In her everyday life, Yuuna Yuuki is a hero. As proof, she is in her middle school's Hero Club, where she does her best to help others and bring a smile to everyone's face.
But Yuuna, always up to any task, is about to become an even bigger hero. Mysterious destructive forces called Vertexes begin threatening the world she loves, and the Hero Club is called upon by a strange phone app to save it. Along with her best friend Mimori Tougou, as well as sisters Fuu and Itsuki Inubouzaki, they must transform into magical girls in order to battle the Vertexes.
In between studying and putting on shows for kids, Yuuna and the Hero Club must fight for the very existence of their world and face the harsh truths behind their own powers, all the while discovering what it truly means to be a hero.
--- INTRODUCTION ---
I decided to watch Yuki Yuna is a Hero after thoroughly enjoying Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, which opened my mind to what the magic girl genre could be and is one of the best series I've seen. In a nutshell, Yuki Yuna spectacularly failed at almost everything that I loved about Madoka Magica, but it had nothing to do with superficial similarities between the two shows, and everything to do with... well, a whole list of things right below:
--- THE BAD ---
(story, world building, characters, battles)
(1) The story is the worst part. It has numerous plot holes towards the climax of the show
when things are supposed to be revealed. There is also one notable example of a plot twist based on a completely illogical and uncharacteristic decision of one of the characters, which the authors attempted to frame in some kind of emotional reasoning but it really didn't work. It was a new experience for me: trying to watch events unfold that are based on a decision so absurd that it completely threw me out of the narrative. Other than that, the show just tries too hard to create drama and doesn't shy away from throwing all logic out of the window. Most notably the ending was a disaster. It has been pulled out of a hat with no explanation of what exactly happened, why, and how.
(2) There is very little world building, and the universe presented just simply doesn't make any coherent, believable sense. There is no depth to the sides of Good and Evil. The enemies just want to destroy the human world for no good reason and the forces of Good are also very ambiguous and manage to make even less sense than the enemies do. Saying that this universe didn't make an impact on me like some other fictional worlds did would be an understatement -- it would imply that the show at least ATTEMPTED to create some kind of interesting fictional world. But it didn't, rather it used the sci-fi / fantasy setting as a throw-away environment for forced drama which is the focus of the show.
(3) The show focuses heavily on the characters in a slice-of-life fashion, but the trouble is, the characters are very one-dimensional. Their biggest weakness is that the way they are portrayed often times completely ignores what humans are actually like and just shows one quality of their character in isolation over and over. For example, our main character is an overly optimistic "you're likely to succeed if you try", "everything is going to be great because we're the Hero Club and we have each other" type of character. She doesn't have another side where she behaves more human and shows fear, or anger at the tsundere's blatant rudeness, or can't cope with what's going on because she's just a little girl for crying out loud.
Some characters are better than others in execution, but even the better characters are still nothing special. They are unmemorable at best, and at worst they don't make sense and are hard to believe.
(4) The battles are very simplistic and boring. Characters just scream "Hero Punch!", "Girl Power!", or things even worse, like the Five Tenets of the Hero Club one by one while slaying things left and right. This was supposed to make these scenes emotionally charged, but it didn't work and just annoyed me. Moreover, the viewers have no idea how to tell power difference between heroes and enemies, and seeing our characters arbitrary winning or losing based on what the plot demands is predictable and not engaging.
The fairies did absolutely nothing, had no personalities, were neither cute nor anything else, and are the most bland and unnecessary dare I call them characters I've ever seen. The fact that one becomes a magic girl and a servant to a mysterious tree deity by activating an iPhone app says a lot about the amount of thought put into this show in general.
--- THE OKAY ---
(visuals, dub, the Hero Club, Fu)
(1) The art is fine. The fighting is not very exciting to begin with, but the visuals across the whole show look decent. Nothing you wouldn't come to expect from a 2014 show, but there's really nothing wrong with it either.
(2) The music and songs are meh, but I watched the dub and it was good. I particularly liked the performance of English voice actress of Togo.
(3) Before things went all mahou shoujo, the Hero Club the girls had in the first episode or two was cute. They were trying to help the community in whatever ways they could, and it was nice seeing them taking it seriously and trying to be little adults.
(4) I liked one of the girls, Fu. She's cool and not as plain as the rest of the cast, her motivations are easier to believe. Although that's before I stopped to consider the fact that at the age of 14 Fu has no parents or adult family members. On top, she's living alone with her younger sister acting as her caretaker and legal guardian. And apparently she's been doing that since the age of 12. But don't think too much about it.
--- THANK YOU FOR READING ---
I tried to make this review useful. If you have any feedback please feel free to message me.
