Monday, March 14, 2016

Anime Review: Yuki Yuna is a Hero

Whew, I've only got a week's gap in-between anime seasons to review a backlog title but with how full this season has been for me I haven't had a chance to really work on my backlog honestly. Spring doesn't look like it's going to be much better at this rate, it's crazy how even the "weak" anime seasons always leave me watching more than I think I am....

Yuki Yuna is a Hero (Yuki Yuna wa Yuusha de Aru)

In the age of the gods, Japan is quiet but at peace. Yuna and her friends belong to the Hero Club at school which helps people in little ways, like putting on puppet plays for kindergarteners. But she and her friends soon realize there was another reason for the hero club, to draw like minded girls together who had a strong aptitude to become magical girls and fight to save the world. It's not an easy fight but heroic things rarely are!

I've seen some folks describe this show as "the first post-Madoka Magica magical girl show" ie the first magical girl show with heavy influences from Madoka, and while I will generally disagree that Madoka "invented" dark magical girls I am inclined to agree here. The way that the hero club fights monsters (in a difference dimension that looks rather surreal) is more similar to Madoka than most other magical girl anime/manga series I can think of and this show also makes it clear that this is for older watchers so I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's aimed at the same audience. I did like the designs for the other world, it pulls off having a lot of gray areas mixed with rainbows very well and makes it feel scary in a subdued way, although I don't feel like I can say the show has great art design as a whole when the regular world looks so dull. I'm sure their intent was to make the real world look "average" and a little dull compared to the dangers of the other world but I think they went too far and just made it boring, that's not good design (however I was pleasantly surprised that the magical girl outfits work much better in action than they do on the promo stills).

My problem with the show lies a bit further in however; the show makes it clear from the start that this is a darker magical girl story and that it's dangerous. That's fine, that's just stakes, however the show writes itself into a similar corner that (the very dissimilar) Captain Earth/Star Driver did: the characters have to win every week or the world ends, there is no room for failure. Every great magical girl series (or shounen fighting series) knows that you have to let the heroes fail a few times, don't make the stakes so high every time, make it so some characters fail but not all of them etc, otherwise you start breaking the viewers suspension of disbelief. YuYuYu writes itself into a corner at the very end where obviously the characters can't let the world be destroyed but the cost to themselves is becoming too high for them to continue, it's a situation you cannot resolve well. SD and CA both did find ways to work around this, let the heroes partially lose a fight but not all the way, have enemies defect to help in the darkest hour etc, but Yuyuyu is a much more straightforward show in some ways, the show basically has to end by breaking what I thought was an in-universe rule on how magical girls worked and turning that rule into, more of a suggestion? I understand what the creators were trying to do with the particular idea (dealing with costs and sacrifices) but it comes off as a cop-out instead of feeling like a victory for the hero club for forcing this change. 

Honestly those two things were what stood out the most to me about a show I saw four months ago. The characters were pleasant but not especially ground-breaking or deep (Togo is more unusual both for her personality and her disability and Fu was also slightly more nuanced than I expected her to be). I liked the show enough to shell out for PonyCan's overly-expensive DVD sets but I also wanted the extras for cosplay reference/with TRSI's end of year sales they were still expensive but my best option. I don't expect this show to be remembered by a lot of people a few years down the road, like 70% of anime it's simply not different or memorable enough, but since there aren't a lot of magical girl shows these days (other than ones that are aimed at elementary school kids), and I feel like a lot of people want more dark shows like Madoka if the trends I've seen in webcomics are anything to go by, then sure, give this a look, the first episode or two should be more than enough to tell you if the show is for you or not. 

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