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De-Characterizing: Cure Blossom
I guess I could make a joke about her name, this being a Flower themed season and all, but then again, Precure isn´t exactly known for its subtlety so it´s not like it matters. Besides, it´s kind of hard to make puns about flowers.
So, what is so special about Tsubomi anyways? Is she secretly Evil or something? Well, that is actually open for discussion but leaving pointless speculation aside, Tsubomi stands as a unique character among the Leader Cures, all the pink cures (and Black) before and after her came in two flavors, either Tomboy or Genki girl, but Tsubomi strays from this rule by being an introverted girl, which in itself is not a bad idea, imagine what would have happened if Komachi had been the leader of YPC5, maybe it’s the fanboy in me talking but that would have been awesome. Komachi Rules.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Tsubomi.
The point is, her concept as a leader character is rather unusual, and this lead to some interesting moments and developments, but also to not so great ones, so let´s take a look at her character and see if she will either wilt or Bloom our expectations out of the water.
Nop, that pun didn´t work. See what I mean? Whatever, let´s begin.
The moment HeartCatch started many people felt compelled to point out the great reversal in the formula, as I said, Tsubomi is an unusual leader but she is not an unusual character, in any other season she would fit right alongside the likes of Honoka, Mai, Komachi or Inori; she is one of those passive characters that are better at providing support, not leadership, but even if I compare her to her seniors, there is still something off about Tsubomi.
In the first few episodes she is constantly referred to as the “Weakest Precure in history”, and there is a lot of truth to that, no matter how you see it Tsubomi simply isn´t cut to be a warrior, let alone a legendary one. Looking at other series for a moment, the first few moments of transformation are always awkward, but once the initial shock of “what the heck am I doing?” wears off the protagonists immediately find their will to fight, Tsubomi does not. Even if her physical abilities are enhanced, she has no skill, is clumsy, and doesn´t know what´s going on.
But that is no excuse to do nothing, and that is the main trait of her character.
In a nutshell, Tsubomi is gutsy, she may lack the strength and skill to fight but she has a strong heart that is willing to fight for what is right. That might seem like an odd thing to say given her shy and introverted nature, but that is the thing, she never loses sight of what is important to her, her values are iron clad, it’s just that she is incapable of imposing those feeling onto others, she is kind to the point where she just let others be instead of letting out her own voice.
You could say that she is a protagonist that doesn´t want to be a protagonist, she doesn´t want to steal the spotlight, which admittedly is not hard to do when Erika is around, but that is part of her grace, she lets other people shine even if the focus is on her. I spoke before of how secondary characters and interactions are one of the main points of HeartCatch, and this dynamic is something that works very well for a character like Tsubomi; she doesn´t need to be the center of attention, but at the end of the Day the spotlight is still above her, so she still has to lead the show.
This is probably one of the main issues people has with her character, she is a leading character but she rarely ever leads, and even when she does she is not as effective as other characters could be, but even if that is true, I really can´t think of a better leading character for this show (sans Komachi), and that is due to the main themes of the season.
Ignoring all the girly flowers and fashion (for now at least), one of the common themes of the show are the problems and insecurities of the characters; all of them, be it main or secondary, always faced a situation that they felt incapable of dealing with, and because of these insecurities they always ended up hiding their feelings, i.e. their true self. Think of how Ban-kun hid his dreams from his mother, how the Ramen-Baseball kid could not tell his father about his feelings, how NamiNami had to hide her pain for the sake of her family or how the Kung-fu boy was afraid of disappointing his brother. They all felt insecure and could not face their feelings, and this is exactly what makes Tsubomi an ideal leading character in this show; she knows what it is to feel insecure, to hide one´s true feeling for fear of getting hurt or hurting someone else, but at the same time she wishes to “change”, she wants to escape from that cycle and become her true self. She can relate to all those problems in a way other characters can´t, she understands how they feel and because of that she roots for them, because if they can make it, maybe she can make it too.
This notion of “changing” is quite prominent in the show, it gets ridiculous after a while but the intention is there. Granted, the show is not always successful at representing this idea and there are a few bumps along the way, but it is a noble idea nonetheless and it is the center of Tsubomi´s character. Sadly the development of said notion is not always successful, honestly I blame Engrish, the word ‘change’ is thrown around freely and always in English because English is cool when you are Japanese, so they are stuck using this word for the development of the characters when this notion is actually a bit inaccurate, but that is something we will talk about later. And by later I mean right now.
