The first episode of Fresh Precure is all kinds of different. First, the art appears strangely bland with much less detail than I expected. Second, the characters look considerably older despite being the same age as previous Cures. And I'm not just saying that because Miki has legs that go up to her neck. Third, the mascot characters aren't nearly as annoying as I had anticipated. So far the ferret-weasel guy seems kinda all right, possibly because of his thick accent.
Another episode, another Cure called. Miki is tall, athletic, and hopes to be a model. She also has a kid brother who suffers from the vapors. Really, there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy about the episode. Well, ferret-weasel-mascot extraordinaire Tart with the Osaka accent still manages to not be annoying! Am I really watching Precure? A non-annoying mascot character? Inconceivable! Even the baby/runt mascot hasn't been annoying yet, probably because it doesn't talk. Thank Haruhi.
Oh, and the first mini-boss is
Easy East, a mildly sadistic gal who hides her shame with a cape fastened in two places in the front instead of getting properly dressed. I probably should have captured a screenshot of that.
The production values still seem very low. There's not a lot of detail and the look of the show just kinda suggests they're trying to save money. This is somewhat unexpected, because I was under the impression the Pretty Cure franchise was a cash cow. Maybe they're diverting all the funds towards Pretty Cure All Stars, which will hopefully be one EPIC crossover movie. I'm hoping Cure White chokes out a rookie Cure in the first five minutes. EPIC.
So, just as it was back when the original Futari wa Pretty Cure aired, I have gone back to watching Fresh Pretty Cure raws. Like the original, this is a pretty easy series to watch sans subtitles. They could be speaking Latin and the viewer should still have no difficulty following the story. This is a show for little kids, after all.
Through six episodes, Fresh Precure does feature a number of differences with the original Precure. First and most obvious is the newfangled character designs. As I have commented before, the Fresh girls look considerably older than the original Cures despite being the same age. For example, Love is practically the same height as her mother. [Update: Wait, no she's not. I guess it was just the angle.] It is as if Toei saw the fan art designs for Dark Dream and had an epiphany.
Second and perhaps most importantly, the mascot characters are not annoying! Moreover, both have already been spotted in the open by non-Cure-type regular people. Tart the talking weasel with the Osaka accent is lying low as Love's pet ferret à la Yuuno Scrya from the Nanoha series.
Chiffon is a little annoying, but Chiffon doesn't talk and isn't nearly the troublemaker it could be. It's almost too good to be true, really.
There are other assorted differences, but the one that bothers me most is the CGI ED. This is a departure from the original series (and from the clips of the other Precure iterations' EDs that I have seen). It kind of freaked me out at first, to tell you the truth, but I have since decided it does not look so bad at HD resolutions—even upscaled.
The Fresh all singing all dancing CGI ED strikes a blow in the battle between computerized Idolm@ster-type idols versus human-type live idols. In fact, I will go on record as saying the first casualty in the War Against the Machines will be meatspace synchronized dancers. A seemingly innocuous casualty with the extermination of the human race on the line, but a sure one. Just watch the Vocaloid cover of the Cyndi Wang cover of the ABBA song "Honey" and tell me I'm wrong. But I digress.
Ultimately what will make or break Fresh Precure for me is the quantity and quality of magikal girls getting really pissed off. And lots of hand-to-hand combat. This is a formula that had better stay true to form during the quickly-approaching All Stars movie.
In fact, I'll make it easy for Toei. Here is a partial list of my wholly reasonable expectations for the Pretty Cure All Stars crossover movie:
- Honoka goes ape shit again and chokes out one of the Yes! Cures for having the gall to address her as "White" instead of "Cure White-sama."
- At least three or four of the newer Cures should idolize Nagisa and follow her around offering to carry her gym bag and such, crooning "Cure Black-senpai" this and "Cure Black-senpai" that.
- Bring back David Bowie.
- NO PORUN. And none of the that other annoying mascot that drives even Porun crazy.
- Some moment where Cure Black and Cure White Marvelous Screw Rainbow Storm some deadbeats square in the face while rookie Cures stand back, mouths agape, whispering, "Is this the power of the Yakin Due veterans?"
- Cagalli throws The Ring into Mount Doom. Wait...
