Prétear (Volume 2) Review
This second volume of Prétear succeeds in raising the bar for the entire show, with three episodes that – the core premise and principal characters having been laid out on the first disc – launch right into the darker backstory of Leafenia and the sinister figure of Fenrir. In fact, it's almost impossible to discuss the latest plot developments without giving away at least one key revelation regarding the Princess of Disaster... and while it is a 'twist' that many viewers will see coming a mile off, if you want to avoid spoilers at all costs, please skip down to the Picture section of this review before going much further.
There's quite a lot of action packed into this latest instalment, and indeed much more than you might expect considering the episode count; Prétear fortunately isn't one of those animé series that goes in for lots of useless 'padding'. Unlike other shows which seem to only make it to 26 episodes by dragging things out and recapitulating previous scenes, if anything, with Prétear I'm beginning to get the impression that its 13-episode structure may not give it quite enough room to fully spread its wings, considering the breathless pace at which events are already moving forward.
By now everyone who didn't want to see any spoilers should have made it safely to the technical parts of the write-up, so I'm sure the rest of you won't mind learning that the crux of this volume is Himeno's discovery that not only is Fenrir taking a very personal interest in her, but that the reasons for this go well beyond the standard 'arch-nemesis sizing up her adversary' motif. The fact is, Fenrir had another name, another identity, before becoming the Princess of Disaster... and that was Takako, a schoolgirl not unlike Himeno herself – and the previous Prétear.
What the trio of episodes on this disc manage quite effectively to do is to make Himeno (and by extension, the audience) aware that her role is even more fraught with peril than she had at first realised. Moreover, it paints a human face on what was previously nothing more than a bog-standard shadowy 'Force of Evil' to be defeated, and underscores the parallels between Takako's downfall and her own rather precarious position... particularly as her predecessor turned to darkness after one of the Knights of Leafe spurned her love. (No prizes for guessing which.)
And so, as we pass the halfway point in this show, the tension is even more pronounced, with an ill-prepared Himeno simultaneously endeavouring to face up to a vastly stronger opponent, her own emotional turmoil regarding Hayate, and the knowledge that if she gives in to personal feelings of despair that she too could end up going down the same path as Takako. While the show is no Fushigi Yûgi, this is still extremely engaging stuff.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
5: 'The Smile of Darkness'
Lately Hayate seems to be keeping an extremely close eye on Himeno, and whilst she and her friend from school misinterpret his interest in various amusing ways, the more seasoned members of the Leafe Knights (for example, the oh-so-cool Sasame) comprehend that something serious is up. Indeed, our heroine has been having nightmares lately where she faces an unknown adversary on a bridge, and it doesn't take long for the audience to realise that this is none other than Fenrir, the one responsible for littering Earth with demon larvae and draining the world's Leafe.
While the core action of this episode builds relentlessly to that very confrontation on the bridge (yep, Himeno's precog skills are working just fine), there is the usual ongoing side-story which explores the secondary characters. While her younger step-sister, Mawata, seems wistful upon observing how close Himeno and her father are, Mayune retreads what is becoming very old ground by attempting to seduce Sasame with her standard shower schtick.
Most importantly, however, when Himeno and Fenrir are at last face-to-face, the latter absconds briefly with Hayate for a little tête-à-tête in a disused (but familiar-looking) chapel, and we begin to get an idea of their past history together, although this is just an appetizer for the coming episode.
6: 'The Secret of Rouge'
In the wake of Fenrir's death threats (and the clear gap between her abilities and those of the Princess of Disaster), Himeno continues to train hard in an attempt to hone her skills, and pulls both Go and Kei aside for private chats (which spectacularly fail to soothe her nerves, as these two both fundamentally misinterpret the basis of her concern). Meanwhile, the two Knights who are clued-in to what's going on meet in that same chapel that we saw earlier and mull over whether Himeno is ready to take on Fenrir; it's clear that neither Hayate nor Sasame are confident of her chances.
Himeno, noting that her mood is worsening and dissatisfied that she can't get to the root of it, has a talk with Mikage, who tells her to approach her problems logically and look for first causes... which inspires her to discover more about the Princess of Disaster. As the four older Knights of Leafe put their heads together and grow more concerned for the Prétear, she manages to cajole the three younger members (Mannen, Hajime, and Shin) into showing her the place where Fenrir had been imprisoned in Leafenia. And left behind in that very place, Himeno discovers not any arcane artefact but rather some girl's lipstick!
Back at the ranch (so to speak), there's a pleasant bit of character development for Mawata as Kaoru notices she's unhappy and invites her to join him in doing some clay sculpting. This sparks memories for her of time spent doing things with her own father, and the two of them seem to be making some sort of decent connection for once... but this comes crashing to a halt when Natsue gets home and talk turns all lovey-dovey again between the married couple, and Mawata decides to excuse herself.
