Warning: Spoilers for Hugtto! PreCure
Truth be told I’m actually going to try to keep spoilers about Hugtto! PreCure to a minimum. The thing is I’m going to be talking about the show as a whole including the ending so spoilers are inevitable but I will try to leave some details as vague as possible because I know the length of the PreCure franchise tends to ward off all but the hardcore. At the same time, the number of very strong PreCure entries has grown to the point where people are getting more interested in the series like they have with Gundam or Jojo’s. So I have a feeling more people are going to read this out of general curiosity than the number of people who have finished the series. For them, I want to leave some sense of discovery if this makes them seek out Hugtto!
Also leaving somethings deliberately vague is thematically appropriate for this article.
Like any long-term franchise, you are going to have some disparity in the quality of the entries. Some iterations will be universally loved with a few staunch detractors, there will be some stinkers than only have a handful of defenders, with most versions being somewhere in the middle. The general consensus will drift on certain titles over the years and individual taste will always be a little different from person to person but there are some popular opinions that tend to transcend that. HeartCatch PreCure! is one of the highlights of the series whereas Suite PreCure is often cited as one of the most skippable. Hugtto! PreCure was on track to be in the pantheon of the best-reviewed entries in the franchise. Then the ending came. It made a lot of fans mull over their thoughts on the show. At this point, I feel only some distance from the ending will tell how the fans will ultimately judge the show but it is no longer guaranteed a top spot.
I have been examining my own feelings on the show since it ended. My overall grade on the show is not final but I feel I very much understand where this mixed reaction to the series from the fandom has come from. It all centers around one of the subtle but integral parts of the show. Hugtto! PreCure liked to keep various elements of the show ambiguous and up for interpretation. The main point of contention is that before the ending this element might have been frustrating for some people but overall it was ignorable at worst and clever or even subversive when it was working. The problem is that it complicates the ending in several key ways.
Now there are a good number of people who were fine with the series. It distinctly has a definitive conclusion. It is not trying to have the main conflict left dangling or have you ponder the artistic message of the show. Especially if you read between the lines most things have a pretty definitive conclusion. The ending does purposefully refuse to comment on certain elements but always does that for a reason. The main sticking point is that this can easily come off as cowardly or milquetoast depending on how invested you were in certain parts of the story.
Now before I continue I think it is vital to explain why so many people got heavily invested in Hugtto! PreCure. I love Smile Precure! but let’s face it other than the one episodes about Yayoi’s dad the show is fairly effervescent. It is loads of fun and hysterical but hardly War and Peace levels of gravitas. Hugtto! PreCure while mainly a fun kids show touched on a lot of heavy topics on the down-low. It was also progressive in a way you usually only see in American cartoons like Steven Universe.
Henri Wakamiya alone created quite the stir. While it never clearly addresses how he would identify himself he is clearly not a cis character. He also starts what is easily seen as a homosexual relationship with Aisaki Emiru. Their relationship one of the biggest examples of something in the show is left ambiguous but is very apparent if you read between the lines. Henri even becomes a PreCure twice in the series. Emiru Aisaki and Ruru Amour have a relationship that could be interpreted as anywhere from strong friendship to deep romantic love. It is a clear case of only a minor push could make the relationship official but they always stay in the realm of plausible deniability.
It is not just relationships. Ogiue Maniax has a great article about how the show tackles the taboo around Caesarean sections in Japan. The show also deals with careers, the working world, alienation, family, parenting, identity, gender expectations in a harder way than most PreCure episodes while staying within the normal boundaries of the franchise. Just look at the fact that all the Criasu Corporation employees are a critique of the Japanese economic periods they are based on. In fact, all of their names are based on these eras. It is a little sharper than the basic office comedy in Yes! PreCure 5.
You could throw the accusation that the show is cowardly for never pulling the trigger on a lot of these issues. They hint at them but never go all the way. I for one think it is clever. Their approach let them tackle some issues that might have otherwise gotten PTA groups in a tizzy when included in a show for little girls but it still has a meaningful discussion about what might otherwise be seen as hot button issues if they were tackled directly. It is progressive without being directly confrontational. I know some people wanted them to go further but I don’t think it was really a deal breaker for most people. Most fans were appreciative that they touched on the ideas at all.
The real problem is how all the time travel stuff was handled. This should surprise no one. Time travel is one topic that complicates everything and easily leads to paradoxes, plot holes, and a lot of hand waving. In fact, I would say every time travel story has this it is just that the better ones have less of it. The problem is that Hugtto! uses their ambiguous playbook with the time travel and that led to lots of the sour feelings.
So Hugtto! basically does almost nothing to explain how time traveling the series works. This means that they avoid a good deal of massive paradoxes that would be caused by trying to come up with an explanation that makes all the events line up. At the same time, it leaves everything at the end oddly confusing. The final scenes happen years after the conclusion but before the time travel started in the first place. This works in the show’s favor but at the same time makes a whole different set of problems.
It also does not explain what exactly happens to all the characters who went back to the future. Do they return to the original crappy timeline and try to make it better or do they pop into this new happier timeline? How far in the future did the first person start time traveling? Who remembers what and when? You can make informed guesses but Kate and I had a long conversion just trying to begin to understand how things lined up. The vagueness of what happened lets the dedicated fans interpret things how they wish. I think this is what they wanted. The problem is if you were not super invested in certain interpretations then it was easy to just be left scratching your head. Also if you read in between the lines in one way it can make it seem like the show totally counters your hopes when the did not mean to trample on that interpenetration. Hugtto! has asked the audience to read between the lines several times before this point so it would be odd for them to stop now.
Overall I enjoyed the ending but it did feel weaker than what came before it. When we were discussing the ending of the show one of my friends jokingly called the show cowardly. I think that is overly harsh but I do feel the show should have done a little more with its ending to make things feel more satisfying. I don’t think that Rin Tohsaka explains time travel systems would have really helped anything. The exact mechanics of the time travel would not have really added much and may have only invited more questions. What the show really needed was just a tad more conclusion that could have made some stories feel more solidified and some character related questions feel less nebulous. George Kurai alone really needs just a little more clarification. The final Precure villains have a bad habit of just people EVIL for the sake of being EVIL. So when the series has a villain with real motivations that tie into the cast you might want to avoid being so obtuse about it.
Overall I think there is a good deal to love about Hugtto! PreCure. It opened the door to male PreCure. It touched on some interesting ideas and went places boldly and confidently while staying true to the series roots. I just think the ending will prevent it from being an automatic recommendation like HeartCatch PreCure! or Go! Princess PreCure. I hope it is a series that will be remembered for how much it tried with ambiguity more than how that same technique cut them at the end.