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There is only ONE girl in this picture.

Prétear is an odd shoujo TV series that is essentially a Maho Shoujo retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, with the basic family structure of Cinderella, with the dwarves swapped for bishonen [1].

Like Scrapped Princess, Prétear is better than it has any right to be despite being a classic Magical Girl show right down to the tacky [2] transformation sequences.

The plot line itself is fairly formulaic:

  • Himeno is in a difficult home situation, and seeking some form of release or escape;
  • Himeno encounters a plot coupon, and leaps at the opportunity to become powerful;
  • As the threat level grows, Himeno becomes despondent and loses her powers;
  • Himeno recovers the will to fight, resolves her family issues, and wins the day.

Mix in fairy tale shout outs, a reluctant romance, some angst ridden backstory, a betrayal or two, followed by a redemption, then wrap it up with a happy ending and you’re done.

However, like Ruin Explorers, this is an example of what happens when the formula works: the viewer has fun. 

The characters are reasonably developed and generally engaging.  Info dumps are kept to a minimum, and handled well when they occur.  There are a couple of nice plot twists away from the Cinderella set up.

The potential negative messages of the Magical Girl genre are also neatly avoided. When I discussed this at SwanCon in 2010 with Steveg one concern was that the power is externally granted to the Magical Girl rather than earned.  This can carry a damaging message that girls, and women, can’t achieve on their own. 

In contrast Prétear shows Himeno earning her power as the Prétear, training to use it better, and achieving critical plot elements on her own.

It is worth mentioning that to become the Prétear, Himeno has to merge with one of the 7 Leafe Knights, and the form of the power [3] varies with the power of the Knight. This risked a message that Himeno was dependent on a man [4] for her powers.

Prétear manages to dodge this bullet as well: Himeno’s most powerful form is one that is achieved independently. I grant that the none-too-subtle romance was a big motivation for Himeno at this point, but the basic message of independent power is still there.

Another point worth mentioning is that in the final couple of episodes there are critical plot elements that depend on ordinary [5] people being decent folk.  This was nice to see, and it again subverts the potentially dangerous messages that can be associated with Magical Girl shows.

There are some negatives with excessive fan service, and some running gags that really don’t work all that well.  Any individual scene like this is usually short so I just let them go.

Prétear is also a product of its time: 2001 was a time when the attempts to integrate CGI into cel animation could be hilariously clumsy.  The usage here is largely limited to the bishie sparkles of the transformation sequences, and isn’t too bad.

Overall Prétear is a fun, if lightweight, series to watch that wraps up in a sweet ending.  Better than it has any right to be, Prétear is not likely to be all that high on my rewatch list, but I’ll enjoy it when I do. I’ll end with the wonderful opening song:

[1] There are even bishie sparkles on the cover of the collectors box, and in the transformation sequences.

[2] The frequency of which did cause me to question the shoujo demographic.

[3] Her post-transformation costume also varies with the Knight Himeno has “taken inside her”. i.e The Knight effectively becomes the costume.  Himeno was fully aware of, and occasionally embarrassed by, the symbolism of that.

[4] Or boy in some cases.

[5] For values of ordinary that include “obscenely rich” but it is how they act as a family in the crunch that matters here.

People's Choice Award