The general consensus in the Pretty Cure fandom is that HappinessCharge PreCure is similar to HeartCatch PreCure, and depending on who you ask, the reaction to this common observation is either that of sheer joy (Hell yeah! More HeartCatch!) or utter disdain (Oh hell no! More Heartcatch?). As odd as it is for me to say this, those who fall under the latter camp seem to place themselves there for either of two reasons: either they didn’t like HeartCatch — they do exist, as weird as it is for me to admit — or simply loath unoriginality, ultimately begging the question as to why they watch Pretty Cure in the first place.
That said, I can sort of see why those who fall in the former camp could come to not appreciate HeartCatch at the end of it. I personally love the series; it has a fantastic cast dynamic between the main girls, an overarching tragedy and redemption storyline in Cure Moonlight, incredible art style lent from the talents of Yoshihiko Umakoshi, a vast, self-contained PreCure continuity and universe featuring the history Cure Flower (and if you count the Paris movie as canon, Cure Ange as well), and some wicked-ass fight scenes to boot. When you look at these particular points of praise, they all add up to a fine quality piece of work, but only as far as any one person could say about any work in general. Remove the PreCure names, titles, and visual cues, and you’re still left with a great show. Ask most people who have come into familiarity with the PreCure franchise, and most likely it is because of HeartCatch and the general quality it exudes. But therein lies the problem! It’s good for an anime, but is it good within a franchise context?
When looking at the entire big picture of the franchise, a given series is hardly ever viewed upon within its own vacuum. Anyone who loves this property as a whole simply can’t help but see other products past when peering into the present. It’s the reason why, despite Dokidoki’s tremendous individual (and overall structural) problems, that particular show can still provide incredible value to the hardest of the hardcore while driving away less familiar fans. It’s that ultimate quality, that quintessence (curetessence?), that makes a show purely PreCure.
After watching and loving PreCure as much as I have, I still love HeartCatch for what it is, but what it isn’t is quite easy to pin down; it’s not really that PreCurian. Perhaps, then, HappinessCharge is what will change all of that. As the 10th anniversary series — which I honest to goodness mistakenly assigned to Dokidoki PreCure, which was merely the 10th series, but debuted in the 9th year of the franchise — HappinessCharge gets to build on a sort of focused nostalgia that Dokidoki did with the PreCure franchise as a whole. Where the latter simply gushed nostalgia in different directions, HappinessCharge gets to revisit an old series in HeartCatch and make commentary on how far this franchise has come since the good old deluxe days.
A show that lacks that PreCure soul can be resurrected in a better PreCurian image, and I already see promise in its debut episode. Hell, I already see promise in its OP, so let’s just take a look at that briefly (and by briefly I actually mean we’re probably just at the halfway point, wordcount-wise) at the similarities between both shows, and extract potential differences between the two. Right at the beginning, the primary fairies fly towards the screen, behind them the main cast of girls. What’s important here is that HappinessCharge immediately makes a point of revealing all four girls at once as PreCure, without the dramatic buildup and spoiler factor. We were given this hush-hush treatment with Cures Passion and Sunshine in the earlier shows, but the franchise seems to have shifted towards revealing all the cures at once with the ensemble formation of Smile and Dokidoki (Cure Ace being a notable exception to the rule, but for specific reasons I won’t get into right now). Having all the girls together at once is critical to the effectiveness of a set PreCure series formula. Informing the viewer early of the existence of Cures Honey and Fortune trains them at the very basic level the relationship of the girls with each other. With HeartCatch, the introduction of the latter two Cures wasn’t reflected very well at all in its opening nor in its stock sequences, two very important elements of a PreCure show from a formula standpoint. The dramatic purple cure is rife with underlying story elements that gradually unravels over the course of the show. I loved Cure Moonlight’s arc, and may very well argue in a future post that the show was ultimately about her, rather than that of Blossom or Marine. Overarching storylines are not new to the PreCure series, as Dokidoki has previously shown. The tradeoff between screen time (very important for marketing purposes!) and story in a PreCure show was one of the marketing shortfalls of Moonlight’s arc. By the time she joins the cast, the show is already heading towards the end, and she needs to fit in right away. Dokidoki immediately incorporates Sword into the cast with interesting tensions in the cast dynamic, but due to the Regina/Ace storyline, this potential was left unrealized. I’d like to see more focus this time around with HappinessCharge; perhaps we’ll be blessed with greater fortune. Forget for one moment that the curl at the bottom of Queen Mirage’s hair almost looks like the top of Professor Sabaaku’s head; the composition of both screenshots are incredibly similar, and based on the details surrounding Sabaaku and Moonlight in HeartCatch, one can easily put on a tinfoil hat regarding the relationship between Blue and Queen Mirage. The two are both overseers of their respective groups, and occupy opposite ends of the malevolent/benevolent spectrum. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they are related somehow; HeartCatch occupies a lot of grey space with their own little pair, but Dokidoki really pushed this tone to the forefront with King Selfish’s reveal at the end of the series. I expect a similar large-scale development by the end of the show.
The Desert apostles in HeartCatch meet their rogues gallery contemporaries in the Phantom Empire’s trio, consisting of what appears to be a similar personality dynamic with episode 1’s Namakelder occupying Cobraja’s finesse fighter role, and the other two by extension becoming the brute force commander and wiley female that Kumojacky and Sasorina were. Namakelder felt incredibly familiar to Yes 5’s Girinma with his insect-like appearance and classy dress, though Yes 5’s version wears a bowler instead of a top hat, which is an especially nice touch. I am particularly excited that a lot of HappinessCharge’s scenario comes from a team that has had extensive work on Yes 5 and its sequel.
Here is where the choreography really gets eerily similar. At the chorus of both OP sequences, we’re brought to an outer space setting where the respective Cures battle masses of underlings in order, showcasing their fearsome combat skills. As I’ve already mentioned before, having all of the girls present from the get-go provides a lot of opportunity to establish a more balanced dynamic between each character. In the senior series, HeartCatch squeezes Moonlight into the end of Sunshine’s cut, failing to showcase her in any sort of competent light (even though she’s clearly the strongest fighter in the group). To rectify this, Moonlight’s analog in Cure Fortune gets put into Sunshine’s spot, while Honey gets bumped to Marine status, eschewing a Marine Dynamite for what turns out to be a classic “Yellow Utility” spell, seen below.
Just fantastic. The shuffle leaves a wonderful balance, which allows Cure Princess to
barrel flail her way through the mass of enemies, nearly in the same fashion as the Marine of old, but with the sort of insecurity that early versions of Blossom exuded within the series.
I could write an entire post about how Princess is the meta-offspring of Marine and Blossom, but I would like to see more of it in action before writing more about it. There’s a really great approach being taken here with Princess being the spotlight of the premiere episode, something that the series hasn’t done before. The separation between emotional leader and tactical leader (from a sentai perspective) is not entirely new in tokusatsu in general, but has plenty of space to explore from a PreCure perspective. I can only hope that this approach is pursued further throughout the series.
Overall, the two HC Pretty Cures have a lot of similarities going for them, but it is through those similarities that we can find meaning in the differences between the two. A lot can happen within a span of four years, and whatever it is that we can extract out of the show from a PreCure database standpoint, we can learn so much more about what it means to be a PreCure show. HeartCatch may not have been an exemplar of this, but HappinessCharge has an opportunity to be that spiritual successor that I’ve always wanted.