It's quite interesting to discuss, but it's not one of the better PreCure seasons. It goes from annoying to bland to tedious, before in fairness coming alive in the last three episodes. It's not a write-off, though. It's okay. You wouldn't laugh at anyone who said it was their favourite PreCure season.
It's also not the show the producers had wanted to make. They've admitted as much.
[6th FEBRUARY to 6th MARCH 2011] = EPISODES 1-5
Our heroines are Hibiki and Kanade. We'd seen plenty of squabbling PreCures, but for the first time here we have two idiots who can hardly say a civil word to each other. They're childhood friends, but they fell out for years for a stupid reason and then never patched it up. (Did Hibiki really not realise for all that time that her school has two entrances?) All it would have taken to resolve the misunderstanding was a ten-second conversation, but no.
With normal characters, this would be unbelievable. You'd be screaming at the screen. With this pair, though, they're such cretins that it's plausible. They fail at teamwork. They fail at everything. They need to grow up.
Ep.3 then makes Hibiki's father even worse than the girls. He's perfectly nice and good-natured, but he delivered an unclear, crushing criticism to Hibiki as a little girl that completely destroyed her motivation. He then never explained himself, ever. For years. (It's a reasonable comment if you've had the thinking explained to you, but I don't see any gain in hiding that thinking.) What outcome did he expect? I really, really disliked that and, frankly, I wouldn't let that man near children.
THEME: music. Everyone's from a magical land of music and trying to collect runaway music notes called "omp".
[11th MARCH 2011] = TOUHOKU EARTHQUAKE
Japan suffers its most powerful recorded earthquake, accompanied by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and a tsunami. Total deaths: over fifteen thousand people.
PreCure takes a break, then returns with a lighter tone. The producers had been planning to go darker.
[20th MARCH 2011 to 29th JANUARY 2011] = EPISODES 6-48
Hibiki.2 and Kanade.2 are friendlier. Ep.6 is quite good. This could be interpreted as legitimate character growth and one of the show's strengths, although there are other factors that suggest an emergency course correction. Hibiki's sports, Kanade's cooking, their friends and their school life all get ditched. Kanade herself gets sidelined. Unfortunately, the girls have lost the core of their characterisation (i.e. constant bone-headed arguing) and gained nothing to replace it. Their stupidity undermines them too. Hibiki doesn't completely leave the spotlight because she's the Lead Pink PreCure and the team's moral core, but there's no longer much to Kanade beyond overreacting to hot boys.
Result: I didn't care as much. It makes fight scenes more forgettable, for instance, since you're watching shallow characters who don't really have a strong connection to anything. Even the show's trademark shout of "zettai ni yurusenai" doesn't have the force of previous seasons. When Tsubomi and Erika were outraged, one felt something. Here, not so much. (There are exceptions, though, e.g. eps.19 & 29.)
It's also worth mentioning that accepted wisdom isn't quite correct when it calls this series lighter than its predecessor. This year's PreCures all start out unlikeable. They're either squabbling morons, ice-cold brats with an attitude problem or (at worst) outright evil. That's not necessarily bad, mind you. I prefer Seiren to Fresh's Setsuna (an unpopular opinion) because she retains some Seiren-ness even after SPOILER. As for Cure Muse, she's probably my favourite character in the show. (I'd be cheering on her put-downs of Hibiki and Kanade.)
This season has a theme of second chances, which is all the stronger for applying to heroines as well as villains.
All that said, post-earthquake it's more watchable. It settles into a routine. Sometimes it's funny. There's a fair amount of plot, with less filler than HeartCatch. (Its episodes aren't as good as HeartCatch's, but that's another matter.) Additional PreCures show up, always in some way transforming the show. Cure Muse provides mystery. It's perfectly passable television. But...
STUFF THAT'S NOT SO GOOD
1. The villains are lame. Seiren's good and Noise ends up being the show's unlikely saviour, but I have no time whatsoever for Mephisto or Trio the Minor. The latter start out as a singing trio from a magical land of music... who can't sing. Would it have killed the voice actors to make an effort? What's more, they end up being the default baddies and yet deteriorate into unfunny comedy idiots, with the show putting up a white flag as early as ep.30.
We have buffoonish baddies. They're not bad people underneath, really. This is significant thematically, but they're lacklustre antagonists who'll end up actively annoying anyone with a low tolerance for silly, unfunny stooge villains. (By the time the show does its Big Bad as Noise the Squawking Chicken, one starts wondering if this is a self-aware subversion of cartoon villains. This is a plausible reading, but also rubbish television.)
2. The girls' transformation sequences are overlong. There's too much posing, while the special attacks are also boring. My attention would drift, which is surprising since (unusually for PreCure) these are proper nude transformations.
3. They're bringing back the weak levels of "sexy" from Fresh, after it got ditched in HeartCatch. This makes the show less interesting, although I'll admit to enjoying the first end title sequence. (I'd emphasise the "weak", though. These girls can hang upside-down from a tree in ep.2 and their short skirts will defy gravity to preserve everyone's blushes. The show's also more modest with the youngest girl's outfits and transformation sequences.)
