I quite enjoyed it, but in a neutral way. At least it's PreCure. It's around that level. It's a perfectly decent magical girl show, but I can't see myself remembering much about it or being able to tell it apart from other PreCure series in a few years' time. It makes some bad early mistakes, but that's okay. It course-corrects. It's watchable, but I wouldn't recommend it to adults.
Sometimes it has dramatic depth, e.g. Cure Passion. Sometimes, though, it's risible, e.g. the Clark Kenting.
Firstly, some background. PreCure is and was a huge franchise in Japan, but it had had its downs (Seasons 3 and 5) as well as its ups. (I'm giving a producer's point of view, obviously, with audience figures and merchandise sales. Personally, I'd call Season 3 one of the better series.) Fresh's brief was thus to be fresh and broaden the show's target audience. (This had traditionally been a show for young girls, but in practice it had always attracted a broader demographic.) Its job was to shake things up. To quote the writer:
"Fresh was a new experimental work, and it was my first time participating in the series, so it was a case of trial and error over and over again. If Fresh had failed, the series would've ended there. If it was a success, it would've continued forever... that was the high hurdle."
That said, though, the changes are minor. It's still PreCure. Fourteen-year-old girls transform into magical girls and fight evil by pummelling it. Everyone's still thoroughly nice, the all-loving protagonist is the Pink PreCure and the best characters are often the villains.
THOSE CHANGES INCLUDE
(a) it's sexier. By an almost imperceptible amount, of course, especially since its heroines are still only fourteen years old. Compare with Cure Macaron in 2017 and you'll laugh... but you can still see what the producers had in mind. The characters look older, with visible breasts and no modesty shorts under their micro-skirts. Their battle outfits are fashion-conscious, even having stiletto heels. (That's probably inadvisable.)
The group even has a sexiest member (Miki), whose Cure outfit includes stockings and a bare midriff, as well as everyone's dangerously short skirt. She gets a shower scene in ep.2, technically. She has a "LOVE & SEXY" poster on her bedroom wall. She's taller than the others, wants to be a model and is regarded in-universe as famously beautiful, with so many boys trying to ask her out that she has a habit of passing off her brother as her boyfriend.
As for the villainesses, it's never been unusual in PreCure for them to be sexy (or at least curvaceous). Eas, though, is in fetish wear.
(b) the early episodes have boys and dates. People ask each other out. The hot villain in ep.4 has passers-by trying to chat him up. All this is somewhat embarrassing and is dropped like a stone after the disastrous ep.5. That's a Date Episode so awkward that it'll make you hate boys, even if you are one. You'll be delighted when the monster appears.
For a while (ep.12+ or so), the show then turns into a comedy.
Romance isn't completely abandoned, admittedly. Those three boys will return, with one of them (Daisuke) trying to woo Love. (Yes, the protagonist's name is Love. It was her grandfather's idea, the swine.) However the boys' presence in the series gets reduced, despite being in the title sequence, and the show ditches that idea of Miki "dating" her brother. (We can still make jokes, though. Note also her mother suggesting marriage with her son in ep.9, albeit as a joke at a party.)
(c) the fairies look different and don't say annoying tag phrases after all their sentences. THIS IS FANTASTIC. Instead, they're either babies or wise-guy ferrets with a Kansai regional accent and no magic. The PreCures also don't have to go around collecting them.
(d) the girls dance. That's their ongoing activity for the year. They get tuition from a professional dancer (Miyuki) and enter dance tournaments. Unfortunately this usually looks terrible, because this is a year-round weekly show for kiddies with a limited budget. Its hand-drawn dance sequences look like arse.
Ironically this looks particularly bad given...
(e) the CGI dancing end credits, with motion-captured dancers. All PreCure seasons did this from now on. This is really good, up to a point, but unfortunately almost all in long shot. It's still only 2006, you see. Too many close-ups would have been Uncanny Valley territory.
(f) places that got trashed in PreCure battles don't magically revert to normal afterwards.
