Spoilers for Kira Kira Pretty Cure A La Mode
As the Pretty Cure franchise jumps into 20th anniversary celebrations, the 20th season, Soaring Sky Pretty Cure, has introduced a lot of firsts for the franchise: a blue-themed leader who isn’t from Earth, as well as an adult Cure, the first with a driver’s license. But one piece of news lit up like no other: for the first time, there would be a boy on the team, with Cure in his name, who isn’t a supporting character or sidekick. It’s been a long journey but this is significant for the show, and also for the genre as a whole, since Pretty Cure is now the dominant magical girl series for Japanese children. How did we get here?
When Futari wa PreCure began in 2004, it was a show focused on not just entertaining young girls, but also showing that girls can enjoy activities stereotypically associated with boys without detracting from their femininity. With the tagline “Girls want to rampage too”, it was no surprise there was no rush to include boys in this series. To be sure, a lot of magical girl series, especially those intended to sell toys in the girls’ aisle, have historically been a no-boys-allowed party, though they’ve been a secondary part of the genre since Cub caused trouble with Sally in Sally the Witch (1966). By the mid 2000s, all the big magical girl series were only about girls, with exceptions in Tokyo Mew Mew (2002) and Phantom Thief Jeanne (1999), which both featured magical boys who were separate entities and love interests to the protagonists. It would be a few more years before Shugo Chara (2007) and Anyamal Detectives Kiruminzoo (2009) presented magical boys as parallel team members and equal parts of a magical girl team.
By the time PreCure reached its fifth anniversary with Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go! Go! (2008), it was clear that male characters could at least play an important role as supporters: three of the four fairy mascots of the PreCure 5 team, who take human forms, were male. They still played something more akin to the love interest ally of the time, not unlike the supporter role girls often play in stories marketed to boys; but two of them, Coco and Natts, donned the PreCure costumes of their respective love interest Cures in the opening of their second film, introducing themselves as Cure Coco and Cure Natts. Though this introduction was just a joke stunt to explain movie etiquette and how to use the special items handed out to children, it’s still worth noting this first sign of male characters becoming PreCure.
The next few seasons, Fresh Pretty Cure (2009), Heartcatch Pretty Cure (2010), and Suite Pretty Cure (2011), made references to the possibility of male characters becoming Cures, but always in the context of a joke or clearly something the characters can’t take seriously. This, paired with the lyrics of the Suite opening that acknowledged the boys in its audience, was particularly jarring. It’s unknown if the franchise was trying to enforce that only girls could be PreCure, but that was the message they ended up sending. This particular joke peaked in Smile Pretty Cure (2012), when the comedy duo Fujiwara appeared in a cameo and Takayuki Haranishi, real life PreCure superfan, had a full parodic transformation sequence where he presented himself as Cure Gorilla. These examples cross into a somewhat different space: while previous series simply put the spotlight on girls and left boys to the many shows already marketed toward them, these jokes included boys… but made the idea that boys could enjoy “girly” things or present feminine into a punchline.
In Happiness Charge Pretty Cure (2014), a season wherein PreCure was a force so large there were members all around the world, they were still all female.The only male figures were the creation God, Blue; as well as a villain, Phantom, who attempts to defeat the leader by becoming the evil duplicate Cure Unlovely; and a love interest ally, Seiji, who only gets powers when his romantic feelings are distorted. The next two seasons, Go! Princess Pretty Cure (2015) and Witchy Pretty Cure (2016), gave us more male allies who were helpful but ultimately were never as powerful as the magical girls they assisted.