**NOTE: This anime is a sequel to the LN 'Washio Sumi wa Yuusha de Aru', it's highly recommended that you do NOT read it before this, don't even look at its synopsis as it contains spoilers, it's recommended however that you read it after finishing this anime as it gives good backstory for some of the characters and works well as a tissue burner.**
Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru (Yuyuyu henceforth to avoid confusion with the character) was one of the least anticipated tiles for Fall 2014, but as a fan of both the SoL and mahou shoujo genres I figured it'd be a decent
watch but didn't have high expectations for it, the PV hinted at a mundane show about nothing in particular with some magic to mix things up.
Upon looking at the staff list however and seeing names such as Seiji "Nice Show Would Be a Shame if Something Happened to It" Kishi (Angel Beats!) and Mr. "Woah, This Character Is Still Alive? Better Fix That" a.k.a. Takahiro (Akame ga Kill!), I couldn't help but wonder "what are these monsters doing in a show about cute little girls?"
Yuyuyu's was shaping up to be a massive massacre as Studio Gokumi took the lead in the animation front, and that's exactly what happened, Yuyuyu was indeed a massacre – of my expectations.
The story starts off with a simple play of a hero trying to stop the demon king, a child's play, aimed at such, but helps set the tone for the rest of the show, in multiples ways, this is a simple story, we're not dealing with an over the top sci-fi setting that requires several episodes before you grasp what is going on and these characters are no geniuses or unique souls who appear once in a thousand years to change the world... Or are they?.. Probably not.
It takes less than 3 minutes for the characters and setting to be introduced, even as the staff credits appear over several still images it's easy to understand that the world our heroines live in is a simple one, there's some city landscape shown but it's mostly countryside, it all screams peaceful, very peacefully.
Yuuna, Tougou, Fuu, Itsuki, together they form the Hero Club, a club that focus on helping people, mainly through the form of community work. Shortly after their introductions, we get to see a bit of their daily lives, make no mistake here however, being part of the SLICE OF LIFE™ genre, this anime makes these cute little girls face real adversities as they try to find owners for kittens, update their website or think of what to do when faced with japanese middle schoolers' greatest fear after common cold – the cultural festival.
Everything stops, however, when they receive a strange message on their phones.
The members of the Hero Club have been selected to because heroes and fight Vertex – enemies of mankind that wish to destroy the world – in order protect Shinju-sama (Divine Tree), the foundation of the world.
Who, why, when or how? Questions which are sure to have an answer somewhere but are they really important? These girls have a world to save, those come later!
At this point one can't help but wonder if this will be the classical "enemy of the week", but fear not, or do.
The mahou shoujo genre is a genre that has it's tropes very well defined and it's very easy to identify them even without much experience with it, however, Yuyuyu uses these tropes for ease of storytelling but doesn't get lost in them, creating a story and characters that stand on their own.
Yuyuyu is more on the "modern" side of the genre (look at the bottom of the review for a more detailed analysis), it's not just about mindless murder of hopeless, little Vertex.
Eventhough this is a SLICE OF LIFE™ anime these girls are more than just kawaii, each with their own traits and personalities – simple ones, guessable just by looking at their hair color – they have more to them than it initially appears, as their pasts are revealed and explored, we get to know more about them, sympathize with them, maybe even relate to them. It ever ends up going overboard about how sad and unfortunate these girls are though, it's life, we have all experienced sudden changes at one point or another, for one reason or another, but that hasn't stopped us from living.
However simple Yuyuyu might look like on the surface, it does have depth, while most of the cast might look care free enough for little girls tasked with saving the world, underneath all the fun and entertainment this show provides, there's always that lingering feeling of uncertainty, "who exactly are the Vertex? Why are they after us?" But the series never spells it out or feels the need to ask it every episode, which can be both a good and bad thing, it's easy to forget these girls are tasked with saving the world, even the characters themselves are aware of this though, which does serve as a reminder without being intrusive.
""Things are gonna be fun", huh? We're supposed to be heroes saving the world. How silly."
Just as much as this show is self-aware it also has an incredible attention to detail and amazing foreshadowing skills, little things like when the group is facing the first Vertex and Yuuna tries to calm Tougou down, while she's the one shaking; it's so subtle however, that it can go by unnoticed as all that we see is her fist, an easy way to make the audience aware of the fact Yuuna is also scared would be to simply expose Yuuna's thoughts and how nervous she is but the show doesn't feel the need to hold your hand.
This makes rewatching this series an amazing experience, picking up on little things the characters say or do which spell out the outcome of future episodes and events.
At it's core Yuyuyu is a very well-realized show, it focus on the big picture – saving the world – but doesn't ignore the implications, exploring them and quietly builds up to the finale without you even noticing it's happening.
