The “alternate minigame world” stock episode in Pretty Cure serves to provide a novelty battleground setting for the heroines as they are pitted comically against their antagonists. It is an established trope in the franchise that adds a touch of humor to a series that can accommodate it, or to lighten the mood as a contrast to other serious events prior or concurrent. To date, the alternate game world has appeared in Yes 5, Smile, All-Stars, and as of this episode, Dokidoki PreCure as well.
What makes the game world uniquely effective as a storytelling tool in procure is that it relies on several recurring elements shared between each iterations that manage to bring out different Aesops as well as highlight different character dynamics and plot developments. Across the different continuities, several important elements are in place. The setup puts the girls into the world in the first place, and they are pit against the minigames either by force or as a challenge to wager something of importance. The games themselves, designed and constructed by the villains, are set up to give the girls a humorous disadvantage, but are eventually overcome by various usages of PreCure powers. The resolution of the series of challenges come full circle alongside a moral realization among particular characters in the cast that allow them to overcome the final daunting test. Let’s take a look at how each of these elements are approached by Dokidoki in relation to what I feel is the best iteration of this trope, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 GoGo episodes 36 and 37.
In Dokidoki PreCure, Regina extends a challenge to the girls and straightforwardly wagers ownership of the Royal Crystals as the reward for the victor. The story is set in motion by Mana’s acceptance of the challenge, going against the concerns from Diamond and Sword that the game is obviously rigged against them. What bothers me about this particular decision is that despite the clear intention of this scene is to further establish Mana’s intuition regarding Regina, it doesn’t really come across as interesting as it has been in previous instances depicted so far. She simply accepts the proposal, and the other girls go along with her decision without nary an argument or other internal tension. The main takeaway from this scene is Regina’s promise to be a fair sport in the case that she loses the wager, which plays a part in her gradual wavering later on in the episode.
Yes 5, however, goes the trap route, in which the Yes girls, initially invited to participate in a game show called Five de Chance, are lured away into an alternate game show world set up by the psychotic narcissist villain from Eternal, Mucardia, and the only way to escape is to beat the challenges presented. But because this particular arc is spread out across two episodes, there’s a lot more time allotted to the set-up, which allows other important background aspects to be introduced and set up for later on in the story. Specifically, the main story focuses on Cure Aqua, Karen Minazuki, her initial reluctance to join the girls in participating in Five de Chance, and how that affects the way she approaches the novelty of the situation going forward from this point.
The differences between the two here are heavily in Yes 5’s favor, as Doki only manages to set up Regina’s development for later on in the show, and does so in a remarkably blunt way to allow the main arc to continue further at the expense of novelty and tone of the series at this point. Yes 5 clearly sets up the situation as a one-of encounter, which not only emphasizes the novelty of the situation, but also allows the nuance of the relationship between Karen and Kurumi to really shine without much concern to the overall series plot.
The Game World
When the Dokidoki girls are transported to the game world, the environment itself is more set up as a personal playground for Regina than anything else. Dokidoki ends up using the game world as straightforwardly as possible without paying much attention to the details that allow the novelty of a game world to stand out. The setting is dank and empty in order to align somewhat with the setting of the selfish lair, which contrasts awkwardly with the light-hearted concept of the PreCure minigame battle. Yes 5 has the girls lured into a television set akin to a variety game show, with Hoshina monsters taking the form of different elements of the set, ranging from props to even the studio audience itself. The show is out of this world, and completely separate from that of the Museum lair of Eternal, which allows this novelty setting to stand out.
One particular game is shared in common between the two shows, the soccer penalty kick contest. In both shows, the games are revealed to be rigged heavily in favour of the host villains, much to the dismay of the PreCure themselves. What makes Dokidoki fall short in this particular aspect is how they react to the imbalance. Cures Diamond and Sword, both initially suspecting of foul play, react with straightforward anger, and as a result, hamper the comedy of the situation that besets them. Diamond comically tries to chase down a Selfish soccer ball, but her previous disapproval makes her exchange a little bit less believable in its delivery. Chalk that up to poor comedic timing and awkward mood not only set by the setting itself, but also with awkward sound direction.
Yes 5’s soccer contest features the athletic Rin, whose reactions to her clear disadvantage are absolutely hilarious, as is her natural tsukkomi personality within the group dynamic (she even reprises this dynamic in All-Stars Deluxe 3, where she is sucked into yet another minigame world with other PreCure form other continuities). Her frustration builds up to the point where, when she eventually loses the minigame, she transforms into Cure Rouge in order to kick a flaming soccer ball at the Hoshiina net via Fire Strike, but is thwarted when the soccer net monster knocks it away with a baseball bat. The reversal comes out of nowhere, is ridiculous in its randomness, and is one of the highlight points of the episode.
Characterization and Resolution
Like all PreCure episodic sequences, a character’s realization and the resulting empowerment due to her Aesop speech allows for the cast to overcome the final obstacle in the minigame world. What separates the game world episode from most episodes is that there are often two sets of stories told within the episode, one from a character’s internal struggle with personal relationships or worldview, and one from the straightforward struggle against the game world itself. Dokidoki’s biggest failing in this episode lies in the fact that the personal struggle is shifted to Regina as a result of necessity to fit in with the rest of the developing arc.
This essentially prevents the main cast from experiencing any particular personal growth to allow them to win the final test. In fact, the final test was essentially handed to them on a silver platter due to the somewhat comical exchange between the Selfish Trio and Regina during the dodgeball game, which did not come in at the right time during the episode. The final monster was defeated, nothing really happened to the girls, and the now-apparent brainwash of Regina is in full display, much to the hindrance of her own character arc and the cliffhanger at the end that made the outcome of the challenge to become meaningless.
Yes 5, however, shifts the character focus to the dynamic between Karen/Aqua and Kurumi/Rose. Karen’s hesitance to join the group in the game early on resulted in her recruiting Kurumi to attend in her stead. During the last battle when Aqua manages to overcome her own luck with coin flips, she pointedly thanks Milky Rose for declining going on the show for Aqua’s sake, culminating in a highly satisfying emotional climax between the two, empowering them to defeat all of the Hoshiinas in the game world, thus breaking them free from it.
Yes 5’s main strength as a 5(+1) girl ensemble is its ability to portray the relationships between the girls in the group. Granted, having two years of episodes allows the show to breathe and grow into its characters, but it does so in a very nuanced way despite maintaining a very silly tone to the show, as capitulated by the implementation of this stock episode concept. It’s the tradition of repetition and variation that brings out the uniqueness of the show in relation to its peers.
Dokidoki has its own merits simply by being a PreCure show unto itself. Beyond the critical lens which has been thoroughly used on the series proper, it still presents itself as a show that exhibits familiar characteristics that nonetheless provide the basis for comparison, regardless of whether or not those comparisons are favourable. Despite the reception it will ultimately receive at the end of its run, Dokidoki will still nonetheless be its own show, and be yet another page in the history of the franchise.