It's the first PreCure season I'd call badly written. That doesn't necessarily make it the worst, but its story arcs are a mess and its characterisation is unconvincing. It's also a story about love that makes you wonder if the writer's had a bad break-up. It's laughably bad at portraying love and romance, but almost worryingly intense about hatred, bitterness and the emotional damage done by love gone wrong.
It's still PreCure, mind you. It's still fluffy magical girl nonsense with a monster of the week. Natsuki and Misaki watched it. However, it introduces a rule of "PreCure aren't allowed romance!" and ends up wallowing in the kind of plots you're already dreading.
SEASON STORY ARC BREAKDOWN
Ep.1. Hime recruits Megumi to be a PreCure. Hime's a useless coward and blowhard who's never won a fight and always runs away. She has a huge secret about the baddies that she won't tell anyone until ep.20. We also meet Blue, aka. God. Yes, it's really Him. His friends call him God in casual conversation. This is distracting if you're from a Christian culture, but the show's not joking. I spent the whole show assuming it couldn't be that simple and waiting to learn the other half of it... but, no, that's all it is. God's been making PreCures.
Technically there's also a third PreCure, Cure Fortune, but she won't go near the others. She hates Hime and won't listen to what she has to say, even when it's relevant to the current situation. Any other PreCures she treats as tools. She'll say "I don't need your help!" (ep.13) when she obviously does, then afterwards go into denial.
Eps.9-11. A fourth PreCure appears, Cure Honey. She's really a good friend of Megumi's and there's no reason why she couldn't have revealed herself immediately. (Especially since she's super-friendly.) She just didn't, because no one in this show tells anyone anything.
Blue reveals that he's been travelling the world impregnating schoolgirls. So to speak. "I scatter crystals of love." These have spawned international PreCures, but these are being targeted by Phantom.
Who's Phantom? Oh, did Blue never mention that either?
Eps.19-20. Hime finally gets around to mentioning that secret. (In fairness, she's ashamed of it and had been terrified that her friends would ditch her.)
Ep.22. Fortune and Hime talk to each other. At last. Fortune lurches with no visible transition from prickly, bloody-minded hostility to golden, warm acceptance. She joins the gang and the show forgets that there had ever been Obnoxious Fortune. (Mind you, she does become a Cure Ace-a-like scold for a while.)
Fortune uses one of the wishes you earn by collecting PreCards. No one minds, since they'll keep collecting cards and get more wishes... but the show ditches this idea and we never see another wish.
Oh, and Fortune had been a fortune-teller in the early episodes. The show forgets about that too.
Ep.24. The halfway point. Until now, the show's been reasonably good (despite some problematic character writing) and I'd been puzzled about this season nearly becoming a franchise-killer. Here, the puzzle was solved. Megumi starts falling in love with the love-allergic Blue, but her best friend Seiji is in love with her! Seiji sees Blue carry Megumi into her bedroom. The show walks off a cliff.
Ep.26. Hime starts wondering if she's falling in love with Seiji. No, no, no, please, no.
Ep.28. Honey's been travelling the world for months, helping the international PreCures. Oh, did she never mention that either? Blue asked her not to. Why? No one finds this weird and creepy.
Ep.29. The season's main villain (Queen Mirage) is in love with Blue and only wants to destroy the world because she's a bitter ex. Grow up, woman. Our triangle has grown into a love pentagram. Also, everything's Blue's fault for inventing that "no romance" rule, when he could have just settled down with Mirage and had little Herculeses with her.
Ep.32. A boy asks Fortune out on a date. He's nice enough, although I'd question his taste. Nonetheless, this is the kind of painful date episode so pointless that it could make a nation commit to celibacy. The episode's talking about love and so on... with this disposable null we'll never see again after this episode. The audience commit self harm.
Ep.36. Megumi reveals that she became a PreCure because of her mother's illness. Was this ever mentioned before? Why not? Gyaaaah. The show never returns to this or does anything with it. (Not even, for instance, to cure her with that second wish.)
Ep.39. Fortune's sister doesn't tell the other girls the important thing she tells Blue.
