I give this Harry Potter-inspired Pretty Cure season...a 65/100.
While Pretty Cure as a franchise is pretty notorious for being very clingy to its formula, you can't deny that the shows always try to do something new with each new show, so no two seasons of Pretty Cure are exactly alike. This also means that every Pretty Cure season has their own parts that they excel at and parts that they don't. I fell out of Pretty Cure after Go Princess due to other obligations and...other things, but that's neither here nor there. But recently I've gone on a bit of a kick involving stories about young witches using their magic to solve problems and help people, what with watching shows like The Worst Witch (The Netflix season), Flying Witch (A very good anime, BTW!), and reading books such as Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, the original Kiki's Delivery Service novel and, a particular favorite that just came out, Eva Evergreen: Semi Magical Witch (Definitely give that one a read!). Since I've been trying to get back into Pretty Cure thanks to Healin Good turning out really great, I thought I'd give Mahou Tsukai a gander...and man, I really wish I could rate this series higher than I did. It has a lot of potential, but I really didn't enjoy this one. In all honesty, Mahou Tsukai is one of the most frustrating Precure shows I've ever seen.
The story is pretty much a magical girl version of Harry Potter. One night, Mirai Asahina sees a witch girl, Riko, flying around on a broom. She manages to find her and the two become friends, but Riko is on the hunt for something called a Linkle Stone Emerald. She's not the only one, as a slew of evil villains try to get their hands on the gem as well, intent on making sure Riko and Mirai don't get in their way. But a pair of magic necklaces they have allow them to transform into the mythical superhero witches called Pretty Cure, whose job it is to defeat these enemies. Their appearance doesn't go unnoticed, as the headmaster of the witch school Riko goes to takes a particular interest in them, supporting them all he can while doing his own research on just what these enemies want with the Emerald. Along the way, Mirai enrolls into remedial classes at the magic academy, Riko learns to get better at magic...since she's actually rather lousy at it, and on top of that, the two girls find themselves raising a magical fairy baby they name Haa-chan. Mirai's life is sure to get more exciting!
...And I only wish the series were that way as well. I don't want to be a killjoy, so as I mentioned before, every Pretty Cure season has things they're good at and things that they're not. For Mahou Tsukai, it's the worldbuilding and setting, mainly in regards to the magical world that Mirai and Riko are tasked to protect. You know how most Pretty Cure shows establish that the fairy companions come from a magical land, but the shows themselves rarely, if ever, show said magical land or give the audience reasons why we should care about it? Well, Mahou Tsukai rectifies that issue tenfold, as the first few episodes of the series takes place in the world where Riko hails from, and even after that, the story never forgets that it's there, often showing the heroines going back there on occasion or interacting with the other denizens, making it feel much more alive than most. This series, from the few Pretty Cure shows I've seen so far, actually makes an effort to flesh out its setting and explain why things are the way they are...most of the time. It also helps that Mahou Tsukai has no shortage of fun ideas that would definitely make the magical world fun from a kid's point of view. Parts of the world only having one season only, snail trains, flowers that make fireworks, ice dragons sighing on clementines to freeze them for consumption, a magical tree that produces magic wands when a child is born, and so on. The real world setting is nothing to write home about, but Toei really put their all into actually fleshing out the setting this time around, giving the audience reasons to actually care about it!
I only wish Toei put that same amount of effort into...well, everything else. I mean, the animation is fine, but it's typical of magical girl shows at this point: Bright and sparkly, with some off model scenes every now and again, with transformation scenes that go on for too long (Cure Felice's especially!), and 3D CGI for the plastic toys they're trying to promote. They also decided to ditch the CGI attacks that were prominent in Go Princess, so it gets points there. Since this season started off with a new composer and decided not to use the person who made the music for Doki Doki, Happiness Charge, and Go Princess, any music that's made is completely new this time around, thankfully. But it has been several years since I've seen Go Princess, and I don't know if this season actually reused music or not. One thing about this season's OST does stand out though: In Mahou Tsukai, the girls use magical gemstones to transform, and depending on one of four stones they use, they gain new outfits and Cure powers (IMHO the Ruby form is the best version. I honestly wish that was their default outfit as it has the best animation and designs out of all of them), and each transformation is given their own variation of the theme that's used for it. I'll give Yuuki Hayashi props for actually making the four transformation scenes distinct from one another, so kudos to him for trying. Not gonna lie though, the opening and ending songs are a massive downgrade from Go Princess.
