This long-running children’s series may not be doing it on purpose, but is making significant strides in LGBT acceptance in Japan.

Toei-Animation recently announced that the next iteration of Pretty Cure will begin in Spring of 2018 titled Hugtto Pretty Cure. This is normal for the Pretty Cure franchise which reboots with new characters, plot lines, and merchandising opportunities every year.

● Hugtto Pretty Cure

For those unfamiliar with the show, Pretty Cure is a long-running anime series that began in 2004 in which teenage girls gain magical powers to battle the forces of evil. The series is hugely popular with young girls in Japan and has a massive line of toys, along with live musical shows that draw large crowds.

With the announcement Hugtto Pretty Cure one 2-chan poster remarked: “This is totally going to be a lesbian anime…”

At first, that might seem like a crass assessment of a show aimed at little girls, but if you’ve watched Pretty Cure you’d quickly find that it’s not unwarranted.

● Chocolate Macarons anyone?

My first experience with Pretty Cure came with the current season Pretty Cure A La Mode as my daughter had just gotten old enough to get into it. In A La Mode there is a team of five girls who use the combined powers of animals and baked goods to battle with.

It had surprisingly good action scenes considering they were essentially just throwing giant cakes at their foes. However, while watching, it didn’t take long to notice that something was going on between the two older teammates of the group. Of course, my daughter didn’t pay it any mind, but any adult could easily tell that Cure Chocolat (the brown one) and Cure Macaron (the purple one) were totally into each other.

This subtext is both so obvious and yet so coy, it’s actually rather impressively handled. To give you a quick sense, here is a fan-made video showing some of the pair’s more intimate moments over the season.

These two characters are said to be based on roles in the all-female Takarazuka Revue, a legendary theatre company in Hyogo Prefecture. While the character designs are certainly a homage, there is still more to unwrap with this show.

● Yuri Fanbase

The previous music video clearly wasn’t made by a six-year-old, so you can probably realize that there is a wider fanbase to Pretty Cure than meets the eye. Digging a little into the series’ past seasons, there has been a growing number of yuri fans getting behind these magical girls. Yuri is a genre of manga and anime that deals with romantic relationships between female characters.

Given the themes of camaraderie between young women in Pretty Cure, it is no surprise that yuri fan fiction began to arise. It is, however, a surprise that Toei-Animation has clearly been playing into this and adding yuri elements to the series without getting too explicit.

Nothing against yuri, but this is a little sad because at first I was hoping the creator was simply trying to raise awareness of LGBT equality and acceptance among the youth of Japan. However, considering the creator and writer of Pretty Cure is Izumi Todo, a pseudonym for the entire corporate entity of Toei-Animation, it is rather likely that they just found an exploitable market to tap into.

● Akira Kenjo doesn’t owe us an explanation

Back when my four-year-old daughter was first teaching me about the Pretty Cure lore I noticed that Chocolat was the only one dressed in suits and had the real name of Akira which is a rather unisex name. So I asked, “Is Cure Chocolat a boy?”

“No,” she answered, “because Pretty Cure is all girls.”

“But Chocolat has pants, and is named Akira… and kind of looks like a boy.”

“Yes, Chocolat is a boy.”

“Hmm…”

Watching the anime yielded little clarity as well. I watched as the feminine-yet-deep-voiced (by former Takarazuka member Nanako Mori) Chocolat and Macaron gave each other doe eyes. I grew increasingly frustrated that the show never definitively explained what gender or sexual orientation Akira is and if there really was anything going on between her and Cure Macaron.

However, while my crusty old brain was busy trying to assign gender roles, my daughter was just enjoying Chocolat, Macaron, and the rest for what they were – and that’s pretty cool.

Akira never explains herself or her actions in the show, and she shouldn’t have to at all. Sadly, it took me a bit to figure out, but my kid already gets it and hopefully she’ll carry that attitude with her as she grows up.

● Back to the future of Pretty Cure

It’s no secret that Japan isn’t really known for its touchy-feely personal interactions, and hugging isn’t very common. So while westerners might find “hug” to be an innocent concept, given what we’ve just learnt about the series, there does appear to be some foreshadowing of more heavy-handed yuri content to come.

Of course, in order to keep the revenue flowing from the much more lucrative little girl market, they can’t go too far without drawing the wrath of conservative parents. It’s obvious that the real reason Akira doesn’t come out is because the backlash would be bad for Toei-Animation’s bottom line. But for kids, it simply comes across that her and Macaron’s orientation is not a big deal – which incidentally is exactly how it should be.

And so, as it has before and as it will in the future, this yin and yang of yuri fans and kid fans has – in an amazingly unintentional way – resulted in Pretty Cure being one of the more progressive children’s series around, featuring positive and grounded female role models living alternative lifestyles free of judgment.

Source: Toei-Animation, Kinisoku
Top image, video: YouTube/Luna Midnight
Insert image:  Toei-Animation