My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is not the only "girls' show" that I watch. With the barrier down on MLP, I decided to dive into another genre of show that is also derided as "for girls", but has some hidden gems: magical girls. No, not just Sailor Moon and the dark stuff like Madoka Magica, I'm talking about the standard magical girl warrior fare.
One of those franchises is Pretty Cure, a magical girl series created by Toei Animation (the same animation studio behind Sailor Moon, Digimon, and Dragon Ball). It's been going for eleven years, and continues to go strong...in Japan. The initial reason for the popularity of Pretty Cure in its home market was the twist in put on the magical girl warrior subgenre: instead of flashy attacks, the magic was withheld until the end. The actual fighting was completely physical. Sadly, that element has been toned down in recent seasons, but some of it is still there.
Outside of Japan, the success of Pretty Cure has been mixed. It's pretty popular in Italy, where the public broadcaster (RAI) dubbed the first few years of the series; reception was fairly positive. In Hong Kong, TVB has broadcast dubs of most of the series into Cantonese. In the Anglosphere, Pretty Cure dubs are hard to come by; Toei themselves helped produce a 2009 dub of the first season (Futari wa Pretty Cure) for viewers in Canada and the United Kingdom. Reception was also fairly positive, but the networks airing the English dub (YTV and Pop Girl) didn't do much with it.
The United States has had it even worse. 4Kids Entertainment (yes, them) licensed the franchise back in the mid 2000s, but never did anything with it, probably because of the failure to get a merchandising deal for its successful, yet butchered dub of Tokyo Mew Mew. Funimation eventually got the license, and even started to stream subs of the series. That didn't last. Oh well, it didn't seem like Pretty Cure was going to have its day in the United States. Today, the non-Japanese fanbase is tightly-knit, mostly congregating on three sites: 4chan, LiveJournal, and Tumblr.
Anyway, along came a guy named Haim Saban, who in 2012 offered to take over the license for Pretty Cure in the entire Western world. Toei agreed, and since then, Saban Brands - the company behind Digimon, Samurai Pizza Cats, and Power Rangers - has been "hard" at work creating a dub of the at-the-time-airing Pretty Cure season: Smile Pretty Cure!.
That dub began streaming Friday morning on Netflix, but under a new name: Glitter Force.
Star Wars would have to wait.
The Crappy Dubs Strike Back
Relevant links have been provided for your convenience. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
First, some disclosure: I watched Smile Pretty Cure! back in early 2014, as part of my binge on various anime series. I thought it was fine, not my favorite Pretty Cure season, but not the worst. There wasn't much of an overarching plot, the characters were fleshed out to tolerable levels, there was a stupid event halfway through the season that irked me, and the last episode was just a rehash of one of the All Stars crossover movies. Some episodes were brilliant (episodes 13, 18, 19, 22, 23, 35, and 40-44 remain among my favorites of the entire franchise,) while some were horrible (episodes 17, 48, and the one with the kid who plays guitar). The animation was beautiful, and I still maintain that overall, Smile! has the best animation of any series in the franchise. Overall, a simple, fun series, which is what the producers were going for.
So I'm coming in with the perspective of being one of the (few) people in the U.S. who has watched Pretty Cure before.
Now, another word about dubs: I have nothing against dubs. Frankly, I find the "dub-sub" debate to be ridiculous. I'm all for a good Pretty Cure dub; hell, there was an English (not American) dub of the first season, Futari wa Pretty Cure!, which was pretty faithful to the original series, despite the name changes of the two main characters.
With that out of the way, what about the actual series?
- Title: Sure, Glitter Force sounds stupid, but considering the alternative, I'll take it. I kid you not, Saban was initially planning to call the Smile! dub "Gangnam Girls", which would have been even worse. Pretty Cure itself is kind of stupid, but I watch it anyway. I'll give the name a pass.
- Names: All dubs released for kids (4Kids/Saban/DiC/Nelvana, etc.) will have name changes. I'm actually okay with name changes; even Saban did a pretty good job with the names in Digimon. However, my concern began from the moment one of the Danish voice actors leaked the name of Cure Beauty's "Sabanified" name: Glitter Breeze.
First, it's Cure March who has the wind powers; Cure Beauty is ice. Why in the WORLD did Saban think that "Glitter Breeze" was appropriate for Cure Beauty but not Cure March?! That makes absolutely no sense.
As other names were leaked, I found them to be surprisingly bearable. While "Glitter Breeze" still irks me to no end, the other names are, well...
SMILE PRETTY CURE -- GLITTER FORCE
Miyuki/Cure Happy -- Emily/Glitter Lucky
Akane/Cure Sunny -- Kelsey/Glitter Sunny
Yayoi/Cure Peace -- Lily/Glitter Peace
Nao/Cure March -- April/Glitter Spring
Reika/Cure Beauty -- Chloe/Glitter Breeze
Candy -- (same)
Pop -- (same)
Wolfrun -- Ulric
Akaoni -- Brute
Majorina -- Brooja (sp?)