The whole atmosphere the show builds has a much greater purpose, tense moments that lack tension are not because the show itself can't create it well, it doesn't need them all the time, it knows how to set a mood but doesn't need the mood to be heavy 24/7, it doesn't take every opportunity it gets to try to create something, it knows exactly when to strike. Perhaps Takahiro realized it wasn't the best of ideas to kill off a character every episode, it numbs the audience, after a while you just expect it and you start to care less and less.
Hints are left behind with every corner the show turns but it doesn't come back to pick them up again, as said above, incredible self-awareness and attention to detail, enjoyment when rewatching the show is easily doubled, a feat accomplished by very few series.
"Though there is no other thing that can fascinate humans more than the truth
There is nothing that is more cruel to humans than the truth."
"No matter what... No matter how tough it gets... Live on."
If there's one thing Yuyuyu nails however, it's certainly its message, what implies being a hero, the regrets of becoming one, the hopelessness of not being able to change the past or the future but still trying desperately to do so when faced with picking between loneliness and suffering or no future at all.
"Being a Hero isn't about making sense or bending to the cruelty of the world. It isn't about being a sacrifice for others or defeating villains. Being a Hero isn't even about saving people.
Being a Hero is about facing everything that is terrible and wrong and refusing to accept it. So when that Hero strides forth against impossible odds other can look towards them as a shining beacon of hope, stand up, and follow in their footsteps."
Which would you pick?
Would you still manage to become a hero even if it meant sacrificing yourself?
Even if it meant having a future filled with nothingess?
Or would you rather have no future at all? Would you leave your friends behind to suffer? Would you take them with you in a selfless act of desperation? Or would you fight alone and take all the burden yourself?
The sacrifice of few to save the rest is explored a lot in anime but what if there's nothing to save? What if you can't save anyone no matter how much you sacrifice? Would you just give up? Or grab onto the little hope and strength you have left? Could you keep going knowing, no matter what you did, the future wouldn't change?
Yuyuyu doesn't directly ask many questions and it answers even less but it doesn't need to do so, everything is made obvious through the characters, their actions and their situation, "show" is prioritized over "tell" but it doesn't forget to keep the plot coherent, this can also be seen as a flaw as viewers who don't pay much attention might get lost and feel like things happen for no reason, in the end it's also up to how each one of us interprets it.
-insert "truly the evangelion of the madoka of our generation" joke here-
Even regarding character backstories Yuyuyu is a rather unique series, they are introduced later than sooner, which usually isn't the case, at least in this sort of series, the first few episodes are usually used to build the characters and then move with the plot, Yuyuyu leaves characterization for when it's necessary and... it works.
Instead of focusing on everyone at the start and overloading the audience with exposition Yuyuyu lets the viewer relax and progresses the plot in a well paced manner as it introduces plot twists and character backstories to maximize the various emotions it invokes.
The calm before the storm vibe is very much present most of the time, even after the fighting ends, which is when Yuyuyu holds your hand and tells you it'll be daijoubu like the well dressed man in front of a black van giving out candies, you are wary of him at first but then you take the candy and realize he's not a bad guy at all.
"Our fight is over. We won't lose anymore."
It's certainly an anime that takes it's time and perhaps could take even longer was more time allocated – and being a show that scales really well with how much times passes, it'd only get better – but it's certainly not a waste of time, it does end up being a hard series to evaluate if you go over it on a episode by episode basis as the start is rather slow and uneventful, but it's all by design.
Perhaps the main problem with Yuyuyu is that it sets the bar too high towards the end, so high the show itself can't see it and when it tries to jump over it obviously fails.
But it's really up to the viewer to decide wether it fails or not, Yuyuyu leaves enough hints behind that you can use them to justify just about anything, it's more a question of wether you want to believe or not, like said above, it can be considered a flaw as people who don't catch every little detail might be left behind, and it's asking a lot to catch 'em all.
After their lastest work, Escha & Logy no Atelier, learning that Studio Gokumi would be animating this series certainly did not inspire much confidence, so it's with great suprise and joy to see how well Yuyuyu turned out in the visuals department.
The character designs fit well enough, they are the sort of normal designs that you'd expect from a slice of life series, plain, cute, smile-inducing, with the kawaii and moe meters in the red zone.
The magical costumes the girls use are simple yet stylish, they feel fresh, modern, it avoids the classical fluffy cocktail dresses for most of the girls and replaces them with clothes that resemble actual armor, even if on the light side – these girls actually look like heroes.
When in most other cases less clothes equals more protection, Yuyuyu certainly makes these girls look good as they attempt to save the world with their fists and giant swords and sniper rifles and more swords.
Yuyuyu does feature a very good color pallete, especially in the barrier world (Forest) where most of the fighting takes place, the whole place resembles the roots of a tree, with each main root having it's own color and as it branches off it expands on that color, and while the watercolor style works really well it can be a mixed bag when examined up close, sometimes making the characters feel out of place.
