I was interested in Prétear because it had appeared one year prior to the coming of Futari wa Pretty Cure. This, pretty much, was the only reason. It’s place in anime production was brief and unimportant, but in its short and insignificant run, it effected four traits usable to magic girl formula:
1) the hand contact needed to initiate the transformation to become the Prétear. This would be a fundamental to the transformation of Precure through Max Heart and Splash Star seasons and would be used once more for Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure ten years afterward.
2) transformation from street clothes to working uniform is a dazzling display of animation. We won’t address the intervening phase of undress as liefe knight engages with the main character until later … if we have to at all. But an instantaneous return to normal garb without much ado became standard procedure in Precure series.
3) the role of the dysfunctional relationship(s) with the magic girl(s) in assuming the importance of the role as magic girl. Himeno is nervous about becoming a suitable, powerful enough Prétear at the first, then hoping not to turn to the dark side as the previous Prétear, the infamous Princess of Disaster. In Futari wa, the personality contrasts of Cures Black and White kept them from being a solid force for good through half the season.
4) the feather motif. The fluster of feathers when Himeno became the Prétear reflects the transition from cherry blossoms to feathers affected by Sakura Kinomoto as she went from Cardcaptor to Tsubasa. And, in Smile Precure, the same burst of feathers occurred in the initial and final transformations of each girl of that team.
Prétear is basic Abnormal Psychology 301 in the ordinary daily task of battling ecological evil. This is uppermost in the main character Himeno. She is unsure of herself, at that awkward age of sixteen. She had been comfortable living in poverty with her romantical-novelist father. She finds herself in a new situation, living in the mansion of her new family. The step-mother was a fan of her father’s writings and admiration turned to love turned to marriage. The father himself is quite eccentric, and not at all open to adjusting his life to match that of a father capable of dealing with two new daughters. The mother adopts the attitude of one who dotes on her biological daughters and is contemptuous of Himeno. The step-sisters are a pair in contrasting styles. Mayune is a bully whose chief delight comes in tormenting Himeno. Mawata is more a sympathetic figure who still mourns the loss of her father, and Himeno fails to connect with her own version of lost mother. This universal failure of these people to connect places this family on par with the Simpsons for dysfunctionality.
Throw in the chauffer, the balding irritant Tanaka (comic relief? Puleeze!) and you have enough neurosis to … Well, suffice it to say that the twerp has made it on my ‘hate list.’
Reviewers are quick to note the elements of Snow White and Cinderella in Prétear, but most miss the most obvious literary allusion ... Beowulf. The monster of week concept offered a series of villainous larvae which produce any number of life-threatening entities, with the goal of eradicating earth through the promptings of Princess of Disaster ... she's also one to add to the abnormal psych page. Frustrated in love, responding as the woman scorned and ready to take it on the planet to the hundredth degree. While slow to learn the tactics of her magical powers, Himeno can assume the powers entrusted to her in the preting process and save the day, but at a bumbling pace which has her question her abilities. Her allies, the seven liefe knights, don’t make it easy on her. Hayate is brusque with her, as if not wishing to work with her. Sasame is far more patient and a better teacher … but dubiously abstruse. Kei is worldly-wise, but not good with solid advice. Go is more Himeno’s age, but he shows the irascibility of the teen years. The very young liefe knights, Mannen, Hajime, and Shin have all the exuberance but all the inexperience to the pre-adolescents.
The transformation sequences which makes all the Prétear-magic happen does feature a span of Himeno and one of the knights in that state of undress. Anime conceals enough with the effects of gleam and gloom with a Barbie doll lack of definition to things anatomical. There’s a Woodstock-ian innocence to it all. Still, how many times 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor' with Himeno and the older leife knights ... and ‘moral charges’ when the girl works with the pre-adolescent ones. The act of preting invests the powers of knight into magic girl as masculine is absorbed into the feminine. The various costumes of the Pretear ... well, Himeno had some orange-tinged PJ's which seemed to stand out more ... but not in a good way. But the uniform does not make the Pretear; it's the role of protecting the world from the Princess of Disaster. But, in all this, Himeno is hesitant, caused by Hayate’s rash behavior, and more willing with Sasame whose patience in teaching the new Prétear is laudable ... for now. The three youngest liefe knights (from pre-school age to middle elementary) are too eager to join forces.
Plot twists are good, but too many cause the story flow to stumble about. There is a backstory centered on the previous Prétear to develop, and it did not develop well. The rejection of her love for Hayate. The defection of Sasame who genuinely loved the one to become the Princess of Darkness. The loathing of the Princess for Sasame … then her love for him. The mood swings of Himeno and her step-sister Mawata. The revelation of the maid as the Princess of Disaster's operative (a neat blend between ‘the least person you’d suspect’ and ‘the butler did it’). Sasame is dead … then he isn’t. Himeno is dead … then she isn’t. The decisive battle where Himeno can become Prétear without liefe knight merging with her. Himeno's mournful death scene, laid out much like Snow White waiting for Prince Charming, until that fails to keep. An ending that is all too predictable. The only thing you couldn’t predict was how they would muff the plot flow next.
The best thing of the series was the music. White Destiny has a haunting melody with allusions to the cleansing of snow which plays out in the story’s conclusion. But it contrasted so much with the closing theme, too upbeat, less pensive. It’s all in that strange inconsistency which I’ll remember as Prétear.