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Yuki Yuna is a Hero manages to create one of the oddest anime genre fusions I have watched while seeming completely natural throughout. The series brings the over-the-top action of LyricalNanoha, the gorgeous animation and emotional trauma of PuellaMagiMadokaMagica, touchy-feely moments reminiscent of Key, and slice of life scenes that would not be out of place in K-On!. Their magical girl outfits look feminine without seeming soft. The girls themselves are simultaneously adorable, naive, scared, brave, badass, and heroic (the series name is definitely not a misnomer). The animation is loaded with ConspicuousCG, but uses it to create some of the most amazing landscapes of any anime I have ever seen. Even the English dub has some postmodern fusion to it where words like "Shinju-sama", "Taisha", and "Jukai" are used without translation and even without much explanation. Speaking as a fan of Madoka, Nanoha, and Mai-HiME, there's a lot to like here.
Yuki Yuna certainly isn't a perfect anime, though. Most of first 7 episodes consist of slice-of-life scenes that don't move the plot forward and generally don't develop the characters (with two exceptions I know of). When things start getting serious, the transition, while appropriately foreshadowed, is very abrupt and each protagonist (except maybe Itsuki) will suddenly behave very differently from how they did before. This is not necessarily a bad thing and I found many of the sad moments of Yuki Yuna quite touching, but it still felt a little off.
Overall, however, Yuki Yuna is a very solid series and I give it an 8/10. Note that the first time I watched Yuki Yuna, I rated it 7/10, but after a second watch a year and a half later, I found myself loving too much of the show to give it anything below an 8. If the fusion of things I listed above sounds interesting, give it a try!
”一人じゃ小さな囁きでしかない” ("When we are alone, we are nothing more than a little whisper.")
-黒沢ともよ - 祈りの歌 (Tomoyo Kurosawa - Prayer Song)
(An insert song and ED from Yuki Yuna. Note that my Japanese isn't very good and I might have transcribed this wrong.)
In 2011, Puella Magi Madoka Magica deconstructed the Magical Girl genre, burned the deconstruction to the ground, salted the earth, then took off and nuked the site from orbit - before rebuilding the world, more beautiful than it had ever been before. It's kind of a hard act to follow, but Yuki Yuna borrows a little of its power to do so, and does so well. Declining to challenge the juggernaut in a head-on contest of blows, it opts for economy of purpose and goes straight for the heart.
So let's talk about homages. In this timeline, the pink-haired title character with more potential than anyone, participates in the school's Hero Club, ostensibly a service organization helping find homes for kittens, along with her best friend, a raven-haired transfer student with surprisingly powerful combat abilities and a mysterious past. So in addition to Madoka and Homura we have Mami, the older girl who's running the show and knows just a little too much about the tragedy they will face, and Bebe, the younger character who helps her fend off loneliness. A few episodes in, Sayaka shows up and starts acting like she owns the town, but she slowly warms up to the others in time for the shocking reveal of Episode 6 in which we learn the terrible truth about what being a magical girl does to their bodies. Later on we're treated to an episode-10 flashback to Homura's backstory before Madoka finally saves the day, and saves all the magical girls, at great cost to herself. Or something like that; the names all run together.
Madoka spent much of the first three episodes pretending to be Happy and Fun, while preparing Chekov's Gun to launch a barrage of plot twists. Yuki Yuna spends five episodes, eschews all plot twists but one, and delivers it gently - seamlessly transitioning to dramatic irony. (The work on the Beach Episode in particular is genius.) Instead of leaving you on the edge of your seat in anticipation, it will leave you curled up in a ball crying.
Yuki Yuna is very strong at the center of its storyline, but frays a little at the edges. This is reflected also in the sometimes-awkward pacing. Its secondary weakness is related: while certainly foreshadowed, the ending is poorly explained.
Overall: 9/10 You Seriously Need To See This Sometime.
Yuki Yuna Is A Hero is a show that initially advertises itself as a harmless show about the cute lives of five middle-school mahou shoujo (much like a certain popular series). And as a matter of fact, that's a large part of Yuki Yuna; much of the series devotes itself to exploring the girls' daily lives and their relationships to each other, while its battle scenes tend to take a backseat. The strong focus on Slice of Life in the first half leads to a rather slow pace, but it also does a great job of making you care about the girls of the Hero Club, who are all extremely likable.
This becomes important in the second half of the series, where things become more serious. Without spoiling anything, the show begins to explore the question of what it truly means to be a "Hero," and whether the sacrifices that the girls make are worth it. When the revelations finally surface, their emotional impact is strengthened greatly thanks to how good Yuki Yuna is at making you attached to the characters. Episode 9 in particular is incredibly emotional and is executed flawlessly.
Although the show has a limited budget, Studio Gokumi manages to make a whole lot out of a little; the heavy use of pastel colors and a consistent Flower Motif, combined with a fantastic soundtrack from MONACA, gives the setting an almost dreamy atmosphere. There are a few cases of Conspicuous CG, but it's nothing that really detracts from the experience.
If the show has one notable flaw, it's that it sometimes falls victim to its own pace. The actual conflict with the "Vertex" moves very fast, and sometimes feels a bit weightless for the first few episodes. This becomes rather painfully apparent in the final episode, which wraps things up rather quickly while leaving several questions behind. The show also has a slew of supplementary material, some of which does explain the ending, but some viewers may not want to go through all that trouble for something which admittedly could've been explained with a thirteenth episode.
Regardless of a slightly weak conclusion, the show manages to stand up on its own feet out of Madoka's shadow and be very enjoyable in its own right. You truly come to care about these girls, and in that Yuki Yuna accomplishes its job superbly.
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