Unless you have been living in the so-called “real world” for the past year you are probably aware that we at Musume Senshi are rather fond of Precure.
Our stalwart staff (transformational staff of henshin, of course) have penned (gosh I hate that word “penned” – why did I use it?) lots of articles about the different Precure series.
So naturally we were excited at the advent of a new series. Particularly as the series seem to have been getting better and better as they go on, culminating (so far) in the wonderful Doki Doki. As you will also know, we view these series from a point of view that appears to be entirely lost on most Western fans – their underlying philosophy, which is at once very Japanese and also akin to the traditional metaphysical ways of thought that are largely lost to the West If you aren’t familiar with our approach, try a sample here.
So how does Happiness Charge stack up so far? Please be aware that I am just giving my Dolly impressions, but my first impressions are that it is a little lacking.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It is a fun anime and I love it so far, but compared to the openings of Smile, Doki Doki, Suite and Heartcatch it seems to lack the metaphysical depth that they had. In a way it feels like a bit of a regression to the earlier series. They were good, of course, but one of the miracles of this series is that as it has gone on it has seemed to grow more confident in presenting non-Westernized Japanese values and the traditional spiritual view of life. Since this is against the supposed tide of Japanese “modernization” (or post-modernization) it is particularly heartening.
To begin at the most fundamental point, there is the question of what are the Precure fighting for (and therefore against)? In the first Episode of Smile, speeches were made (and Magical Girl Anime has always been a speech-making art-form) outlining important themes. Wolfrun laid out the case against ganbari. Miyuki and Candy laid out the case for it. Later in the series, this theme is explored in considerable depth and subtlety.
In Heartcatch, the connection of the individual heart to the Universal Heart (the Buddha-heart if one wishes to put it in Buddhist terms) is stated from the beginning. In Suite the theme of harmony vs discord is made clear from the first episode – and remember that 和 wa, harmony is fundamental to Japanese thought – so much so that 和 wa is also used to mean “Japanese” in many contexts. It is also a fundamental concept in all traditional metaphysical thought – “the Music of the Spheres” whose harmony governs all things: celestial bodies, nature, and all aspects of human life.
We have the theme in Smile and Doki Doki of the Sacred Queen or Princess, representing pure goodness, who is imprisoned and must be re-awakened, together with the Pure Evil who is also imprisoned and whom the Dark Forces seek to awaken.
What about Happiness Charge? My most immediate concern is in the nature of evil. Rather than a fundamental evil we seem to have a trivial evil. It is not trivial in its effects – in fact, unlike the previous series, evil is taking over this world at an alarming pace. The sense of urgency is greater – but in this it seems closer to Western drama. It is the outward and material threat of the evil that is stressed rather than its fundamental philosophical wrongness.
The Minor Kingdom in Suite stood for discord against the Universal Harmony. The Desert Apostles in Heartcatch stood for the withering of the heart-tree – the universal good that is reflected in every human heart. The Jikochuu in Doki Doki stood for Jikochuu – self-centeredness (the precise meaning of 自己中 – jikochuu – self-center) of the kind mentioned in the Feminine Scriptures:
“When each spoke assays to be the center, the wheel cannot turn”
Such Jikochuu is the opposite of social 和 wa or harmony as well as of Buddhist compassion.
The evil of Happiness Charge seems essentially trivial. A spoiled queen who does not especially believe in selfishness as a principle but just happens to be personally selfish.
The trappings of evil are actually quite pretty. The queen’s palace is kawaii. The fate of the Blue Sky Kingdom does not appear (thus far) especially ugly, and the カビ kabi, “mold or mildew” with which this world is being infected is actually rather pretty.
There is a selfishness vs love/ganbari theme, and it is played out at this stage between Cure Princess and Cure Lovely. One immediately attractive aspect of the series is that Megumi, while unselfish and noble, wears modern casual clothes while Hime, while selfish and cowardly wears beautiful clothes. In a Western show the “moral” would be that if you mean well it doesn’t matter how you dress. Here it is clear that dressing beautifully is very important, and this is something Megumi has to learn (and wants to learn) from Hime.
There is actually a brief exchange of ideological speeches with the villain on the theme of selfishness in the first episode, when the yet-powerless Megumi stands up to Namakeruda:
Protecting yourself – that is the sensible way to live.
“So long as oneself is all right that’s fine” – I hate that (way of thinking).
Everyone becoming happy – that is (true) happiness.
It is (of course) at this exact moment that she becomes a Precure.
The prettiness of evil does seem very reminiscent of the Ball of Neglect and interestingly the current villain’s name is based on the same word used for the Ball. ナマケルダ Namekeruda is clearly based on 怠け nameke, “to slacken, idle or neglect one’s work”. While the Ball of Neglect is actually the 怠け玉 Namakedama or namake-sphere.
The Ball of Neglect represented a very subtle presentation of the fundamental philosophy of Precure, in which evil was presented in a highly attractive way that the girls had to see through. It presented a very old philosophical riddle that in the West has been posed as “Is it better to be Socrates unhappy or a pig happy?”
Perhaps Happiness Charge is moving in the direction of a depth of traditional thought even greater than the other recent series. However, taking the first two episodes overall, and while I love them as mere fun stories. I am not so far optimistic.
I really hope I am wrong.