Not gonna lie though, the characters are one of the weakest aspects of the show, and for several reasons: Mirai is your typical bland, peppy, go-getter girl who doesn't have much personality and depth other than "gets excited over everything" and even though she's a normal kid with no experience with magic whatsoever, she manages to master learning magic after just a few lessons at magic school. Riko fares slightly better, as she actually has to struggle and overcome her flaws to achieve what she wants to do and learn more about herself. Out of all of them, she's the best...but the episodes where she's allowed to show her stuff and become a more three-dimensional character are few and far between, and after her initial first arc, she doesn't get to do much after that. In all honesty, many of the side characters, such as Emily, Kay, and Jun, were more interesting than the main trio. I wanted to see more of those three and see episodes wholly dedicated to them. The villains are the absolute worst, being little more than Saturday morning cartoon villains with nothing in the way of personality or depth, and the thing is, rather than actually develop them, the show just kills them off in the first half of the series, completely replacing them with brand new villains right afterward while also giving them little to no purpose or depth whatsoever! Seriously, Healin Good, while it has similar issues for its villains, at the very least managed to stay consistent with them and gave them their required amount of screentime! And I'm not the only one who thinks this either. Isao Murayama, one of the producers for Mahou Tsukai, has stated in an interview that he came to regret how he wrote the villains, so when he went on to work on Star Twinkle Pretty Cure three years later, he made an effort to give the villains in that better, deeper character writing. Good on him for making an effort to learn from his mistakes.
But the character I have the biggest issue with is Haa-chan, particularly after she becomes a Cure. When she's a fairy baby, she's perfectly fine! But after she became a Cure, the creators made her not only overpowered as hell, but absolutely annoying too! Haa-chan is able to achieve feats that no witch in the magic world can do, when she's told to do or not do something she absolutely refuses to listen (Like using magic even though the others tell her not to do so, and even when she seemingly learns her lesson, she immediately goes back on it two scenes later), she's constantly shilled by all the other characters, it tries to present some of her more flawed traits at the expense of them actually being flaws, and worst of all, the creators feel the need to have her take away focus from other characters, even in said characters' focus episodes! One example being the episode where Riko reunites with her father but is frustrated by the fact that he focuses more on his work than her. For an episode that was touted as a Riko-centric episode, she doesn't get so much as ten whole lines out of it, and she doesn't get to do anything throughout the episode other than stew in her frustration and let everybody else do the talking. When Riko's father is feeling bad about himself and realizing what he did, is Riko the one to actually communicate with him? Nope, let's just shoehorn in Haa-chan and have her give the cheesy, moralistic rousing speech to him while completely ignoring Riko whatsoever! See what I mean about Haa-chan actively taking time away from characters who could actually benefit from it? I think the series would have been so much better had Haa-chan stayed as a fairy baby. At least in that form she was quiet and didn't shoehorn herself into every character's business and cause needless trouble for it! I wanted to throw my computer at the wall every time Haa-chan hogged the spotlight.
Lastly, it feels like the show doesn't really know what to do with itself. There are times when the show puts in some effort to flesh out its story and put on a grander narrative, but a good chunk of the episodes are pointless filler that amount to nothing, one of them being the one where the girls get their power-up item...and the way they acquire it is one of the absolute dumbest things the show has ever done. Do they earn it through training, through getting stronger, through overcoming an adversary, coming to terms with their flaws, or growing as people? Nope, they get it by way of a bizarre magical dream that has absolutely no bearing on the storyline whatsoever! At heart, the anime is a lighthearted magical adventure, which is fine, but the two halves of the show feel like two different series, what with how they shaft old villains in favor of new ones. I feel like this show would have been more enjoyable had it just focused on the fantasy world and made more of an effort to flesh out its characters and make them feel like three-dimensional individuals. In all honesty, the anime's biggest strength is that it doesn't ask anything from the viewer. You can just watch it, turn your brain off, and not have to think about anything difficult...but you can achieve that same effect by watching paint dry.
(Oh, by the way, don't watch episode 50. Episode 49 provides a MUCH more concrete finale and is a perfect stopping point. Episode 50 just shoehorns in the KiraKira Precure A La Mode main character for the sake of a pre-series cameo that accomplishes nothing)
Not one of the better Pretty Cure seasons, but it's a nice, lighthearted romp you can use to babysit your daughter/little sister/nice or whatever.