In other news, I am fully prepared to declare Easy the best Pretty Cure villain of the franchise. Even better than David Bowie. True story. Your mileage may vary (and likely turn on whether or not you consider Dark Dream a villain or not).
In other other news, I am not so sure it is appropriate for Love to address Mr. Heart-Shaped Donut Vendor as "Kaoru-chan." Then again, it's probably not appropriate for him to be selling donuts out of the back of a van, so I guess it's a wash.
The biggest surprise of the Winter 2009 season was the rise of Shikabane Hime: Kuro and the fall of Toradora! in the final rankings during the last weeks of the season. As expected, it was a rather weak season overall, but it had its moments.
I had fully expected to drop Shikabane Hime after four episodes during the Autumn 2008 season, but I was hooked by the characters (except for Ouri) and the mystery. It helped I was spared the loathsome shounen jive conventions I despise so much.
The second-best series from Winter 2009 was the first half of the fifth season of Major. Besides being a solid sports anime, it's also starting to delve into relationship drama, although with its own flair, and thankfully without the typical animeisms that plague relationship stories. Maybe it's because the characters in question are no longer in high school, so they aren't expected to act like twits. Whatever the reason, it's refreshing.
Taking the third spot is the first Ichigo Mashimaro Encore OVA. I should probably not include OVAs in these rankings for numerous reasons, but I'm making these rules up as I go along. As for the first Ichigo Mashimaro Encore OVA itself, it was another solid block of entertainment and charm that make the series so enjoyable. Pity the title unfairly carries with it all that baggage it can't seem to escape. You know what I'm talking about.
In fourth is the latest offering of Maria-sama ga Miteru. I didn't care for these episodes as much as the previous seasons, but that's probably because of their Touko-centric nature. On the other hand, these episodes also elevated Touko three positions in the Marimite rankings. Congratulations, Touko. I no longer like you least.
Everyone else's favorite, Toradora!, only managed to take the fifth spot, despite leading most of the season. As astute readers surely realize, this sudden drop is largely due to the dramatic turn towards the end of the season. Most people who really like Toradora! seem to really like the relationship drama aspects of the final episodes, but I felt they were ham-handed at best. Maybe it's because these are high school relationships in question, but I couldn't help thinking the principals were utter twits. As others have pointed out, this isn't really drama; it's melodrama. And it tastes like high school.
I'm not a huge fan of Tetsuwan Birdy Decode, but it is pretty good at what it does. Were these rankings based solely on my interest, it would probably place lower in the standings, although at no fault of its own. Then again, if these rankings were driven by my appreciation of Chiba Saeko, it would place higher. So let's just call it a wash, eh.
Da Capo If is another OVA ranked entirely on the strength of a single episode. Like with the Ichigo Mashimaro OVA, that's probably not fair, and I should probably exclude it entirely, but I waited a long time for a Kotori route, so I'm going to include it, God damn it. Also, Da Capo If reminds us Horie Yui can really act when she wants to.
The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan shorts are genuinely amusing. They pulled away from their Nyoron Churuya-san counterparts with that episode where Asahina Mikuru just starts crying from confusion and never looked back.
Oh God. Asu no Yoichi!. Hey, some of the middle-laterish episodes are all right, and that running gag with Washizu's crony had a great payoff that came completely out of left field. The best part is everyone else dropped this show after episode two, so they have no idea what I'm talking about.
Fresh Pretty Cure is fresh. Love is love. Tart is the least annoying Precure mascot thus far. Kaoru-chan probably wants to get into the girls' pants. Easy is the best Precure villain except for that that one movie where Cure White is tempted by the dark side and beats Hell out of Cure Black. Aside from Buki being a sort of useless religious fanatic, this show is all right.
Nyoron Churuya-san needs more variety in its jokes, nyoron.
Rounding out the final spot among shows I watched during the Winter 2009 season is the unofficial Touhou doujin anime. Despite all the hype, it was merely adequate, which I guess is pretty good all things considered. I wanted to like it more, but I can't claim it's even as good as the classic Yakumo/Chen bit with the KCY and all.
