This anime about a teenage girl with hidden mystical powers (who must save the Earth from destruction at the hands of an evil princess) must be different... somehow. Judge Joel Pearce finds the quirk that sets it apart.
Darkness and Disaster!
Prétear follows the adventures of Himeno, a teenage girl who discovers that she has mystical powers, and that she is the only one that can save the world from the evil Princess of Disaster™. Her power as Prétear involves her "merging" with one of seven Knights of Leafe, each representing a different element to fight evil. At the same time, Himeno and her widowed father have moved in with her unfeeling stepmother and less-than-friendly stepsisters. It is sort of an adaptation of Snow White, but it has more in common with other anime shows from the same genre.
As Volume 3 begins, the Princess of Disaster has attacked the Knights of Leafe, and Himeno has been unable to pré in order to save them. Wracked by guilt, she decides to leave, discarding her role as Prétear, and do her best to have a normal life. Such roles are not so easily cast aside, however, and she finds herself back with the Knights when her family is attacked by the Princess of Disaster. It's a busy time for Himeno, as she is: trying to adjust to her new family situation; discovering the extent of her mystical powers; caught in a love triangle with two of the Knights; and struggling with questions about her own identity in the way only adolescent girls can do.
Based on this synopsis, you may want to ask: what sets Prétear apart from all the other "teenage girls with newly discovered magical powers" shows that come out faster than they can be watched? Is this one worth taking the time to track down? The answer is a firm maybe.
The best thing about the show is the constant twists and surprises. Because so much of the show feels familiar, these twists are very successful and make the series more than a simplistic battle between good and evil. The characters do interesting things and make unexpected decisions. The most consistent theme seems to be love and the way it causes people to lose control and do crazy things.
Himeno is an interesting character. She is likeable and cute, but she also gains respect as she struggles to make the right decisions with her new powers and responsibilities. It is a time of awakening for her, both with the magical powers and her feelings for Sasame and Hayate. Unfortunately, most of the other characters are not as fresh and interesting as Himeno. Each of the older knights seems to have walked off the set of Street Fighter, and the younger Knights were probably originally designed as additional roles in Pokémon. The other characters are just as typical. Her family is part of the zany anime tradition, with silly, overplayed sight gags and ridiculous dialogue. Himeno's best friend is that brainy social reject character who's obsessed with love stories but doomed never to be involved in one. Fenrir, the Princess of Disaster, laughs evilly as she summons her demonic familiars to attack for no apparent purpose (except, I suppose, because she is the Princess of Disaster).
These character influences all come from different places, which means that some sequences of Prétear feel very different from other sections. The silly banter of the Knights, the seriousness of the combat, the mystical beauty of the transformations, the surreal and juvenile antics of Himeno's family…I find it hard to reconcile these varying portions of the show. It's hard to take the conflict of the Knights seriously when they are seen running around as cute naked infants during the show's closing credits. While the lightness of the family antics and the uncertainty of Himeno's life should help heighten the danger the world is in, it only manages to undermine the importance of Himeno's destiny.
The animation is sometimes quite strong and at other times fairly weak. The whole show has a watercolor look to it that works quite well for the most part, and gives some texture to the otherwise simple backgrounds. The characters are acceptable, although they reveal the low-budget origins of the show—at times there are problems with overlapping objects and intersecting lines. Water and similar effects are done digitally, and are very detailed, but this only emphasizes how plain the rest of the animation is. ADV has given this volume an excellent video transfer, which does an excellent job of capturing both the strengths and weaknesses of the animation. Any flaws are part of the source material, not the disc itself.
The sound is also quite good. The Japanese track is recommended, as the characters are less shrill, although the English track is well translated and well timed. In both the English dub and subtitles, the dialogue is a bit wordy and stilted, but it's rarely distracting. The dialogue in both languages is clear and well mixed. I found the music annoying and inappropriate, with its cheesy jazz theme and an altogether too peppy opening and closing theme song considering the seriousness of the suspense-laden end of most of the episodes.
Several extras are included. The disc features the usual clean opening and closing animation sequences, as well as several Japanese television spots from when Prétear first went on the air. The largest extra is a featurette, quite inappropriately called Behind the Animation (32:00). The featurette actually has nothing to do with the animation, but rather contains interviews with the English voice cast, talking about the process of translating the dialogue at the ADV studio. It focuses on other projects the actors have been involved with, and how they feel about the characters they play. It's a nice idea, but it does drag a little at times, and should focus more on the show in question and less on the lives of the voice actors.
Fans of Prétear will be very pleased by the direction that the show goes in this third volume. Those curious about the series are encouraged to check it out, but a rental may be advised rather than a blind purchase. Anime nuts who can't get enough teens with mystical powers will probably find a lot to like in this show, but everyone else will be less impressed.
Because of some good character work and some interesting twists and turns, I am going to let the third volume of Prétear off without charges. Hopefully the disparate threads will be able to come together in the fourth and last volume of the show.
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