Hugtto! Precure

Among anime’s long-running franchises, churning out additions for a loyal fandom every year or so, Pretty Cure (Precure) is one of the finest. I’d even say the magical girl metaseries is the best aimed at girls, next to shonen Gundam for boys. As these series grow storied, they face unique challenges. The expectations of the target demographic (or their parents) (or the advertisers) may change. Further, many viewers who’ve long been hooked will now be older than the intended audience and may have different expectations still, whether from a greater desire for innovation or standards that are harder to please. Hugtto! Precure, the 2018 into 2019 installment, mostly succeeds and is a very good anime, though with a few compromises and surrenders to the spirit of the age that left me shaking my head.

A countervailing strength these never-ending series have, usually counted a fault, is a reliance on toy sales. On the show-to-sales-pitch count, Pretty Cure is even worse than Gundam, with the magical items used in transformations or attacks visibly animated to look like a plastic toy a business partner can easily mass produce! I suspect that the need to maintain a line of toys that work in about the same way is a strong incentive for consistent animation, discouraging any drastic changes away from a strategy that has worked before. 

One of the first things you’ll notice is the lovely palate of colors. Even when untransformed, the main girls and their surroundings come in many shades of the rainbow and beyond. Children like these bright colors, and adults used to drab entertainment and a more drab life will find them refreshing.

Hana Nono begins her thirteenth birthday determined to be a new, more adult-like Hana Nono, but soon has a bad hair day on her hands as she clips her bangs too close. After a strange experience where time briefly stops and she hears a baby’s voice leads her to meet Saaya Yakushiji and Homare Kagayaki, clearly future precures from their blue and blonde hair, an adorable baby she names Hugtan and accompanying mascot character Hariham Harry fly into her bedroom window, but after a brief introduction they vanish. Who is Hugtan? This’ll remain a mystery for a while, and entails some surprisingly complex plot developments, but in the meantime she serves wonderfully to draw out the girls’ mothering instincts. The next day Charaleet, the chief clerk at Criasu Corporation, takes advantage of bad feelings between a student and teacher to unleash an Oshimaida (meaning “It’s The End”), a monster that spreads the ”prickly power” (toge power) and makes everyone in the vicinity faint, then tries to steal Hugtan‘s ”tomorrow power” (asu power)-generating Mirai (Future) Crystal. Hana’s desire to protect Hugtan allows that magical baby to cause a thick mobile phone-looking PreHeart to emerge from Hana’s heart, which she uses to transform into Cure Yell, defeat the Oshimaida, awaken everyone and heal all the bad feelings.

Trying to describe what actually happens in a magical girl fight is a real weeb’s errand, with alchemical-sounding powers generated by pure hearts and special items allowing good to defeat evil, but it amounts to visually appealing attacks that are a core part of the draw. Three of the group attacks—Trinity Concert, Cheerful Attack, and Tomorrow With Everyone—really stood out, comparing favorably against KiraKira Precure A La Mode’s Animal Go Round, my favorite from the last season. However, a joint attack by Cure Macherie and Cure Amour, Twin Love Rock Beat, using their heart-shaped guitars as projectile weapons, struck me as incredibly tacky, a least favorite of all the franchise‘s stylized offensives.