From their earliest days, magical girls have always been about using the power within to transform into heroes. I can think of very few magical girl series that use that concept better than Soaring Sky! Pretty Cure, the twentieth entry into the long-running franchise. Each of the three Cures introduced so far (with at least one more slated to appear in upcoming episodes) manifests their power from a deep-seated desire, and the accompanying visuals make it clear that they always possessed that power within them. This, along with the unusually inclusive official line-up, makes Soaring Sky one of the most affirming magical girl series of recent years, as it speaks to the genre’s promise that anyone can transform if given the chance.
As the twentieth-anniversary series of the Pretty Cure franchise, taking this approach is a great choice, as it serves as a reminder of the genre’s power. The fact that we also have the first official boy Cure and will get a young adult Cure later in the series also speaks to the staying power of both Pretty Cure, in general, and the magical girl genre as a whole. Cure Wing appears three-quarters of the way through this set of episodes, and it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that Black Pepper (and other male helpers) cleared the way for Cure Wing’s arrival. He’s immediately an essential part of the team rather than an addition to it. It’s also interesting to note that his regular form is unusual: he’s a Skylandian bird that can transform into a human. Again, this feels like a nod to the boy helpers we’ve seen in earlier iterations of the franchise, specifically Cure Parfait’s brother in Kira Kira Pretty Cure a la Mode, who had brief moments to shine but ultimately wasn’t truly part of the team. (Of course, there are earlier examples; I’m using this one because it has an official English release.) In terms of gender roles and outdated norms, it’s also important to see Tsubasa become Cure Wing because it emphasizes that magical girls’ gentler, magic-based powers are not exclusive to girls. Boys can be fighters without having to punch people in the face or undergo physical training arcs. (In fact, it’s Sora who does that in episode twelve, and that’s because it’s something she actively wants to do rather than because it’s strictly necessary.) When the fourth Cure arrives, it will remind us that we don’t need to grow out of things we enjoy, a message we don’t hear often enough.
Soaring Sky! Pretty Cure‘s plot is on solid ground. The story, like Delicious Party Pretty Cure before it, takes its time to assemble the cast and doling out information. Sora, as Cure Sky, is the only Cure for three episodes, and then Cure Wing doesn’t come in until episode nine. This allows us to get to know Sora and Mashiro while giving them time to establish a solid friendship and team dynamic. The two girls complement each other nicely, with Sora’s gung-ho attitude tempered by Mashiro’s more reserved manner. At first, Sora mistakes Mashiro’s reservation by marking her as someone who needs protection. It is up to Mashiro as Cure Prism to remind her that strength comes in many forms and that she, too, has the power to stand up and fight. The two girls form two halves of a whole, similar to the original Cures Black and White from Futari wa Pretty Cure. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that Cure Prism’s color is white rather than the typical blue or pink. The two of them form the vanguard of the team, while Cure Wing is, somewhat literally, the wings.
Kabaton is minimally alarming as a villain, which works for him, as he’s likely just the first of several; we learn that he’s working for someone towards the end of this cour without finding out who that someone is. That’s not to say he isn’t dangerous. He is—and frankly—anyone who wants to kidnap a baby is bad news. We’re not entirely sure why he and his boss need Princess Elle, but it can’t be good. Amusingly, no one in Mashiro’s town even bats an eye at a giant purple pig with a mohawk striding around, possibly because Cure Sky took care of him so speedily when he first showed up. The townsfolk are equally aware of the Cures, and at least one person, Ageha, a college student who used to babysit Mashiro, is privy to the secret of who the Cures are. Not that it’s all that difficult to figure out, since they don’t bother to run around a corner to transform. More unusual is Ageha being aware that Tsubasa is also a bird; she seems tickled by everything about him, much to his chagrin.
At this point, with the main cast still coming together, the interactions between the characters are driving the story. Sora is essentially an isekai heroine who has come to Earth from another world and must learn to adjust to it. Although she does so with grace, it is still a challenge for her in many ways, and the story doesn’t shy away from showing her homesickness or the overwhelming responsibility she has taken on as Elle’s guardian. (She relinquishes a bit of that to Mashiro’s grandmother, but still feels like it’s mostly her duty.) Mashiro feels somewhat inadequate when she compares herself to Sora’s heroics, seeing herself as ordinary. We also learn later that Tsubasa is conflicted about being a bird who can’t fly. As the three grow closer, they help each other to see their value, forming a warm, beating heart at the core of the series.
The classic magical girl stories are all about discovering the power within oneself and using it to make the world a better place while becoming more confident. Soaring Sky! Pretty Cure is succeeding in all the best ways. Even though it has been progressing slowly with the overarching plot, it more than compensates with its evident affection for its characters and genre.