While the animation in the slice of life moments isn't anything out of this world it certainly does the job well enough, mistakes aren't that obvious and the quality is consistent throughout. When it comes to battles, animation quality does peak but perhaps not really enough to really set it apart, nevertheless, a solid direction goes a long ways and can make or break the scene no matter the animation quality, in Yuyuyu's case it definitely benefits from really good direction, you won't feel it lacks animation or that it has a below average choreography, can't complain much about the latter though, these are little girls, not martial artists, but overall it'll still feel fast paced and intense which is really what is important.
There's also a good amount of character CGI used yet it doesn't feel awkward or out of place, mostly because it's used during jumps when characters have their backs turned, it'll be harder to spot than to avoid. The Vertex are mostly CGI too, they do benefit from the fact that they are mostly immobile or just very slow which doesn't make them stick out as much either.
The OP and ED are rather weak. The OP song isn't that catchy or exciting and takes some getting used to and the animation is nothing worth looking over more than once, the ED shares the same fate, unless you're some creeper who enjoys watching little girls from the bushes as they walk with the sunset in the background you'll probably find yourself skipping over this one too... Is what I'd say had I not watched the show to the end, you'll slowly learn to appreciate them and in retrospect they uphold to the standard set by the series, simply glorious in retrospect.
The OST and overall sound effects in Yuyuyu, unlike the OP and ED, are amazing from the start, it's the cherry on top of the cake for the series.
Being a mahou shoujo anime the obligatory transformations scenes before battles are very much present, these are coupled with an amazing track choice that just screams hype, one can't help but feel excited for what's to come next, even if it's not always good, and it keeps going when the battle themes kick in, one stronger than the other it makes the fights feel exciting, a couple tracks even feature chants from worlds unknown to us, making the battles feel alive – it all culminates together for what is pure audio porn, not even complimenting the battle sequences as much as taking them to a whole nother level.
Slice of life scenes have fairly standard tracks, they don't get in the way and fill in empty space when the little monsters settle down and overall just help move the scenes along not making them feel boring.
Some of the themes that appear during the battles are also present outside of those and it's amazing how it just works.
Yuyuyu does feature insert songs, which are easily the high point of the whole category – for reasons you'll have to find out yourself.
Shall something not be perfect with the sound it'd certainly be the seiyuus, not as much as they are bad but as they could be better, criticism being more focused on Yuuna's than anyone else – eventhough some of them don't speak at all but that's another matter entirely – Yuuna, while not the leader of the Hero Club, is certainly the main character of the series, if the title wasn't hint enough surely the fact that she has pink hair is a dead giveaway, Yuuna is the character that will push the show forward when it comes to an halt, someone feeling down or angry? There's Yuuna to cheer them up, someone having an identity crisis? There's Yuuna to tell them who they are, someone about to kill themselves? There's Yuuna to tell them to do it.
What's that? Haremettes' problems in my mahou shoujos? It's more likely than you think.
Being a rather new seyuu Terui Haruka's perfomance is excusable and actually fairly decent, her voice fits Yuuna well and she has her moments, however, unlike most of the other cast members those moments come once per episode and, being the MC, Yuuna requires more than that, while those moments are properly timed to fit with the climax of the episodes "side scenes" could certainly be greatly improve was Yuuna not as unphasable, but perhaps that comes a bit with the character, emphasis on the perhaps.
Being a SLICE OF LIFE™, SCHOOL™, HEALING™, CGDCT™ anime enjoying these will help, however, as one would expect at this point, these aren't the main plot points of the show, they probably aren't the reason you are getting into the series either.
Watching these little creatures in their natural habitat is the best way for bonds to be made, to further empathize with these girls and try to get attached to them, enjoying these will only help but being indifferent to them doesn't hurt the enjoyment the show provides.
Obviously, if SoL/CGDCT/moe/"GUYS, I'M NOT DELUSIONAL, THEY ARE HOLDING HANDS AND BLUSHING, YURI!!"/overall kawaiiness overload murdered your parents then you might want to steer clear. The cute facade the shows puts up has more to it than what it looks, but it's still a facade that you can take at face value and enjoy for what it is.
Big part of the enjoyment factor in Yuyuyu certainly comes from noticing the subtle hints the shows leaves and realizing how they affect and dictate future events, something that was made easier when the show was airing as it left a lot of time to discuss and analyze them (I left some in this review for those who watched the series). Might be harder for people who will watch it now but it's not something required to enjoy this series.
Overall, a solid 8.5/10 show – 9/10 on rewatch – and definitely the surprise of the year, even with a somewhat ambiguous ending, highly recommended.
Christmas was saved.
Puella Yuusha no Evangelion; Bokurano Beats!? Nandattebayo?
A story about love, hate, and charisma... and fate, life, death, hope, heartbreaks, lies, deception, delusion, madness, tricks and... a cow that eats other cows... behind a beautiful hero who disappeared in the Seto Inland Sea.