OTHER FEATURES OF THIS SEASON
The show's usually fairly shallow, but it's capable of more. This is most obvious with Cure Passion. She's a fairly common trope in PreCure, but it's never failed to be powerful and it makes Passion far deeper and more complicated than her teammates. (I think my main problem with how it's done here is that after her introductory story arc, her emotional issues get pushed aside and she just becomes a regular team member. If you started watching halfway through, you'd never guess that there was anything different about her. She gets callback episodes where her past becomes important again, though.) Cure Passion is where Fresh steps up a gear, dramatically. Sometimes. Besides, even if her genesis is a bit on the well-worn side, you can do a million variants of it. It's different every time. I don't think this is PreCure's strongest take on it, but apparently Passion's still a fan favourite, even today.
There's also more meaningful stuff in the show's concluding run, despite stupidity in ep.45. This starts roughly with the arrival of Norther, who's far more sinister than her comrades. They were amusing. She's evil. In one episode, she scared Natsuki enough that he left the room. She's the instigator of strong Cure Passion episodes, like ep.40 and ep.42. The high point might be eps.45-48.
All the villains are worth watching, though. Eas stands out, obviously. Norther is frightening, but on the other hand you'll want to cuddle Westar and take him home with you. (I could never tell him and Souler apart visually, though.) He's comic relief. He's definitely a villain, but he's also a goofball who gets excited about dumb things, never thinks through his plans and regularly gets mocked by his teammates.
Our heroines, on the other hand, are probably the show's weakest link. (This even includes Passion, but only when she's in "Just Another PreCure" mode.)
Everything around them is quite good. The setting, the villains, etc. are fine. The girls themselves, though, are basically just okay. Judged just on characterisation, you'd struggle to pick them out of a PreCure line-up. They're good enough and I had no difficulty in watching the episodes, but that's all. Love is funny and a bit of a goofball, but not too much of one. She's far more competent and sensible than Nozomi last year. Miki's mostly a catchphrase ("I'm perfect!"). That's a harsh judgement and an exaggeration, but not entirely wrong. Bukki's vet thing and Dr Dolittle abilities are interesting, but underused. I'm sure it didn't help that the show's initial plan failed and got discarded. Boyfriends, dates, etc. Time for Plan B. Unfortunately this meant the loss of some interesting characterisation points like Love's relationship with her mother in ep.6.
The most interesting thing about the main three girls might be Chiffon's baby care, actually. That was particularly good in the early episodes. Later it got forgotten, a bit, but it's still a sufficiently strong idea that the franchise reused it later (e.g. Hugtto).
In descending order, my favourite characters this year are... 1st = Westar (idiot villain), 2nd = Northa (scary villainess), 3rd = Azukina (who hardly appears but is cool anyway) and 4th = Kaoru (The Designated Food Seller). I suppose the PreCures themselves should be in there too.
Oh, and that Designated Food Seller... that's a PreCure thing, for no obvious reason. Futari wa PreCure (Max Heart) had Akane's takoyaki stall. Splash Star had Saki's family running a baker's. Yes! PreCure 5 had Otaka-san and the school cafeteria. Now, though, with Fresh, we have the goofiest Food Seller and the least appealing food. Doughnuts. Am I the only person to think doughnuts are overrated? Bizarrely, the show behaves as if they're the food of the gods and deep-fried pure happiness. Uh-huh. I'll forgive all that for Kaoru-chan, though, who's a splendid nutcase with a triumphant bark of a laugh. He's the kind of loon who'll leave his stall in the hands of a talking ferret. He's a stealth star of the show.
THE DAFTEST THING ABOUT THE SHOW
It's got some unusually laughable Clark Kenting, i.e. superheroes going unrecognised just because they've changed clothes. Here, they don't even wear glasses. Love isn't disguised at all as Cure Peach. She has a frillier dress and a floofier hairdo. That's it. You'd have to be blind or feebleminded not to recognise her... but no one ever does, even after conversations with both versions of her.
