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.