When it comes to the development of Tsubomi there is a lot of ground to cover.
The starting point for the character is simple and quite interesting, she is new in town, all her life she has been a shy introverted girl and now she wants take advantage of the situation and become a new person, she wants to be the person she has always wanted to be but lacked the courage to do so. This is a good start and it certainly paves the way for some great development, or at least it would in any other show.
As I mentioned in my HeartCatch review/overview/thing, the character development in this show is made through character interactions and not through character insight, this is especially true for Tsubomi since she doesn´t get proactively involved in others affairs like other characters in her position often do, she doesn´t really try to help people deal with their problems, she listens to them and encourages them, but she never becomes the driving force behind the catharsis, or at least not on a personal level. Really, most of the time all she does is to stand at the sides and offer her sympathy.
As I said, she has a good start, she is a shy person that wants to change and become bigger, faster and stronger. Ok, maybe not like that but the point is that she wants to grow, like a rose bud she wants to err…blossom, so you know, it’s a pretty simple and straightforward formula. The problem with this and something many people have complained about is that for a character with such a great drive for growing, she doesn´t really grow, the Tsubomi in episode 1 and 2 is almost the same person in episode 49, maybe taller but that is it. This is something I actually agree with, the character doesn´t really change, but I think that is the keyword in here, Tsubomi talks a lot about ‘change’ but her character always stays the same, if you go and watch the show expecting her to change you will make a sore mistake because she does not change, but the character does evolve, albeit in a way the show does not portray correctly.
The problem is that Tsubomi doesn´t really need to change, there is nothing wrong with the way she is, and deep down she knows and even accepts that, the real issue is that she is not really comfortable being herself, she has a strong heart and great ideals but she has problems expressing herself; that is something she is aware off, hence her need to change. Her idea of changing is to basically stop being shy and being awesome instead. She wants to express herself in the same way other people (i.e. Erika) does, so really, her ideal is not to change, but to be herself, and that makes all the difference.
Tsubomi barely grows throughout the show, but she does begin to accept who she is and becomes comfortable expressing her ideas. There are many causes to that, she had Erika who is a great if not dangerous influence, there were all her classmates that she helped both as Tsubomi and as a Cure Blossom, and of course all her adventures as a Precure, I mean, I am not a legendary warrior myself (or at least not that I am aware off), but I guess that being thrown into an ageless conflict for the survival of the earth does take a toll on your perspective of life. Her battles as a Precure helped to shape her perspective of herself, though there were also her everyday experiences like the fashion club and all the things she experimented with her friends, not only Erika, Itsuki and Yuri but also all of the people she helped, she supported them in their time of need and in turn they accepted her just like she is.
Personally I think that the real problem with her development is that she keeps telling us that she wants to change, to grow and become a better person, and yet the character doesn´t really grow but rather accepts who she is and embraces all of her flaws. I know this is a bit confusing but bear with me, I have a point. Going back to episode 38 we have Tsubomi fighting her ‘old self’, everyone goes through this ordeal but she is the one who struggles the harder. At the end of the battle she comes to the conclusion that she has ‘changed’ a little, but even if she is no longer who she used to be, she still loves her old self. This is the idea that I like, she didn´t ‘changed’ in the sense that she became a new person, she changed in the sense that she learns to love herself. This is important because since episode one she has been trying to stop being the shy introverted girl she has always been, her entire idea of changing steams from the fact that she doesn´t like to be that way so she decides to become a “New Me”, but now she has learned to love that part of herself, the part that she used to reject.
This is a good idea but the way it was handled was not very good, most of the time she just keeps preaching about ‘changing’ into a new person, but as the show goes on this notion becomes more and more superficial, and yet the show decides to stick to it as if it were a good thing while the characters themselves are proving otherwise. They never really changed; they merely accepted the part of themselves that they were afraid to let others see.
What was done with her character is actually quite good, but the show gave us mixed signals, a good example of this is her final resolution, which is something that remains kind of controversial (or at least as controversial as a Magical girl show gets) to this day.
