The fundamental difference between the role of a composer and of a musical director in a television or film production is that the composer writes arrangements based on an overall artistic prompt provided by the main series director, while the musical director decides when and where the music is utilized during a particular visual sequence in the show or movie. The individual making the music paints a picture with sound, while the director uses that picture to evoke an emotional response at critical points of a story.
For a four years, spanning from Fresh PreCure to Smile PreCure, the franchise relied on composer Yasuharu Takanashi’s signature style of high-energy rock infused with orchestrals marks one of the primary stylistic stamps of the PreCure franchise during the Deluxe era. His magnum Opus was the score he wrote for Suite PreCure, but has since been replaced by Hiroshi Takaki. Takaki brings a new style to the table, which, when combined with a very strong musical directorial contribution from long-time Toei staffer Sayaka Mizuno, creates a brand new aural signature to the franchise, starting with what has essentially become my favourite aspect of Dokidoki: the flexibility and utility of its score.
What makes Dokidoki’s soundtrack stand out among its peers isn’t necessarily the quality of the compositions themselves, but rather how they are deftly utilized and inserted into the show in relation to the visuals to create a wide variety of moods that Takanashi’s work would otherwise be unable to achieve. Episode 20 is a particularly strong example of this quality in action, mostly due to the interesting usage and absence of specific compositions, as they relate to the visual cues that we are conditioned to expect from watching PreCure for a long time. Let’s take a look at specific points in the episode, and see how the accompanying music establishes a different mood than expected.
(Note: please click the section titles for a link to the various compositions that I will be discussing in this post.)
Transformation and Ascent: The Last Guardian
Unlike the usual formula of monsters and transformation trinkets, the PreCure transform in preparation for a trek into the glacial mountain, where the Royal Crystals supposedly rest. Instead of the normal transformation track, PreCure Love Link, the track from episode 1’s cold open, The Last Guardian, is used. Guardian is a composition written in 3/4 time (three beats per measure), utilizing an orchestra with an emphasis on middle-register strings (viola, cello, etc.) accompanied by an overlaying ostinato (repeated pattern of notes played with the same style in order to create a singular tone efect) to bring out a melody in a minor key. The dark tone of the piece is brought out by the heavy chords from the low strings, establishing a sense of ongoing dread. The compositional shift away from the string melody in the following section replaces the ostinato with a broken, disjointed scale, signifying ruin (in Dokidoki’s case, the ruin of the Trump Kingdom).
The implementation of this particular piece with the girls’ transformation sequence is particularly thoughtful, as the disjoined scale section marks the start of the girls’ transformation. It’s as if everything that they’re doing in this arc, searching for the crystals, trying to sway Regina back to her old self, saving Princess Marie-Ange, is all for naught. They are too late to arrive, and in the context of what happens at the end of the episode, this musical cue is a self-realized omen. What makes this effect particularly jarring is how the music is utilized during an expected stock sequence. Love Link is normally a majestic piece, signifying change and empowerment, but instead, their transformation is deflated by the aural accompaniment, even if the images that the audience sees is normally used to provide hope and excitement. The Last Guardian is particularly thoughtful due to its prior association with Cure Sword’s failure to save the kingdom, further reinforcing the hopelessness of Cure Sword’s cause, which is realized later on in the episode when Sword berates herself after her Sparkle Sword causes Cure Heart and Regina to plunge into the depths of the glacier. A single, simple swap of music in this short period proves to be potent at undermining what we come to expect from the same weekly stock visual sequences.
Chaos and Consequence: Crisis After Crisis
The fight between Regina and the PreCure at the apex of the mountain is particularly jarring due to the departure in formula with regards to the weekly monster fights that the audience is conditioned to expect with most PreCure series. The piece utilized in this sequence, Crisis After Crisis, is primarily characterized by its three-note shot sequence (dun nun nun! dun nun nun!), used as an interjection and response to the developing melodies within the work. Blaring trumpet minor chord progressions lay the groundwork for the first melody consisting of many accidental notes (notes not belonging in a scale, used for tension) played by different sections of the orchestra, but in unison with the electric guitar. The second section features chord shot interplay between low brass/bass/drums and trumpet/violin/woodwinds, indicating tension between opposing sides.
To elevate the urgency of the situation beyond that of a normal monster fight, a more tense track in Crisis After Crisis is used instead of the normal rampaging monster theme. For the aptly named Crisis, the instrumentation is slightly heavier with its more prevalent infusion of rock instrumentation that is more akin to PreCures past. However, the paced deliberately slower and is much heavier as a result. The resulting sound is less hot-blooded than what the audience is used to with regards to most Takanashi offerings, and as a result, the fight that the track accompanies feels less in the PreCure’s favour. This is particularly effective when paired with the PreCure’s attack animations, particularly Rosetta Reflection and Sparkle Sword. The audience clues in right away from the music that their attacks will be ineffective. Sparkle Sword’s attack in particular is the main turn of events, as it inadvertently ends the entire sequence by causing both Regina and Cure Heart to plunge into the mountain depths. The entire scene is timed according to the music so that the end of the track coincides with Regina and Heart’s disappearance. There is no winner to this fight, and the music is an effectively utilized tool to convey that.
Battles and Bedlam: PreCure, Love Link!
In the most roundabout fashion, PreCure Love Link makes an appearance outside of its normal utility within the show. On the franchise level, the PreCure transformation theme is the most consistently composed piece across each continuity, as its classic usage conditions the audience to refocus its attention as the show transitions between girl and magical girl. Despite occurring rather early on in the series, the shortened “second transformation” in this episode frames the track’s inclusion in a different light, particularly in the context of Regina’s gradual turnaround that preceded the actual monster fight. What makes this particular usage so interesting is how the Love Link theme extends beyond Mana’s transformation into Cure Heart and into the battle itself. The fight doesn’t last very long, and the music conveys the empowerment of the PreCure in this fight, but in a different manner. Even though the girls manage to defeat the selfish (Makoto’s Sparkle Sword in particular is not rendered ineffective, unlike her previous attempt; the accompanying music’s tone strikingly conveys this), the nature of the piece itself hints that the situation is not yet resolved when the battle concludes with Love Heart Arrow.
Instead, the ice-encased Princess Ange and seemingly converted Regina are taken away and brought back to the fallen Trump Kingdom where King Selfish resides. Love Link helps reinforce the notion that the battle was won, but not war. As a fanfare, the piece itself with its numerous flourishes is recognized as an overture into the main action; however, since the theme extends to the end of the battle in the episode, the main action remains to be seen until the next episode, where Cure Ace is supposedly making her debut.
Takaki and Mizuno’s collaborative efforts in this show have resulted in one of the show’s few successful attempts at tinkering with the PreCure formula. While the overall execution of the Trump Kingdom arc up until this point is in question, the composition and sound direction have for the most part kept this arc afloat, and at least effectively conveys that the series composition has been tinkered with. With the end of the Trump Kingdom arc just around the corner, I eagerly wonder how the music will be utilized when the need for disruption becomes absent entirely when the new norm is established.
We’ll hear new tracks, as well as new arrangements of old ones, such as the soft piano version of Happy Go Lucky Girls features in this week’s episode, noticeably absent in the first volume of Pretty Cure Sound Love Link, Dokidoki’s soundtrack. We’re on the cusp of new elements in the series, both from a compositional standpoint, as well as plot, and I couldn’t be any more excited. Takaki has made me a believer, and I have faith that he will do an effective job carrying the torch held for so long by Takanashi.