I've heard a lot of good things about this series for a while (for one thing, I've seen a lot of people debating over what series within the Precure franchise are actually good and this one and the original are the ones that just about everyone seem's to agree on) and dammit I don't watch enough magical girl shows as a self-professed fan of the genre, clearly I need to fix that. I'm going to make a real effort to watch more magical girl series next year (provided that my currently airing and school schedules give me enough time) although I am a little worried that since I enjoyed this one so much my expectations for everything else is going to be too high.
Summary: Tsubomi is a shy girl who has just moved to a new town so her family can be closer to her grandmother and is trying to change her personality as she enters her new school. She's helped by her new friend Erika and the two of them also find themselves fighting to protect the Earth from the Desert Messengers by turning into the legendary Pretty Cure. They're not very good at first but they have some unexpected allies and the more they fight the better they get and the more they grow too.
The Good: This show is an odd combination of things even for the franchise (since I'm unfamiliar with the other works I doubled checked these things on tvtropes, as always correct me in the comments if I mess up). On the one hand it has some very blatant merchandise pulls with the tools the Precures use, which reminded me that at it's roots it's a kids show meant to sell toys, but it's also surprisingly dark in places with rounded characters who grow and have some rather badass moments. Honestly if you doubt that a magical girl show can actually be called badass, look at this list which sort of compares Madoka Magica and Heartcatch by laying out all of the badass and "grimdark" moments from the show (not really spoilers unless you don't want to know how many dragons were punched in the face in either show). The plot also isn't very complicated, neither the overall plot (the Desert Messengers want to turn the Earth into a desert and the Precure have to defeat them) nor the week to week plot (a new character is shown who has a reasonable insecurity that's exploited to turn them into a monster and the Precure have to return them to normal). I do wish it had varied from it's victim of the week formula at times (there were some episodes which I honestly think could have worked without a monster and that kind of deviation can be really leave an impression if you're a kid) but it does everything well and I didn't get bored with it. Also, I don't want to say much for fear of spoilers, but I ended up really loving the main characters (especially the third and fourth precures) who all go through a good bit of character development (it's more obvious in the third and fourth precures but Tsubomi and Erika really do grow as well) really that's why I was able to get through such a long show which had, well, a number of periods where not a lot happened.
The Bad: Precure series are meant to run for an entire year so there is a lot of filler in here (defining filler as "periods when nothing plot-shattering happens") and I really can't advise people what episodes to skip if they don't like filler. The good news is that it's not bad filler, the show makes an effort to bring back all of it's side/victim-of-the-week characters (heck, the third and fourth precures appear a lot before they join the group) and it lets the girls develop as well. The bad news is that this is a 49 episode show so this isn't something you can necessarily blow through in a few days. Also, assuming that their transformation sequences take about two and a half minutes each episode (and by the end of the series they are quite elaborate) I've calculated that they take up the equivalent of four full episodes which is rather impressive. So in short, where Heartcatch falls short is where many long running magical girl shows do but not in either it's character or plot department.
The Audio: I didn't really like the opening or either ending for the show and at times the faeries voices got a little too squeaky for me but by and large the show sounded fine. The characters didn't exactly sound like real kids but they didn't sound like adults trying too hard to act like kids so I was satisfied there. Honestly I was paying more attention to the art (which was one of the reasons the show caught my eye in the first place) so let's just move onto that.
The Art: If the art looks familiar then yes it probably is! Funny enough the character designer is the same person as the one who did the designs for for Ojamajo Doremi ( Toei's big magical girl franchise before Precure) but more notably the staff also worked on Casshern Sins, and episode of Penguindrum, and are currently working on Saint Seiya Omega*. So, as tvtropes puts it, the art changes from it's normal look to an even more stylized look whenever it damn well wants to and holy cow guys, I don't recall the last time I saw hand to hand fights in anime look that good. The fourth precure is especially good at them, the fights in the last few episodes look simply spectacular, and it's a nice change to pace to magical girls whose primary means of fighting is to punch the crap out of something. I mean, sure there final magical attack is awesome in a bit of an amusing way but there's an unexpected almost hilarity to having a show for little girls have the characters defeat the monsters in such "un-girly" ways.
In the end I give this show 4.5 stars out of 5 which is really high for me but hey I enjoyed it, why not rate it highly. I also had a chance to watch the franchise movie which doesn't need to be seen to watch the show, however the characters from it have a blink or you'll miss it cameo in one of the final episodes and a character has a line or two of foreshadowing there as well. It's a plot that wouldn't have fit well into an episode/two parter of the series so I think it was a good fit for the movie. I'm not sure if I would buy the series if it ever came out in the US (which it won't but hypothetically speaking) since it is so long but I did enjoy it a lot regardless, going to check out at least the first Precure series next year as a result and I'll see if any of the other catch my eye as well.
*which makes me joke that the fights here aren't Saint Seiya Omega levels of badass, the fights over there must be Heartcatch Precure levels of badass. Or they could both just be Casshern Sins level of badass, I guess the niche for these guys is retro art style combined with awesome hand to hand combat.