The 14th season, Kira Kira Pretty Cure A La Mode (2017), is where things all changed. In a franchise where the redeemed-villainess-turned-PreCure had become a trope, parallels appeared in the villain boy Rio, who would later turn out to be the corrupted fairy Pikario. His story heavily involves his twin sister Kirarin, a female fairy who also takes on a human form and becomes Cure Parfait. Even after Pikario is redeemed and clearly still has the ability to fight alongside his sister, he isn’t given the title of PreCure. After the series finished, a rough sketch and staff note in the official artbook for the season revealed that there were plans to potentially make him Cure Waffle. There was no mention of whether he would have joined the main team or been a side Cure (something that happens on occasion, including with Cure Pekorin in the same season), but either way, it was a missed opportunity to make history. Many fans now refer to Pikario as Cure Waffle despite the label being unofficial.
It seemed the fan reaction to Cure Waffle might have made an impact, because the following season, Hug! Pretty Cure (2018), we got the character Henri Wakayama. From his initial introduction, it was clear he defied gender stereotypes, being the latter side of Hug’s message on gender: “Girls can be heroes, and boys can be princesses.” He regularly presented femininely and helped the PreCure fight a monster of toxic masculinity made from classmate Masato’s insecurities (Masato would later become a suspiciously close friend that Henri would blow kisses to. Interpret that as you would like). Henri’s storyline made it clear that a boy needn’t push the girls out of the way; instead, it was a unique opportunity to tackle how boys can be hurt by expectations around “manliness” and showcase positive examples of boys embracing femininity.
Throughout the year of Hug! Pretty Cure’s airing, Henri had an influence on the real world: for example, a hotel which advertised its Pretty Cure rooms as being for girls had to formally apologize. Finally, in Episode 42, he broke the shining ceiling and became Cure Infini, the first boy PreCure. Rather than joining the team, however, he stayed in the background, letting the fight remain with the girls, while making it clear that he could join at any time. This season also ended with the message that anyone can be PreCure, with a montage of all the people in the girls’ lives, regardless of age or gender, becoming PreCure temporarily during the final battle.
After the introduction of Cure Infini, many fans wondered if we would get a boy on the primary team of a following season, but it seemed the message that anyone could become a PreCure would still be restricted to… girls. Instead, the season with an android on the team led to a team with aliens (and the only Cure to this day with a darker skin tone, which is both an important achievement for the franchise and unfortunate rarity), followed by a team with a nature spirit, and a team with a mermaid. By the time Tropical-Rouge Pretty Cure (2021) was winding down, it seemed like a lost cause to presume we’d ever get back to the momentum that Henri had given us in 2018.
However, in January of 2022, Delicious Party Pretty Cure launched its website and revealed three magical girls along with a mysterious masked boy in the background, later revealed to be named Black Pepper, the Cook Fighter. We also had the Cook Fighter Rosemary, who can be interpreted as a male character, but isn’t officially gendered at any point in the series. Takumi and Rosemary were, unfortunately, not Cures. Rosemary was the strategist throughout the show, and the girls were the ones with the most power. While he was a great help, Black Pepper simply didn’t have the strength to take part in all the battles. Still, Black Pepper was clearly treated as a very special boy hero in PreCure, getting merchandise previously only reserved for Cures, like birthday-exclusive merchandise at the three Pretty Stores. His merchandise was popular, with reports of toy stores limiting his Cure Friends plushie to one item per customer.
This leads us into Soaring Sky PreCure. When we first got information about the upcoming season in January, including first looks at the full team, we got four characters: Cure Sky, Cure Prism, Cure Wing, and Cure Butterfly. Discussion began to arise regarding whether or not Cure Wing was a feminine boy or a masculine girl. At this point, we had no reason to fully hold out hope that Cure Wing would be a boy—after all, it was unprecedented—but shortly before the premiere episode of the series, a livestream revealed the news that Wing was a boy, and would be voiced by Ayumu Murase (who also holds the title of first Japanese-American to voice a PreCure). The news was so large, even people who weren’t PreCure fans in Japan were hearing about it. It was a household name, even for households without children, but everyone knew it was a show about and for girls.
