To be honest, it's not my favourite. My reasons are lightweight, but then again so is PreCure. It's a good-natured magical girl show with likeable heroines, monsters of the week and lots of cool music. Its target audience is 4-12 year old girls. (It's also always had a significant adult demographic, though, thanks to its high action quotient and habit of being quite good.)
This season saved the franchise after Splash Star's ratings nosedive in 2006. It's more typical of the magical girl genre as a whole, but it's also arguably the franchise's real template. Personally I love Honoka and Nagisa in 2004-2005, but you'll see this season's patterns again and again in later years. Five colour-coded girls, not just a duo. (Hence the slightly defensive title. Almost every mistake in the early PreCure years was due to Toei's fear of visible change.)
Nozomi is similarly the archetypal Pink Leader, which ever since has been the official colour of every season's lead heroine. (Honoka and Saki's costumes had had pink elements before Nozomi, but that's not the same thing. Honoka's PreCure name was Cure Black, after all.)
Nozomi's cuddlier and more idealised than Nagisa. She's an all-forgiving, all-loving idiot hero with a heart as big as the world. ("Idiot" isn't even harsh, incidentally. The show makes jokes about it. In ep.11, Nozomi gets 18% on a school test where the class average was 80%.) In fact, modern PreCure fans have been known to dislike Nagisa when rewatching the first two years. Her temper, pessimism and occasional grumpiness make her much more realistic than Nozomi... but it's the latter that's become the default.
This season is good, respectable PreCure. It redefined the formula. It's a solid series with moderately menacing baddies and decent characterisation for its five heroines. I have two, relatively minor problems with it.
1. HONOKA AND NAGISA CLONES
Clones. Rip-offs. Here we are again.
Yes, I know. How can I criticise this on those grounds when I've also seen Splash Star? Obviously, that year was even more of a cut-and-paste. Saki and Mai were Nagisa and Honoka with spikier hair. It was blatant self-plagiarism, at least at the start.
Splash Star, though, I don't mind. You can't say it's not respecting the original.
Here, though, the Nagisa and Honoka clones have been demoted. They're just two girls out of five and it's Nozomi who's the leader. Mind you, Rin and Karen are also more strict and mature than the others, hence likely to be telling them off.
Furthermore, their characterisation has got unfriendlier. They're spiky, at least in these early stages. This creates interesting storytelling options and in essence I approve... but that makes it awkward for me that they've got Nagisa and Honoka's faces. (Rin has Nagisa's temper, but as a larger part of her character thanks to her reduced screen time. As for Karen, she's a lonely, rich elite. That's superficially like Honoka, but Karen's also haughty, aloof and initially miserable. She has an unhappiness that her clone predecessors didn't. She thaws, fortunately, but at first she's cold.)
This rubbed me up the wrong way. It almost felt disrespectful. I disliked it. Toei clearly did it deliberately, as a sop to the original fans, but with me it had the opposite effect. I'd have been fine with different faces, mind you, or other signs that this isn't a conscious throwback. (Rin has younger siblings and is sporty, Karen lives in a big house and has absentee parents, etc.) To get behind a PreCure season, you see, I think you've got to love its heroines. That's usually easy. They're lovable. They're funny, kind and brave. At their best, they're inspiring (e.g. Hugtto!'s Hana). Unfortunately, though, being too attached to Honoka and Nagisa was a problem here.
Sometimes there are even Rin-Karen episodes, redoubling the flashbacks. These, to some extent or other, include ep.8, ep.25 (telling off the others for running in the shop), ep.35, eps.41-42 and ep.48.
Obviously, though, that won't matter if you've never seen PreCure's first three years.
2. STUPID VILLAINS
In most respects, I like these villains. They make monsters called "kowainaa", which comes from the Japanese word for "frightening". They can be a bit creepy. They're not even young and attractive. Instead they're working adults, at an evil organisation called Nightmare. They also get more sinister over time. We'll meet a middle-aged harridan who's built like a sumo wrestler and an old man called Bloody who could have passed for either Professor Moriarty or Jack the Ripper. (Sometimes they even have the Batman symbol on their chairs.)
One episode sees Kawarino murder two of his subordinates.
All that I like. The problem is their beliefs. They represent despair (c.f. their ultimate boss being called Desparaiah), which is great for making the heroines look good. The PreCures deliver stirring speeches and defend hope. I approve. Unfortunately, though, the Nightmare baddies have been written to believe that all living things will automatically fall into despair. They're gobsmacked when the PreCures don't. This creates dumb rent-a-baddie writing, in which they're saying daft things for the heroines to oppose. I couldn't believe in their point of view. "Why? Why won't you despair?"
