“When I’m with her I’m confused,
Out of focus and bemused,
And I never know exactly where I am.
Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather
She’s a darling, she’s a demon, she’s a lamb.
She’ll out pester any pest, drive a hornet from its nest
She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl.
She is gentle, she is wild, she’s a riddle, she’s a child.
She’s a headache, she’s an angel, she’s a girl.”
-“Maria (The Nuns),” The Sound of Music
It is often difficult for me to like Dokidoki! Precure.
The tenth iteration of the series, Dokidoki! is a milestone for the franchise. Perhaps producer Hirokai Shibata (Ayakashi, Digimon Data Squad) feels the need to live up to all Precure that has come before by fitting in as many references as possible; however, the series is all the more unsteady for it. Its insistence of stuffing as many different elements as it possibly can often makes the series frenetic at best and impenetrable at worst.
Coincidentally, my feelings about Dokidoki! are neatly summed up within the personality of Regina, one of the series’ more recent characters, but first, let’s travel back in time a bit, to a franchise that I have no small amount of nostalgia for: Sailor Moon.
My personal favorite iteration of Sailor Moon is Sailor Stars, the oft-contentious fifth, and final, series of the franchise. I discovered it following a resurgence in Sailor Moon marketing throughout the United States around the same time I was entering high school. My friends and I were nearing the conclusion of the Sailor Moon: SuperS on television – which we watched daily, going as far as to catalogue each and every episode in chronological order on VHS tapes – and were desperately hungry for more Sailor Moon. The end of SuperS‘ television run coincided nicely with our new-found ability to look up anything and everything on the internet, and it was in this fashion that we stumbled across a mysterious fifth Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars series that was unavailable to us. One day, we discovered a store in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts that had tapes of Sailor Stars available (with English subtitles, no less!) and immediately made the trek to rent as many of them as possible. Eyes glued to the tiny television in my friend’s bedroom, we watched them together, often swapping various tapes if one of us wanted to go back and rewatch an earlier portion. Simply put, we were addicted.
To sum up Sailor Stars as succinctly and as clearly as possible, it’s a mess. It’s a wonderful, confused, and uncontrollable mess that is overrun with too many characters and plot developments. I love it dearly, but I rarely recommend it to people for the reasons mentioned above.
In spite of my inability to advocate that people to watch Sailor Stars, I do feel that the series has a great deal of merit outside of my own personal nostalgia. For example, the recent magical girl series Puella Magi Madoka Magica took nearly all of its blocking for its finale from the final conversation between Galaxia and Usagi in the finale of Sailor Stars. The conclusion of both series also offers an interesting ancillary comparison.
One would, or rather one definitely shouldn’t, watch a series like Sailor Stars without some proficiency of the Sailor Moon franchise as a whole. As is the nature with television series sequels, especially the fifth iteration of one, coming to a viewing with no previous awareness of the series’ history will only serve to leave one hopelessly confused and possibly angry. Each season in Sailor Moon is a direct chronological continuation of the one that came before, and expects the viewer to not only recognize this but bring their prior knowledge with them through the five separate series.
In comparison, Precure as a whole does not rely on an audience that knows all or anything about the previous history of the franchise. In ten years there have only been two direct sequels – Futari wa Pretty Cure to Futari wa Pretty Cure Max Heart, and Yes! Precure 5 to Yes! Precure 5 GoGo! – while all other seasons stand alone as complete reboots with their own separate histories. This makes it easy for Precure‘s primary target demographic of young girls to easily pick up a Precure series for a year, and all of the toys that come with it, without having to have followed the franchise. Additionally, it makes it just as easy for them to drop the franchise once they grow older and move on to other things. Easter eggs are placed here and there in the later seasons, for fans who decide to continue with the series, and grow in number as Precure ages. Unlike Sailor Moon, which is asking its audience to grow with it, Precure offers its audience this option while also allowing for turnover. Each year is a new opportunity to market to a new generation of potential Precure fans.
Another reward, so to speak, or element of fanservice within Precure can be found in its compilation All Stars movies, which include all of the various cures from every season up to the date of the movie’s release. This is a way for Precure to recognize and continue to sell itself to an older audience. A larger amount of self-referencing is found within these movies and although they’re hardly impenetrable for the uninitiated, I can’t imagine that they would be particularly fun to watch without already participating in the franchise.
This brings us back to my initial subject, Dokidoki!, and how it isolates itself from previous Precure series. In its attempt to celebrate all that came before it, Dokidoki! is unfortunately trying to do too much at once. Although it is a standalone reboot of the franchise, it also purposefully reuses plot elements from Precures past. From a marketing standpoint it’s the first Precure series that has marketed equally, if not more, to its established older fan base as opposed to a brand new younger audience. In a way, it’s almost an All Stars movie (albeit chock full of elements from previous iterations instead of the well-known characters themselves) in a year-long television series. What began as a show that was tightly focused on the dynamics of its core ensemble has now ballooned into an attempt to give equal screen time to an unmanageable quantity of characters. Without giving its main cast room to breathe and develop their own dynamic, the addition of more people along with a grander scope to the story elements has turned the series into a bit of a schizophrenic mess. This is all too familiar to me, as it reminds me distinctly of Sailor Stars. Too many characters? Check. Too many plot elements? Check. Eschewing the fantastic dynamic of the original main cast in favor of newer, crazier characters? Check.