4. Competence is low. In the second half, the girls are effectively helping the villains. Everyone's chasing "omp", but every episode seems to end with the baddies stealing everything the girls collected. The baddies need all of it to complete a Melody of Sadness. THEY SUCCEED.
5. Intelligence levels are lower. The baddies are gormless. Hibiki and Kanade would struggle to outwit a garden snail in the pre-earthquake episodes, but even later they keep not realising that Seiren the shapeshifter is again shapeshifting. (It's a shock when Kanade second-guesses her in ep.19.) They're gullible. They leave someone's purse on a beach in ep.7. In ep.36, why didn't Muse try to pull off the headphones? In ep.32, the girls don't recognise Trio the Minor in drag.
Mind you, Hummy the talking cat is meant to be an airhead. She's great. She also (nearly) has the Wall's ice cream logo on her forehead.
As the season wore on, my tolerance diminished. I'd become neutral on Hibiki and Kanade and I actively liked Seiren and Muse, but it was getting ever harder to ignore the dead air of the transformation sequences and fight scenes. Episode after episode, I'd be tuning out. The villains were what killed it for me, though. Trio the Minor were driving me towards the point where it would be a struggle to get through episodes, while Mephisto wasn't much better.
Then, out of nowhere, the last three episodes suddenly become meaningful. Suite's finale beats HeartCatch's. The season had originally been about music, but in reality it had become about the Touhoku earthquake and children dealing with grief and sadness. Here, that goes from subtext to text. The Big Bad (Noise) becomes a character in ep.46, with dialogue and a worldview. He's chatty! Suddenly we have an interesting villain. He's, literally, sadness personified.
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"That's what I want to know."
His world-destroying plan is to make everything disappear... including himself. Our heroines are going to save him. This is going beyond the usual superhero fight scenes, into an acceptance of the inevitability of sadness. You can't destroy it. You can't make it disappear. It's inherent to the human condition. However you can embrace it, understand that life can't be simplified to superhero cliches and keep moving forward anyway.
That's pretty challenging for a children's cartoon. I admired it and I thought it made for an unusually mature finale. It's saying something real that would have resonated with an audience who'd in many cases been bereaved and/or made homeless. That's why the baddies manage to complete the Melody of Sadness, incidentally. (The show's producers wanted those members of the audience to connect with it.)
Note also that the last of the Dancing End Credits sequences begins with what looks like a nuclear winter.
I haven't yet praised Cure Muse enough. Some people called her a brat, which she is. However the targets of her scorn deserved it and she's thoroughly refreshing in ways that Hibiki and Kanade should have been, but weren't. She also has strong emotional connections. Her courage is real. The only thing I disliked was that she became a lot less effective and impressive once she'd been unmasked as a stereotypical Girl Who Needs Protecting. (I'd have loved to see this half-pint keep being the heavy hitter, compared with the big girls.) Mind you, the flip side of that is that the show eventually starts finding more creative ways to show off her combat ability. These are super-cool. I loved her stone pillar fusillade in ep.46 (kicking slices out of it one by one, each flying fast enough to fell a castle wall) and then her body-splitting magic circle attack in ep.47.
Ep.6 = which makes dramatic use of Hibiki and Kanade's squabbling. They're disagreeing about something meaningful for once. The early-Suite formula works as an exploration of their character flaws.
Ep.10 = Hibiki and Kanade become gorilla-impersonating nursery school teachers. It's funny. (You can skip the transformation and fight scenes, though.)
Ep.15 = more comedy, this time about Hibiki and Kanade's completely opposite reactions to hot boys.
Eps.21-29 (on and off) = Seiren. I particularly appreciated how they use her characterisation in the second half of that run.
Eps.3-5 = which are bad enough to make it probable that the show's producers would have been doing a screeching handbrake turn even without an earthquake. The TV presenting in ep.5 is funny, though.
Eps.30-45 = with the show heading downhill throughout. The Three Stooges made eps.30-32 and eps.41-42 painful, but those are just a few episodes that stood out for me from a run that rarely reached the heights of "okay". Ep.39 stands out particularly as a nothing episode. By the time we've reached ep.45, the show's dead. (Fortunately it then sprang back to life.)
It would have been embarrassing to have bad music in a music-themed series. Fortunately, we don't. I prefer the first opening theme arrangement, which goes heavier on the electric guitars.
The monsters-of-the-week are built around musical staves, which is cool because it's horrific. They look like white ribcage bones. (Mephisto's skull shoulder pads suggest that the producers had also noticed this.)
Overall, it's a mixed bag. It's easy to imagine a darker version of Suite where the baddies are playing for keeps and Ako's family issues are more tragic. That could have been strong. On the other hand, I'm pleased about the lightening-up if that's what softened Hibiki and Kanade. We don't know, though. It's all guesswork. I don't believe the producers have ever publicly gone into detail about their abandoned plans. Overall, I'd call this a fairly poor show that fails at basics (villains, fights, transformation sequences and the main two heroines), but also has noteworthy strengths (Touhoku-conscious themes, second chances, some of the characterisation).
It's watchable, though. It's far from being the worst PreCure series. Natsuki and Misaki enjoyed it.