Yuyuyu might not be the yuusha we need, it certainly isn't the yuusha we deserve given how underwatched it is in the West but I think it's the yuusha we want, and the yuusha we see off with a smile as it walks into the horizon of uncertainty as this franchise can probably muster the force for more anime entries given how successful it has been thus far.
Now let us hope for a movie adaptation of the prequel light novel.
Anime, very much like every other medium, is easily influenced by what's trending, every once in a while it's to no surprise that there'll be an anime that will end up setting new standards in it's genre or even in the whole industry, because of how popular and successful it was, even if said anime doesn't invent those ideas it's what made them popular and obviously it'll become a point of reference even if it wasn't the first one. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (PMMM) is one of such titles, it wasn't an unique-never-seen-before-anime, the themes in PMMM had been explored before, multiple times, but it became so popular that it set standards, more for the viewer than for the creators and as such, titles released after it will have to face the fact that they'll be compared to it, wether they wanted to or not.
As such, mahou shoujo anime that wishes to use the common tropes – present in the genre for over 30 years – be it to lure and trick the audience or just use them for ease of storytelling while trying to spicy things up a bit by not feeling like an anime aimed at little girls will perhaps forever suffer of the "Madoka rip-off" syndrome.
While drawing parallels between the two works is easy enough thanks to the common tropes they use, both explore different themes and take different paths, and both are masterful in how they do it, at their cores they are completely different.
I did not know what to expect when I began watching Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero. The previews teased that it was going to be another slice-of-life series, but looks were deceptive. While it has some SOL elements, at its core it's a magical girl show, and a pretty serious one, too. Here’s my final review of the entire series, as of 12/26/2014. If you just want an overall recommendation without any other details, feel free to skip to the tl;dr section at the very bottom.
The Plot In a Nutshell:
Middle school girls in a "Hero Club" perform small everyday acts of heroism in the normal
world, but also become heroic magical girls protecting the planet from strange creatures called vertexes.
Yuuki Yuuna is an original series created by Takahiro (Akame ga Kill!), and it blends elements from three different anime genres. First are its magical girl ancestors, and this one comes from the lineage of adult magical girl shows like Lyrical Nanoha and Madoka Magica. Fans of those series will recognize the influences of both, although Yuuki Yuuna still tells its own story in its own way. Second is slice-of-life, and except for the dark clouds that are almost always lingering under the surface, some of the mellowest scenes wouldn’t feel out of place in a Kyoto Animation series. Third is character drama, and here the series actually shows some surprising Key Visual Arts influence (Kanon/Clannad), along with other influences from Angel Beats and the Persona series (Yuuki Yuuna’s director, Seiji Kishi, also directed both Angel Beats and Persona 4 The Animation, so this shouldn't be a surprise). All three genres are done well enough individually that it could have focused on any one of them and been a decent show, but the blend of all three really elevates it above the sum of its parts.
Moe’s Scale of Female Cuteness:
While this isn’t a true moe series, all the girls in the Hero Club can be awfully cute. Most of their club activities are ordinary community service work, like fostering kittens and performing puppet shows for kids. They also hang out together sometimes outside of school, eating udon, singing karaoke, and doing other fun things together. The catch is that none of this SOL stuff is there just to be cute and funny – while some of it may seem frivolous at first glance, the writers are deliberately giving you time get to know the girls and their personalities and motivations by showing you how they behave and act around each other. All the girls have their own personal demons they’re wrestling with, and most of them did not have happy childhoods. Tensions occasionally flare between them, and even in the most seemingly cheerful moments there are lingering undercurrents of anxiety and doubt about the job they have to do and the risk to their lives and well-being, which all makes these scenes even more effective. One of Yuuki Yuuna's greatest strengths is that there's a genuine chemistry between all the main girls in the cast - while they have their occasional disagreements, you never doubt for a second how much they all care about each other, especially the two sisters (Fuu and Itsuki) and the two best friends (Yuuna and Togo).
Most of the slice-of-life stuff takes place in the first half of the show, and while some (especially non-SOL fans) may find these parts a bit slow, it’s still worth paying attention to it because a lot of it is setting the table for the second half of the series. Along with letting you get to know the characters better, there’s also quite a bit of foreshadowing too; I noticed a lot of hints the second time I watched the series that were easy to miss the first time.
As pleasant as the girls try to make everyone's daily lives, when the alarms sound on their phones, it’s time for them to become magical girls and protect the world from the vertex threat. There are several vertex battles throughout the series, varying in length and scope, but some of them can be pretty tense affairs, especially when multiple vertexes (vertices?) appear at once. The girls are skilled combatants with a variety of strong weapons, but they’re not immune to injury and the vertexes are tough opponents who are smart enough to coordinate their attacks and adjust their strategies during battle. It usually takes a total team effort for the Heroes to have any success against them, which leads to some entertaining and occasionally nailbiting fights.
