It's unobjectionable and nice. It's thoroughly safe children's entertainment, with the power of friendship and likeable magical girls. Hinata is quite an interesting character and I don't dislike the series at all.
At the same time, though, I don't think there's much point in watching it. I'm starting to warm to the spikier, harder-to-like PreCure series from up to ten years earlier, like Suite, DokiDoki and HappinessCharge. They have problems, but they're seriously engaging with the challenge of finding new kinds of stories and new dramatic angles in a never-ending franchise.
Halfway through Mahoutsukai, though, Toei changed its mind and decided that PreCure shouldn't try to be dramatic in the first place. After that, they did a good series (Hugtto), an abomination (Kirakira a la Mode) and two bland nothings (Star Twinkle and Healin' Good).
This season's theme is either unfortunate timing or brilliance. In 2020, the year of worldwide COVID-19 lockdown, PreCure had decided to base itself around doctors, illness and healing the Earth. There are fewer episodes this year because it went off the air when the anime industry shut down for several weeks. Its baddies are anthropomorphised illnesses, trying to infect the Earth. Its main heroine, Nodoka, had to miss years of school because of a chronic respiratory illness, so never had a chance to make friends and will get excited at simple things like being able to run without getting tired. (PreCure superpowers are a huge deal for her.) She spent her childhood in a wheelchair.
This helps make the series stand out. The last episode gets preachy about pollution and environmental issues, but everything it's saying is true and it's good that it says it. (It's a show for small children. Being preachy is, for once, correct.)
The core cast gave me the impression that Toei has started rationing out its supply of good characters. Don't use too many at once, or we'll be in trouble next year!
1. Nodoka (Pink) should theoretically be distinctive and she's certainly less hyper than most Pink Leaders, but in practice she's mostly just placid.
2. Chiyu (Blue) is a standard calm, intelligent Blue PreCure, except sporty. She's a champion high jumper, which alas isn't the most thrilling spectator sport. Presumably the showrunners chose it for a change from the usual PreCure team sports like soccer, softball, lacrosse, etc.
3. Asumi (Purple) is an artificial being that only comes into existence halfway through the series. We've had "fish out of water" characters before, but Asumi goes further in knowing nothing of anything at all. This yields a few amusing situations in the middle episodes, before she's learned common sense. Sleep in the road? Yeah, sure. Traffic lights? What are those? Unfortunately, though, she also has no personality traits.
4. Hinata (Yellow) is the interesting one. She's a vivacious idiot who can't concentrate on anything for more than five minutes and loves friends, fashion and fun. Her schoolwork is terrible. Her attention span is miniscule. She even spends a few episodes having no brain-to-mouth filter, before the show realises that it's making her look retarded. We've seen such characters before and they're always insensitive comic relief... but Hinata's the opposite. She's oversensitive. She's self-conscious about being an airhead and is liable to overcompensate in her attempts to fit in with her friends. Underneath that shallow exterior, she's a knot of insecurities and the show's good episodes are almost all Hinata's.
The baddies are fairly bland, although I liked how backstabbing and scheming they can be. Batetemouda sucks up to everybody, but is really out for himself and is only around for some of the series. Guiaiwaru and Daruizen are dull. Shindoii-ne was my favourite of the main three, but that's mostly by default. She's loudly in love with the Faceless Big Bad, she's childish and that's more or less the extent of her characterisation. (She doesn't even get an origin story. Guaiwaru doesn't either.)
The fairies are better than usual, mind you. They think it's their responsibility to fight the baddies and are initially reluctant to expose the girls to that kind of danger. They soon lose this and denegerate into generic fairiedom, though.
This series lacks dramatic impetus. The first half's not too bad, but potentially interesting characterisation gets smoothed out and the second half's a dozer. I didn't feel danger. Hardly anyone's trying to achieve or change anything. The show settles into a status quo and creates the impression that it never wants to leave it. Even the season finale didn't really strike me as scary or a big deal, despite the megabad who's threatening the Earth. It's a pleasant, soothing show, but not particularly serious about threatening its heroines.
Eps.1-5 = I love this initial run, before the show finds its formula. At this stage, it has a spark. It made me laugh. There are witty directorial touches like the synchronised blinking in ep.4. There's impressive bravery from fairies and Nodoka, including the latter fighting a monster while she's still in her non-powered form. Meanwhile, ep.5 is a Hinata episode and hence great.
Eps.5,9,13,36 = Hinata episodes. Her dad also made me laugh, as did the pair's relationship.
Eps.20-22 = Asumi's first few episodes, i.e. comedy. She has strange ideas of dog-care and will turn transparent if she gets depressed.
Eps.28,33,42 = Nodoka's health issues. These episodes have more teeth. Nodoka's old doctor has abandoned his profession, for instance, because he couldn't find what was wrong with her. Whoah, harsh. Mind you, ep.28 has an annoying reason for Keeping The Sodding Secret Yet Again (although also some better ones). Ep.42 is startling, though, with its message of "it's okay to be selfish when it comes to your health". Nodoka gets someone killed, basically. (This might look like a fluffy, harmless show, but its baddies never return after they've been possibly-killed, not even for the traditional last-episode "where are they know" glimpses.)
What's more, that message has sexual subtext. It's ostensibly about protecting your health and refusing to let yourself get infected by a disease, but other readings are available. In ep.41, Daruizen starts pestering to be allowed to enter Nodoka. He wants her body. In any other PreCure series, the selfless heroine would instantly agree... but this series delivers a lecture on protecting your body and your feelings and emphasising that it's okay to say no. The next time Daruizen asks, Nodoka shoots him down. "Don't use me out of convenience! My body and my heart belong to me!"
In the same episode, Shindoii-ne offers her body to her beloved King Byou-Gen. Yes, in exactly those words.
I don't hate this series. It's thoroughly nice. It's certainly better than its neighbours, Star Twinkle (because it doesn't have Blue Cat) and Tropical-Rouge! (because it's not utterly worthless). Sometimes, it even rediscovers the art of the supporting character and tells a sweet little filler episode about one of them. I also like the theme songs and the second closing title sequence. Ultimately, though, despite the odd run of episodes that's worth watching, it's a season of nothing much.