Mirai and Riko must work together to find a magical butterfly, and in doing so, their teamwork is revealed to be a work in progress.
The strength of this week’s episode of Maho Girls PreCure! and the series proper lies in the relationship between Mirai and Riko, and how it acts as the source of their powers. Much like Futari wa Prety Cure and Splash Star, the bad guys have not yet revealed themselves enough to be an urgent agent of antagonism, so the majority of the tension and comes from the girls themselves and their coming to terms with their newfound powers.
Between Maho Girls and its two-girl series predecessors, the strengths of both PreCure when they’re together are counterbalanced by the obvious pitfalls of distance. The setup in Futari wa Pretty Cure lends well to showcasing this dependency on having Nagisa and Honoka together in order to function as a team; both girls come from different walks of life, masters of their own social domains, but they are only drawn to each other when their transformation is called for. Even when the two live in the same city and are in the same class, the tiniest bit of separation between the two raises concern from their fairy partners Mepple and Mipple.
Mirai and Riko, on the other hand, are worlds apart.
It’s this distance that wears on both Riko and Mirai much more subtly than in previous shows. Instead of co-existing in the same world a la Cure Black and Cure White, Mirai is whisked away to the magical world in order to further investigate the extent of the powers she shares with Riko. At first, she’s only a passive observer, fascinated by Riko and the magical things she involves herself with, but with only her limited PreCure powers at her disposal, she is essentially starting from nothing with her witch training, further burdened by the threat of Riko’s standing as a witch in training.
As Mofurun explains to Riko in the latter half of the episode, Mirai greatly depends on Riko’s familiar presence, as Riko is the one that Mirai knows best out of everything she has encountered so far in the magical world. She is obliged to her because of their mysterious powers, and she does everything she can to help her succeed. This motivation causes Mirai to go off on her own, going only by her strong instincts and immediate decision-making. She’s the lead cure, naturally, so she has to put on a brave front, leading by example and pushing herself beyond her limits. In the unfamiliarity of the magical world, she is lost, and needs Riko’s experience and guidance.
Riko, on the other hand, distances herself from Mirai because of misconceptions about her own abilities and definitions thereof; Mirai is a muggle, yet she has been chosen to be one half of the legendary witches, whereas Riko is a bright, knowledgeable girl but is unable to admit her own shortcomings with practical magic. They’re not exactly polar opposites the way Nagisa and Honoka are in their own series. Instead, they’re both flawed individuals who complete each other to make a stronger whole, making them much more dependant on each other and more strained by distance between the two of them.
This episode did a pretty neat job in visually communicating this initial distance between the two girls. The butterfly search plot sets up a situation in which each girl goes their own way of accomplishing their task, brushing off the headmaster’s request that they work together. As a result, they’re shown in shots where they’re placed considerably far away from each other.
At first, Mirai immediately goes off to find the butterfly, failing to even listen to her teacher. Riko is concerned with the revelation that she is to work with Mirai on all of her assignments.
Later, Riko lags behind in the search, opting to stay with her classmates and feebly trying to communicate with Mirai, almost a hundred feet or so below. Riko criticizes Mirai for wandering aimlessly, failing to see the merit in Mirai’s instinctive approach. She talks down to her in more ways than one.
And after that, she crashes on her broom (as is the norm at this point), brushing off her failure from across a field. The blocking in this shot is both comedic in highlighting Riko’s mishap, but also indicative of Riko’s hesitance to work with Mirai, whether that be by following her or actually sitting her down and hatching out a plan together. It also brings Riko back down to earth, putting her on the same level as Mirai in their search. This series of tableaus show Riko’s progressive failures in her approach. Likewise, Mirai acting by her lonesome only gets her so far. While her approach has shown results, she ultimately needs Riko for guidance.
It’s not until Riko actually puts herself in Mirai’s shoes, considering her partner’s feelings about being in a new world and not having any magical ability whatsoever, that she decides to follow her. She answers the call of the prototypical second-in-command PreCure, who supports her partner and trusts the other’s gut, despite not being personally governed by instincts alone. Like Cures White, Egret, and others before her, Cure Magical is led forward by the connection she finally discovers with her partner, and they naturally fall back into the synch that is the basis for their powers.
This closing of distance between the two girls is a step in the right direction for their development as a legendary duo. If they are to follow the path blazed by pairs previous, they are sure to face even more uncertainty going forward. They’re set to fight and argue next week, and while it seems like the point of contention might be something as seemingly trivial as attending to Mofurun, the basis for their disagreements will be rooted on their differences. Futari wa Pretty Cure really started taking off after their first fight, so it’ll be really interesting to see how it unfolds for Mirai and Riko. Maho Girls so far has set itself up to be an interesting meta-retrospective on the two-girl dynamic so far, but the magical world and charming characterizations have made the series stand out on its own, distancing itself from others.