It’s one thing to catch the hearts of others; it’s another entirely to catch your own.
By the time Tsubomi, Erika, Itsuki, and Yuri reach the 37th episode of Heartcatch Precure, they’ve successfully faced down the Desert Apostles dozens of times and restored the Heart Flowers of many people to full bloom. And while the primary mechanism by which they guide the suffering hearts of the populace back to wholeness is their magical Precure powers, each of these victories is preceded by a short monologue by one of the Precure (most often, Tsubomi) that validates the weakness of the heart of each individual they save. “You’re just taking advantage of the weakness of his/her heart!” she cries. “And I’ve had it up to here with this!”
The Desert Apostles, in their quest to turn the world into a desert (as their name would suggest), do indeed prey upon and play with the weakness that dwells in the heart of every human. It’s insidious in a way that quietly underlines the child-friendly exterior of the conversation, presented as it is in campy villainous speeches and energetically heroic responses—the Desertrian enemies are the dark side of the human response to the unavoidable pain and frustration of being alive. They are us, having given in to the “easy way” out; that is, an unrestrained indulgence in the basic emotional defenses we construct to deal with the hurtful parts of our lives. The genius (and despicableness) of the Desert Apostles is that they forcibly induce the hearts of their victims into the most destructive reactions possible.
But while this prototypical Heartcatch episode structure follows the Precure as they help to turn the Desert Apostles’ victims back to healthier, restorative ways of dealing with their individual situations, it also has the unfortunate effect of removing the agency from those being saved. We see both extremes—a wallowing in the misery of life or an acceptance of it—but neither of them are organically the choice of those whose Heart Flowers are wilting under their burdens. By having the Precure available to steer them back onto the better path, the side characters carry on with their lives happier, but with the difficulty of the choice removed and only the difficulty of their situation left to them.
But who is there to save the Precure? Who is there to redirect them in their struggles with the weaknesses of their hearts? The answer for the Precure, as it is for those of us watching, is that there is no one—there are some things in life from which only we can save ourselves.
There’s another anime out there that happens to understand this particular lesson extremely well—the Monogatari series. The foundational construct of Monogatari is, in short, that what in Precure terms would be called “the weakness of the heart” becomes manifested in a variety of animal-shaped apparitions…and it is only be directly confronting that incarnation of their assorted flaws that the characters of Monogatari can become the fullest, truest versions of themselves. In a sense, it is just as forcibly constructed a situation as the Desert Apostles’ hijacking of wilting Heart Flowers—but there are no saviors in Monogatari to restore the Heart Flowers of its characters. Rather, having been given the chance to grapple with a physical representation of their weaknesses, they are likewise given the chance to decided how they will respond.
The Precure of Heartcatch are given this same opportunity in the episode 37 and 38’s Precure Final Trials. Transported into the Precure Palace, they find themselves separated from their teammates and facing their shadow forms in battle. As they challenge these expressions of their own weakness, each of them initially responds that they have already outgrown these weaknesses—”That’s how I used to think,” Itsuki says. But each of their shadow selves contradicts this notion by their very existence. Like apparitions of Monogatari, which simultaneously hide away the weakness of the self and serve as a constant reminder of it, the shadow Precure protest against a wholly strong self.
The only redemption for the extant weakness—the faults that never entirely leave despite how much they’ve grown—in the Precure is to accept it entirely, to literally embrace the darkness of their hearts with the light of their new selves and incorporate it into a fully realized version of their identity.
For Erika, Itsuki, and Yuri, this task is relatively easy due to the nature of their primary flaws. Erika’s jealousy and insecurity are ugly emotions she has learned to see and let go. Itsuki’s bottling up of her feelings and likes has been resolved by opening her heart to friends and family. And Yuri’s tragic life of solitude has been healed by her resolution to fight alongside the other Precure. Their struggles to change have been based in weakness of character, and these sorts of changes require an understanding of that same weakness before growth can occur.
But Tsubomi’s battle has been one that is almost antithetical to the nature of the Precure Final Trial because it has not been just a battle against a single flaw, but against her perceived identity. From the very first episode of Heartcatch, Tsubomi has struggled to change from the self she is into a new self…but the Precure Final Trial is about understanding that, no matter how much we change, there are still parts of us that remain the same.
Naturally, Tsubomi struggles to accept this. After all the time she has spent growing as a person to become less withdrawn and less shy, she is now facing the part of herself—the weakness of her heart—that understands Tsubomi will always be Tsubomi to some degree. It’s a reversal of the classic anime line, “You’re you.” The perceptions or ideals of self we create do not always match the realities of the selves we are. In the midst of the abstracted, formless space that forms the trial’s arena , there is nowhere from Tsubomi to run from this truth. There is only her…and her mirror. Her apparition.
Of course, if there was no hope of change whatsoever, Tsubomi would indeed be trapped by the trail forever—because even accepting that change is difficult and perhaps even impossible at some times can be a change. Admitting that we lack the strength to become what we wish to become can be the first step along the path of realizing that wish.
In the end, Tsubomi “wins” her trial by accepting the self-doubt and the reality that she will always be herself. She rejoins the other Precure on the battlefield, not as a half-person needing her beloved friends to support her and compensate for her weaknesses, but as a whole person ready to grow. These are the heroes of the heart, those who have faced down their own apparitions in the abstract space of reflection—and they are the ones who can heal the hearts of others.
It’s a simple message, but it’s a lesson difficult to learn for people of all ages—not just kids. Thankfully, the simple clarity of the way Heartcatch communicates this lesson makes it easy to understand, and gracefully advances the themes partially articulated by the episodic battles for the Heart Flowers of the people of their world. And the show’s not even over yet!
 This is actually another neat parallel between the Final Trials arc of Heartcatch and Monogatari. The abstract, spatially undefined nature of the trial is quite reminiscent of the ever-sifting, stylized settings of Monogatari.