“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” —Euripides
While Yūna tries her best to participate in the New Years’ festivities with her friends and make the most of her time with the Hero Club, her friends begin noticing that Yūna is not her usual self. Karin tries to talk to her about things, but with the effects of her curse still fresh in her mind, Yūna declines. Mimori later breaks into Yūna’s room and recovers a journal that Yūna had been using to document her experiences. In this journal, she explains that after their fight during the Vertex, Yūna’s body sustained damage beyond the Taisha’s ability to heal, and she lapsed into a coma. Her spirit ended up where Mimori was held, and while she returned to rejoin the others, her body’s been decaying since. Furthermore, the Taisha confirm that Yūna’s curse will spread and affect the others should she attempt to communicate with her friends about it. When Mimori, Fū, Itsuki and Karin learn of this, they are shocked; Sonoko had begun investigating independently and apologises for not sharing her findings, but stops Mimori from intervening, since Yūna had already been affected. The next morning, Mimori visits Yūna and assures her that this time, she’ll look after her. It’s quite evident that the stakes have been increased, especially since Yūna’s life expectancy has dropped to the span of a few months. With this being said, the ending of Hero Chapter is a foregone conclusion even in light of the current revelations, given the thematic elements that Yūki Yūna is a Hero have previously presented, and what remains intriguing about Hero Chapter largely lies with the journey that Mimori and the others must take to reach an ending free from the suffering Heroes have contended with thus far.
The fourth episode’s execution comes across as being surprisingly strong; it was only a matter of time before Yūna’s friends learned of the truth, and here, the effects of this news on both Yūna and her friends are shown with a surprising realism. Until now, audiences have been placed in Mimori and the others’ perspectives – they’ve seen Yūna doing her best to maintain normalcy and participate as best as she can with the Hero Club, while being left in the dark. Internally, Yūna is trying her utmost to reassure her friends and deal with her condition, fighting off despair and holding onto the hope that she will recover. This act of putting on a mask and dealing with her situation unassisted has placed a severe strain on Yūna’s mental health, and brings to mind the sort of predicament not unlike that which folks face in reality when diagnosed with or facing a terminal condition. The psychological aspects of an illness is not to be taken lightly, as it can dramatically affect the choices individuals might make pertaining to treatment and support they might elect to take. Collecting this information and using it to predict how patients might respond during and following treatments for an illness is an area of interest in medicine, although this particular area of research faces its own limitations, especially with regard to data collection and integrity. In Yūna’s case, her friends have (forcibly) entered the equation, and are now faced with a Herculean task to try and work out what is necessary to save her.
Screenshots and Commentary
- After the events of the previous episode, nothing initially seems amiss; the Hero Club’s members visit a shrine during New Year’s Day to pray for good luck, and everyone seems to be in high spirits. It typifies Hero Chapter‘s propensity to juxtapose moments of normalcy with those of sorrow, and the fourth episode is no different in its execution. Anime typically show characters as making shrine visits during the New Year, but on this side of the world, it is customary to sleep in following a night’s worth of partying.
- Both Fū and Itsuki seemingly get hammered after drinking non-alcoholic sweet sake; Fū becomes more melodramatic, lamenting her age, while Itsuki seems to be more irreverent. It’s a rather fun moment that demonstrates the placebo effect, but even in times of joy, hints of Yūna’s gradual withdrawal from her surroundings begin materialising. Here, Yūna is slow to drink her sake, and when Sonoko asks, Yūna remarks that it’s a bit too hot at the moment. While the response is prima facie an innocent one, the actual reasons are a bit more grim.
- An accident of sorts, worthy of Anne Happy‘s Happiness Class, occurs when the girls try to take a group photo: inference suggests that the girls’ familiars want in on the group photo and their sudden appearance proves to be too much.
- As of late, Karin’s been showing a great deal more closeness than she had previously to the other members of the Hero Club; she conveys this to Fū, who is rather surprised at the sudden expression of such. Mimori’s been seen with a 4K video recorder. The 4K standard has really taken off this year, and is slowly displacing 1080p as the resolution of choice as the technology to drive these display technologies becomes increasingly affordable. Ostensibly to keep a record of the Hero Club’s activities, Mimori’s actual motivations for recording everything is to closely keep an eye on her best friend’s well-being.
- Yūna manages to find a lost kitten on one of the Hero Club’s routine activities, and while the kitten avoids her (where normally, Yūna is shown to be a bit more fortunate in such matters), the Hero Club’s operation is a success by all definitions.