Ep.43. A pseudo-finale. This and its build-up haven't been particularly gripping, because the girls are clearly going to win just by telling Queen Mirage to come off it.
Eps.44-49. A back-up villain (Red) appears. This is stronger drama, with powerful motivations and a genuinely good use of the show's love triangles, although it gets a bit preachy and talky. And bitter. You might wonder if the writer's getting something off his chest. "The world is cruel and full of despair." "What good will remembering do? It just means more pain." "Despair is love's ultimate conclusion."
Hime/Princess is an unconvincing graft of two mismatching character types: (a) a brash, smug, insensitive, self-centred Erika clone, with this season following in the footsteps of HeartCatch. (b) a painfully shy girl who lacks confidence. (The latter quickly disappears.) Surprisingly, this sort of works. Hime's the show's funniest character. Note her goofy windmill arms attack in the opening credits, for instance. She's a mood-breaker when the show's vanishing up its own arse.
One could also argue that it's actually character development, given Hime's growth during the season.
That said, though, very little effort has gone into making the two halves of her character gel. It could easily have been done. She's a princess, after all, with a royal upbringing. Such a person could easily have that monster ego and yet be unused to social interaction. Unfortunately, though, the show's uninterested in that kind of depth and instead is just shoving two half-characters into one ill-fitting whole.
Megumi/Lovely is deconstructing a PreCure trope. Pink Leaders tend to be compulsive Good Samaritans, but Megumi can take that too far and annoy or upset the people she was trying to help. (She needs to learn to ask first.) She means well, though. She's fine. She can be funny.
Honey is nice. She's serene, she loves food and she sings. That's most of her characterisation, though.
Halfway through the season, Fortune pulls a stick from her arse.
Even the guest PreCures in ep.28 are annoying. Hawaii's team, Aloha PreCure, are two irritable sisters who are too busy squabbling to fight back effectively against a camp gay supervillain. Again, theoretically, this should work. The situation's so bad that it's realistic for teenagers to snap under the stress... but the actual writing's too shallow to sell that. You just look at them and think "idiots".
Seiji's pretty cool.
Blue, though, is... wow. It's easy to find anime pretty boys with no personality, but Blue takes that to another level. It's as if being personality-free was the point. He's a calm boy. That's it. I can't see how anyone could fall in love with him, because there's nothing there to love.
Yet again, admittedly, you could rescue the character by reading more into the episodes than the show itself is interested in portraying. One could interpret it as a dissection of religion. At one point, even the girls discuss everything being Blue's fault. Besides, Blue's ban on romance must be partly an overreaction to how badly things went with Mirage. For that interpretation to come through in the actual episodes, though, Blue would need some level of inner life. He's a cypher, not a person.
As for the villains, Red is strongly written but can't shut up and is offscreen in eps.1-43. Hosshiiwa is PreCure's most forgettable villainness, perhaps because her happiness-hating doesn't fit her personality and the show's not even bothering to try to reconcile them. Oresky stands out, though, by subverting the common PreCure villain type of a flamboyant camp narcissist. He's an egomanic, yes, but he's heterosexual. He's a macho bloke in military uniform whose name means "I love myself" and he'll be outraged if anyone, say, celebrates their inferior birthdays on the same day as his. When introduced in ep.8, he tells us his fan club fee and where to send fan letters.
OTHER STUFF I DISLIKED
This season doesn't seem to understand fights. It doesn't always integrate them well into the episode's flow and it's trying too hard to find a new angle on them. Its answer: dancing and singing. The PreCures' "attacks" often don't involve combat, but instead a dance routine or a song. The action stops dead for a performance number, after which that makes the baddies turn white and float into the heavens.
The girls also have too many special attacks. They gain another whenever they collect a Precard, i.e. every episode. Megumi alone has six super-forms (Cure Lovely, Cherry Flamenco, Lollipop Hip Hop, Innocent Form, Super Happiness Lovely, Forever Lovely), nine finishing attacks (Pinky Love Shoot, Passion Dynamite, Poppin' Sonic Attack, Twin Miracle Power Shoot, Happiness Big Bang, Lovely Powerful Kiss, Innocent Purification, Forever Happiness Shower, Miracle Love Motion) and thirteen sub-attacks (Lovely Punch, Lovely Rising Sword, Pretty Cure Kick, Lovely Heart Restruction, Lovely Explosion Bomber, Lovely Beam, Lovely Shield, Lovely Punching Punch, Lovely Rose Tormenta, Lovely Fire Festival, Lovely Blaster, Lovely Shining Impact, Lovely Heart Stamp).