Joker -- Rascal
Emperor Pierrot -- Emperor Nogo
Akanbe -- Buffoons
Bad End Kingdom -- Shadow Realm
Nanairogaoka -- Rainbow Hills
Maerchenland -- Jubiland
Royale Queen -- Queen Euphoria
- First, I'm okay with Joker being Rascal. If Saban tried to sell merchandise of the generals and used the "Joker" name, DC Comics would be up their rears in a hurry.
- The Glitter names are colors in some other languages (Spanish).
- I find it ironic that Cure March's civilian name in the dub is April. Heh heh.
- I have no problem with the name of the town changing. "Nanairogaoka" means "Rainbow Hills" anyway.
- With Pierrot becoming "Nogo", I was hoping for the Bad End Kingdom to be called "The Nogo Zone" as part of a joke. It's not...I kid you not, it is called the SHADOW REALM. My god, the Yu-Gi-Oh nightmares are back!
Overall, the names are tolerable, except for "Glitter Breeze". It doesn't fit.
- Voices: When I first saw
( ) for the dub, I was incredibly concerned with the voice acting. Not only was there a lack of effort, but I couldn't tell any of the girls' voices apart. Candy sounded the same as April who sounded the same as Chloe who sounded the same as Lily. To be honest, the voice acting in the trailer was absolute crap.
Thankfully, the actual voice acting is a bit better than the trailer's. I could tell the voices apart (somewhat), but that brings me to my biggest problem: they don't shut up every once in a while. I don't get why Saban thinks this is acceptable; I'm sure kids can handle short pauses in dialogue every now and then. It's completely unnecessary for the characters to talk all the time, including during transformation sequences. Well, at least some of the lines are witty and snarky...but others are painful. I found myself agreeing with some of the villains' lines on a frequent basis ("What a Glitter Farce!" Agreed, Brooja, agreed.)
The protagonists' voice acting is mixed. Of the individual voices, I find Kelsey and Emily's voices to be the best, while Lily and Chloe's voices don't fit. Lily's voice is a bit too low for her personality, while Chloe's is a smidge too....forceful. Pop's voice is awful, while Candy's voice is marginally better than that of Smile!.
The villains' voice acting is better. I like Ulric and Brute's voices, while Brooja's is....meh and Rascal's is terrible. Nogo's is okay...sounds like a stereotypical dub villain.
So far, the voice acting is passable, but they need to shut up once in a while. No need for non-stop dialogue.
- Edits: Another common characteristic of "Americanized" dubs is the edit, and Glitter Force is no exception. Some of the edits, like changing Japanese text to English text on signs and books, are okay. There's also a photoshopped American flag...okaaayy. Then, there's the town name: Rainbow Hills. It sounds cheesy, but the Japanese "Nanairogaoka" means "Rainbow Hills" in English, so it's acceptable.
However, Saban also made edits to the story. Episode 1 opens with Emily having a dream about her (future) teammates....great, just what we need, a huge SPOILER in the first few minutes of the series! Surprisingly, the "Candy Turban" moment from episode 6 was kept; I thought it would be cut for religious/moral guardian reasons. Also, I was wondering what would happen to the Osaka/Kyoto trip in episodes 13 and 14...it became a "trip" to the "Asia-Pacific Expo". Really?
Otherwise, of what I've seen so far, the story seems to be mostly intact, even with the edits.
- Animation: Now, I thought I wouldn't have to address this. Smile!'s animation is great overall. Fortunately, the good animation carries over....except for the CGI endings.
See, Pretty Cure series (since, gosh, Yes!5 I think,) have a tendency to animate their closing sequences in CGI as opposed to 2D. Some are trainwrecks, others are pretty good. Smile!'s were fine, and I thought that Saban would just dub the original Smile! endings.
You would not believe my shock when I saw that Saban decided to CREATE ITS OWN CGI ENDINGS. They aren't even good; they're cheap. Awful. Subpar. The lack of effort shows. Otherwise, the animation is good.
- Attacks and transformations: No magical girl warrior series is complete without the transformation sequence. Remember my complaint about the non-stop talking? That's the case with the transformation sequences; there's so much talking. That's not to mention the catchphrases at the conclusion of the transformation sequences, they vary from mediocre to BAD.
What I find especially shameful is what happened to Cure Peace. First, Smile! viewers know her "Rock-Paper-Scissors" schtick: at the conclusion of the transformation sequence, Cure Peace will go "Jan-Ken-Pon" and throw up a sign (Rock, Paper, or Scissors?) It was a game, and sometimes the antagonists would whine at the result. I never won, but I tied three times. :3
She still does that in the dub, but RPS is not mentioned at all. Instead, she talks about "puppies and kittens". Why? Girls know what RPS is, no need to cut it out, but Saban did nonetheless. Stupid Saban, cutting out an in-show game that the (young) viewers can play along with. The other transformation catchphrases are okay.
Attack names are fine. All the attack names were changed to "Sparkle [insert word here]", but I'm cool with that.