- As the day draws to a close, Karin seeks out Yūna with the aim of talking to her. By this point in time, all of her friends have noticed that something is off; while Yūna does her best to live in the moment, the doubt and concerns she alone is bearing gradually is getting the better of her, causing her to space out. Here, Karin passes Yūna what appears to be a silver fish, which I know better as “白飯魚” (jyutping “baak6 faan6 jyu4”) and enjoy most in its fried incarnation. While a simple act, it captures the closeness between Karin and Yūna.
- Colour and lighting is utilised to a great extent in visual media to capture a particular mood, and in the West, the warm glow of a sunset, with its yellows, oranges and reds, are meant to signify an ending of sorts. It can be interpreted as the close of a journey and a time to relax, but also doubles as an indicator that light is leaving, displaced by darkness, which humans have long come to associate with the unknown. It is therefore fitting that Karin’s last chance to talk to Yūna about what’s on her mind comes during sunset.
- It would appear that Yūna’s desire to keep her friends’ happiness stems from what she internally knows about her condition, and this particular desire overrules even her own adherence and respect for the Hero Club’s tenants. It stands to reason that, Yūna will only break the tenants for her friends’ sake, illustrating the extent that she cares for them. We recall that it was Yūna who made the most open efforts to befriend Karin when she joined the group, and she gets along with most everyone: for Yūna, unity and friendship are the things that she treasures the most strongly.
- Yūna declines to tell Karin of her Mantle of responsibility, and rejected, Karin runs off, feeling burned. Here, Yūna sees the mark of shame projected onto Karin and fears that Karin will be exposed to whatever curse she’s suffering from. Overcome with weakness, Yūna collapses, apologising for being forced to keep Karin in the dark. By this point, concern for Yūna’s well-being materialises into a tangible fear that something terrible has happened to her, and Mimori decides to take a more direct approach in figuring out what’s going on.
- If memory serves, I began watching Yūki Yūna is a Hero back during the summer of 2016, and I don’t seem to recall that Mimori was left-handed. She manages to confirm independently that Yūna’s reactions to her fortune are much more subdued than before, conjecturing that Yūna would normally be ecstatic to receive a “good luck” projection for the New Year. Mimori and Sonoko are shown to have dramatically different ways of working things out when confronted with an unknown – Sonoko prefers going to the top brass and inquiring for answers directly, while Mimori investigates independently and uses her reasoning to reach a conclusion.
- After stealthily entering Yūna’s bedroom under the cover of darkness, Mimori does a bit of deductive work worthy of Sean Connery’s James Bond and John Clark; she notices that amongst Yūna’s encyclopaedia collection, the twelfth volume is deliberately protruding from the bookshelf and surmises that there might be something special about this volume. She finds another volume hidden away here, titled “Hero Journal”. It speaks to the gravity of the situation that despite Mimori’s movements, she is rendered as a rigid body object rather than a skeletal mesh with elastic properties: the sort of fanservice so prevalent in Yūki Yūna is a Hero and which made a minor return in Washio Sumi Chapter is largely absent in Hero Chapter.
- While it’s likely that everyone will face retribution for having read Yūna’s journal, a classified report for the Taisha, the girls nonetheless feel that their friends’ need far outweighs their own. Thus, in deciding to proceed, Mimori and the others, alongside the audience, finally learn of how Yūna was able to bring about the ending that was seen in Yūki Yūna is a Hero; while some individuals felt that this was an undeserved happy ending, Hero Chapter expands on this and shows that there was a price that was paid in order to achieve this.
- It turns out that Yūna’s consciousness was transferred into the same space while she entered a coma following the events of the final battle. Trapped here, Yūna could do little but listen to Mimori’s impassioned pleas for her to return to them, and, reminding herself that Heroes do not give up, Yūna later encounters a crow that leads her to wake up. From here on out, it seems that the Taisha have expended considerable resources to restore the girls’ bodily functions, but for Yūna, the damage she sustained during the final fight meant she required an entirely new body. This brings to mind the Extended Universes’ Palpatine, who similarly used cloned bodies as a means of cheating death.
- However, Palpatine quickly learned that the clones were unable to sustain his Dark Side powers and so, deteriorated rapidly, prompting him to seek out the body of a Force-sensitive individual. Back in Hero Chapter, Yūna continues documenting her experiences, recollecting her determination to live life to the fullest possible even as her health fails. She learns that she’s a misugata (御姿, jyutping “jyu6 zi1”, which corresponds with “Royal Position”), an individual favoured by the Gods, and so, when she wished to save Mimori to
Bring Balance to The Force and restore balance in the world, it came at a cost.
