Content Warning: Alcohol abuse
What’s it about? As a middle-schooler, Yumehara Nozomi became a Pretty Cure and helped save the world alongside her friends. Now a teacher, Nozomi wants to keep that spirit alive by helping her students. But adulthood is complicated, and problems like climate change and financial hardship can’t always be fixed with nothing but a can-do attitude.
Power of Hope is a little bit of an odd duck for North American audiences. The series is a special celebration of the PreCure franchise’s 20th anniversary, revisiting the characters of 2007’s Yes! PreCure 5 (the first PreCure series to have the now-standard team of magical girls rather than a duo) as adults. It’s not dissimilar from this year’s Fionna and Cake or the recent Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna movie.
Except that Kizuna came out in America in 2020, 20 years after the original Digimon was dubbed in English, giving it comparable time to percolate nostalgia. Pretty Cure has only been legally available for English-speakers (barring Glitter Force, which is like saying Robotech fans had easy access to Macross) since 2020’s Healin’ Good Pretty Cure. AniFem generally doesn’t review direct sequels, but the market has an absolute dearth of adult magical girls outside of webcomics or smaller manga. Moreover, the only way to watch the series that Power of Hope directly follows is to find a fansub.
Fond as I am of PreCure’s whole vibe, I don’t have the time to hunt down and take in almost 100 episodes of fansubbed content, so I approached this episode as one is implicitly meant to if they’re playing by legal streaming rules: with no specific knowledge outside of the handful of streamable PreCures and the time I got to interview Cure Lemonade.
I’m happy to report that as long as you’re familiar with the tropes of magical girl team shows, the majority of this excellent episode still lands. Each of the girls-now-women have designs that echo their basic archetypes (the idealist, the sporty pragmatist, the haughty girl, etc), which gives a new viewer something to hold onto through the nods to the original series. The series brings back original PreCure 5 series composer Narita Yoshimi, which will hopefully mean strong emotional continuity for returning audiences, but even for newcomers, this first episode really sells Nozomi as a character.
There’s a fine needle being threaded here. Take the episode subplot of Nozomi’s student, a passionate dancer, who is transferring to a school without a dance club because of her family’s financial woes. It can be a little frustrating to watch Nozomi try to help a student by proposing fixes with glaring drawbacks, but her efforts also feel very real of an early-20s idealist. The subplot’s finale is also neither a pat “actually, trying very hard CAN also fix your adult problems” nor a cynical “magical girl hope and love is sparkle garbage” dismissal. Nozomi can’t change the material realities that are forcing her student to transfer, but her insistence on listening to her student’s concerns becomes a source of inspiration; the once hopeless girl promises to start a new dance club herself.
It’s a mature and subtly done little story about what makes magical girl-type stories so enduring: yes, they’re simplistic fairytales in some ways, but they help a lot of kids feel like they can go on when times are toughest. And maybe they can still do that for adults too. The story seems to be leading there anyway, as the former Cures all find themselves drawn together in the face of a new looming threat. We don’t get too much of a peek into the others’ lives, but Rin at least seems to fill as unfulfilled in her job as Nozomi feels conflicted about hers. Most of the girls have lost touch, seemingly not out of malice but just because adult life is busy. It’s a little melancholy without feeling forced or syrupy.
I also appreciate that the recurring mentions of climate change attempt to strike a balance between placing blame on individual carelessness as a snowball effect and the systemic effect of corporate greed and government inaction. Because these kinds of stories are individual-driven, it can be easy to slip into a false paradigm where if we all just used paper straws, gosh darn it, the environment would no longer be tanked by all that profit-driven resource stripping.
Slightly less compelling are the monsters, thus far a faceless hoard of CGI blobs and one cool-looking bird-lady. The direction is fine overall, but it feels a bit obvious that Hamana Takayuki is almost completely unversed in magical girl stories outside of the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha movies. There’s a lot of static shot/reverse shot type work, which I’ll withhold judgment on if it’s an attempt to reflect the mundanity of the heroines’ current lives. Since PreCure is one of the few franchises left that still reliably gets time to stretch and enjoy long stretches of episodic character focus, I’m also quite interested to see what the show’s full episode count will be and how it intends to pace itself for that story. Can it balance fanservice nostalgia and a story with something to say for the current times? Will we get to see adult magical girl costumes or what????
If you’re a magical girl fan at all, I really recommend giving this one a look. We might not be coming to it in the ideal way, but I think it’s shaping up to be the kind of story that lots of AniFem readers have been yearning for.