A "Pretty Cure" For What Ails You: Exploring Netflix's Failed Anime Dub
Is Netflix Too Big to Fail?
For many people, Netflix is perhaps the most easily accessible way to watch anime. Once Netflix acquires an anime series, its success is practically guaranteed. From new anime like Beastars to classics like Cardcaptor Sakura, a Netflix license almost always brings new fans to the table. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Enter Pretty Cure, the anime not even Netflix could popularize.
Pretty Cure is perhaps the most popular anime you've never heard of. A strange mixture of Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, Pretty Cure (commonly shortened to Precure) was created by the animation company Toei in 2005 as a successor to the latter. Over the years, it's spanned an overwhelming 16 seasons and 14 continuities, each with its own set of female superheroes known as Cures. (To give you an idea, the latest Avengers-style crossover film set the Guinness World Record for "most magical warriors in an anime film," with a total of 55.)
Even in Japan, Pretty Cure took a while to get off the ground. It was nearly cancelled after its fourth season, leaving the creators to piece together an extremely overhauled fifth season. (The resulting season, Fresh Pretty Cure, is probably the most chaotic magical girl anime I've ever watched, with plotlines ranging from vending machine monsters to dystopian planets that outlaw free will and expression. I highly recommend it.) Since then, Pretty Cure has been a titan of Japanese entertainment, with about as much merchandise as the Disney Princesses have in the States.
Which begs the question--how did it fail in the US?
From Pretty Cure to Glitter Force
On December 18, 2015, Netflix released the first season of Glitter Force, their answer to Pretty Cure. Aside from an unambitious dub of the original Pretty Cure, this would be the first time many Americans would learn about the show. Before then, Pretty Cure was mainly known as a hard-to-find anime whose sixth season (Heartcatch Pretty Cure) became a minor cult classic in animation forums. And for many fans, that's just what they were expecting--a Heartcatch dub that would propel a proven success to greater heights. Since my favorite Cure comes from this season, I admit that I, too, was caught up in the Heartcatch hype.
However, rather than licensing Heartcatch or any of the other seasons that came before, Netflix settled on the ninth installment, Smile Pretty Cure. This decision was strange for a number of reasons--it was neither the newest season, nor the most well-received. Additionally, starting with Smile was a guarantee that Netflix would have to tackle the widely panned tenth installment, Doki Doki Pretty Cure, within the coming years. But oddly enough, Doki Doki was not what doomed the Glitter Force franchise.
A Different Approach
From the beginning, Netflix knew that Glitter Force was different. Unlike the other anime in its repertoire, Glitter Force could function as both a children's cartoon and a foreign import. As a result, the dub was subjected to much more scrutiny than most Netflix translations typically get, to the point where the finished product was reminiscent of the "butchered dubs" of the early '00s.
The problem was clear from the beginning--Japanese children's entertainment is far less afraid to cover complex topics compared to its American counterpart. For instance, in a recent Pretty Cure season with themes of careers and parenthood, a nurse reassures a pregnant woman that having a C-section doesn't make her any less of a mother. While nothing quite as complicated occurs in Smile, one episode involves a Cure whose father died when she was very young, and who sets out to discover the meaning of the name he gave her. It's a great character-building episode with a surprising amount of self-discovery for a children's show, but also something American cartoons tend to shy away from.
In order to make the show seem as action-packed and attention-grabbing as possible, the more reflective episodes were simply cut from the season. Due to this, Glitter Force has 40 episodes to Smile Pretty Cure's 48. Other episodes were cut to Americanize the dub, such as a cultural festival episode, a look into a main character's okonomiyaki restaurant, and one about Japanese comedy. This immediately put both fans and reviewers off, as all three concepts are easily explainable with American equivalents. For many, Glitter Force was a return to Pokemon's "jelly donut" age, where anime was seen as mindless entertainment for children instead of cultural education. No matter where you turned, most reporters wished Glitter Force would have been treated like a typical Netflix anime aimed at an older audience--but by then, it was already too late.
The dreaded Glitter Force Doki Doki season would be its last.
A New Hope
Glitter Force Doki Doki premiered on August 18, 2017, to even worse reviews than its predecessor. Netflix continued to remove episodes as it saw fit, and by the time the Doki Doki dub wrapped up, it would have 19 less episodes than its Japanese original. Almost a fourth of all episodes would never air, and it showed. Not only did the dub skip around important details, but according to some reviewers, this created a severe lack of characterization and even plot holes. The Pretty Cure fandom soon realized that it was possible for Doki Doki to be worse than it already was, and clamored for the dub's cancellation. However, low viewer counts had already doomed the production, and to this day, Glitter Force has never been renewed for Happiness Charge, what would have been its third season. For more than two years, Glitter Forcehad gone radio silent.
This made the events of June 23, 2020 all the more surprising. The show started to make the rounds on websites such as Anime News Network--as Pretty Cure, not as Glitter Force. Most notably, Crunchyroll has acquired the rights to the most recent season, Healin' Good Pretty Cure, and the show is now available on its streaming service. Rather than changing it as Netflix did, Crunchyroll intends to create a simulcast for Healin' Good, airing subtitled episodes as they release in Japan. For Pretty Cure fans who never expected their show to see the light of day again, much less in subbed form, this was nothing short of victory.
It remains to be seen if Netflix has truly given up on Glitter Force, or if the Healin' Good simulcast will be a success. But, in the eyes of many, the "little guy" that Crunchyroll represents has officially won out over the streaming giant, in this battle at least. Since only the current season has been licensed, no one knows for sure if past seasons will one day be available on Crunchyroll, but for the Pretty Cure fandom, one thing is clear.
You can't get a whole lot worse than Glitter Force.