While hardly as obviously fascinating or controversial as the three Sailor Starlights, Regina’s arrival similarly heralds a shift in focus from the main cast that the audience is familiar with to previously secondary or supporting characters, along with the new addition of Regina herself. Regina steals the show from episode 13 on and DokiDoki! strains under the added weight. Trumpeting her title as the daughter of King Jikochu, who will presumably be the final “big bad,” she makes it a point to insert herself into Mana’s group of friends, in spite of knowing that they all are Precure, tasked with fighting against both her and her father.
Most interestingly, Regina has the power to instantly cause someone’s heart to fully give in to selfishness, creating a monster. Unlike her three peers who rely on trickery and opportunity to amplify an existing feeling (similar to the Desert Messengers in Heartcatch Precure), Regina forces her own way, adding another level of malevolence to the already violent transformation from human to “selfishness.” The cute giggling and sequence of hops that she performs while doing so only reiterates her innate sinister nature. In later episodes, when introduced to an artifact that the Precure are looking for she becomes more violent and unpredictable. Her obsession with lead cure Mana Aida/Cure Heart offers an interesting parallel to Rikka Hishikawa/Cure Diamond’s obsession with the same character and Makoto Kenzaki/Cure Sword’s obsession with her missing princess, Marie Ange. Additionally, there is enough wavering in her personality that could lead an astute audience to believe that she will eventually defect from the Jikochu (following the footsteps of Eas/Setsuna/Cure Passion in Fresh Pretty Cure or Siren/Ellen/Cure Beat in Suite Precure) and become a precure herself. On paper, Regina appears to be the most fascinating character in Dokidoki!.
While I don’t have a problem with Regina’s character, she feels completely shoehorned into the plot, due to the series’ pre-established four-girl character dynamic of Mana, Rikka, Alice Yotsuba/Cure Rosetta, and Cure Sword. Cure Sword already serves as an outlier to the group, having followed the Jikochu from her destroyed homeland, The Trump Kingdom. In its early episodes, Dokidoki! does a fantastic job of conveying the friction that occurs in a group of friends when another is added to a preexisting dynamic. However, following Regina’s arrival, the continued growing pains of the four girls are pushed aside in favor of Regina’s story and development. Much like in Sailor Stars where Sailor Moon, already burdened with the additional baggage of the Outer Senshi, ignores its primary group of Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon and the Inner Senshi in favor of the Sailor Starlights, Dokidoki! now labors with conveying how Regina will find her way within the story.
Additionally, Dokidoki!, in episodes 17 and 18, has solely concerned itself with the story of the fallen Trump Kingdom and its two remaining knights: Cure Sword and Joe Okada/Jonathan Klondike. With Regina occupying the transitionary episodes from assembling the four main cures to the meat of the Trump Kingdom story, Dokidoki! has failed to tie the two together in a way that makes me care about these events. Mana has already been established as a person who wholly gives to others, at cost to herself and those around her. Her fascination with saving the Trump Kingdom is equal to her fascination with anyone whom she wishes to help. Mana simply loves people. Similarly, Rikka and Alice’s interest in the fate of the Trump Kingdom stems from Mana’s interest and their love for Mana.
Again, to use the framework of Sailor Stars, Sailor Moon makes it a point to reiterate that Earth, as usual, is next on the chopping block for Galaxia and her lackeys. Like Mana, Usagi is someone who cares about others; however, even if she did not (and it’s important to note that the television series’ portrayal of Usagi through all five seasons is a far more self-centered one than that of it’s original source material), Usagi would be forced to fight due to the impending threat to her home. One hardly gets the same feeling from Dokidoki! and the connection between Earth and the Trump Kingdom is tenuous at best.
Princess Marie Ange and Jonathan Klondike are distant figures that I am supposed to care about as a viewer because one of the lead characters I care about (Mana) has a friend who cares about them (Cure Sword). I’d prefer to be shown by the series why I should care, or perhaps be allowed to continue to develop my own relationship with Cure Sword so I too can be passionate about the people she loves. Dokidoki! continues to reveal her character on the periphery of the series – in nuanced visual direction, no less – but it’s only enough to leave me wanting to learn more about her. Where Precure previously gave me the wonderful transition of Setsuna into the group of cures in Fresh, Dokidoki! is inconsistent with Cure Sword’s portrayal. Some episodes, it feels like she’s already assimilated herself into the group of friends, others, she still seems to struggle.
In trying to make me care about so many things, Dokidoki! has ensured that I care far less about each of them as a result of its inability to focus. While I don’t hate Regina, she is exemplary of these attention problems that the series possesses. Ultimately, Sailor Stars is a series that is redeemed through my eyes by the message that I took from its finale. The majority of the series is most definitely a mess that, in trying to broaden the scope and continue to market to its maturing audience, ended up isolating viewers instead. Admittedly, this is a personal connection, and the fact that I have an incredible amount of nostalgia for the Sailor Moon franchise certainly makes me more forgiving than most. For all I know, older Precure fans could be feeling similarly as they watch Dokidoki!‘s progress; however, I can’t help but be apprehensive of where the series seems to be headed.