Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru (YuYuYu) is a show that clearly was born in the shadow of a fairly famous and acclaimed work, Madoka Magica. The real question is if it manages to move out of that shadow and if so, how. Personally, I think it does manage to at least find a niche, even if it never truly stands on its own, but I suspect that other viewers will have differing opinions on the matter.
The story of YuYuYu is fairly simple; it has two movements to it, basically held together by some admittedly good slice of life. While the show does hesitatingly approach some complex issues, it never quite owns up to the difficult questions it raises and takes a stand, or even requests the viewer to do so. Watchmen, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", and YuYuYu all ask a similar core question, but while Alan Moore and Ursula LeGuin do leave it to interpretation what is the right course of action, YuYuYu decides to cast the idea aside and not force anyone to choose. It takes a safe route throughout its story, approaching topics that could be great if addressed well and then waving at those themes as they pass by.
What we do get is pleasant and dramatic in the right places, but it never quite reaches greatness; in the end, it's average and best
YuYuYu looks nice, I grant it that, but it's never really ambitious or creative. The character designs seem fairly standard, and while the Shinju-sama's barrier is a fairly gorgeous battleground with a distinctive style, it's also very static. This is a show that invites constant comparisons to Madoka, and... here it really doesn't live up. Every Witch and Labyrinth had its own style, a unique phantasmagorical wonderland teeming with symbolism and weirdly surreal and abstract artistry. The Shinju-sama provides a floral world of twining roots in pastel watercolor, that has a strong theme for wide shots but isn't quite as great with closeups.
The enemies, the Vertex, are a little more creative, but they rely heavily on very angular, geometric designs with just a few organic elements. There wasn't no effort put into them, but they don't move a whole lot nor do they, despite having unique appearances, really have much character to them. Again, I have to compare YuYuYu to Madoka, and YuYuYu falls short: while neither Witches nor Vertex really communicate nor function as characters rather than monsters, the Witches had looks and themes that reflected something, and their movements (or lack thereof) supported them being independently memorable.
That said, the art is solid on its own, and if I'm not comparing it to anything it's not without flaws, but it's good. The 'real world' environments are especially nice, and I do like how the show keeps a warm, pale palette for its entire world.
This is where YuYuYu actually trips up. The music is good, and the opening (for me at least) weirdly catchy, but the voice acting is... OK. And that's about all I can say about it. The show is at its strongest when the characters are just talking, potentially in an emotionally charged manner, and weakest when they're screaming, shouting, or crying. The problem with that is they scream, shout, or cry a lot. I don't exactly blame the voice actresses for this; as much as I actually enjoyed the fairly cheesy scenes where a character shouts some (or all) of the Hero Club Five Tenets in battle, it can't be easy to deliver those lines with conviction. And like I said, I liked the theme, I just wish that we had more moments at a 7-8/10 intensity rather than jumping so quickly to 10/10 where things start to break down a little. On another minor note, some of the sound effects get a little repetitive. Again, it's got to be hard to do the mixing here, because there are only so many "slash" and "shine" effects in your library, but I feel like they could have been a little stronger if they were a little more dynamic.
One of the places where YuYuYu shines is the character To be clear, it doesn't shine that brightly, but it does work out. Fuu, and to a lesser extent Togo, are very dimensional characters with strong goals who we get to see both at their high points and their low points, letting us get a solid feel for their range. Togo's arc could have been handled a little better if more time was devoted to it, but I actually think I enjoyed the slice of life more than I enjoyed the Vertex battles so I can't really begrudge what the time was spent on instead. Karin is alright, but we only really get to see her reach the culmination of her personal story at the very end; she comes in late and peaks after Fuu and Togo so I'm not sure she gets the focus she needs. Yuuna and Itsuki, by contrast, are fairly flat and static characters. Yuuna is a the one for whom this really could have been addressed. Now, there is something nice about the fact that she's a static character. I feel like the degree to which she's unchanged from the very beginning of episode 1 to the very beginning of episode 12 is a deliberate choice: she refuses to be moved in the face of the journey she goes on, and acts as an anchor for the other characters. Still, she could have had more depth while still being the stable beacon of hope she needs to be.
Like I said, I actually liked the characters; Fu and Togo have good arcs, Yuuna and Itsuki are really pleasant to have around and make for good positive scenes, and Karin does a little bit of both, having development and being a very watchable character (not that Fuu and Togo aren't). There are just times I really wish I was watching "Fuu Inubouzaki is a Hero", because I was more interested in her as a character.
This is where I find YuYuYu actually comes out from under Madoka's shadow, because in the end it's not trying to be the same show as Madoka. Madoka hooks you and pulls you along by being dark, twisted, and sometimes profound. It's a vast, bleak shadow in which there is a single guiding light, and you have to fight through twelve episodes of that dark to reach for it. It's moving and powerful. In YuYuYu... that shadow is a passing thing. Even the darkness must always pass. I appreciate that we get episodes like 7 (the beach episode) where these characters can laugh and smile, and come to terms with the hardships they've faced and continue to face, that they get a chance to breathe between the battles and psychological blows that try to beat them down. It's not as powerful as Madoka, but I don't think it wants to be. It's inviting, and I feel that's exactly what's wanted out of the show's structure. The fact that you weave a post-Madoka Magical Girl show in with Slice of Life, or Cute Girls doing Cute Things, has a charm to it that's hard to deny and earns the fact that there is so much more light in this story. In fact, I think my favorite episodes overall are the ones where the characters don't transform at all, but instead live their lives against the backdrop of the action that has happened and the action that is still to come. And that's something unique, and different, and worth having. That's why YuYuYu is worth watching, even if you've already seen Madoka; it's not the same story, and as much as it does share themes, it has a fundamentally different take on those themes compared to its predecessor.
Overall Total Score: 7 (6.8)