The culmination of this episode sees Himeno and the younger Knights caught as they return to Earth from Leafenia, at which point Himeno demands to know the truth behind Fenrir.
7: 'Can't Protect Anyone Anymore'
While Go and Kei drag the three young Knights away, Sasame and Hayate lead Himeno off to the chapel where it all started to tell her the story of Takako, the previous Prétear. Alas, Himeno's predecessor developed quite a strong attachment to Hayate as he was kind to her over the course of her training. When he failed to reciprocate her feelings once she laid them out plainly for him, her disappointment ate away at her and this inner negativity eventually converted her powers to the dark side; she ceased to be the Prétear and became the Princess of Disaster. The chapel is where Takako confessed her love to Hayate and this essential piece of backstory finally explains why Hayate was so against finding another Prétear, and why he has deliberately avoided showing Himeno too much kindness.
The news that Takako loved Hayate hits Himeno pretty hard, though she tries to conceal it. We also learn that the battle to seal away Takako killed three Leafe Knights, which is why the Mannen, Hajime, and Shin are so young (they were born to replace their predecessors). Himeno learns from this that the Knights can indeed die through lack of Leafe, and also starts to worry that the same might happen to her. As the story ends, the remaining Knights come to the chapel and weigh in with their comments. Kei takes the most active role, counselling Himeno to focus only on positive energy so the same fate won't befall her... and has already told the younger trio the truth in the meantime, deciding there's no more room for lies in the current situation.
Only the Prétear has the power to destroy the Princess of Disaster, so the Knights desperately need Himeno if they're ever going to win. As Hayate turns to leave, stating it's all his fault, the new tone of the conversation (with the Knights saying she was dragged into their fight, etc.) gives Himeno a feeling of being on the outside. And when Fenrir inevitably turns up again, Himeno's fears are brought to the fore and she finds she can no longer prét... instead Sasame yells a plea to Takako to stand down, and the episode quickly draws to a cliffhanger close.
The observations from my review of volume 1 still hold: Prétear is an example of a recent animé production and ADV has given it a flawless encode, but the actual production values of the original animation leave a little something to be desired. Basically, it's a standard 4:3 television presentation with perfectly acceptable character designs, but a lot of 'shortcuts' are evident throughout the animation... and in particular the backgrounds of many scenes seem to lack sufficient detail. Moreover, this volume confirmed something I had only just noticed in the previous disc: the entire video master seems ever-so-slightly washed out. (That is, colours which one would usually expect to be rich and deep are generally mid-tone in Prétear.) None of these are terrible failings; in fact, the picture quality is never once let down by jaggies or macroblocking, which usually are more or less unavoidable in the world of animation.
Likewise, there's not much new to add to my comments in the Sound section from the last write-up: the audio quality of Prétear is acceptable but workmanlike. As before, this volume features both the original Japanese soundtrack in Dolby 2.0 and an English dub available in Dolby 5.1 which nonetheless sounds like a Dolby 2.0 presentation. Decent voice acting from both casts means that this show will be fun to listen to regardless of whether your preference is for sub or dub, and this time around I noticed that Kei's voice at least comes across as definitely male in the English dub, which makes for a change from the more androgynous speech present in the Japanese. (In case you're wondering what this is all about, Kei is the only one of the Knights who looks unquestionably female. But since all the Knights are in fact male, we're supposed to ignore that.)
The DVD menus continue with the same clean design as before, so no complaints there. The special features selection is essentially the same as what was provided on the previous volume: the clean opening animation and clean closing animation, a generous gallery of about three dozen production sketches, and a 'behind the animé' section which consists of interviews with four of the voice actors from the English dub. These remain of goodly length but tremendously uninteresting, which is a genuine shame; companies like ADV should be encouraged to provide such extra content, but these really are the dullest 'meet the actor' sessions you're ever likely to run across. Still, if you're a big fan of animé dubs, it's possible that one of these VAs has worked on the English dub of another of your fave shows, so there's the off chance you might find this feature appealing.
As for the packaging, this second volume comes in the same snow-white Amaray case as before, which looks fairly distinctive on your shelf. The cover art chosen for this DVD is a little unexpected, featuring Mawata and Himeno in an affectionate pose. If anything, this seems to suggest that this bit of artwork was plucked from later in the series, as one visible trend is the growing understanding between Himeno and her younger step-sister, the two girls being alike in many ways (both rather solitary and introspective by nature, one trying to come to terms with a new step-mother and the other a new step-father). While the two of them haven't had lots of interaction thus far, this cover does suggest that they will talk more over the coming six episodes and become friends.
I'm really enjoying Prétear and can recommend it highly to anyone even vaguely interested in this style of animé. The story has a good heart and all of the supernatural trappings are only there to heighten the emotional conflicts already present in the storyline. The characters are likeable and the pacing of the escalating action doesn't let the audience down. In fact, after the cliffhanger ending of this disc, it's a bit hard to wait for the next volume's release.