I also dropped a bunch of shows, but there aren't any additions or changes from the earlier list
My favorite part of Fresh Precure is the primary villain, Easy. Ostensibly, Easy (or Eas, as some insist) is just one of Moebius' hoodlums along with Wester and Souler (East, West, South...har har) working to fill this gigantic container with Unhappiness Juice that drips in whenever the three of them manage to ruin someone's day. However, Easy is clearly the lead villain just as Love is the lead Cure and presumptive main character of the series.
But Easy goes about her task so half-assed. After episode 15, that Unhappiness Juice container is still about 95% empty. (5% full if you're an evil optimist!) She's figured out that things would go a lot quicker if Legendary Warriors Pretty Cure didn't thwart their evil plans every time. She's figured out the three Cures' secret identities. She's even figured out all she need to do is keep them from transforming by stealing their magic cell phones. Nevertheless, Easy can't be bothered to do more than make token attempts at doing so. Maybe she's union. She's protecting their job security at least.
And considering her co-workers, I can't really blame her for not trying very hard. The occasionally overeager Wester means well, I suppose, but he needs to learn to stay in his lane. It's only a matter of time before Easy punches him in the mouth. And Souler with his My Little Pony hair is just a complete tool. I'd be filled with despair too if my job performance in any way depended on the contributions of a guy like that. No wonder Easy would rather go bowling with the Cures than carry these two douchebags.
Oh, that's the thing. Easy has a street-clothes, secret-identity alter ego also that goes by the name Higashi Setsuna. (Higashi means east, eh.) As Setsuna, Easy met Love in the first Fresh episode and has periodically approached her (while the two were in their respective civilian forms) to supposedly attempt to eliminate the turbo-genki Pretty Cure obstacle to her boss' evil plan...but really it just looks like an excuse to hang out and eat doughnuts.
Five will get you 10 that Easy switches sides and becomes the missing fourth Cure before the end of the season. There were definitely four color-coded Cure dongles during the opening bit of the first episode. So far, the pink (Peach), blue (Berry), and yellow (Pine) dongles are accounted for, leaving the red one still in the wild. Initially, it seemed Miyuki from Trinity would inherit the fourth Cure role, but episode 15 suggests it could be Setsuna/Easy. During the bowling scene, each Cure picks a bowling ball matching her outfit (and mahou shoujo battle costume). Setsuna (wearing red) hesitates when choosing between the red ball and the black one before ultimately settling on black, matching her Easy outfit, which is mostly black, although it does have red accents.
Speaking of which, episode 15 was amazing. It had a lot of really good sight gags and some genuine plot advancement—which is pretty damn important in a genre that tends to consist of 90 percent filler, even when said filler consistently benefits from numerous shots to the face. With episode 15, 10, and all the ones with Setsuna slumming with Love instead of doing her job, I'm elevating Fresh Precure to the third non-baseball, non-OVA slot of the season.
Aside from the potential stigma from watching Pretty Cure, Fresh really is a pretty good show. Oh, it still is what it is, and I don't think potential viewers who are merely curious need watch every single episode. If precedent is any indicator, Fresh Precure should run at least 48 episodes, and possibly 96. That's a lot of fresh and a lot of cure for the average viewer. To that end, I've prepared a simple guide for the curious who don't want to commit to the full-length series.
Through the first 20 episodes, I suggest watching episodes 01, 07, 10, 14, 15, 17, 19, and 20. Also watch episodes two and three if you care about how Miki and Buki end up as Cures, add episode six if you care about Love and her mother, but you can skip 10, 14, and 17 if you only care about the
PEACH-HAN Love and Easy Setsuna friendship. 10 is good because it's funny and it resolves Buki's ferret phobia bit. 14 is good because it finally includes hand-to-hand combat between the Labyrinth goons and the Cures. And 17 is good because it's about teen pregnancy. (No, really.) And it has Wester sleeping in the park on the grass in the middle of the day like a bum. The bad guys this season are such slackers.
So apparently the matters I speculated about last month were already widely known among the die hard Pretty Cure fan base. After catching up with what they know, it seems to me there shouldn't be any real surprises in the coming episodes to anyone already watching Fresh Pretty Cure raws. The English subtitles are still far back enough that a casual viewer might be caught off guard, so if you don't know what I'm talking about and you care about Fresh Pretty Cure spoilers, avert your eyes...now.
