I give this sweet magical girl series about animals and environmentalism...a 90/100!
In the years after magical girl anime came to be, magical girls were pretty popular. Tons of them popped up over the past several decades, abundant with all kinds of creative, crazy ideas that the writers managed to make work. But since the mid-2000s, less and less magical girl anime started coming out because of the genre stagnating, even in Japan. Many magical girl shows that got released after that lacked creativity, were just poorly executed, relied too much on trying to copy Madoka Magica's success without taking into account what made that show work, tried to be too dark for their own good, or never took advantage of their formulas to show great characters. Most are just flat-out dismissed as Sailor Moon rip-offs without even being given a second glance. Even the Pretty Cure franchise, with its massive popularity, could suffer from this at times depending on the season. I myself have only seen a few seasons of it, with Heartcatch still being my favorite because it tried to break those trends, but the franchise is infamous for being rather clingy to its formula, rehashing it over and over again. If you really think about it, Pretty Cure is the only classic-style magical girl series left. I dropped out of Pretty Cure in 2016 due to other obligations and because of certain events that drove me away from the fandom as a whole, and none of the other seasons after Go Princess really appealed to me.
Then Healin Good Pretty Cure showed up and proceeded to steal my heart in the absolute best ways possible. I have to say: Man! I haven't been this blown away by a Pretty Cure season since Heartcatch! Granted, I still like the latter better, but seriously, Healin Good is great!
But before I devolve into my gush fest, I'll just get the story out of the way: A young girl named Nodoka Hanadera just moved to a new town with her family. After spending years stuck in the hospital due to a crippling illness, she's finally cured and is ready for a fresh new start in life. But on her first day there, a mysterious monster attacks, and she encounters several cute, tiny talking animals, who say they're from a magical place called the Healing Garden. They're in trouble because the Byogens, a mysterious syndicate, decimated their world and have plans to infect the Earth as well, but need the help of superheroes called Pretty Cure to stop them, as they're powerless on their own. Nodoka, alongside three other girls, Chiyu, Hinata, and Asumi, wind up becoming the magical girls known as Pretty Cure. Their mission is to fight the Byogens and make sure they don't revive their king, who could very easily destroy everything the people of Earth and the citizens of the Healing Garden hold dear.
Now, the timing for this series is rather...creepily coincidental. A magical girl anime with a heavy emphasis on health, nature, and environmentalism, with the bad guys literally being sentient diseases/viruses just so happened to come out during a literal plague that's still running amok across the world. Yeah, no thanks, COVID-19. Although, to be fair, the people at Toei obviously had no way of knowing that a pandemic was going to happen, and they already had their plans for the series laid out, so it wouldn't have been possible for them to change everything completely. Hell, Healin Good even got delayed for a couple months because of the pandemic, which resulted in a lot of Toei's plans for the series getting cut, even down to the number of episodes it has. But even with that, Healin Good Pretty Cure is still a great show for what it is. Now, not everyone will agree, as every Pretty Cure fan has their own favorite and least favorite series, and that's okay!
Let's talk about the technical stuff, starting with the animation as I normally do. Now, I've only seen several Pretty Cure seasons, with each one having a different approach to their animation. Some seasons bring out all the colors and all the dynamic character animation, both in the slice-of-life scenes and in the action scenes, while others tone them down to focus on the backgrounds, the CGI, and the flashy beam attacks. While Healin Good might not have as much expression and dynamicism as something like Heartcatch, its animation still does a perfectly fine job at what it needs to do. The background art is slightly muted, typical for Pretty Cure, the action, the hand-to-hand combat, and attack animations are always stellar to watch, and it's not as heavy on the CGI this time around. It also helps that the character designs are more simplistic for the girls this time around, what with the girls in their normal forms having regular hair colors, having less embellishments on their Cure forms, and I love how they incorporate doctor coats into the transformation sequences, along with other heavy usages of medical imagery, like Hinata's family owning a vet clinic. That said, I do think the monster designs are rather stupid looking. Not as stupid as the Akanbes in Smile Pretty Cure, but I wish the creators had done more with their monster designs.