This includes her parents, her friends at school and her wannabe boyfriend.
The show then redoubles this when Tarte orders the girls never to reveal their PreCure identities! To anyone! Ever! No, he can't explain why! (Admittedly that's normal for the magical girl genre, but it's also a stupid trope that's rarely justified and has been known to make me hate protagonists.) This causes friction with Miyuki when they seem to be goofing off from their dance lessons... and so eventually they tell her. This has no negative consequences. Apparently revealing your PreCure identity is okay after all.
Then, amazingly, the show later digs even deeper into this trope it's already exploded once. The girls tell their families in ep.45, who shit a brick and tell them not to do anything dangerous... at a time when Lord Moebius is enslaving the multiverse and everyone on Earth will become mind-controlled within about half an hour. Uh, guys? Yeah, you. The idiots. Being protective of your offspring is understandable, but your timing sucks. Let the PreCures save the multiverse first.
The important ones are Cure Passion's genesis (a long build-up to eps.22-25 or so, but it bleeds) and the closing run from ep.40 onwards. Other individual episodes might include:
Ep.6 = Mum works late and Love cooks dinner for her. Soon, though, they're having an argument that the show takes surprisingly seriously. This episode's a bit more hard-edged than usual.
Ep.10 = a body-swap episode with an animal twist.
Eps.12, 14 = COMEDY. The talking animals, the rude hamster, the pathetic villains... Love has a duel with a cat! (She loses.)
Ep.15 = quite a deep episode, for Fresh. Love goes on a date with Eas. "If you knew people's true feelings, human relationships would collapse."
Ep.28 = Time travel and a grandfather who's been dead for ten years.
Ep.32 = go to the Sweets Kingdom! This is cool and it introduces Azukina, although you've got to laugh at the triumphantly obtained treasure at the end. It's yet more cheap, nasty-looking merchandise, available in shops now, kids!
Ep.5 = the date episode.
Ep.11 = "we can't tell her the truth" (piss right off) and then our heroines turn into creepy stalkers to sneak a look at Miyuki's schedule. They're getting dance lessons from a pro. Tone down that sense of entitlement, girls. "She hates us!" similarly makes them look stupid. Then, ultimately, finding true happiness gets equated with turning professional. So just doing something for fun makes you miserable and/or a loser, then?
Ep.27 = the Guest Star Episode, this year involving the real-life comedy duo Audrey. They're, um, not incorporated elegantly.
Ep.37 = everyone's an idiot and the boys are annoying again. Analysis is done of the PreCures' strengths and weaknesses in battle... and it's rubbish. The moral is heavy-handed. Also, why didn't Miyuki just say why she'd realised that dance was important?
Ep.45 = at once one of the strongest and the most frustrating episodes. It's the one where the PreCures come out of the closet and their parents have a brain failure. Oi, guys. End of the world, anyone? As for Love, hurry up and go. Stop hugging your mother. Go save the multiverse, now, and while you're at it tell the soundtrack to stop playing that emotional music.
One yardstick for PreCure might be whether it makes you want to watch or write more of it. Futari wa, Splash Star and HeartCatch? Hell, yeah. Yes! PreCure 5 (GoGo)? I want to write a parody, making fun of their dodgy school uniforms and their nose-diving battle effectiveness. Fresh, though? Not really. They're fine and they carried these fifty episodes without trouble, but nothing about them says "unrealised potential" to me. I'm fond of Love/Peach and I can see that Cure Passion has greater dramatic depth, but if I had to, I'd probably try writing something for Bukki.
It's okay, but also occasionally stupid. It has daft bits, e.g. "Let's PreCure!" (Yes, in English, in every episode. Since when is "PreCure" a verb?) Our heroines also keep saying "beat up!" However it can also get darker and more frightening than you'd expect from what's essentially a kiddie show. It also has a bit of a Death Star look for Labyrinth's base, being a city of technology.
I liked it. It's fine. You probably wouldn't remember it.