If you’ve never read it, Hans Christian Andersen‘s original literary fairy tale The Little Mermaid is pretty grim. Not only does the poor mermaid feel like she’s walking on knives with every step she takes, she also has to sleep outside the prince’s bedroom door on a cushion like a dog, and in the end, she opts to kill herself, turn into seafoam, and maybe, if she’s lucky, get a soul after three hundred years of service as a spirit of the air and be allowed into the Christian heaven. Despite all of the adaptations and fluffy retellings, it’s hardly the sort of story that you’d expect to inspire any of the characters of a feel-good family-friendly franchise like Tropical-Rouge! Pretty Cure.
So what’s the second set of twelve episodes to do with it? The first part of the series not only made it clear that The Little Mermaid is one of Minori’s favorite stories, but it also introduced us to both an actual mermaid, Laura, and a sea witch, the Witch of Delays. As the show went on, we saw Laura growing increasingly unhappy with the fins that kept her from fully participating in her friends’ lives, to the point where she figured out how to walk on her fins (a technical improbability, even in a magical girl show featuring a mermaid) in order to do more fun things with them. This set of episodes brings Laura to the point where she’s not just going to sit back quietly and take it anymore (not that either of those things have ever been her strong suit). That leaves her with one good option: take control of her own story and rewrite the fairy tale so that she doesn’t end up walking on knives or turning into sea foam.
While this doesn’t happen until episode seventeen, Laura’s rewriting of Anderson’s tale is the heart of these episodes. Episode sixteen lays the groundwork, having Laura read the Anderson original and later be kidnapped and imprisoned by the Witch of Delays. The rest of the Pretty Cures are able to use their powers (which apparently include breathing underwater) to go attempt a rescue, but even if they can breathe, Laura’s really the only one who has any real skill at functioning under the sea. Therefore it’s up to her to save herself and later them, albeit with a bit of help from Kururun. It’s this desire, this need to help everyone that gives Laura her power; she may come across as selfish and a bit of a diva, but at heart she really does want to be a part of the Tropical-Rouge team, and that allows her to express these feelings to the queen. Whether it’s the queen’s magic or Laura’s own determination that’s the greater power is up to our interpretation; I think Laura herself and her newly expressed desire is ultimately the strongest force. She’s no lovesick fifteen-year-old, after all: she’s not only a potential queen in her own right, but she’s also bound and determined to do something to help save her world with her newfound friends. That is what ultimately allows her to not only become a full member of the team as Cure La Mer, but also to become a human and a part of their lives even when not fighting Yaraneda. Laura has successfully rewritten the tale of the mermaid who wants to be human on her own terms.
This naturally doesn’t mean that all of Laura’s troubles are over; she quickly discovers that being human comes with its own issues and that going to school as an exchange student isn’t all fun and games. But Laura’s new legs mean that the girls have the chance to become even more cohesive as a unit, and we can see Minori and Asuka opening up to the others a bit more as they all grow closer. Asuka in particular allows herself to be a little more vulnerable around the younger girls, and if no one can quite beat Manatsu in exuberance, seeing everyone work and play together more smoothly is a definite highlight of this segment of the show. A summer trip back to Manatsu’s hometown on Minamino Island does a particularly good job of showcasing this, especially since the island conceals something that the Witch of Delays very much wants – and another thing that grants Cure La Mer a new power.
The trip home also allows us to see Manatsu in her home environment, and if anything she’s even more energized upon their return to the mainland. This does occasionally make her seem a little less than brilliant; episode twenty-four’s quiz show does not do her any favors in the intelligence department. But given how serious Sango, Asuka, and Minori can all be, Manatsu is largely balanced out (and yes, it does take three separate characters to equalize her astounding amounts of energy). Laura, despite now truly being part of the gang, still does come off as being a little bit on the outside, but that is more likely due to her proud personality than anything else. In fact, Laura is the only one to do anything to appease a “ghost” in an abandoned mansion on the outskirts of town – the spirit is actually little Elda, the shrimp-maid member of the Witch’s team, injured and alone. Laura’s kindness to Elda may turn out to be her most important contribution later on down the line; not only is Elda the weakest link among the Witch’s minions, but she’s also the youngest, and Laura’s help could convince someone not fully indoctrinated into the Witch’s ways to switch sides eventually.
For all that she’s in charge of the plan, the Witch of Delays is still largely absent from the story. She appears in the initial Cure La Mer episodes and again later when she…births? a new, more powerful Yaraneda. But she’s still mostly just sleeping in her bed, letting her minions do the work, which feels a little anti-climactic. This set of episodes also has a few that just don’t quite pull off their storylines as well as the others, such as episode twenty, which revolves around Manatsu losing a fancy melon bread, and the quiz show of episode twenty-four. There’s also some slightly lazier animation and off-model characters, but that could easily be less an effort issue and more a pandemic one. And it must be said that Cure La Mer’s outfit is stunning and impressively practical in terms of featuring leggings instead of a short skirt; its emphasis on Laura’s toenails is a nice touch to remind us how important her having feet is.
Tropical-Rouge! Pretty Cure may not have the serious pathos of Healin’ Good Pretty Cure or the large cast and slightly darker storyline of Kira Kira Pretty Cure a la Mode, but it makes up for that in sheer enthusiasm. Its joy is contagious, and even if you aren’t as thrilled as me to see Laura claim ownership of her own Little Mermaid story, it’s simply a lot of brightly colored fun each and every week.
Correction: It is Manatsu, not Laura, who showed kindness to Elda. Thanks to Spike Terra, darkchibi07, and Saeryan for pointing this out.