The best part about PreCure as a giant metaseries is that the different continuities therein serve to reinforce the same theme of the power of friendship in many different ways. The formula set by the original Futari wa Pretty Cure is one that truly stands on its own, but it is only through that formula that one can truly appreciate the design space available when re-framing the central ideas that encompass nearly all magical girl shows. Varying cast sizes establish the nature of friendship between individuals in group settings as well as more intimate dynamics between singular pairs of focal characters like Honoka and Nagisa. Even between setups where cast sizes are generally the same, one can observe the change the focal approach of each show’s respective characters and how they are depicted, yet still result in new ways of examining friendship between them.
In the case of the two most recent iterations, Dokidoki PreCure and its 1-year junior, Smile PreCure, both are shows that demonstrate a fairly modern and polished production compared to its predecessors, yet still manage to take the franchise in new directions in the wake of the franchise’s success to date. While both series are highly competent at portraying its main cast as a group of close-knit girls who care deeply about each other (regardless of whether or not Yuri goggles are involved), they take two very different approaches at doing so. Smile favours a strongly individualistic approach through spotlight episodes, fully fleshing out characters one-by-one, but gently nesting them within the support network of the “rest of the cast.” On the other hand, Dokidoki prefers to form its characters’ identities through the nature of their relationships with each other, rather than who they are as individuals.
There is no truly correct way to go about characterization as far as PreCure (or any form of fiction) is concerned, but this constant re-focus fulfills the design ideology that Izumi Todo has followed ever since they realized that PreCure started blazing its own trail akin to Kamen Rider and its tokusatsu ilk. Dokidoki is just another set of different strokes that will appeal to a different set of folks, and episode 10 is a major exemplar of this current and constantly evolving design philosophy. What first appeared to be a Makoto episode based on preview footage from the end of episode 9 ended up being a Rikka-centric episode, but subtly brought out the best from its supporting characters in Alice. In Dokidoki, one must not think strictly in terms of focus and not-focus, but rather in the interactions and dynamics between one person and the rest of the cast.
Let’s examine the different relationships that exist in this episode, particularly surrounding Rikka.
Rikka and Mana: a struggle of between support and ownership
As I mentioned in episodes 2 and 3 regarding Rikka’s awakening as Cure Diamond, her relationship with Mana persists out of emotional need. Rikka is indebted to Mana due to the latter’s outgoing ability to drag the former around and break her out of her shell. This indebtedness, accumulated over time and set like routine clockwork (the frog alarm is shown twice under starkly different circumstances), is fragile and easily disrupted by the appearance of Makoto, who threatens that supposed security in allowing Rikka to support so selflessly to Mana. As their conversation in the beginning of the episode indicates, Rikka’s role as the giving wife puts her in a position of absolute trust and reliability. Imagine how quickly that reliability is broken down when another person comes out of nowhere and fills her niche.
Rikka, in order to maintain that relationship with Mana, feels like she has to be the only one to attend to Mana. No one else can interfere. Her jealousy is the same as Makoto’s cheer squad captain, whose heart turns into a selfish. I don’t believe that Rikka would easily have her heart corrupted like that, but the sudden change in the anicamera colour filter when she immediately recognizes her own feelings is alarming, and at once answers a load of questions that I posed previously about the possibility of her wavering heart to be exploited in the future.
In close, Rikka’s greatest obstacle standing in the way between her and Mana is actually herself, rather than Makopi or Alice. The way that she hides her feelings, even though it’s easily read by both her mother and Alice, does not allow her to truly accept anything logical about the situation. A scene the night before the Selfish battle has her mind race in so many directions, forming demons in her own mind, far more formidable than anything that has set foot in the Trump Kingdom. It’s wonderfully depicted because it passes by so quickly; it leaves doubt in the viewer’s mind about what Rikka actually feels about her situation in relation to Mana.
