Pretty Cure is all grown up.
For those of us who have seen a Precure before, that tagline is effectively TL;DR. We know what to expect. But honestly, there are very few of us, for reasons beyond the scope of this document. This is aimed at the rest of humanity ... who, for some reason, haunt underutilized sections of MAL.
Pretty Cure is, for better and for worse, a merchandise-driven show. On the plus side, it has steady returns that aren't based on BD/DVD sales figures. This means that it has a level of polish and craftsmanship that isn't usually seen in TV anime. It also means that watching it involves being advertised to, since the show itself is an advertisement of a sort. How noticeable this is varies a lot.
Pretty Cure is also a single long-running series in a way. The seasons ostensibly start from scratch each time, but there are many similarities between, and there are crossover movies that somehow attempt to make them coexist. This entry, in particular, feels a lot like Go! Princess Precure. It's hardly surprising to find, then, that a lot of the people who worked on that also came back for this installment. Some of these are relative newcomers in the anime world.
That's why it's nice to see a veteran in the lineup. Namely, Junichi Satou. It was Ojamajo Doremi, another Toei magical girl show and thus a predecessor of sorts to Precure, that really launched his career. He went on to work on other magical girl shows, besides, so this is both a homecoming and a return to form for him.
To me, the main difference in this season is a tonal one. The first installment of Precure was poorly planned and tried to laugh off all the issues stemming from this. This season is well thought out, in a way I never expected from a Precure show. Plot developments have build up. Things flow naturally from what has come before. There's no excessive rush to build the core cast like there was in GoPri Precure. Characters have definable traits but have room to grow. The villains have a theme, but it's one that you might not expect in a kid's show. A young girl can hardly be expected to know about the corporate world, yet it makes the motivations of our starter villains, at least, comprehensible to those of us in the know.
Yet, none of this has sacrificed what makes Precure appealing to those of us who have watched it in the past. It's still fun. There's a lot of animation. A lot of that is good, and in different ways. Watch Homare ice skate, Hana flail about humorously, and all the Precures do battle. I think it's significant to note that the fight direction is a lot better than I've come to expect from this series. In early series, it seemed like they were trying to avoid things like impact, and clean lines of action, for some reason I never understood. Even in Go! Princess Precure, it seemed like these principles were only observed sometimes. Notably, those were the best episodes. Someone at Toei clearly noticed.
Thus we arrive at the present year. Pretty Cure has experimented in a lot of ways, and continues to do so, but in this season it shows that it hasn't forgotten what it's learned along the way. A big part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. That's why I say that Pretty Cure is grown up.
P.S. Due credit to youtuber ThePedanticRomantic, who is my source for some of this information. He really opened my eyes to how special this season is, and why. Watch his video on it! (It's the one with the really hyperbolic-sounding title. You'll know when you see it.)