Almost uniquely in the PreCure franchise, it's not a new continuity but instead a sequel to the previous year. Honoka and Nagisa are back! (Well, "back" in the sense that there wasn't a transmission break, so the contemporary audience would merely have noticed a new title sequence.)
It's good. I enjoyed it. There's a lot to like about this season, but it's also got a bit of that kiddie show problem which means that the heroes don't really touch the story. They're just friends having fun together in monster-of-the-week episodes, unlike some other magical girl shows like Sailor Moon (or indeed later PreCure series like Heartcatch or Go! Princess). The show's not entirely without character drama (e.g. Nagisa-Fujipi or the ongoing mystery of Hikari), but it's basically just a happy, nice, amusing children's show about little girl superheroes.
I enjoyed it, but it's not one of the PreCure series that I'd recommend to adults. It's a good example of what it is, but it's not really transcending that. That said, though, it's the first. It's the original. I'm terribly fond of them. Honoka and Nagisa fought evil for 96 episodes, two movies and a bunch of later team-up movies, plus recurring guest star spots fifteen years later in HUGtto! Pretty Cure. Apparently they're also traditionally seen as the strongest PreCure team in the All Stars universe.
They also have the most iconic PreCure theme song: "DANZEN! Futari wa Pretty Cure". Other series would have cooler or funnier songs, e.g. "Shubidubi Sweets Time" (KiraKira) or "Tomorrow Song" (Heartcatch), but this is the original. It's like the PreCure equivalent of the James Bond theme. (They've remixed it, incidentally. I slightly prefer the Season 1 visuals in the opening credits, but the new theme tune arrangement has more oomph.)
What do I particularly like about this year, then?
Firstly, Nagisa. She's an immature, short-tempered clown who's mean to her little brother, Ryouta, and is always arguing with her fairy partner, Mepple. (Ryouta gives as good as he gets, incidentally.) She's also a walking disaster when it comes to her crush on Fujipi and an explosively fantastic source of laugh-out-loud reaction shots. All this is great. She's nowhere near the human garbage dump that is Usagi in Sailor Moon, mind you, but she's still violating the usual magical girl formulae. She's also the reason I like this series's fairies more than usual. The Nagisa-Mepple bickering gives the relationship so much punch that it justifies the fairies' existence in the show. (They're also liable to be entertainingly lazy, useless and childish.)
(That's concentrating on the negative, mind you. Nagisa's also cheerful, inspiring, tough as nails and, in my opinion, very likeable. She's also grown a lot over these two years. Both she and Honoka are terrible as their clubs' new leaders in ep.9, but then by the time we reach ep.43 they've both become almost irreplacable and their successors can't handle the idea of trying to fill such big boots.)
Honoka, in contrast, is calm, intelligent and the voice of reason. She's adorable, although her serenity also makes her less of a writers' goldmine than Nagisa. The show spends far more time on Nagisa's lacross club than on Honoka's science club, for instance.
The season's story arc is... uh, unchanged all year. Hmmm. Possibly not best. The villains are amusing and at first even creepy as they babysit a completely normal small boy, but the impact of this diminishes over forty-something episodes. There's also some Heartiel-collecting for our heroines that always falls flat. PreCure fairies are normally large talking magical animals, but a Heartiel is more like a proper, traditional fairy. It's tiny, it has no effect on anything and I couldn't have cared less about them. They appear and disappear. They mean something, supposedly. I paid them no attention and this didn't hurt the show at all.
Ep.16, in which an intelligence-loving Heartiel is delighted to make Honoka's acquaintance. In Nagisa, though, he's amusingly uninterested. "I didn't ask you."
Ep.37 onwards, in which the show picks up pace for the final sprint. There's comedy (the class play in ep.37 and Nagisa vs. Ryouta in ep.40), thematic exploration (the study of friendship in ep.38) and even Nagisa struggling with her romantic incompetence re. Fujipi.
Ep.47, obviously. It's the finale. It's triumphant when it uses the theme tune as incidental music. It has surprises, blending emotion and comedy. (Yup, Nagisa.) The only thing it doesn't have is the return of Kiriya that was promised in the ep.46 "Coming Next Week" trailer.
STUFF THAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
Couldn't they have gone further with the boy in the mansion? So much build-up, but then...
This is a ridiculously small nitpick, but how did Nagisa and Honoka get down from the Ferris wheel in ep.42? They're stuck up there in one shot, then suddenly they're walking along on the ground below.
This isn't a great or special show, but it's a very likeable one. (Well, if you like Nagisa.) I enjoyed it... and, what's more, Natsuki did too. This is a cartoon aimed at girls, but even so he'd come down at 6:30 am to sit with me and watch the latest episode. I like the cast. I like the macho but childish villains. I like the theme song and opening credits, obviously, which are so memorable that the finale's studded with visual quotes from it. (Continent-sized alien reaching down from space to stamp on the planet! Nagisa and Honoka falling from orbit!)
If nothing else, it's easy to see how this franchise became an all-conquering hit with its target demographic in Japan. I'm very pleased that I went back to watch PreCure's origins.