Despite being relatively unknown outside of Japan, the PreCure franchise has been popular enough to warrant 16 different series, with new ones airing yearly featuring new casts and stories -- but what of the original, Futari wa Pretty Cure? As with many long-running series, new fans find themselves with a hard question to answer -- is it worth their time and energy to go back to the beginning, or are they better off sticking with the newer entries in the franchise? Spoiler alert -- it's worth it.
Despite airing all the way back in 2004, the show critiques many magical-girl tropes, just without the morbidity of, say, Madoka Magica, making many aspects of the series feel as fresh as the day it hit the airwaves. In the first episode alone, main characters Nagisa Misumi and Honoka Yukishiro manage to freak out during their first transformation and instinctively fight with their fists instead of magic. Throughout the course of the series, the show would continue to put fresh spins on magical-girl tropes, like showing why the characters need to hide their powers in Episode 14, "Are You Kidding? Pretty Cure Imposters Go Wild!" when some of their classmates cosplay as their superpowered forms and end up becoming targets.
Rather than summoning elemental powers, magical weaponry or even saying a spell to fix their problems, the girls' sole superpower appears to be super-strength, with the resilience to take hits as big as what they dish out. The only time they use a "magical" attack is their finishing move, usually used after defeating the Zakenna (monster of the week) to ensure it can't continue attacking. While the pair get more and more finishing moves to match their adversaries' rise in strength, the bulk of their fights are outright brawls. This flurry of feet and fists has lead to some of the best fight scenes in the franchise, able to rival anything from Dragon Ball.
Since the show only has two Cures, Cure Black (Nagisa) and Cure White (Honoka), it's able to spend more time establishing their relationship, the world and the stakes -- something many of its descendants, with their much larger casts, can't do. Partnered with residents of the Field of Light, Mepple and Mipple respectively, Nagisa and Honoka find themselves summoned as emissaries of light to protect the world from the Dotsuku Zone, reclaim the seven Prism Stones and restore Mepple and Mipple's homeland. Like the small main cast, this simple framework allows the real stars of the show to shine -- the characters and the episodic stories.
Unlike many other magical girls, particularly future Pretty Cures, Nagisa and Honoka take a fair amount of time to not only adjust to their new lives, but to become friends as well. Rather than already being friends before their transformation, or quickly bonding through their battles, Nagisa and Honoka are starkly different -- black and white. Nagisa is sporty, impulsive, and has tons of energy, which is great for her lacrosse team, while Honoka is levelheaded, curious and surprisingly stubborn, especially when it comes to her scientific endeavors. The show lays down a solid foundation for not only these characters, but the rest of their supporting cast as well, giving every character their own unique personality, wants and goals.
Nagisa and Honoka's bond, however, is clearly the centerpiece of the story and is tested through all sorts of fire -- from well-intentioned matchmaking gone wrong to an impersonator trying to undermine their friendship. Despite their differences -- and the fact that they never chose to become friends -- it's soon obvious that they would willingly die to protect each other. This is represented in both their attacks and transformations, as the girls have to be able to hold hands in order to transform or use their finishing move -- a weakness the villains try to exploit.
Even the bad guys are complete characters, rather than caricatures (aside from the Zakenna). Future installments would continue this trend, with many villains getting redemption arcs, or even being turned into Cures themselves -- but such a fate does not await the antagonists of this series. It adds a lot of nuance into each battle, as the audience is privy not only to the girls' struggles, but the villains' as well.
The show also has a great mix of comedy and drama. From slapstick gags to sharp tongues, almost every episode has a moment of laughter, intentional or not. But when the situation is dire, the characters are allowed to feel distressed and act accordingly. This adds weight to the girls' actions and ups the tension, despite the audience knowing that the "good guys always win."
While not as spectacular as its writing, the even stylization of the show is unique among the franchise, with characters sporting mostly realistic hair colours and styles, making this one of the few anime where playing "spot the main character" is actually difficult to do. The show uses this to its advantage to help code both Nagisa and Honoka as ordinary, making them easier to relate to and allowing young girls to see themselves in their shoes.
The emphasis on realism works to the show's benefit by also making the villains, as their exaggerated and sharp designs feel just as out of place on Earth as the mascot characters, with their overly-simple and rounded stylings. Likewise, the girls' Cure forms are a perfect blend of realistic (being among the simplest in the franchise) and appealing. with an understated abundance of frills that doesn't overtake the form, adding visual interest without making them busy.
Currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Pretty Cure remains a great introduction to the franchise for new viewers while also being something fun for those who can't wait for the next episode of Tropical Rouge! PreCure. Whether it's the imaginative plotlines, stellar writing, interesting characters or thrilling battles, the show has something for everyone to enjoy.