**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.