- Haruka Terui’s delivery of Yūna’s lines have a melancholy, matter-of-fact tone; as she describes her concerns for others, handling of her condition day-by-day, and that she’s happiest when with the others. Her illness has a profound impact on her physical health: she’s unable to maintain an appetite and throws up after drinking the sake, experiences nausea and chest pain, and finds herself becoming increasingly lethargic. Because my work involves medical software, a part of what I do is read about accounts from those with terminal illnesses, cancer and the like: the scenes in the fourth episode dealing with Yūna’s recollections really had an impact on me because they were presented very similarly to what a cancer patient might deal with.
- Between despair and hope, such illnesses have a profound mental health impact on those affected, and it must be terrifying to know that one has no support. With this in mind, I cannot begin to imagine what goes through the minds of these individuals: Yūna feels that what she can do is to write everything into her journal, and again, I am reminded of journalling as a suggestion for these individuals, allowing them to fully express themselves and keep a record of how they’re feeling. Mental health advocates suggest keeping a journal, and I maintain this blog partially for similar reasons.
- Mimori, Sonoko, Karin, Fū and Itsuki learn about what’s befallen Yūna in a more inelegant manner, and their initial reactions are of shock, anguish and disgust; emotions run high, and Mimori prepares to take Yūna’s place once again, stopping only when Sonoko reminds her that this burden was Yūna’s alone to bear, and that nothing Mimori could do would change that.
- The look on Fū’s face brings to mind her reaction during Yūki Yūna is a Hero after she learned that Itsuki’s inability to speak would be permanent. While she is the leader of the Hero Club who does her best to look after its members, Fū is quick to anger when she feels that information has been withheld, and it seems that, barring Sonoko’s explanation for Yūna’s decisions, would have likely attempted to engage the Taisha on her own again. It becomes quite apparent that Sonoko’s presence is helping the girls keep their cool and not act rashly during the heat of the moment.
- Hit hardest by the journal’s contents is Karin, who feels remorse for having run off after Yūna declined to speak with her. Mimori narrates that there seems to be nothing they could do for the present, and discussions elsewhere have turned to wondering why the writers would put the characters, especially Yūna, though such tribulations. It’s not often that speculation on where a series will go hits a brick wall, especially considering how creative the anime community can be, but it seems like Hero Chapter has done just this: simply put, discussion has ground to a halt, and moved in a direction suggesting the authors themselves must be displeased with humanity as a species.
- The fourth episode draws to a close with Mimori promising to protect Yūna as she had done for her earlier. Following the credits, it appears as though the Shinju has seen better days, as well. This brings my talk to an end for the present, and I remark that next week, I will be attending the Flames vs. Canadiens game; as of late, the Flames’ record has been less than stellar, so I’m wondering if we’ll be able to put on a good performance for this upcoming home game. As a result, my talk for Hero Chapter‘s fifth episode will be written and published into the weekend as opposed to late Friday.
If we accept that the journey is a great deal more meaningful than the destination, then Hero Chapter has certainly found a way of drawing in the audiences and compelling them to follow the journey that Yūna and the others have faced thus far. The suffering and woes falling upon Yūna, seemingly excessive, follows accordingly from the consequences of Yūki Yūna is a Hero; the ending of the first season presented the girls as having been given a Mulligan, getting off seemingly scot-free after their actions during the final battle. As it turns out, this action was not without consequence, and in exchange for granting normalcy back into everyone else’s lives, Yūna is left to dealt with the Mantle of responsibility and bear the burden of a curse. It is here that Karin reveals that she’s genuinely appreciative of Yūna’s friendship, while Mimori begins to feel as though she is responsible for Yūna’s predicament; Sonoko reminds her this is not the case. Similarly, Fū begins to doubt the Taisha once again, reminiscent of the events of Yūki Yūna is a Hero. There is not a clear way forward for the Heroes, but hope is not extinguished yet: with everyone now aware of the quandary Yūna is in, they can at least begin to support her. While Yūna’s Mantle of responsibility and its attendant curse might not be a condition for which there can be a treatment, that she has her friends in her corner nonetheless provides a significant boost in mental well-being. In the real world, this support can mean the difference between maintaining the will to live and losing it, so it will be interesting to see what sort of difference Yūna’s friends can make for her, as well as what the group’s next course of action will be.