the_sun_is_up: Giorno in a cloud of flower petals, making a sexyface at the camera. (giogio - faaaaabulous)
[personal profile] the_sun_is_up

In my quest to research Dark Magical Girls, I discovered that somebody uploaded all of Pretear to Youtube, so I'm steamrolling through it before the copyright police zap it.

So Pretear is a reverse harem anime and—

Wait, come back, I haven't finished yet! Sheesh. What I was going to say before I psychically sensed all of you spontaneously losing interest was that Pretear is also written by the same guy who directed Princess Tutu. And like Princess Tutu, Pretear is a show I'd rank amongst the best of the Magical Girl genre.

The basic plot is a mashup of Snow White and Cinderella except with the damsel in distress protagonist replaced with a plucky badass magical girl, and instead of seven dwarves, our heroine is accompanied by seven magical bishonen who act as her transformation trinkets, merging with her in order to grant her powers. Otherwise, the plot is your standard Magical Girl Warrior affair with naked henshins, elemental magic, monsters of the week, destiny, and a purple-wearing Dark Magical Girl who wants to destroy the world because she's angsty and wants everyone else to be too.

However there are a number of things that establish Pretear as a cut above its peers: Firstly, the heroine is refreshingly realistic. Maybe I've just grown demoralized by the endless parade of quivering moeblobs and shrill genki girls and airheaded failboats that clutter up the genre, but these days the surest way for a MG show to win me over is to have a protagonist who acts like an actual human being, and this is something that Himeno pulls off beautifully. She's actually rather hard to describe because she doesn't slot into any of the usual stereotypes; she's plucky and determined and energetic but also angsty and uncertain and self-critical, and my favorite part about her is how she reacts to situations in a way that feels natural and makes sense. For example, when the seven not-dwarfs first show up and try to get her to become the Pretear, she has mixed feelings about it and turns them down. But while running away, she mulls it over and changes her mind and runs back to the seven bishies, who are currently fighting a monster, and she runs up to her slap-slap-kiss love interest bishie and is like "Tell me what I need to do to become the Pretear!" Most magical girls are either all "Nooo I just want to be normal!" or all "Wheee diving headfirst into magical-girl-hood without thinking about the consequences first!" so it was nice to see a heroine whose reaction was more complex and who had the opportunity to give the proposal some thought before agreeing.

Also, in order to transform, Himeno has to merge with one of her bishies, and yes, it looks exactly as sexual as it sounds. And what I like is that Himeno immediately picks up on the innuendo, and when she first hears the merging process described by one of the (hilariously oblivious) bishies, her brain goes straight to the gutter and she has a minor freakout of "You're 'inside me?' We're 'becoming one?' BRB BRAIN MELTING ASDJKDSLFJDJFK" and it is just comedy gold. I also really loved her "STOP ANGSTING AND GET AHOLD OF YOURSELVES" speech to the boys in episode 7 — that was big "UGH I OFFICIALLY LOVE THIS CHARACTER" moment for me.

Another difference is that the show is significantly less cutesy and sugary than most MG fare. The plot is quite serious and heavy on angst, the Monsters of the Week are genuinely scary and disturbing-looking instead of being wacky golems made of mundane objects, and the show spends a minimal amount of time on filler, delving quite quickly into the dark secrets about the villainess's origins and how she's connected to the seven bishies. Himeno doesn't even have a cutesy animal sidekick/mentor; there's a cute bird-thing that serves as Team Pet, but it hardly ever has screentime. Himeno lacks the usual chunky plastic bling since her harem already serves that purpose, her weapons are pretty straightforward and hardcore — a sword, an axe, a whip, a chakram, etc — and her seven outfits deserve special mention for being really beautifully designed. Basically, this is a Magical Girl show that takes itself seriously instead of being self-admitted foof, and deserves to take itself seriously, harem of wearable bishies notwithstanding.

Another aspect of note is the relationship between Himeno and Hayate (the wind-themed bishie) which gets a lot of development and screentime during the series. Their romance reminds me a lot of Kyoko and Ren from Skip Beat: plucky heroine with secret angst meets cranky, abrasive, but secretly kind-hearted dark-haired guy by crashing into him headlong, they get off to a spectacularly bad start and hate each other, but gradually they get to know each other and realize that their bad first impressions were incorrect, and eventually they've got it bad for each other and only their mutual tsundere-ness is preventing them from sucking face. So with those similarities, I guess it's no surprise that I find the Himeno/Hayate romance to be quite adorable, and I'm pleased to report that so far their gradual transition from "I hate you" to "I like you" is well written and believable.

I also think the handling of the fairytale elements deserves special mention. The show gets major kudos for being able to breathe new life into the tired and not-very-good-to-begin-with Cinderella story by making the stepmother an overall nice person who is genuinely in love with the father, making one stepsister a lulzy sitcom-esque rival who is too ineffectual to be hate-worthy, and making the other stepsister have lots of sympathy-inducing angst behind her ice queen façade, so Himeno's dislike for her new family is less about them being puppy-stomping cartoon villains and more about feeling like a fish out of water, a poor girl suddenly thrust into a rich lifestyle and clueless about how to act or how to make her snobby stepsisters like her.

However, that's not to say that Pretear is perfect. The fight scenes are pretty short and lackluster, so if that's what you watch MG shows for then this one is going to disappoint. The focus is more on the people and their relationships and emotional drama, so the action gets short shrift. Also, I'm no expert on animation quality, but the budget for Pretear looks like it was on the modest side, so the visual quality is really inconsistent, although the art style is quite nice. And the soundtrack is... honestly dreadful. It sounds like easy listening or elevator music, with the exception of the memorable J-Pop opener.

And I have one big complaint regarding the requisite "boyfriend turns evil" plotline...

Yeah, Sasame's swan dive into villainy was really not set up well at all. I mean, Takako didn't even have to seduce him over to the dark side or convince him with a Hannibal Lecture or anything — he offered to be her evil minion before she even had a chance to ask him! I really would have liked to see him be more conflicted over the whole "I'm betraying and agreeing to go kill all my dearest friends and am selling my soul to an evil woman who's planning to destroy the whole world and whom I know for a fact doesn't love me back" thing. I can accept that he's stupidly in love and is doing stupid things because of that, but just have him act like it's a difficult decision he's making and like he feels bad for having to backstab all his friends, that's all I'm saying.

But overall, Pretear is a very strong Magical Girl show and I recommend it.

As a final comment: I think it's hilarious that when Himeno first uses the Wind Sword, the glowy magic power comes out of her crotch. Just, unmistakably starts blossoming out of her pelvic region. Given those O-faces she makes during her transformation sequences, I shouldn't be surprised!
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the_sun_is_up: Panty from PSG wearing glasses. (Default)
Sing me a bawdy song, make me merry

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