In the final episode, during the prologue, Tsubomi wishes to become an astronaut in order to go to space (Everyone with me!, Uchuu Kitaaaa!!), and if possible, bring flowers to places where there are none. Most people interpret this as “I want to grow flowers in space”, which I admit sounds kind of stupid when you say it like that, not to mention that the whole idea is kind of outrageous given how grounded the character has been the entire show, but that is barely the point. For starters, the idea of going to space and grow flowers is not as dumb as it sounds, just imagine going to mars and create a some sort of greenhouse, the idea of bringing life to a place where there is none is quite noble and it does fit with certain themes of the show, mostly on how Dune tried to turn the earth into a dessert; Tsubomi wishes to do the opposite, to spread flowers throughout the Cosmos, which is not a bad idea at all.
The truth is that it doesn´t really matters that her dream is to go to space, the real significance of that scene lies in the fact that for once in her life Tsubomi is not hiding who she is, she has this big ridiculous idea that is almost certainly impossible to achieve, but it is something she truly wants for herself and it is not afraid to admit it into the world. That speaks tons of how her character evolved and in a way is a perfect conclusion, if she had said something like “I want to research flowers like grandma” or “I want to travel around the world” it would have not made sense, those are ideas that the Tsubomi from episode one would have said, but now at the end of her journey her perspective of herself and the world has changed, she is still the same girl from episode one but now she has the courage to be herself. It doesn´t matter that her dream is ridiculous, it matters that now she is not afraid to dream.
This evolution in her character is something I really like, seeing how she started and how she ended made sense to me and I quite enjoyed it, is just that the way they approached her development was confusing, at heart the character remains constant, she was always a shy girl who wanted the courage to be herself and that evolution is achieved in a wonderful way, but the show tried hammer the idea of ‘change’ down our throats, and that very idea is the opposite of what Tsubomi is all about, flower buds do not change into roses, they blossom, Tsubomi didn´t need to change into a new person, she needed to become herself.
And at the end, she did.
There really is not a lot I can say about her relationship with the secondary characters, they usually took the spotlight of the episode and Tsubomi merely became a witness to their plight. This does bring an interesting mechanic since Tsubomi (and by extension Erika) end up learning something important from the character of the week, even if it’s just the motivation to keep going. This doesn´t seem that much until you compare it with previous leading characters, or just with any previous characters; usually the mechanic with secondary characters is that they learn something from the protagonist, our heroes are always some sort of inspiring figure, but in Tsubomi´s case things are the opposite, she learns from them and becomes better for it, usually this is where she draws the strength to defeat Desertrian, not from her determination but from the courage of those she is trying to protect.
This actually does add to the idea that Tsubomi is indeed a rookie Precure; she is not like other characters that are immediate badasses the moment they transform, even in Precure form she is still Tsubomi so she still needs to find the courage to fight. The idea that Feelings are the power source of the Cures is not new, but in this case there is a Major emphasis on other people and how they feel, which in a way gives more credibility to the wish of Tsubomi to protect these people. This is even highlighted in the final episodes where the secondary characters become the ones who are protecting the world by not giving up, they learned this from the Precure and now the Precure are learning the same thing for them. I guess you could say that the supporting cast plays a bigger role in motivating our heroine, she didn´t draw strength from her own beliefs or convictions, but from those who never gave up.
Speaking of Tsubomi being a rookie, this adds a new dimension to Tsubomi´s grandma and by extension to Yuri. Since HC is the first (and only) season where the idea of previous generations has been established, our protagonist has the added weight of living up to the expectations of previous generations; In other seasons our heroes were considered one of a kind, the warriors destined to save the worlds, but in here there is this shadow of doubt, the world has been saved before and the heroes have the pressure of continuing this legacy. This applies mainly to Tsubomi, Erika and Itsuki, but the pressure is greater in Tsubomi since her Grandma saved the world once as a Precure; Erika and Itsuki might have their own motivations to fight but for Tsubomi being a Precure works on a more personal level, her Grandma raised her and she has followed her teaching since very young, they have a close relationship and now she has inherited the mantle of Cure Flower, for her this is not just a mission but a family matter.
Hey, what do you know, I guess I did had something to say about the supporting cast. Well, now let us focus on our other main characters, shall we?