- I could complain about the plot, but as I said, Smile! doesn't have much of a plot. There are small "arcs", but Smile! is fairly simple and episodic for the most part. You could skip around episodes and not miss all that much.
- Cut episodes: Only 40 of Smile!'s 48 episodes were dubbed, so eight were cut. The first 20 episodes of the dub are on Netflix as of this writing. Among the cut episodes include one of my favorites (episode 19), which is tragic, but I see prefer to see this as "the glass half-full": maybe Saban thought that episode 19 was so fantastic that it would be tragic to tarnish it with a crappy dub job. I can only dream that was the case.
- Music/SFX: Ignoring the opening, which I thought was fine, I found the music choices to be cheesy and - at least in the last two episodes of "the first season" - ill-advised. For example, compare episodes 19 and 20 of Glitter Force and episodes 22 and 23 of Smile Pretty Cure!. One of the scenes in episode 19 (GF)/episode 22 (Smile!) involves the main quintet splitting up to contemplate whether they should bail or stick around in the Bad End Kingdom/Shadow Realm to stop Pierrot/Nogo and rescue Candy. The music is a bit too upbeat in the dub to accurately convey the gravity of their decision.
I also noticed that a lot of overly cartoonish sound effects were added to attacks and comedic actions (such as faceplanting on a cliff,) probably to emphasize the kiddy nature of the series. While I don't consider that a bad call, I do think it was unnecessary. Smile!'s already a fun kid-friendly series, and I don't think adding those sound effects will be anymore effective in getting kids to laugh.
- One other thought: I didn't think this was possible, but they managed to increase the girliness factor in the dub. Saban added some lines that reference "girl power", the grayskull call was changed to reference makeovers....I just...did Saban ever think that maybe they're going a bit overboard in trying to appeal to the target audience? Of course not.
- "RIPOFF!": Now, browsing Tumblr, I've noticed (aside from the dub hate) that a lot of users are dismissing this as a "Sailor Moon ripoff". Now, I can sort of understand where these people are coming from; Sailor Moon is the example of magical girl anime in the West. Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon are animated by the same studio, Toei Animation. In fact, Toei has created a new version of Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon Crystal, closer in story to the original manga) that is streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll.
I don't consider Pretty Cure to be a "ripoff" of Sailor Moon. Don't get me wrong, there were magical girl shows in the mid-1990s that tried to play off the various tropes introduced or solidified in Sailor Moon to various degrees of success. When the original Pretty Cure began in 2004, I found it hard to see the "ripoff" quotient: compared to Sailor Moon, there is a much heavier focus on physical fighting and (at least in the original and as TVTropes calls it) focus on "wonder twin powers" - both members of the duo could fight separately, but needed to be together to finish the job. That element has been toned down a bit as the years have passed, but not enough to the point where I'd feel comfortable calling it a "ripoff".
Plus, many of the tropes from Sailor Moon weren't even unique to that series. The magical girl genre, contrary to popular belief, did not start in 1992; the genre goes all the way back to the 1960s, with a Japanese series called Sally the Witch. Majokko Meg-chan introduced the rival (or "dark") magical girl. Toei produced many magical girl series in the 1980s. Cutie Honey introduced the 'action' aspect in the 1970s. The concept of a team of color-coded heroes fighting evil monsters of the week go back to the Sentai franchise (you may know it better in the West as Power Rangers). Hence, I find it a bit dishonest to claim that everything about a magical girl series came from Sailor Moon. Sure, many of the tropes we associate with that series were mixed and solidified (to an extent) in that series, but very, very little of it was new.
- Overall: I gave it 3 out of 5 stars in my Netflix review. I would have rated it 2.5 stars, but Netflix doesn't give you an option to give fractional ratings.
Honestly, Glitter Force is fairly tolerable...if you're not coming from a Smile Pretty Cure! background. My opinion in this post is colored by my previous experience with the franchise, so of course I'll be pretty mad. If you watched a show that you thought was fine, then heard of an inferior dub that steps on the original work in various ways, you'd probably be miffed too. The only way I'll be happy with Glitter Force is if we end up getting a legal method of watching the original seasons subbed, maybe through Hulu or Crunchyroll, as a result. Fingers crossed.
If you've never watched Smile! (or Pretty Cure in general,) the show is...fine. If you're looking for something to watch with your kids, this is okay. If you end up liking it, point them to some of the other Pretty Cure seasons; there are eleven others. Except for Futari wa Pretty Cure Max Heart (season 2) and Yes! Pretty Cure 5 GoGo (season 5), which are sequels, all the seasons are self-contained and independent from each other.
The only season (aside from the Smile! dub) that can be legally streamed in the U.S. is the original, which is available on Crunchyroll. All the other seasons can only be streamed through unofficial methods.
P.S.: If you don't like the dub, stop blaming Netflix. Compared to Nick, Disney, and their restrictive Standards and Practices requirements, Netflix grants producers a significant amount of creative control for their programs. All the crappy decisions were made by Saban, not Netflix.