Art and Sound:
The animation is a bit inconsistent - it can be great in some scenes and merely passable in others - but the overall quality is solidly good. The fight scenes take place in a surreal, colorful alternate world, and showcase most of Yuki Yuna’s best animation work. These scenes appear inspired by the artwork of Shigenori Soejima (Persona 3/Persona 4), as well as the twisty, hyper-organic landscapes of Roger Dean’s paintings, and I’m excited to see how they’ll look in Blu-Ray someday. They also use a fair bit of CG though, so be warned if that’s not your thing. The real world scenes, while still generally cheerful and colorful, have occasional touches such as the unnaturally bent and ruined suspension bridge appearing in several background scenes that subtly remind us this world isn’t quite the carefree place it appears on the surface.
The opening and closing songs (like most) will be hit-or-miss depending on your musical tastes. Personally I liked the opening immediately, but the ending needed time to grow on me. The OST itself, however, is outstanding. Most of the tracks fit their scenes perfectly, and the battle music especially stands out as some of the very best in the show, full of soaring choirs and pulse-pounding orchestration. Even the quieter tracks have a few gems, though, such as a very nice flamenco-styled classical guitar piece that appears a couple of times. There’s also not a lot of repetition either. Only a few tracks are used more than once or twice, and they’re all songs (like the main transformation theme) that you’ll enjoy hearing multiple times anyway.
If I rated Yuuki Yuuna on nothing but my personal enjoyment, it would get a 10. I’ve already watched the whole series twice, I know I’ll watch it again in the future, and if Pony Canyon ever gives us a North American release, I'll buy it. To give it a fair review, though, I can’t entirely overlook the uneven pacing in the first half of the series, the occasional inconsistency in animation quality, and a few (not many) awkward transitions between scenes. That said, Yuuki Yuuna is still a gem, even if it’s one that’s not completely polished. The characters are easy to like and they all have wonderful chemistry with each other, the OST is outstanding, the themes of the story (which I wish I could actually talk about here without spoiling everything) are timely and appropriate, and despite a few rough patches, the story threads eventually come together in a very satisfying way. It’s a spirited show that’s a little rough around the edges, but like its characters it has a lot of heart and tries its best. And much of the time, its best is really, really good.
First half: 8/10. Second half: 9.5/10. Overall: 9/10.
Tl;dr! Should I Watch Yuuki Yuuna or Not?:
Yes, if magical girl mixed with some drama and slice-of-life sounds appealing to you. The first half isn’t quite as good as the second half, but if you're able to stick with it, your patience will be rewarded. Just be warned that this isn’t a relaxing series at all. If you’re expecting Aria with a dash of Cardcaptor Sakura, you'll be disappointed. It’s more like Lyrical Nanoha with a dash of Angel Beats.
The brilliant minds behind Angel Beats and Akame ga Kill joined forces in an attempt to capitalize on their respective "talents" and made what some people call "one of the most underrated masterpieces of the season" without an ounce of irony. This series is pretty much everything wrong with modern anime, and there are plenty of reasons as to why. It's just so up its own ass pretending to be not a grimdark show in a vain attempt to fake out the audience for so long that it ends up boring, and when it actually gets to the grimdark it was leading up to,
it does in the most hilariously incompetent way possible. Many of its other problems include the asinine pacing, lack of character interaction and development, and complete lack of subtlety, which all seem to go under the radar because apparently everyone is too busy crying over ham-fisted drama.
That being said, there are some positives about this show- Mainly the visuals. Despite some heavy usage of CG in some parts, it really doesn't look that bad at all in motion, and the colors do not make your eyes bleed like NGNL does. Character designs are pretty neat and I do appreciate how they don't look like something out of Precure. Not that Precure designs are necessarily bad, but the designs here make thematic sense and at least don't look generic by its genre standards- Instead they look like something out of Sword Art Online, not that it's a bad thing either. The music is pretty decent- There are two to three tracks that were actually memorable and were reminiscent of something out of Madoka and whatever Akiko Shikata makes, but the overuse of those tracks made them a bit stale.
Speaking of Madoka, there's a lot of people who compare this show to Madoka and even call it a rip-off. But honestly, it's hard to blame them- Shady magical girl contract with a supernatural being? Check. Enemies that appear in a strange world that do not actually offer actual character interaction due to lack of any dialogue whatsoever? Check. Main title character being over optimistic and the most underdeveloped character out of the main cast? Check. Mentor-like character that later goes nuts after reading the fine lines in the said shady contract? Check. The questionable magical girl system existing to prevent the end of the world? Check. This show's really got everything. But because this show shares so many similarities with Madoka, it also shares the flaws- And those flaws become more evident with poor direction and pacing.