First on my list is, unsurprisingly, Erika Kurumi, also known as Tsubomi´s best friend and pretty much the reason she became a Precure. You know, I have always been bothered by their friendship, mostly on how it started, Erika basically harassed Tsubomi into being her friend and she accepted mostly out of guilt/kindness. That lack of foundation in their friendship is really odd since most Precure seasons have a great emphasis on this aspect, but in this case you have to wonder if they would have ended the same way had they not become Cures. Regardless, I do find some aspects of their relationship interesting, mostly how they stick together even if they are complete opposites, and I mean that in the most extreme sense of the word, they are nothing like each other and have completely different interests. Really, the only thing they have in common is their liking of fashion, but as Erika points out, she is a girl so there is no way that she is not interested in Fashion. Personally I find that stereotype kind of insulting, but then again, I am not a girl so what do I know.
Anyways, the thing I do like about their friendship is precisely the thing I don´t like about it, their friendship has no foundation and because of this one gets the impression that these are two people who merely took a liking to each other. In a way this feels more real, Erika has a big personality, even if she does seem to get along with people most of them seem to be intimidated by her, so given Tsubomi´s kind nature it makes sense that she took a liking to her, and at the same time Erika found someone who accepts her just like she is without having to prove anything. This has an interesting evolution, at first Tsubomi develops a complex towards her because in a way, Erika is everything Tsubomi wants to be, but at the same time Erika´s feelings couldn´t be more different; she is aware that Tsubomi wants to change and because of the particular way they became friends (i.e. Desertrian attack) she actually believes in her more than anyone; While Tsubomi sees herself as someone with no confidence or skill Erika sees someone who can achieve anything. I guess you could say that Erika is the one person who sees Tsubomi as she really is, and eventually the feelings of both of them come to an even level, those ideas of admiration and belief evolve into trust to the point were being together gives them the determination to fight.
This is what I like the most about those two, even if their friendship didn´t make sense to me in the beginning, the way they came to care about each other was amazingly real, especially in Erika´s case, she always has an easy going attitude but when it comes to Tsubomi she demonstrates real concern in a way that is unlike her and yet completely fitting given their relationship. They make an incredibly odd pair since their personalities are complete opposites in an extreme way, but the way they feel about each other always felt real.
Besides, Erika has a way to get into people´s hearts, so there´s that.
I guess now its Itsuki´s turn, and ….ok, I better get this out of the way.
Yes, Tsubomi had a crush on Itsuki, and in spite of what she said it´s obvious that she never got over it, you don´t need Yuri goggles to see that, though it is recommended that you don´t leave the house without them.
I guess the reason why the creators made this fact so blatantly obvious is because Precure does have a certain fame when it comes to Yuri subtext, the whole idea of Tsubomi having a crush on another girl even after she realizes that it is indeed a girl is played as a self joke, though they do have their nice (read: adorable) moments. Really, giving how self aware this franchise is, it is surprising that they don´t pull off this kind of things more often. Or maybe they do, again, Yuri Goggles.
Amazingly there is some significance in the way Tsubomi handled her relationship with Itsuki (don´t take that out of context), at first it did start as the classic “new girl in school has a crush on the student council president” but as she get to know the real Itsuki she stopped seeing her as her “idol” of sorts and developed genuine feelings of care towards her (again, don´t take that out of context). This might not seem like much but it did allow for Tsubomi to experiment what a real relationship would be. In Precure crushes rarely become more than that, but in this case we could see the relationship go beyond that step, this was mostly true for Tsubomi who never had real experience in this kind of things and suddenly her one crush became more than that (again, please, context), a one sided admiration became a relationship of genuine respect between two people; even if the object of her affection was a girl Tsubomi did learned how to deal with her romantic feelings in a mature way, though admittedly, this was played for the laughs most of the time.
Sadly, Itsuki´s screen time in the show was limited, she was relevant for less than 10 episodes, so there is not much we can say about her, which is a shame because it would have been nice to see her and Tsubomi go a step further and develop a more complex and deep relationship (please don´t take….ah screw it, do whatever you want).
And with that I have filled the yuri quota for this article, now it’s time to talk about Yuri, Ha!
I have always found fascinating the relationship between Yuri and Tsubomi, the former is an experienced battle hardened warrior who has gone through hell and back and still carries the scars, the later is an innocent inexperienced girl who has yet to know the reality of battle. They are in literal opposites of Precure-dome, and yet they are remarkably similar. Just looking at Yuri´s background we can see that her upbringing was quite similar to Tsubomi´s, she was the only daughter in a loving family, his father was a flower researcher and she loved flowers too, heck, she even is a smart girl with glasses, had she been born 3 years later she and Tsubomi could have been best gals or something. What I am trying to say here is that in spite of Yuri´s cold personality and somewhat overconfident nature, she is just like Tsubomi, an introverted girl with a strong heart who loves flowers, the only difference being all the experiences Yuri went through.
