“I’ll be there for you.”
This is one of the best one-off episodes this season, and maybe in the whole series. Sure, PriPara may be an absurd world where new songs can be conferred by magic, a giant castle in the middle of a theme park/city-state can have a (non-lethal) torture dungeon, and people from America look about five years older than they actually are. As the returning Celebrity 4 state, they’re high school girls. This episode shows off some of PriPara‘s most absurd elements, but also gets directly to the emotional core of what makes this series work.
Ever since Leona’s true gender was revealed, the show’s been treating it as no big deal. He likes to wear cute outfits and sing songs as an idol, and everyone’s okay with that. However, Leona’s docile nature also goes against the social script of what “being a man/boy” is supposed to be, both in Japan and overseas.
Sprinkled throughout this episode is a series of flashbacks to Dorothy and Leona’s younger days, and how Leona was picked on for not being able to skate very well, for kicking a soccer ball into a tree, for being the kind of person who would rather make snow bunnies than participate in a snowball fight. And every time? Dorothy was there for him. She, too, knows what it’s like to be different, but the difference is that she wears her difference as pride, and uses it to let Leona know that there’s people out there that support him, no matter what. They’re siblings, and he should always know that.
All this culminates in another solo song for the main cast members, in this case an amazing skating-themed duet from the twins. They, too, achieve golden fairy wings, but what makes all of this work is, again, the real emotional core of that. They’re together. They’ve got each others’ back. And even when Leona says he’s going to join the CelePara Opera Troupe, Dorothy (after it being the catalyst that starts the episode) agrees to support him – basically, it results in Leona and Mikan’s positions in Friendol and CelePara being swapped for the rematch in the upcoming stage battle.
This is ignoring the goofier parts of the episode. The Milky Holmes-voiced Celebrity 4 return, and start things off by kidnapping Dorothy, believing she’s Leona. Everybody thinks Leona is more “feminine” than Dorothy, and while that does annoy Dorothy a bit, she also knows how to look out for herself… and nearly manages to escape from the dungeon on her own power. Though all of this culminates in Leona using his ninja skills to rescue his sister and take Celebrity 4 down a peg, with the help of a pack of friendly mice. There’s “living” suits of armor, a laser trap that’s actually just red string, and more. It’s the goofiest thing this show’s done since the museum episode.
And I love every minute of it. While the ongoing plot of S2 has been quite interesting, if I were to point to a (mostly) standalone episode to show someone, this would be a fine choice. Dorothy and Leona’s bond is so strong that it nearly made me tear up a couple of times, and the message about being proud to be yourself is one that rings true, especially in today’s polarized world.
The road to the final Grand Prix of the year begins. Also, the episode ended with a mysterious crack on the castle. Will Hibiki’s kingdom crumble under the weight of stardom?