A couple of days ago a friend on Facebook asked for recommendations, people’s favorite series on Netflix and Amazon. For the first time in a while, I looked at Netflix’s anime section and the wonderful Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero leapt out at me…
When I first added YuYuYu to my queue way back then, I really knew nothing about the show. (I wasn’t in the habit of keeping of with anime news like I am now.) I like magical girl shows, so I figured I’d at least check it out.
Watching the premiere, this scene really made me sit up and pay attention…
Normally magical girls require a spell or item or whatever to transform, but here Yuki sees her friends in danger and transforms by sheer force of will. Awesome! All too often a superhero-to-be waffles, but after a brief hesitation Yuki takes the short and direct route home – “I have the power, there’s work to be done, why are you just standing there?“. Yes, in my opinion Magical Girl stories are a subset of the superhero genre. (Or at least, there’s a lot of overlap. But that’s an essay for another time.)
From there, YuYuYu just continued to upend the viewer’s expectations. It reached the ‘traditional’ endpoint with ep 5, the Great Evil is defeated and the girls are ready to return to their normal lives… (with a Beach Episode no less!) But YuYuYu was getting rolling into its real story, the the tragedy of the Hero System and price so many were forced to pay for the ‘privilege’ of being a Hero and saving the world.
Basically, if you have high Hero Potential you’re going to be a hero in the world of Yuki Yuna, like it or not. But you’re also going to pay a price for using those powers – the loss of the use of a limb or the loss of a sense. You don’t actually have a choice to opt out. But it’s those forced to be heroes who keep the Vertex, alien invaders, from destroying the world. Oh, and the whole thing is a secret – the general public must never know the world is threatened regularly with complete elimination.
That’s the Hero System in a nutshell. Seen from a high level, with the safety of innocent lives at stake, it’s something of a good thing. But at the level of the individual, it’s a horror, a lose-lose situation. (There’s a religious element too… But explaining that would really make this overly long.)
It’s a dark tale and because of this YuYuYu is often lumped in with Madoka and dismissed as a “Dark Magical Girl” story, but I think that’s the wrong approach. Thinking in terms of genre can be useful, but it can also force one into a straitjacket. I can’t and won’t argue that’s the wrong genre, but the stories are fundamentally different. Madoka is ultimately about Homura trying to break the system and end the cycle for Madoka’s benefit. Rather than seeking to break the system, in YuYuYu the girls conclude that they can accept the price the Hero System forces them to pay – because protecting others is worth that price. (To quote Spock – “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few“.)
YuYuYu also takes the more traditional Magical Girl approach of emphasizing that friendship and teamwork will ultimately carry the day. In Madoka however the girls are generally violently individual and more self-centered.
But enough about Madoka, I’m getting a bit far afield… I was originally headed towards talking about the sequel (the “looking forward” in the title), so let’s get back to YuYuYu.
While the story itself is a closed one, with a definite end… we’re plainly told that it’s just one part of a larger world. The Hero System existed before the events of the series, and we’re left knowing the world (and the threat of the Vertex) goes on even as the series ends. There’s more than a few stories untold and threads left dangling. (Not distractingly so mind you, but they’re there if you look.)
Which ultimately leads me to the recently announced sequel.
Normally when a sequel is announced, I wonder whether the existing material can be stretched to cover another season… But I’m looking forward to the upcoming series, in a large part because the production committee has made a bold decision to structure it quite unusually. The first half will be a prequel building on the backstory of the Hero System. (We know that Togo has been a hero before the events of the series, but those memories have been deliberately suppressed as part of the Hero System.) The second half will be a sequel covering What Happens After. (And building on the hints that the Hero System was fundamentally altered due to the events of the series.) While compressing a story into just six episodes (for each) is a challenge in its own right… it also makes things easier because they don’t have to come up with enough material to fill out an entire cour.
I’m really looking forward to the new series. I hope you are too.
8 thoughts on “Yuki Yuna – A hero’s tale. Looking back, looking forward.”
Heh. So I’m making the first comment on this blog?
YuYuYu is one of my favorites, one that would have gotten a full 10/10 from me if not for the ending (I gave it 9/10). Let’s see how this obscure newly-born blog says about it.
YuYuYu is my second magical girl show after Madoka Magica. I went in expecting a lower-quality Madoka, but I ended up liking YuYuYu more, and it also doubled as my first CGDCT experience.
Doesn’t the smartphone and app count as an item? I gotta admit that the idea of transforming with smartphones sounds pretty weird, though. However, this might become a new fad a given that Magical Girl Raising Project also did this.
Personally, I think that both halves of YuYuYu are “the real story”, and the way you worded it underplayed the value of the first half, which made me feel attached to the characters and could be one of the best CGDCT anime on its own.
While I agree that lumping YuYuYu with Madoka and dismissing it is wrong, I think that you can’t fully appreciate YuYuYu without comparing it with Madoka. I think YuYuYu, unlike some “Dark Magical Girl” anime such as Magical Girl Raising Project, is deliberately asking viewers to compare it to Madoka, and I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so. There were similarities here and there even in the first half that people were speculating like crazy midway through the show, and it throws out deathflags like crazy (do you remember the hangman tarot card gag?). Additionally, there was more than place that the YuYuYu could have gone dark: Tougou not transforming in the first episode due to a trauma, Karin training like a child soldier, or even right after the cast went Mankai and lost their body parts/senses. This made me engaged with the show with a weird kind of “will they or won’t they (make the show become dark)”. And by the time the dark twist comes, I was really confused on whether the show will go the Madoka route, making the twist much more effective.
I never figured out what the themes of Madoka was, until I saw this. You summarized it really well. Because of the way I think, “breaking the system” is nearly never an option. Maybe this is the reason why both Madoka’s and YuYuYu’s endings annoyed me so much. They both broke the previously well-established rules about the world in ways that I cannot accept. I seriously wonder how YuYuYu’s sequel will fix this.
I felt that YuYuYu’s first season would have been a little better if it had one or two episodes less. So I think this was a really great decision by the producers.
So that’s it. The first comment of this blog. That turned out to be much longer than I expected.
Yup, you’re the first. Thank you and welcome to the Lounge!
Sure, the phone/app counts as an item – but Yuuki wasn’t shown activating them (like Fuu and Itsuki were) before transforming (though it activates in the middle of the sequence). Plus her henshin was gradual as she used her attacks, rather than complete prior to attacking… hence my conclusion.
I saw the staff of YuYuYu at a panel at Sakura-Con a few years back, and the producer had a very interesting thing to say about comparing it with Madoka (as the show was airing): “Of course people compared the two shows, but those comparisons stopped as the story unfolded. He went on to explain that he felt that people finally realized YuYuYu was telling it’s own story rather than riding Madoka‘s coat tails, which is generally the point I think I was getting at. When you have a genre defining show of such stature, it’s impossible not to use it as a ruler… but you have to be careful in doing so.
So, that’s it.. My first official reply. :) Turned out to be harder than I expected, as I tend to be on the argumentative side…
I enjoyed this one. Season two definitely has me interested though since season one felt like it was just getting started and, not to say that it didn’t have a decent ending, but it felt like there was a lot more story to tell still. Nice site and thanks for the sub, will be doing the same :)
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Thanks! And welcome to the Lounge!
In that respect YuYuYu is one of the better constructed series out there… A decent closed end tale on it’s own, but there’s definitely more than can be said about the world without falling into sequelitis.
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