Why is it so important that we include a boy in PreCure, to the point of fans nitpicking specific naming choices over the years? Simply put, the data shows that while PreCure is targeted to girls, the female heroes are also popular with boys. In 2017, a poll of children’s favorite characters, the types they look up to and want to be like when they grow up, showed that while the classic hero Anpanman was number one regardless of gender, PreCure was number two for girls, and number four for boys.
In 2022, comic artist Masaki Kogeno made a popular running series about her son being a PreCure fan, getting toys and going to an event to meet Cure Precious. They expressed the worry that many parents of PreCure-loving boys face: will it be okay for my son to be seen at an event for a show for girls? Luckily, anecdotal evidence points to PreCure spaces being very accepting of the boys that love them, including Twitter posts often going viral with support when parents show their children enjoying PreCure. The problem tends to come from other children on the playground—the idea of this show being for girls pressures boys not to be public about their interests.
A common argument against including boys on the main team is that PreCure should stay a girls-only space. PreCure is the first show in Sunday Morning Hero Time, a seemingly eternal block where Kamen Rider and Sentai series shows follow these girls on the TV Asahi channel. The other shows are expressly labeled as boys shows, selling toys aimed at boys, though they tend to also include at least one female hero among their ranks. The girls’ toy market is smaller than the boys’ toy market for Bandai Namco, who makes the toys for these Toei-produced hero shows, but PreCure dominates in the girls’ toy space generally. According to sales data from ToyNes, PreCure has taken the top spot for most popular Japanese girls’ toy 14 out of the last 16 years. Even when they don’t get to claim they’re number one, they’ve always got a few toys in the top ten.
This is great for PreCure, but troubling for competitor franchises, regardless of whether or not they’re from a magical girl series in specific. Often the competition has included boys, such as the Pretty Series or Sanrio’s Mewkledreamy, but that has not been enough to keep those franchises going in the same way that PreCure can. The magical girl space in the mid-to-late 2000s had space to include some girls-only properties, but PreCure is too large, and the 2020s are too different a time, that it seems right, especially in the 20th anniversary season, to finally achieve this victory of representation—which has had nothing but positive results for the boys who watch PreCure, even before Cure Wing had made a human debut in the series itself.
Cure Wing was welcomed into the franchise formally in Episode 9, which aired April 2nd, 2023, and they couldn’t have handled the historical moment much better. He was introduced in his human form in the previous episode, though Tsubasa had been secretly in the background of the show as a bird fairy since Episode 2. We learned his hopes and dreams, as is typical of any PreCure character, and we saw him overcome tough odds while facing the villain Kabaton.
His determination was moving and him becoming a member of Soaring Sky PreCure was entertaining, but most importantly, the show never made any effort to point out how unique his maleness was to the franchise. Children watch this show as young as two years old, and the best way to normalize inclusion of boys in a magical girl series is to not highlight it in the slightest. Wing is another member of the team, and what makes him a unique member has to do with the abilities he possesses, and his motivations, not the pronouns we use to describe his actions.
Boys have been present in PreCure from the very beginning, lending a helping hand but never being in the spotlight. Many fans agree that it’s time to let boys be PreCure too, and those of us who feel that way are delighted to see Cure Wing taking the stage alongside Cure Sky, Cure Prism, and Cure Butterfly this year. PreCure teaches us to be strong, kind, and beautiful, and it’s important that we don’t limit those traits by gender, especially since such models can help the young viewers at home accept their own differences. The strength of the messaging in this franchise has already been proven to have great impact on the youth who watch it, but if boys had never been allowed to be full fledged members of the team, we would be doomed to recreate the same borders on gender that harm girls in the first place.
We can only hope the continued success of PreCure also leads to continued changes in the lineup of their main teams in the coming years. Cure Wing is a huge step forward for the franchise, and with the announcement of Dancing Star PreCure, a stage-only team consisting of only high school boys not unlike the all-male spinoffs King of Prism and Tokyo Mew Mew Olé, it appears that the franchise is interested in including boys wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm, following the trends of other long-running series for girls.