Why Pretty Cure’s Rio Kuroki Deserved Better

The Pretty Cure franchise focuses just as much on character development and relationships as it does on magical girl action scenes, if not more. Kira Kira Pretty Cure a la Mode is no exception, with many episodes dedicated to the characters’ friendships, dreams, and aspirations, and an epilogue that shows them as adults, all having fulfilled their dreams. Well, almost all of them. One particular character, Rio Kuroki, deserved better than he got.

Rio Kuroki is a fairy and the twin brother of Ciel Kirahoshi/Cure Parfait, one of the main heroines. When we first meet Rio, he has been transformed into a villain named Julio by his feelings of inadequacy – he and his sister trained together in France to become pâtissiers, but only Ciel seemed to be making any real progress, even gaining the ability to transform into a human. The jealousy and resentment Rio felt led to the villain Noir taking advantage of his dark emotions to turn him into Julio.

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Later in the series, after being purified by the heroines, Rio returns to baking, and although his issues with his sister aren’t resolved right away, their relationship does begin to mend. However, becoming pâtissiers wasn’t the only dream the siblings shared -- they both also wanted to become Pretty Cures. Ciel does get to fulfill that dream, becoming Cure Parfait. Rio does not.

Despite Kira Kira trying to portray their relationship as healing and becoming more equal, it’s hard not to see Rio as still living in Ciel’s shadow. Almost immediately after being purified, he takes an attack for her, allowing her to complete her first transformation into Cure Parfait and putting him into a coma that lasts for 16 episodes, about a third of Kira Kira’s total run. Upon reviving, he is able to temporarily borrow power from the ancient Pretty Cure, Lumiere, in the form of a wand; that wand is destroyed in battle almost immediately, and Rio is relegated once again to a supporting role.

In a later episode, Rio is falsely accused of returning to his villainous ways, which causes his feelings of inadequacy to resurface. When he lashes out at Ciel, she tells him that she still wants to pursue their baking dreams together and that it was their combined feelings that created Cure Parfait. Considering that Rio had dreamed of becoming a Cure in his own right, this last bit feels almost insulting. In the series finale, Ciel and Rio have in fact become a famous pâtissier team, but even this just highlights the fact that Rio never really got anything to call his own. Ciel was famous before him; it’s inevitable that he would be seen as something like her sidekick. His fame and accomplishments will never belong to him alone.

While Rio’s character arc is about getting a second chance to bond with his sister and follow his dreams, it feels almost like he’s being punished for being imperfect -- an imperfect pâtissier, an imperfect hero. In comparison, Ciel was always an amazing baker and a morally good person; when she almost fell to darkness herself, it was because of her selfless guilt at having failed to notice her brother’s sadness, as opposed to Rio’s more destructive feelings of jealousy. It almost seems like Kira Kira is telling us that Rio deserves a second chance -- but not that much of a second chance.

The real reason that Rio couldn’t become a Cure might be as simple as the fact that at the time, there had never been a male Pretty Cure in the entire franchise. However, there was no in-universe rule stating that this had to be the case, and in fact, Hugtto Pretty Cure -- the very next season -- introduced the first male Cure, Cure Infini. Rio’s independent character development seems to have been stalled by real-world limitations that became irrelevant within a year.

This is a shame. Rio’s an interesting character who remains popular with fans, many of whom still wish that he had gotten to become a Pretty Cure. Even if he had not become a Cure, if he had been active in more episodes or was allowed to have his own accomplishments outside of Ciel, perhaps these fans wouldn't have been so disappointed with how his character arc was handled. Rio deserved to come into his own, but the narrative kept him in his sister’s shadow, so we’ll never know what could have been.

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