While having lunch in the school courtyard, Miyuki, Yayoi, and Akane are confronted by senior students who try to take over their eating spots. Fellow classmate, Nao Midorikawa, steps in and thoroughly justifies the girls’ right to where they eat. Drawn by Nao’s coolness, the three girls watch her during soccer practice and agree to recruit her as the fourth precure. Miyuki visits Nao’s house, where she meets her numerous siblings. After playing with Nao’s siblings and having lunch with the family, they meet up with Akane and Yayoi at a nearby soccer field. Red Oni appears and casts Bad End on the Soccer Field. The girls transform and try to protect Nao’s siblings from an Akanbe, but Miyuki gets caught by the Akanbe’s net. Nao awakens from Bad End and protects her siblings, awakening as Cure March in the process and defeating the Akanbe using her speed and March Shoot finisher.
Here are my 5 thoughts on the episode, mostly gushing about March.
1. I love Cure March, the character.
There’s a huge personal bias from me towards characters who place importance on family, and the fact that Nao is a remarkably competent big sister in the family is a huge plus in my book. With athleticism, responsibility, and a small streak of righteousness, Nao seems to have it all, but she’s wholly grounded by her siblings, who she keeps in line in return. She is a different kind of strong, big sister than Yayoi is from iDOLM@STER, who has the added responsibility of being a financial contributor to the household. They have their slight differences, but there’s a strength from familial devotion that comes out in the rest of their character when they’re outside of the house.
Nao shows this particularly well in both her relationship to the other girls as well as her strength as a PreCure. In episode 1, she is described by Akane as a boss-like character of a high school gang, and she throws her weight around as March though in this case, her wind-based powers gives her a weightless punch that is effective against the Akanbe nonetheless. Her super-speed has remarkable potential for animation, and the parallel between the speed burst that she showed during soccer practice and during her battle with the Akanbe is excellently paralleled, and animated ridiculously well.
Nao’s PreCure March Shoot is a wind version of Cure Rouge’s Pretty Cure Fire Strike in Yes 5! GoGo. It’s one example of the remarkably close similarities between Smile and Yes 5, but the fact remains that March’s finisher is a bit of a letdown due to the carbon-copy nature of it. Thankfully, it’s just a preliminary finisher, and whatever mid-season power-up will be definitely an upgrade in more ways than one.
2. I love Cure Marina, the voice actor.
I was overhyped about Marina Inoue’s role as Nao Midorikawa ever since the seiyuu cast announcement for Smile, and despite my numerous ravings and rants about my high expectations for Marina’s presence on the show, she has exceeded every single expectation from a vocal standpoint. As I had predicted, she would take a similar delivery approach as she did with Kyoko Mogami from Skip Beat. Like Kyoko, Nao has a strong voice, an air of confidence (to the point of slight arrogance), and full of emotions at different ends of the spectrum.
In the picture above, she delivers a fantastic line about how much she loves her family, which is set up in the previous scene really well by her portrayal of an older sister in charge of the family. Nao is drawn with a very wistful look in her eyes, staring off in the background, but is topped off by Marina’s very airy tone when she says the line. Contrast that with the powerful booming voice that she commands when Nao transforms into Cure March, particularly during her stock footage delivery of “PreCure March Shoot!” and we see the dynamic range that Marina was brought on board for.
The best thing, though, is that she doesn’t need to rely on any particular character novelty to bring out her talents. Candy has the mascot tone of voice and verbal tic; Miyuki has the hammy over-acting; Akane has her Kansai dialect; Yayoi has an extremely shy temperament. Marina has the least to work with, but manages to pull off the strong-willed Nao very effectively. Combined with the fact that the other characters that I described have fantastic voice actors in their own right (Hisako Kanemoto as Yayoi, in particular), Marina’s strength is still felt, and doesn’t take away from the rest of the cast. This year looks to be really strong in the voice acting department, and I can’t wait to see where this show ends up in comparison to the rest of the PreCure franchise.
3. Candy is a pretty great PreCure mascot, right from the beginning.
It took Hummy from Suite PreCure quite a bit of time to grow on me as a character, but it didn’t occur to me until all that random tacked-on stuff at the end after the big bad was defeated that I actually cared for the little brah. I don’t know when it happened throughout the show, but having recently watched the All-Stars DX3 movie, I can definitely confirm that Hummy is pretty cool as a mascot; her verbal tic isn’t too annoying, she has a good relationship to Hibiki and Kanade, and she has the right kind of airheadedness that is fit for a mascot.