This is interesting because Tsubomi always felt great respect towards Moonlight even when she didn´t know who she was, at first she only knew her from her dreams and after she became a Precure, Moonlight became her role model; she was considered the weakest Precure so naturally she aspired to be like the one she considered as the Strongest one. Tsubomi wanted to be like her idol, but as we get to know more about who Yuri was it became clear that once upon a time Yuri was just like Tsubomi. I have always thought of this as a past and future kind of deal, Tsubomi is Yuri´s past and Yuri is the future Tsubomi strives to be, but unfortunately things are not as simple given Yuri´s past; she is a tragic character who has suffered a lot, and that suffering had an effect on her for the worst, she is still a kind person but in a way she has lost her innocence. This is why her relationship with Tsubomi is so interesting to me, in a way Tsubomi represents the innocence that Yuri once had, and seeing Tsubomi fighting alongside her friends we can see what could have been if Yuri hadn´t chosen to fight alone.
The most defining moment in their relationship comes during episode 48, after Yuri loses her father again she is willing to exact revenge on the culprit, she is about to give into hate and she could have done that if Tsubomi hadn´t stopped her; up to this point Tsubomi has lived on the shadow of her idol and yet, in this moment when Yuri is about to lose herself in hate, she gathers the courage to stand up to her. For Yuri this was the moment when she could have righted all the wrongs in her life at the price of her heart, Tsubomi saw this and decided that she didn´t want to see her Idol, or rather, her friend lose herself like that. Yuri accepts Tsubomi´s feelings and for the first time the two of them stand head to head (or rather head to shoulder) as equals, as partners and more importantly, as friends.
Is actually kind of ironic that by the end of the series Tsubomi no longer needs a role model like Yuri in her life, but at the same time Yuri, who has started to live her life again, realizes that Tsubomi is the kind of person she wants to be, or rather, the person she always wanted to be.
Tsubomi doesn´t know how to fight, that is a fact, she is just not cut out to be a warrior, but despite of that she is willing to fight for what is right.
Is just like I said, if there is one thing that Tsubomi has is guts, and this is perfectly reflected in her way of fighting. Her style is simply unorthodox, the girl doesn´t even seem to know what the word ‘Punch’ means, but even if she has no notion of how to fight properly she still fights with everything she has. What I like about this is that she clearly knows that she is not the greatest fighter, but as the series progresses she starts to embrace this aspect of her. Instead of trying to become a skilled warrior like Itsuki or just pack a punch like Erika, she embraces her unique brand of fighting even reveling in it.
Really, even as the series goes on and she becomes stronger (physically), she still embraces her way of fighting, she could easily do better but her style (which should be referred from now on as “The Fist of Tsubomi”) is now part of who she is. This is another perfect example of that ‘change’ business; instead of becoming a fighting machine (of death) Tsubomi decides to just be Tsubomi and fight just as Tsubomi does, logic be damned, and her friends actually appreciate her even more because of that.
She might not be the strongest Precure ever, but it doesn´t matter because Tsubomi IS Tsubomi, and at the end that is all she really needed to be.
The Final Thoughts . . .
Personally I love what they tried to do with Tsubomi, her concept as a character is quite unique in many ways. The only flaw I see with this is that the show not always knew how to portray her properly; she is not the type of character that grows and becomes strong, but rather has always been strong and just needed to discover that strength, she was an unusual character that sometimes they tried to portray in the usual way, and that simply didn’t work. But leaving that aside, Tsubomi is a great character with a great evolution, that is as long as you are capable of relating to her persona, if you do then you will see her for what she is, which is ultimately the message of her character. Really, I think that is the only way to enjoy the character, you have to invest in her and care for her like a flower, hoping that someday she will blossom.
And with that I have filled my flower analogy quota for the rest of the year, thank you very much.
So, what do you think, Do we need more characters like Tsubomi? Was she properly portrayed in the show? Did she really needed those glasses? Tell us what you think in the comments, and if you have a character you would like me to analyze to the point were i actually wrote more about her than about the actual show, those are good too.
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