Heartcatch Precure ended about ten years back.
I can still find the blog post which put me onto it, a blog post which struck me not through brilliance or sharpness, but because it took Heartcatch seriously as anime to be folded into general viewing alongside anime aimed at teenagers and anime aimed at adults.
At the time I was watching the original. Events in the anime of early 2011—events which needn’t detain us here—had convinced me that I ought to try some actual daytime magical girl titles. I turned to Heartcatch next after the original, and I’ve revisited it since. Most recently, a friend and I watched it together, her for the first time; seeing something with a new viewer always offers a good chance to reappraise.
While I’m fonder of the original Precure, I think Heartcatch is (whisper it) better. In fact, while no series’ll suit everyone, this one remains the iteration most likely to suit a median anime fan.
I shan’t attempt to review Heartcatch, or to justify my affection for it by tallying different aspects, and I’ll especially avoid tying it to the Procrustean bed of novelistic plotting. Every year I find I bristle a little more when I see people discuss anime titles as though they should try to be books.
No, if we’re going to bother speaking of the show, we should speak of it on its own terms. I’ll talk about two of those terms: fighting and design.
Man, this show’s fighting is fun! Never—I sigh thinking of this word even inside quotation marks—‘dark’, but inventive, tense, and committedly physical. When diminutive Cure Marine punches a villain in the chest, one sees the impact pass out through the villain’s back, and I think that’s beautiful.
The physicality contrasts piquantly with the designs’ frequent comical deformations. Battle always lies on the edge of comedy, and just as surely on the edge of disaster: the series’ very first scene shows us the disaster which sets up the whole plot. The fighting both draws on and charges the rest of the show.
For Heartcatch knows well that action is character. Marine windmills her way through foes with more motivation than finesse; Blossom would like to be a martial artist, but isn’t, while Sunshine is a martial artist but one mainly armed with shields; Moonlight and Dark Precure both—both, mark ye—scrap with a veteran’s ruthless efficiency.
Plus, Precure’s usual sense of inventive fun hangs around in, if anything, a stronger concentration than usual: one can’t complain about someone surfing down the violently-extended noodles of a giant, possessed bowl of ramen.
Often, seeing a show as a series of battles limits us. In Heartcatch’s case, though, that way of looking bears fruit. Many of the episodic conflicts lodge themselves in the memory on their own, but they also pile up. They accrue. At the show’s climax, Blossom stands in front of a ruined Earth and declares that she’s come to like the world and the people in it; this scene only strikes with such heft because we know how many different times she’s fought on the planet at her back to free this or that person’s heart.
Only repetition and the time afforded by many episodes enable this. Really, despite all my advocacy for kids’ shows, I wish present-day TV anime for other audiences also offered space to original year-long titles. I don’t think longer lengths are always better, but surely having a wider range of lengths available would benefit anime.
And what, then, of those designs? ‘Designs’ stretches very wide: if I had the time and knowledge, I’d love to talk about the show’s delightfully stylised backgrounds, for instance. Here, though, I’ll just jot out a few notes on the characters.
Yoshihiko Umakoshi’s profile has grown in recent years, perhaps especially through his character-design role in the My Hero Academia adaptation. In itself this new stature is a fine and good thing, but it perhaps risks diluting the force of his other work. Looking again at Heartcatch (or Casshern Sins, Marie & Gali, Kasumin, Doremi &c—I leave aside his more restrained mode in helping to adapt, for instance, Mushishi), his designs assert their fundamental, delightfully angular oddness. They seem in this show to have borne up very, very well through the rigours of a running year-long production schedule.
Unusually, some published commentary from Umakoshi on this topic has entered English, in a strange combination of drawing advice and interviews with him and Hisashi Kagawa scattered through a how-to-draw companion (ɪsʙɴ 9784805315842).
From this book’s notes I learned various things. For instance, the inspiration for the coats on the cures’ shadow selves in episodes 37 and 38 apparently came from John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. Umakoshi improvised Coupe, the silently vital elder fairy, without instruction or brief, and the staff adopted him into the show—very successfully, I’ll add.
The notes also lay out some of the subtler elements distinguishing Moonlight from the other heroines: sharper points and more divisions in the hair, no petal motif for the skirt shape, narrower eyes, and a finer distinction between her civilian and transformed appearances. One of the few really distinct changes when Yuri becomes Moonlight also looks like a fussily personal particularity: in a transformation which doesn’t outstay its welcome, being radically short compared to the others, she bothers to adjust her fringe. (Or ‘bangs’, as I believe they call a fringe in some types of English.) It’s a quiet but insistent choice, from a character often silent about her own wants.
Incidentally, the accompanying photos show that Umakoshi’s workspace hosts, or hosted at the time of interview, a big figure of Terasawa’s Cobra. Cool guy.
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What Heartcatch is not, even for people who respect kids’ anime and have escaped the novelistic paradigm, is, well, Doremi. But I think the (very small) world of those who care about such comparisons the more recent title gets treated a little unfairly because of our tendency to make the things we love into criteria. It wasn’t trying to be Doremi, and nor should it: why strive for another show’s special type of excellence?
The Japanese loanword from English catch, キャッチ, shares something its ancestor’s meaning, but can also signify the detection or reception of a signal, as one might ‘catch’ a radar contact or a broadcast wave. A decade on, Heartcatch still well fulfils both senses.