Apparently when Takahiro was writing for this show, he thought he'd change it up from Akame ga Kill's pointless gorefest and decided to turn it into a pointless borefest. This wise decision turned the first half of this show incredibly painful to sit through. The main problem is the lack of characters- The villains and even the fairies are absolutely silent. Therefore, there is no character interaction whatsoever with the opposing side aside from fighting and more fighting. This wasn't a problem in Madoka due to the existence of Kyubey, who delivered some form of drama whenever necessary for conflicting character interaction, but that role is severely lacking here. Taishas do little more than send out phone messages whenever they aren't busy catering to the crippled, and the supernatural being that gives magical power is a poorly drawn magical tree always obscured in fog. This narrows down all character interaction whatsoever to the five main characters, and everyone else might as well be a cardboard in the background. This effectively turns the series into a Slice-of-Life type of show, which is actually in the description for this series. But then the problem comes from attempting to mix this element with grimdark setting, which was basically the gimmick with Akame ga Kill. But even then, mixing the two isn't the problem- It's the execution. There needs to be some form of consistent flow in the tone, and this series handles it very poorly by going from one scene to the other with incredibly sudden transition. Having a tea party? Suddenly phone call and everyone's warped to fight the giant floating monster thing. Then lots of yelling and chanting in the background, and suddenly they're in space. And when they're not doing that, they're busy being very angsty about something else introduced later in the series.
The first few episodes followed the aforementioned formula incredibly precisely, while occasionally increasing the number of enemies to mix it up a little although it didn't really hinder the protagonists in the slightest. After managing to kill twelve of these things, the protagonists conclude that their battles are over because the Taishas said so, which is an obvious fake-out halfway into the series. It's also odd that the protagonists didn't suspect anything strange about Taishas informing them that there were supposedly arbitrary number of these things, which would mean that the Taishas somehow did not manage to defeat any of them at all despite having a detailed sealing process to defeat one. That aside, this formulaic plot progression didn't really serve to develop any of the characters at all. Sure, there was some character interaction between the main cast, but character interaction doesn't necessarily lead to character development. These particular interactions were just wacky hijinx and comedy, so it did absolutely nothing.
After halfway into the series, our good director Seiji decides that he needs to start including actual plot, and the grimdark elements start being introduced. Whenever the girls use their magical powers, they occasionally enter this super mode known as Mankai. The show never explains whether these girls enter the state willingly or whether it's done automatically- And even the official website claims that it's half and half. Basically, it's whenever the plot fucking wants it to happen. Why? Because this is the aforementioned grimdark plot element. Whenever the girls enter this state, they lose a certain bodily function and gain a fairy in the process. The series attempts to fake the audience out by claiming it's temporary, and then it spends several episodes that arrive at a not-so shocking conclusion that it's permanent. Yuna loses her taste, Mimori loses hearing on one ear, Fuu goes blind in one eye, and Itsuki loses her voice. What does this all lead to? Forced drama. Apparently Itsuki entered a singing audition, which everyone knew nothing about, and suddenly the whole thing gets dumped at the audience's face in the most convenient way possible when Fuu is trying to deal with the whole permanent body function sacrifice thing. If that wasn't enough, Itsuki goes on a long speech in the recording about how she loves her friends so Fuu can go on a full guilt trip for getting her to tag along on the Hero Club before actually singing for the audition because the judges were too busy looking for their non-existent script, as with every other character in the show. A proper, subtle way to handle this scene would've been to establish the singing audition thing before this happened, and then flash back to it briefly after the realization hit home, instead of just being embarrassingly blatant about it. But I guess subtlety is lost art.
Meanwhile, Tougou decides to be dangerous and attempts to test her theory by playing sudoku with a blade, and comes to a horrifying realization that fairies are "forcibly" keeping them alive. Apparently it's supposed to be terrifying that these tiny things keep the girls alive while they're on a dangerous duty that they're not being forced to do. Obviously there are huge consequences for not doing magical girl things since it has been established in the first episode that Shinju-sama is protecting the world and these aliens who are for some reason named after zodiac signs are trying to destroy it, but the job itself is still technically optional. They're not being forced to do it at gunpoint or whatever, so the supposed horror factor they were going for is completely invalid. Furthermore, Tougou apparently attempted to play sudoku multiple times because once wasn't enough and goes on about all these different methods she tried to kill herself for almost no reason other than sounding edgy. But then I realized this was Takahiro's specialty- Hammering the exact same point and over and over to arouse some form of emotion. These two brilliant men's talents really do shine in this series.
