Prétear (2001)
Directed by Kenichi Tajiri & Kiyoko Sayama

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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When her father marries a wealthy widow, Himeno, a teenaged schoolgirl, moves into her stepmother's mansion, which she shares with her two stepsisters, the quiet, withdrawn Mawata and the obnoxious Mayune, whose greatest pleasure in life appears to be playing pranks on Himeno. Soon after beginning this new life, Himeno meets the Liefe Knights, who are looking for a girl they can make into a prétear, a person with whom they can share their magical powers so that she can aid them in fighting Fenril, the Princess of Disaster. They decide to make Himeno the prétear, and, with her new abilities, she and the knights begin their struggle against their foe.

Prétear is a delightful, lighthearted thirteen part animated television program directed by Kenichi Tajiri and Kiyoko Sayama. Although clearly aimed at young women, the series is sufficiently engaging to appeal to many others besides.

The program's characters are, for the most part, well crafted and genuinely interesting. Most, consequently, contribute to Prétear's enjoyableness. Himeno, for instance, is a likeable girl and is troubled by problems that readily allow the viewer to sympathize with her. She feels she is disliked and misunderstood by the members of her new family and by her peers in her new school. She longs for the company of her deceased mother. She desires to fit in with those around her, and so on. Despite such feelings, she remains cheerful, compassionate, and very feisty. She really is an enchanting character. Her stepsisters, although they are quite different from her, are also nicely brought to life. Mayune is obnoxious and vain, and is constantly attempting to play pranks on Himeno, but is not really mean spirited. Mawata is quiet and sad, and her conflicts and worries are well presented. The Liefe Knights, unfortunately, are less involving. Although one of them is given a certain emotional depth, and his conflicts play an important part in the program, the others are either stereotypes or simply devoid of personality. Lastly, I should note that while Fenril, the series' antagonist, is, at first, depicted as a typical villain whose sole purpose in life is causing others hurt, as the program unfolds, she is given greater complexity and emerges as one of Prétear's more intriguing characters.

Not only is the series always engaging, thanks to this generally appealing cast, it is also frequently exciting thanks to its action sequences, which are consistently exhilarating, without ever being lurid or bloody. Whenever Himeno is to fight an opponent, she merges with one of the Liefe Knights and appears wearing one of several costumes. She is given a particular costume for each knight and powers corresponding to the sphere over which the knight with whom she has merged has control, as fire, ice, wind, and so on. The effect the directors achieve with these devices is, at once, charming, magical, and thrilling. Instead of arousing a sense of violent excitement, the program's action sequences evoke a feeling of bewitching, lovely buoyancy that really is delightful to experience.

What is more, Tajiri and Sayama skillfully balance such adventurous elements with moments of humor and personal exploration. Several episodes are thus dominated by comic elements or examine the emotions of or relationships among the characters. The result is a relatively complex series that allows the viewer to immerse himself in its world and involve himself with its characters.

Finally, I should note that the animation employed in Prétear is attractive, although it is never exceptional. Most scenes are dominated by lush, lovely pastels that give the program an attractive appearance somewhat different from what is commonly found in anime. Many of the character designs, especially those of the young girls, are appealing, although some of the younger children are made entirely too adorable. The backgrounds are acceptable, if not memorable, and the elaborate costumes depicted conform with the styles prevalent in a number of anime programs aimed at young women.

While Prétear is never brilliant, or even exceptional, it is an attractive, entertaining series that is well worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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