When she was little, the wonderfully named Haruno Haruka received a key from a guy who looks like Utena's Dios if he wandered into the Precure franchise, telling her not to give up on her dreams. (This will shock you, but he is a prince here too, of the kingdom-that-needs-to-be-saved of the season.) Now 13, Haruka is starting a new school life at Noble Academy, a fancy boarding school where, despite being co-ed, the standard greeting is "Gokigenyou" and there's a very Oneesama/Ogasawara Sachiko-like girl who all the girls "Kyaa!" over. Precure Sachiko's name is Kaido Minami.
As expected, the first episode is Haruka being introduced to how the school operates, by a girl named Yui. Utena-like spinny screen corner embellishments happen. Haruka dreams of being a princess but is too embarrassed to admit it, which makes sense since she is 13. But this is a magical girl show aimed at a grade school-aged audience where its protagonist attends fantasy anime boarding school, so it's easy to roll with here. Yui dreams of being a picture book author, so the bad guys target her by literally locking away her dream and creating a monster-of-the-day from it. With help from some familiars, Haruka decides not to back down on
In episode 2, having been told that to be a Princess, as she now has the power of the Princess Precure, she must be strong, kind, and beautiful, Haruka starts running training, figuring she doesn't know much about beauty so she'll start on strength. She is late to the school commencement ceremony as a result, and is chewed out by the teacher who chewed out Utena for her non-gender conforming uniform. Sachiko, who is the student council president at this school, intervenes on Haruka's behalf though, proving that this really is fantasy anime school by successfully making the case that Haruka should choose her own punishment.
Haruka chooses to do weed-pulling and an apology note, which she gives Sachiko before asking if she could teach her ballet, since she is of course amazing at ballet. Sachiko feels her heart grow three sizes because of Haruka not being too in awe of her to ask that, unlike many other students. Lessons happen and Haruka starts improving. This time, a boy who is one of the school's runners is targeted by the bad guys, and Sachiko joins Haruka in the show's magical girl roster.
This is a fun show so far- I can see myself enjoying it as a kid, and as an adult, it scratches some very specific nerd itches. lol The fight scenes are well-choreographed, also.
Even though it's an enjoyable show and I like its classic Precure "You can be both feminine and strong!" message, I'm not keen on its "Every girl wants to be a princess!" message and wouldn't include "beautiful" in the list of attributes every princess should be. As someone who loved princesses as a kid like this show's intended audience, I'm spoiled by all the stories I've consumed that examine and/or subvert what it means to be a princess more, like Strangely Katie's Princess Princess comic or...well, Utena. (Despite this show's obvious fondness for Utena, I'm not sure it got a lot of what Utena was actually saying. I would love to be proven wrong in future episodes, though.) Right now there are a couple other princess-y anime shows aimed at older viewers airing that sort of do that by making their leads react to harsh circumstances, but in hugely different ways- Cross Ange, which I tried an episode of, has a neat premise, but the creepiest, shittiest execution of it, while Yona of the Dawn, which I've caught up on, has me hooked.
Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the first couple episodes of this show, but I wish it handled its central theme with a less broad stroke approach to what girls want and should aim to be. As it is, it feels dated, like seeing Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella musical on Broadway a couple autumns ago- still enjoyed it, but there are more progressive updates of the fairytale princess theme by now. I like that strength is included as one of the three princess values (and despite Haruka's current interpretation, I don't think the show means literal physical strength, since her biggest distinguishing trait so far is getting the courage to protect others and go for what she wants; the character who embodies princess-iness to her, Minami, has a strong personality, also), but beauty is pushed so much by media in general as a value/thing to aspire to for all girls and women, why does that have to be explicitly pushed as a measure of value here too. Princess Precure still has plenty of time to be more subversive regarding that, so I'll wait and see how it goes. As it is, I'm not sure I'd recommend it out of the Precure seasons to my friend who has a 9 year-old daughter who loves anime- probably Heartcatch or (though I haven't finished it yet; I like what I've seen, but really need to catch up) Happiness Charge.