(This works in ep.49, though, because Desparaiah's rant is really about her own insecurities.)
I should talk about positive stuff too, though.
(a) The core cast is good. Nozomi is a cool main character and often funny, especially in her feud with the equally immature Milk. She's also amusing with Urara, given their similar childishness, bottomless appetites and lack of shame. (See them drape themselves over Karen's elderly butler in ep.18 to try to scrounge choux creme.) The whole gang can be outrageous, in fact, e.g. inviting themselves to Karen's private island in ep.25. Meanwhile their relationships are relatively intricate, with a Nagisa Faction (Nozomi, Urara and the sharp-tongued Rin), an older-seeming Honoka Faction (Karen and Komachi) and the occasional stealth pairing of Rin-Karen.
(b) Masuko Mika is a big plus for the show. She edits the school newspaper and provides both story fuel and laughs.
(c) There's budding romance between certain girls and the hot boys Coco and Nuts, who are also fairies. The show takes its time exploring this, but eventually takes it more seriously than you'd expect. Ep.43 will have one girl in floods of tears. I quite liked these fairies and their contrasting personalities, but their tag phrases are more annoying than usual and it can be hard to listen to long Coco-Nuts conversations.
(d) There's something weird about the school uniform. It's white and purple, but in an inconsistent way. Usually it's a white dress with a purple jacket, but sometimes it's a purple dress and white jacket (eps.18-34, but never in the title sequences). The purple jacket looks better, you see... but also potentially dodgy. This show's usual skin tone is white. (Rin and the boys are slightly more flesh-coloured.) White skin + simple white dress = the possibility of upsetting any parents in the audience, if you're not careful. What's more, that jacket is a peek-a-boo flyaway number that's only fastened at the neck.
(e) The school's name (on its bus in the title sequence every week) is L'Ecole Cing Lumiere. Count the errors.
(e) The girls have to collect 55 Pinkies, which is the flimsiest handwave imaginable and it's possible to forget that that was ever an element in the show. What's the point of the Collet, in fact? How will it restore the Prince's kingdom? This year's MacGuffins are garbage. When our heroines lose them in the season finale lead-in, this has no weight and you don't care.
(f) Urara's hair does amazing things in her transformation sequence.
(g) Komachi's catchphrase sounds like a toothpaste. "PreCure mint protection!"
Ep.12 is where the show won me over. It made me laugh. Nozomi has to play a rabbit on stage, while everyone else holds up her lines. (This would have been even funnier if she'd done her PreCure transformation in the rabbit suit.) The PreCures have a live monster battle on stage, for an audience who don't realise it's real and for that awesome schoolgirl journalist.
Comedy Nagisa episodes, e.g. ep.13 when everyone agrees that Nozomi's incapable of looking after children (including the children themselves), or ep.15 when Nozomi helps at home when her mother falls ill. Her friends are terrified. "Nozomi's mother is in danger!"
Ep.22 has Milk at her most outrageous, e.g. putting herself on sale while planning to run away when her new owner's asleep. The PreCures are forced into a pseudo-parental role, while Milk's the brattiest of brats. Note also her prehensible ear-walking up stairs. Milk (wailing in self-pity): "I'm useless!" Audience at home: "TRUE."
Eps.23-24 are the mid-season finale and creepier than the final one.
Ep.33, which finds more emotional weight than usual. That journalist publishes a derogatory article based on insufficient research.
Ep.34, a Karen-focused episode.
Ep.38, which is a comedy riot. The PreCures do Cinderella. Nozomi, Nozomi, Nozomi. She'll make you feel sorry for the Ugly Sisters, while Urara is a goofball Fairy Godmother and we have twin Damsels in Distress: Coco and Nuts. In other news, Milk is still appalling.
Ep.40 and the secret of the school principal. That episode was nice.
The show's fine. It ticks all the PreCure boxes. Natsuki enjoyed it. It was successful enough to get a sequel year, which of course I'll watch. Personally, though, it's not my favourite. PreCure isn't a heavyweight franchise. It doesn't reach the emotional weight of, say, Sailor Moon, and I think people's responses to different seasons will tend to be subjective. This year, I had niggles. They're relatively minor and you might even call some of them silly, but they put distance between me and this year's series.