The soundtrack is where things normally get sketchy. I mean, I liked the opening and ending songs for Healin Good, as they're all well sung and the CGI dancing sequences for them are top notch. But Toei has had this tendency to reuse music from previous series in other ones when it makes no sense for them to do so, especially battle BGMs, which feels lazy to me. Having not seen much of the Precure shows that came out immediately before Healin Good, I can't exactly comment on that one, as I don't know if HG actually reused previous series' music, but I will say that Healin Good's soundtrack is definitely one of the better ones. Light piano tunes, heavy metal during the fights, jazzy saxophone numbers, triumphant trumpets, every piece of music fits the show and its atmosphere when needed. Shiho Terada definitely deserves more love as a composer, and I hope she gets more work. She got recruited to do the music for Tropical Rouge coming next, so I can't wait to hear what she does for that!...though knowing Toei, they'll probably make her reuse music from this series.
The characters are a mixed bag, but when I say that, I don't mean that the main characters are poorly written. In fact, the main Precure girls are actually the best part of this entire show. One other thing Pretty Cure as a franchise tends to have problems with is its characterization, particularly giving everyone unequal amounts of focus and development even when it's not needed. For example, Doki Doki Pretty Cure was infamous for shilling its main character while refusing to give others meaningful screentime and development. This trend has unfortunately continued for other seasons, like Hugtto and Star Twinkle. Thankfully, from what I've seen, the Healin Good girls and the animal mascots all have their fair share of focus, development, and growth as characters, and even when some don't necessarily have whole arcs, they're all immediately likeable from the start and the entire series focuses on portraying them as sweet, down to earth girls with their own colorful personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws when they're not fighting monsters, making them feel much more like people you'd see on the street rather than cutesy over-the-top caricatures. It also helps that Healin Good eschewed simply introducing new characters willy-nilly and kept the focus solely on the girls, the mascots, and their immediate families and friends, and even here the series delivers, portraying them all impeccably and never going for cheap, easy ways to resolve their problems. Granted, some may take issue with the way one character is randomly introduced in a rather Deus Ex Machina-esque way, but the show does make up for that by having said character actually overcome issues that arise from said introduction (And getting some fairly cute comedy out of it, too!). Basically, all the characters are wonderfully fleshed out.
...Except for most of the villains. I say most because one of them gets more development than the others, and is actually one of the better villains in the show because he has a direct connection with one of the protags and is the reason she's in this fight in the first place, making her reasons for fighting feel much more personal and giving it more stakes rather than fighting him because he's evil. You'll know who I'm talking about. That being said, other than him, the other villains...aren't that great. They're not as one-note as the villains of Mahou Tsukai Precure, but the big bad is mainly hidden throughout the show and the other two don't really change much throughout the entire show, with the only female among them being little more than a haughty sycophant who can't even hold her own against the Pretty Cure, even with multiple power-ups. This is one reason Healin Good hasn't quite beaten Heartcatch as my favorite Pretty Cure series, because Heartcatch actually put in the effort to give its villains much more depth, personality, and chances to shine. Basically, Healin Good has great protagonists but gave its villains the shaft save for one.
(Update, 2/15/2021: Okay, apparently there's an interview with the HealPre staff that mentions that they had intended to make the villains sympathetic and give them more depth, but with COVID-19 going around, they figured doing that would be in bad taste so they decided to nix the idea, along with being forced to ax a bit of Hinata's character development. Can't really say I blame them for that first one)
But even with that, Healin Good's writing, while not perfect, is top notch. I feel it's the most consistent series in the Pretty Cure franchise with how it knows what it wants to be, what its themes are, and never trying to do more or less than it wants to do, or biting off more than it can chew, something other Precure shows have done to their detriment (*coughcoughHappinessChargeandMahouTsuka
At this point, I've managed to finish eight Pretty Cure series, and I'm halfway through with Mahou Tsukai at the moment, so once I finish that, it'll come to nine that I've seen. And yes, I do plan on watching Tropical Rouge when it airs. So here I present my personal ranking of Pretty Cure seasons, in the order of the ones I liked the least at the bottom to my favorite ones at the top. IMHO, Healin Good is now my second favorite season, knocking Go Princess down to number three. Even with the criticisms I mentioned above, it's a wonderful series with mostly amazing characters, and I really recommend it if you like the kind of children series that really try to tell an excellent story that takes both itself and its target audience seriously.
1. Heartcatch Pretty Cure
2. Healin Good Pretty Cure
3. Go! Princess Pretty Cure
4. Suite Pretty Cure
5. Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star
6. Smile Pretty Cure
7. Doki Doki Pretty Cure
8. Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure
9. Happiness Charge Pretty Cure