Diamond and Sword: two halves of the same heart
It’s very interesting that two people from different backgrounds can come into the same situation and develop similar needs. Both are indebted to Mana for her selflessness, and want to support her. What makes this particular dynamic fascinating is that the two girls come from opposing sides of the magical girl duality. Rikka is Mana’s childhood friend. Cure Sword is the first girl that Cure Heart identifies and wishes to befriend. They all join the same group, and suddenly there’s a struggle to find the right place to return the favor given to them.
There’s a particularly interesting case such that Cure Sword could very well have a more difficult time adjusting. Unlike most girls in the franchise, Cure Sword is a PreCure first and foremost, and a normal girl second (if normal is the right word at all; her popularity as an idol breaks down this notion even further). She struggles to adapt to the world of humans, as indicated in the sequence of events at school where she showcases her textbook clumsiness that seems to come out of an American infomercial. She hasn’t truly acclimated, and it will take some time, as well as Mana’s help.
With Rikka, here’s a girl who at first didn’t even want to become a PreCure, but has found herself in this situation out of necessity, particularly to further provide support for Mana while she’s Cure Heart. Rikka displays the same mental sharpness and capability that she has in her civilian form, but with the addition of Cure Sword, who is quite formidable in her own right, she has to be the ultimate team player. This is indicated quite well when Diamond works with Heart to defeat the cheerleading Selfish. Cure Sword, naturally the most powerful Cure in the group, even points out how well they work together.
Despite the resolution in the plot of this week’s episode, the problem still remains. All that was resolved was Rikka’s feelings about the situation. There will be growing pains, and there will be further opportunity to examine the different aspects of Precuredom that affects Mana’s life that will demand support from either Rikka or Makoto, perhaps even both. It’s a fascinating way to depict this duality, and it makes perfect sense to portray this through character dynamic, as this show sets out to do.
Diamond and Rosetta: seeking together the happiness for others
Where Rikka and Makoto are clashing forces that compete for the affection and attention of the same person, Rikka and Alice are more complementary in their pursuit for further development in their relationship with Mana. What fascinates me the most about these two girls is that they’re both mentally sharp in their own ways. Where Rikka displays an academic acumen and the ability to adapt to different situations, Alice is more aware of herself and her surroundings, resulting in a more developed perception of her world, both from an emotional and a sensory standpoint.
The scene that really stands out in this episode is that which takes place in Alice’s car as they drive to Mana’s house after school. After Rikka offhandedly mentions Mana’s excitement regarding Makoto’s transfer, a brief silence remains in the car, but it doesn’t last for too long, as Alice immediately suggests that they visit Mana’s house. It captures Alice’s great sense for mood, and the audience can feel the consideration that Alice has for Rikka’s feelings, simply because she feels the exact same way, but deals with it quite differently.
A similar situation occurs a scene later at Mana’s house after Mana drapes a blanket over the sleeping Makoto. The shot cuts back to Rikka’s gesture of discomfort, but immediately following that, Alice turns toward Rikka, fully aware. Not only is Alice concerned about Mana’s wellbeing, but everyone in the group. With respect to Rikka, specifically, she is considered a childhood friend as well in Alice’s eyes. She shows concern for Rikka’s unhappiness just as she would if it were Mana. In Tomoyo-like fashion, she helps Rikka identify that unhappiness and acknowledge it.
“Whatever your thoughts may be, if you don’t say them, none of it will be acknowledged by others.” – Tomoyo Daidouji
In Cardcaptor Sakura, Tomoyo gives this advice to Syaoran Li, who is in a similar predicament with Sakura as Rikka is with Mana. In order for Tomoyo and Alice to give this sort of advice, they both have to possess the self-awareness to acknowledge that feeling from a personal level before identifying it in others. The final bit of advice that Alice gives to Rikka is to realize is that everyone has the same feelings. It’s the final revelation that Cure Diamond has once the Selfish is vanquished, and it puts her at ease, at least for the time being.
Episode 10 was a perfect display of character dynamics and subtlety, something that is not only remarkably rare in anime today, but so easily constructed and contrasted with all of the blunt humor and antics that also form a part of the PreCure experience. For every Erika, Saki, or Akane facial expression, there’s a diamond in the rough, a lone wolf howling by the moonlight, or redemption for those who follow their own passionate beat.