Pretear isn’t a series I feel is well represented or known in the magical girl sphere, but it isn’t what I’d describe as obscure. Mostly it is over shadowed by franchises that are much grander than it, from the number of episodes and manga volumes to the ideas and depiction of the feminine - and I don’t disagree. Junichi Sato’s big magical girl title is Princess Tutu working with designs and ideas by the lovely Ikuko Itoh; Sato’s personal project, Pretear, understandably get’s less recognition.
But I like Pretear, particularly the manga, so here is a blab about it:
Pretear was a comic I read entirely in store between 2004 and 2005 - meaning I’d go to Borders when it existed and read a volume then wait for the next one to come out and only recently bought the series from a used book store many years later (eek, sorry Borders).
Towards the end of high school the influx of manga due to it’s growth in popularity made me weary of titles for a while, as is typical with contrary high schoolers. I did keep a pulse on magical girl and older titles though with Pretear becoming one of my last hurrahs before I dipped into Western/European comics exclusively for a while, as such the series is a benchmark one for my personal mapping of sequential art consumption.
Pretear is supposedly a loose, uber fantasy, retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but really there is not a lot to read into with the comparison. The series isn’t a “reverse harem” title, but there are more male characters than female (which is unusual for a magical girl title) and the series does rely on a few ONCE UPON A TIME characteristics; such as the broken home and step mother complete with step sisters.
What is borderline shocking is that while the male characters certainly revolve around the Pretear, a wonderful heroine named Himeno Awayuki, they are not used in such a way that they are ultimately what defines the female lead (which actually is true of a lot of harem anime; where a bunch of female characters give a totally unimpressive male character depth simply due to their desire for him) and the stereotypical fairy tale aspects of the story start to fall into realistic portrayals of shared home conflicts and emotional abuse.
An example of these ideals setting up to be disappointing but end up being refreshing:
Himeno’s disgruntled step sister Mayune at one point hires a bunch of boys to harrass Himeno on her way home. One of the male dwarf-substitute characters (known in-story as a Leafe Knight) are trailing Himeno so as to protect her because Himeno is the Pretear and the Pretear is their mission to protect so she can protect the earth and blahblah. Basically the set up looks like the evil step sister has sent some jerks in to be awful to Himeno and the Knight is going to jump in and save the day - but he gets detained explaining his presence stalking around a school campus and Himeno beats up her and her friend’s harassers herself and tells them being mean to girls is sad behavior. Little gems like that litter the basic plot of Pretear and once in a while are elevated to big story and character moments.
One such moment is one of my favorites in the series and in magical girl manga overall. Hayate is a bishonen Leafe Knight whose overzealous approach to the knight’s mission turned disastrous for him and the others in the past and as a result he carries around a lot of baggage and misunderstanding of Himeno’s personality (and women in general). Frustrated, Himeno tells him:
“Stupid Hayate. You really don’t understand other people’s feelings at all. You’re here because you want to protect me right? … But Hayate, did you know? Girls, in order to protect something important to them, can become as strong as they need to be? I became the Pretear because I also want to protect."
The choice aspect of Pretear gives the story a lot of it’s power, along with the series active role in smearing Himeno’s real life with her magical life with the two complicating each other in ways most fairy tales never seem to really get right. Himeno rises her decisions and puts the knights, like Hayate, in their place when they try to withhold information for "her own good” and coddle her when she wants the ability to help out as best as she can.
With only four volumes, Pretear is a short ride but surprisingly poignant for getting lost in the magical girl shuffle.