...and that's just Megumi. Hime has Princess Bullet Machine Gun. Honey's Sparkling Baton Attack is basically an orbital weapon. (What's more, after using it, she always says, "Life, return to heaven.")
At the same time, though, the fights are tougher. Ordinary-looking opponents can beat PreCure. Hime is pathetic at first, regularly getting flattened by a monster-of-the-week, while Phantom trashes PreCures for most of the series. This could have been a strength of the show, but it needed stronger character designs. Phantom's plot role is a lot like HeartCatch's Dark PreCure, but Dark PreCure was terrifying while Phantom's a bland anime boy. You'd struggle to pick him out of a line-up.
Similarly anonymous-looking are Fortune and her sister, despite being this season's Moonlight.
Personally, I suspect this damaged the wish-fulfilment factor for the target audience. These PreCures can be weak and ordinary. The international ones are cannon fodder for Phantom. Also, the "no romance" rule must have been a buzz-kill. I hated it and I'm not a tiny child who wants to identify with the lead character.
I also dislike the Disneyfied CGI style in the end credits and dance sequences. Theoretically, it's laudable. They're matching the show's more childish art style (yet another HeartCatch influence), but seeing it in fully rendered 3D creeped me out. Eventually I got used to it.
COOL OR AMUSING STUFF
I love the bombastic theme music (e.g. Megumi screaming that she's the greatest), but only in the extended version. Listen out for the "wow". That's a song with a sense of humour.
The pre-credits cameos from previous PreCures in eps.1-34.
The Cutey Honey nod in the preview at the end of ep.10.
The innuendo in the preview at the end of ep.43, which must surely have been deliberate. "Next week: happy come come! Pyjama party! Megumi, I won't let you sleep tonight!"
Eps.14-16 = the superhero fan called Takuma and Megumi encouraging him. "I am a superhero!" (Consternation from other girls.) "MEGUMI-MAN!" (Hime: "...man?") After that, the girls visit Blue Sky Kingdom and become comedy ninja. Power restrictions force them to be creative with their transformations. Finally, we get something genuinely new with Masuko Miyo (a clone of Yes!'s Masuko Mika) and her weekly PreCure TV show. ("Because I'm an adult.")
Ep.31 = Honey nurses Phantom, although it would have been stronger if he'd shot her.
Ep.33 = the rocket nerds, although it would have been funnier if she'd shot down a plane. Megumi's anger makes her more impressive.
Ep.34 = a pseudo-romantic episode (for Hime) that's good. We'll never see this bloke again either, but at least the episode works, in contrast with ep.32.
Ep.10 = it's not horrible, but it's failing at a perfectly normal story-of-the-week. The leader of the school's Choir Club is being too strict... but she doesn't get enough screen time, because the episode's too interested in the regulars. Ep.11's the same.
Ep.28 = the Aloha PreCures, from start to unearned finish. "Cure Honey taught us!" No, she sodding didn't.
Eps.13, 25-28, 32, etc. = as discussed earlier.
JOURNEY OF UP AND DOWN
It's no disaster. I watched it all. It's light and fun, usually. It makes misguided creative decisions, but it'll usually bounce back from them within a few episodes.
The season's first half is decent PreCure. It has negatives (e.g. Fortune, Blue), but it's entertaining and Hime's funny. It collapses halfway through with the love triangles, though, which are a bit of a chore to watch. The show then recovers and gets good again (eps.31-35) before a final stretch that's an uneven mix of startling and dragged-out.
It's the PreCure equivalent of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. It's a love story by someone who can't write about love. These two years (DokiDoki and HappinessCharge) were a one-two failure that nearly killed the franchise. This makes them interesting, though. They're both brave experiments, but DokiDoki was clearly the more successful of the two. HappinessCharge isn't competent.