Afterwards, Tougou gets warped into the cripple gold medalist's room, who was their predecessor and now has over twenty disabilities and the equal amount of fairies. Then the audience is informed during their second meeting about the shocking truth that everything outside Shinju's territory is red vomit with white aliens swarming about. It's been known that Shinju was protecting humanity from getting fucked up by something since the first episode, so what's the shock here? Why does it matter that the villains are aliens or gods who decided humanity sucked? Whatever it was, it drives Tougou insane and makes her come to an ingenious conclusion. Apparently the best way to protect her friends and stop their sacrifices altogether was to blow a hole in the barrier, get the tree killed, and then get everyone sacrificed as a result of her decision. Maybe her ability to form proper reason was taken during one of her Mankai sessions. Would've been better if she actually consulted with her friends first-hand, but clearly that sounded too uninteresting and sensible for the writers. Most of the conflicts in this series also seem self-made, so it's also incredibly difficult to actually relate to any of these characters especially when they make stupid decisions such as Fuu attempting to kill the Taishas after the aforementioned forced drama sequence.
When the evil tofus attack, suddenly Yuuna is incapable of transforming because of her distressed emotional state despite Fuu being completely capable of doing so during her rage. Then Karin suddenly wakes up from being unconscious and activates Mankai multiple times in a span of few seconds coupled with too much yelling in an attempt to win the "most crippled" award in the show. After that, Yuuna manages to punch some sense into Tougou, destroys the Final Boss Vertex, then decides to become Jesus by taking everyone's disabilities onto herself by becoming a vegetable. Then suddenly the audience is supposed to accept that the enemies just stopped attacking because either they are really gone for good or they just got bored trying to kill a tree.
It later turns out that every fairy represented a physical function the girls lost, so when the fairies disappear, they regain everything they lost and stop being heroes. This may be because Shinju figured that keeping emotionally unstable girls who almost got it killed as its guardians was a terrible idea. Yuuna stays a vegetable for a while because Takahiro figured he could cram in some more sad scenes near the end, but then she gets better through the power of friendship. As stupid as that sounded, the ending isn't the issue- Even if the ending resulted in everyone becoming a vegetable, this would've been still a very poorly written series.
The happy ending can at least be explained with how since all threatening Vertices are supposedly gone, assuming the sun-shaped Vertex was the last of its kind for a while, Shinju doesn't need to exert as much energy to keep the barrier up since there's nothing much left to keep out, so it just gave everything it took back. It would explain how nobody is giving a shit about that part of the barrier Tougou blew up earlier.
The point is, if there is no actual threat left and the Taishas aren't being lying dicks about it this time and Mr. Tree is actually a benevolent god that everyone claims it is, then there really should be no point for it to keep what it took unless it's a dick too, which is probably what most people were guessing. And it's not like it was ever established that it couldn't give back what it took, so all the more reason for it to do what it did. And to the show's credit, it did briefly mention through one SoL segment that it was "alright to eat the offerings if they were there for a while" so maybe either it was foreshadowing or maybe I'm giving the show way too much credit. I'm actually surprised Takahiro managed to learn how to make use of mundane segments instead of cramming them in for the sake of just having them as a contrast to his edgy grimdark parts.
There's a lot of hate for the ending of the show, but most of that hate seems to be misdirected since it mostly involves "It had a happy ending, so it sucked." While it's not that having some plot elements that lead to a depressing ending is inherently bad- It's that when it does happen, it needs to be well-paced and give the audience enough time to feel actually attached to the characters in question. But with the lack of actual villains to provide any form of conflicting character interaction, there's next to no character development, and everything just ends up being a snooze-fest because these characters are just hard to care for outside of them looking cute. Unfortunately, this particular writing style has become quite popular with modern anime (Attack on Titans, AgK, or even Kotoura-san, etc), and for some reason, everyone seems to eat it up. Here's a possibility: People are just so used to badly written happy endings that they'd rather have badly written sad endings, while deluding themselves that sad endings are apparently inherently better than happy endings because they think they are more mature. Something about teaching a moral lesson about heroes not always winning or some shit, I don't know. In that case, the preference is determined not by the actual quality of the writing, but just by the inherent difference of definition. It's like preferring black shit over brown shit. "They're both shit, but at least it's not brown." While this is no longer applicable for this show since it had a happy ending, it doesn't change the fact that it was the direction the series was leading people towards, and it's obviously the main reason behind people eating it up.
All in all, this show is just yet another attempt at the ever-popular modern formula which involves characters going through depression in one way or the other, whether or not the characters were likeable or the depression relatable and the plot behind it well-written. It was practically tailored to the type of people who ate up the likes of AgK and Attack on Titans, and it did just that right before the end. I guess at least their reactions were entertaining.
In just six years of voice work, Chicago-born Erica Mendez has taken the anime world by storm. She's lent her powerful pipes to Ryuko Matoi, Sailor Uranus, and most recently Gon Freecss! We talked voice acting, video games, and the weird world of fame on day 3 of MomoCon.