Candy has a lot of the same thing going on for her as Hummy did in Suite, except the Smile critter is very likeable early on. Unlike the harshly grating timbres of Mepple from Futari wa and both Coco and Nuts from Yes 5, Candy’s is more infant-like in the vein of Chypre and Coffret, with a verbal tic of -kuru, which isn’t repeated too much for me to take any particular notice. She acts like the tsukkomi to Miyuki’s boke, and her annoyances with Miyuki is particularly refreshing and a necessary balance to Miyuki’s clumsiness. Candy’s seiyuu is Ikue Ootani, who has a lot of experience portraying mascot characters like Pikachu and Tony Tony Chopper from One Piece. Ikue’s role in One Piece is of an interesting note due to the running gag in the episode where Nao’s family mistakes Candy for a tanuki (raccoon), which is remarkably similar to TTC’s running gag throughout the entire series. Combined with the great scene where Candy is thrown around like a rag doll, the Cure mascot is already making a strong showing in the early episodes.
4. Despite many similarities to Yes 5, the early chemistry in Smile PreCure is much more apparent.
From my last experience watching Yes 5 a while back, it took a while for me to get into the characters. I liked each of them individually (Cure Dream and Cure Mint, in particular), but as a group, they didn’t really click together until after the other mascot, Nuts, appears. While Aqua’s initial inability to become a PreCure was a pretty neat spin on the episodic integration of the cast, it wasn’t until her little spat with Rouge in episode 8 when the dynamics and chemistry between the cast was fully felt.
We don’t know yet how Beauty’s episode will go, and if it’s any indication, Reika’s striking individual similarity to Karen from Yes 5, as well as episode 4’s preview will probably result in a similar circumstance resulting in more screentime required for Beauty to become a PreCure. It’s a necessary thing, considering that the nature of systematic character introduction episodes has so far resulted in Reika getting barely any lines; putting a bit extra oomf into Beauty’s addition helps with making up for her absence so far.
Despite that, the chemistry and relationship dynamic between the Cures introduced so far is much stronger, simply due to how much stronger the girls’ personalities are in relation to Yes 5. They stand out as individuals, but not too much as to take the spotlight away from each other. It helps that the main character is a transfer student, since the developing friendship centres around her, and is evened out with the characters with each episode. In Yes 5, Nozomi and Rin (the first two cures) are already friends, making the added dynamic of Urara/Cure Lemonade a bit more difficult, as she was the fifth wheel in the cast. By making the lead Cure the fifth wheel, the relationship development is much more evenly spread, even if Miyuki’s relationship with the others isn’t as strong as Nozomi’s.
As Akane said in the episode, their bonds aren’t strong yet, but they will be soon! It’s a portent of things to come, and Reika’s addition will complete the picture for this ensemble going forward.
5. Smile is on its way to becoming the most medium-aware PreCure in the franchise.
As much as I’ve praised Nao and Marina like the pathetic fanboy that I am, my favourite part of the entire episode didn’t even involve the spotlight character. In an off-hand comment after Happy, Sunny, and Peace’s transformation, Red Oni points out how he played rock-paper-scissors with Yayoi during her transformation and lost. Even though I ragged pretty hard on the bad guys in the past few episodes, I’m beginning to see a bit of hope with regards the direction that these guys take throughout the show. Unlike the bumbling nincompoopery of Trio the Minor, the Bad End Kingdom is showing comic potential through such exchanges like this one.
As a show that is remarkably aware of the tropes inside and out of the PreCure franchise, it’s doing a fantastic job at hanging the odd lampshade here and there, and starting with Yayoi’s rock-paper-scissors gag, Smile is beginning to set itself apart from its other sister series. From Miyuki’s invocation of three little pigs in episode 1 to Akane’s manzai moments this week, this iteration of PreCure, as well as its villains, could be the most genre-savvy in the franchise to date. As a huge troper, I am loving every moment of it.
PreCure Power Rankings: Episode 4
1. Nao/Cure March – Marina makes a super-strong appearance this week, and makes the rest of the cast even better.
2. Yayoi/Cure Peace – Her rock-paper-scissors moment is the most hilarious part of the episode.
3. Akane/Cure Sunny – I liked the manzai bit, but I hope it doesn’t throw the hot-blooded aspect of her character out of balance.
4. Miyuki/Cure Happy – Solid overall. With every precure addition, she just gets better and better.
Red Oni Reika/Cure Beauty – No lines? No problem! Better make up for it with a good episode 5!