The identity of Cure Passion was officially revealed in the end-of-show eyecatch to episode 19. Unofficially, that information had been available through other channels—namely merchandising ones—possibly for months already. I still don't know the exact details of the transformation, but I know who it is, and I can guess how it transpires. What I don't know is how this is going to change the shape of the Fresh Pretty Cure season. There's a good chance this change could elevate it from "unexpectedly good" to AWESOME.
So, that pretty much ends any debate as to who the legendary Fourth Cure will be. Like I said, this is pretty obvious if you've been following the raws and watching Setsuna's and Love's friendship develop. One thing I find perplexing, however, is that Buki mentions Setsuna is about the same age as the other Cures (i.e., 14) which I guess I can accept, as Setsuna does look younger than Easy. But there's no way "Eas" is 14. Assuming the Labyrinth version is her true form, does this mean Easy is going to get stuck between the Setsuna and Cure Passion guises? Or will she be able to return to her normal "bad girl" form? I say normal, because that's what she uses when she's just bumming around the house after work.
If Easy becomes a Cure, that creates a vacancy among Moebius' squad of deadbeat henchmen. Moreover, there's still no sign of the "north" goon. If Easy is east, Wester is west, and Souler is south, then who is north? And what are these losers going to do when they're outnumbered two-to-one by Cures who beat their asses on a daily basis already? One piece of speculation out there involves Miyuki going bad after being spurned by Aka Linkrun in favor of Setsuna.
To be honest, Fresh Pretty Cure needs more villains more than it does more Cures. The reason the original series worked so well for me was because there were only two Cures. They didn't start out as friends, and they didn't really like either other at first. Nevertheless, they had to depend on each other to get anything done. Neither could even transform without the other. With Fresh Precure getting a fourth Cure, the show is approaching Yes! Precure 5 levels. That is, more of a sentai show than "Ikaruga with magikal girls."
If the Cure team completely overpowers the already strapped bad guys, how does that change the dynamic of the show? Actually, I suppose that could work within Fresh Pretty Cure's slacker framework. Labyrinth already isn't exactly comprised of the most motivated crew of mahou shoujo villains I've seen. That's going to change if workaholic Miyuki becomes Dark Miyuki and starts smoking the shit out of Souler and Wester. They're going to hate life. And how.
With a few exceptions, most of the shows I watched last season bear one thing in common: very few anime fans from my corner of the Internet (the best and worst of whom can be found at #raspberryheaven) would give them a chance. Even Hatsukoi Limited, which I previously mentioned is the best show from the spring 2009 season, attracted relatively few followers. (Most were too busy watching K-On! and searching for Mio fan art.) Those that actually watched Hatsukoi Limited instead of merely asking, "What's so great about another school romance show?" found a combination of light comedy and whimsical tales of first love so deftly executed I have no reservations naming it the top show of the season ahead of the initial (and already controversial) episodes of the second season of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu.
Haruhi II still secures second, and will presumably do well during the summer 2009 season, even if (or in my view, especially if) there really are eight episodes of "Endless Eight." That would be awesome, particularly if it drives conventional-thinking fans into sending Kyoto Animation furious letters with death threats which they can include in a The End of Haruhi movie that makes little sense but includes a bitchin' fight scene. (I secretly hope there are 15,514 episodes of "Endless Eight," and that the entire ordeal is somehow Yuki's fault and not Haruhi's at all.) I bet all the people who can't stand "Endless Eight" are the same people who skip OPs and EDs.
Nobody ever believes me, but Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom is actually really good—good enough to finish third for spring 2009 (and currently lead summer 2009). Bee Train influences are obvious, but this is not El Cazador de la Bruja or Madlax. For one thing, there's a male lead. Moreover, none of the female leads have displayed any signs of lesbianism. In fact, Ein apparently really likes getting oil massages from creepy old guys. Bio Concerto is worth its weight in gold, people. I'm telling you.
A lot of people won't watch sports anime in general or baseball anime in particular. Cross Game is at its best when it's not about baseball, to tell you the truth. I enjoy it a great deal more than Touch and what I've read of H2, but the actual baseball games in Cross Game are not as compelling as the slice-of-life stories about Kou and Aoba.
