life, then there is a lot of potential here in Rikka’s characterization with regards to backstory and her friendship history with Mana that is similar to that of Rin and Nozomi in Yes 5 (the closest comparison, as far as primary and secondary cure relationships are concerned). Rikka likely has her own issues that she needs to sort out, but by answering the call and becoming Cure Diamond, she essentailly follows suit (pun totally intended) with Mana’s selflessness and buys into her charitable philosophy. This is possibly for the better, but the tension between Diamond’s own needs and that of Mana and the others can come at great cost. More on this in next week’s post.
What Rikka doesn’t tell Mana, despite all of this, is that the swallow eventually dies in the story, and that the Happy Prince, after giving out every lavish decoration that made up his being, was eventually deemed unfit for a statue in the town, and was eventually melted away for scraps, except for its leaden heart. Both eventually transcend their earthly lives and are celebrated in heaven. If the relationship between Rikka and Mana is that of the swallow and the prince, then the current situation of Mana being Cure Heart alone and Rikka staying civilian cannot simply last. They have to join forces as equals, and help each other by making up for each other’s shortfalls. As Cure Diamond, we can potentially see a very intense partnership that develops between her and Cure Heart.
How this fits into the grand scheme of a four-cure team of Heart, Diamond, Rosetta, and Sword, is a fantastic concept to take note as the series progresses when the other cures join in. Indeed, we don’t see Alice or Makoto at all in this episode, and that’s quite okay. We’re only two episodes into Doki Doki, I have a great feeling that this show is being given a careful treatment as far as storytelling goes; for better or for worse, this could be the most intense PreCure story yet.
Further reading: Lessons from The Happy Prince, by Through the Frozen Glass