Pretear vol. 1
Chad Clayton rates it:
Original Concept: Junichi Sato
Author/Artist: Kaori Naruse
Sometimes, simply glancing over the first few pages of a manga can tell you whether or not you’re in for a rough time. Within its first few pages, Pretear falls victim to one of the oldest cliches of bad speculative fiction: the “As You Know…” Syndrome. Seven guys stand around discussing plot points and telling each other things they already know, not for their own benefit, but because the author couldn’t think of a better way to impart that knowledge to the audience. The rest of Pretear follows suit: there isn’t a single thing original, new, interesting, or even particularly well-done about it. It’s a hodgepodge of plot elements stolen from Fushigi Yuugi, Magic Knight Rayearth, Cinderella, Snow White, and any number of children’s books, all combined in the easiest, most obvious way possible. But regardless, the sheer unoriginality of Pretear didn’t strike me nearly as much as how contrived it is. If this comic had made me roll my eyes any harder, they would have spun clean out of their sockets.
Pretear is the story of Himeno, a young girl whose widower dad just remarried into a rich family. However, her rich stepmother and stepsisters can scarcely stand her and her lower-class ways, and spend all their time being so mean to her. Eventually, seven mysterious, handsome guys from another world called the Leafe Knights show up in front of Himeno, asking her to go to their world and become someone or something called the Pretear, so she can use her powers restore the Leafe that’s being destroyed by the Princess of Disaster. What’s Leafe, you ask? It’s defined as “life energy,” but we don’t really get told that until the first book’s almost done.
I feel like I’ve just written out the basic idea of every magical girl story from Minky Momo onwards, but I must stress that the unoriginality of Pretear isn’t really my problem with it. I’ve never had much problem with formula or cliche, provided it’s done well. Not every story can be an original masterpiece. My problem with Pretear is that it tries very hard to evoke drama without making it convincing. For example, the manga bends over backwards to show the reader how no one in Himeno’s new family likes her, and that even her dad won’t listen to her even when she’s telling the truth. This sort of situation does happen and could make for very interesting reading, but not as portrayed here. Himeno’s new mother is portrayed as such a consummate Wicked Stepmother that it’s hard to believe that she could hook even a poor sod like Himeno’s dad, much less merit his trust to the point that he won’t even ask his own daughter if something’s bothering her. Her sisters are portrayed as either so cold and distant (or haughty and mean) that they’re more caricature than human. What could have been, at the very least, a halfway-honest look into the dynamics of stepfamilies and class warfare ends up coming off like a fairytale written by a teen lost in the bowels of self-pity. It’s one thing for a character to believe that no one’s on her side; it’s quite another for it to be completely and cartoonishly true. For all the dramatic language and exaggerated action the comic actually contains, niggling things like that sap all the genuine drama out of this comic. It’s hard to take dramatic moments seriously when everything’s exaggerated almost to the point of comedy.
Speaking of exaggeration, Pretear doesn’t really have a cast of characters, it has a cast of caricatures. Naruse tries so hard to put these characters’ personalities over that they fly past cliche and into unintentional comedy. Himeno’s supposed to be gentle and pure-hearted, but these qualities are exaggerated to the point that she gets upset over stepping on a flower. Her dad is evidently supposed to be a sympathetic character even though he’s shown as a clueless drunk who can’t see that his daughter is getting shafted even when it occurs right in front of him. One of the stepsisters is a conceited, bullying, self-obsessed hag, and she plays the part perfectly – too bad there’s no other aspect to her personality to balance it out or make it believable. Even the Leafe Knights come off as benign and colorless, even dorky, despite supposedly being powerful warriors. Part of the problem may simply be overload – Pretear dumps 14 important characters into the first book of a tetralogy. Since there’s no time to let the characters develop naturally, Naruse resorts to caricature and excessive exaggeration to keep the characters from being dull, but she only succeeds in making them ridiculous.
But I think the one thing really kills Pretear: it reads more like a first draft, or even a plot outline, than a finished story. There’s something palpably incomplete about it all. It feels less like a story than a list of events: this happened, then this happened, then this happened. There’s something rote and joyless about its progress. I never cared that the world was in danger, because in spite of its melodramatics and grandstanding, Pretear is curiously free of any actual tension or urgency. Furthermore, Pretear is seriously suffering from overload. There’s simply too many characters to keep track of, and too much going on at once. Within the first book, we’ve been introduced to more than a dozen important characters and at least two major storylines. Most of the characters have been given only a rudimentary introduction, and the story’s barely starting in earnest by the end of the volume. That would be more forgivable if Pretear was a long-running series, but it’s only four volumes long. I’ve just read one-fourth of the entire series, and nothing of interest or great importance has happened yet. It raises the question of whether or not anything interesting is going to happen.
Ultimately, Pretear strikes me as a title with misplaced priorities. It spends too much time trying to create false, unconvincing drama in Himeno’s family situation, and not enough developing the characters. It spends too much time going in circles, and not enough time establishing the story. It introduces complex issues like stepfamily dynamics and class warfare, but it has yet to do anything with them other than constantly stressing how Himeno’s rich stepfamily is a bunch of self-important, petty, bullying snobs. I didn’t take quite as much offense to Pretear as my words might indicate, but I didn’t find the story believable, convincing, or uplifting in the least. The characters aren’t human, and the situations aren’t compelling. The comic painfully creaks through the motions, seldom if ever bothering to delve below the surface. It seems a bit bizarre that a comic that professes to preach a message against prejudice and superficiality would display such a complete lack of interest in getting to the heart of the matter.
Added: Saturday, February 05, 2005
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