Major season five takes the fifth spot. I'm still watching it as there are still unsubbed episodes, but I won't be including it with the summer 2009 lineup. [Update: Advanced to fifth place after episode 120.] Assuming the fifth season is the final season of Major, I have to say this was an excellent series and I really appreciate the epic nature of the show, following Goro from childhood to adulthood. Were I to include all five seasons of Major as one work, it would easily take the top spot. Incidentally, Shimizu Kaoru still leads in the Girl of the Year rankings for 2009. This one is going to be a boat race.
The Kannagi episode 14 OVA is every bit as good as the series. That it only places sixth should tell you just how good the competition is this time around. I hope Kannagi gets a second season.
Fresh Pretty Cure ranks seventh, but has moved up quite a bit in the summer 2009 rankings due to the fully awesome Cure Passion arc, currently underway. This is another show nobody but Precure fans seem willing to watch, but the Setsuna/Love friendship really is compelling. Every episode recently has had the kind of OH SHIT moments typically attributed to shounen jive or cheesy Gundam switcheroos. Speaking of shounen jive, Fresh Pretty Cure is very light on the "standing around talking instead of fighting" bits, and when Love cuts loose, she starts out in a normal voice but gets exponentially louder and faster (it's awesome, trust me) until you think she's about to ace someone square in the face. There is too much beam spamming, though, but episode 23 is expected to include brutal fisticuffs, so we're back to the basics. Kickass.
Eighth goes to the second OVA episode of Ichigo Mashimaro Encore. This series also really could use another season. It remains entertaining and funny, and definitely does not deserve the extra baggage that keeps many people from watching it.
Pandora Hearts is good, but weird, so anyone that might watch it probably is watching it already, and no amount of cajoling will convince anyone else to give it a try, alas. I can understand why it doesn't have broader appeal.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood would have fared better if it hadn't felt like watching a really long clip show. It should also do better in the rankings this summer as it diverges more from the first anime. Curiously, I'll watch countless episodes of "Endless Eight" but the deja vu sensation of the early Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood episodes really turned me off. Or maybe it's because Brotherhood halved Winry's cup size. Could be.
The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan got a lot better as the season went on, but it's still not as good as Petit Eva or the various Marimite specials, for example.
The second episode of Da Capo: If came out during spring 2009. Pity it wasn't as good as the first installment. Then again, no Kotori arc is ever going to seem satisfying as long as Junichi remains such a putz.
Queen's Blade is what it is. I think it would have been infinitely better if Tomoe (the miko character) had—for no discernible reason—gone the entire series without getting naked .
Asura Cryin' faded a bit, or at least my interest did. I like all the colors, though. [Update: The end of Asura Cryin' got really shounen and kinda stopped being fun at all. Why can't it just be about humping your ghost girlfriend and every once in a while robot fights? I guess I won't be watching the second season, alas.]
Nyoron Churuya-san started out funny, but got a little tiresome towards the end, whereas its Haruhi-chan counterpart managed to improve and keep me looking forward to Haruhi II.
Good Lord, there were a lot of shows spring season. And I'm not just saying that because I watched a hundred-some episodes of Chi's Sweet Home so I could start Chi's New Address. Even with three-minute episodes, that is a lot of Chi. I could be burned out on all the kittenness, but Chi's New Address doesn't seem as good as Chi's Sweet Home. Needs more bear cat, for one thing. I also keep waiting for Chi to finally age, but for the time being she remains Yotsuba in kitten form.
The first episode of To Heart 2 ad plus wasn't very good. It's pretty forgettable, alas.
I didn't drop any shows aside from the following series I previously mentioned: Eden of the East (8) > Shin Mazinger Z (3) > Saki (2) > Valkyria Chronicles (3) > K-On! (4) > Higepiyo (3) > Shangri-La (1).
I should probably exclude OVAs from future such lists. I already leave off movies. Besides, it's not possible to "drop" a movie or a one-episode OVA. Well, I guess unless one abandons it midway. I probably should have done that with The Sky Crawlers. That movie should have had a Strike Witches crossover wherein the 501st Joint Fighter Wing wipes them all out in five minutes and the movie ends. Sheesh. The damn thing felt like it was 15,513 fortnights long. (Yes, I know. Yes, I know that too.)