“If I tell you what happens, it won’t happen.” – Doctor Strange, The Avengers: Endgame
Takuya Arima is a student living in the town of Sakamichi, home of the unnatural rock formation known locally as Mount Sankaku. When his father, the historian Kodai Arima, passes away, Takuya receives his late father’s research materials and the otherworldly Reflector Device, which allows him to travel across different dimensions. The principal of Takua’s high school, Kōzō Ryūzōji, seeks to relieve Takuya of the Reflector Device, but Takuya manages to escape. Armed with the Reflector Device, Takuya deals with the scandal surrounding GeoTech, a company that his step-mother, Ayumi, is working at, explores the bowels of Mount Sankaku with Mio Shimazu and after conversing with his former lover, Mitsuki Ichijō, Takuya deduces that the original Kōzō had actually been killed, with an imposter taking his place. This imposter is an immortal being bent on wrecking destruction for its own benefit. His instructor, Eriko Takeda, is actually a member of the interdimensional law enforcement, intent on bringing Kōzō to justice. As Takuya pieces things together, he is sent back to his original timeline, and eventually befriends Kanna Hatano, an enigmatic girl whose with an unknown past, and whose health is dependent on the mysterious Psychite, a stone with strange properties. Takuya’s actions over the different timelines allow him to retrieve Psychite crystals, and he enters a portal for Dela Grante, where he meets a mute girl named Sayless, as well as the knight Illia. Unable to cross a vast desert, Takuya instead falls in love with Sayless and fathers their child, Yu-no. However, when knights from the Imperial Capital appear, Sayless commits suicide and Yu-no is captured. Takuya is imprisoned, where he learns that he is to mine for Psychite in a ritual of sorts. When Takuya meets resistance leader Amanda, the two work with several other resistance prisoners to escape. Takuya and Amanda reach the Imperial Capital and link up with the resistance, preparing to mount an assault on the castle. During the assault, Takuya encounters the Devine Emperor face-to-face and learns that it’s Ayumi: she’d been transported here along with Kōzō and had been attempting to save the world from annihilation. As it turns out, every four centuries, Dela Grante’s orbit crosses that of Earth’s, and the world’s computer AI requires a physical body to avert catastrophe: Yu-no must be sacrificed to this end. However, even with the resistance’s help, Kōzō appears and disrupts the proceedings. While Eriko is able to kill Kōzō, the process fails, and Dela Grante collides with an Earth eight thousand years earlier. Takuya returns to his time and saves Kanna, before reuniting with Yu-no. The two then depart together into non-being.
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (Kono Yo no Hate de Koi o Utau Shōjo YU-NO, YU-NO for brevity) is the 2019 adaptation of the 1996 visual novel of the same name, and during its twenty-six episode run, covers a great deal of territory. The original visual novel had been a big-budget production with the aim of crafting an adventure unlike anything seen before: it was a collaboration between writer Hiroyuki Kanno and musician Ryu Umemoto. The resulting story was written to incorporate mechanics available given the hardware at the time, with the Reflector Device coming to make use of save-states and branching that allows Takuya to revisit a time and collect the necessary gems needed to drive the Dela Grante arc. Usage of save states and parallel worlds, in conjunction with Takuya’s experiences, indicate that YU-NO is a story about causality, specifically, the balance that exists between free will and determinism. Whether or not reality is governed by one or the other had been the subject of no small discussion – YU-NO suggests that the universe is likely somewhere in the middle (limited free will), which is a bold way of thinking. Through the use of the Reflector Device, Takuya is able to influence an event differently and check the outcomes. However, doing so does appear to create instability, causing him to be sent back to an initial state, and similarly, there are some events that seem fixed: for instance, Mitsuki ends up dying in every possible alternative irrespective of Takuya’s efforts to save her. For Takuya, free will exists to some capacity, but other events are deterministic, consigned to occur. As such, YU-NO indicates to its viewers that, while some outcomes are fixed, one can nonetheless influence events using their free will to create a more positive outcome than if they had not acted at all: in this model of limited free will, an outcome might be preordained, but individuals still have the power to impact the extent or severity of a given outcome if they have the will to do what is necessary (as an example, the Calgary Flames might be fated to lose to the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how badly they lose is up to them, and there might exist a timeline where the Flames lost in seven games, rather than five).
Owing to the incorporation of quantum mechanics, free will versus determinism, the definition of history, and society’s interaction with science and technology, in conjunction with the multiple, layered dynamics that Takuya has with each of Ayumi, Kaori, Mitsuki, Mio, Kanna, Sayless, Amanda and Yu-no, YU-NO ends up being an immensely busy work: in its anime form, things can quickly become overwhelming as the viewer must keep up with the overarching narrative, character dynamics and world-building. The visual novel addressed this particular challenge by starting the players off with Ayumi’s arc, which establishes Takuya’s world and character. The anime adaptation does the same – this establishment is critical, as it defines the sort of person Takuya is. By showing that Takuya is kindhearted, determined and honest, as well as lecherous (for good humour), viewers are assured that Takuya will always attempt to do what is right. Further to this, given that Takuya is no greenhorn when it comes to relationships, unnecessary drama is averted, allowing YU-NO to purely focus on the plot: Takuya is clear about how he feels and never dawdles, eliminating the need to create drama for drama’s sake. This allows the series to focus on world-building and foreshadowing. As such, even amidst the scandals surrounding GeoTech and Ayumi, the Shimazu municipal government and Mio, Mitsuki’s mysterious relationship with Kōzō and rumours surrounding Kanna, Takuya’s actions are always measured (assisted by the Reflector Device, which gives him an advantage in decision-making). Consequently, no matter what YU-NO throws at viewers, nothing comes as a total surprise. This sets the stage for Takuya’s journey to Dela Grante – while such a pivot late in the game would devolve most stories into chaos, YU-NO‘s world-building and character development is such that viewers are not thrown off by the turn of events. The end result is an immensely enjoyable journey that takes YU-NO‘s viewers through a host of genres and settings, demonstrating the importance writing solid characters. By keeping Takuya’s character limited to what he needs to do, YU-NO is able to spend time on its world building, and by the time Takuya hits terra firma on Dela Grante, viewers are not completely blind-sided by what’s happening. The surprises and twists of YU-NO are unexpectedly pleasant, plausible within the realm of what the series has established to be possible.
Screenshots and Commentary
- YU-NO is one of those series that would require an episodic discussion in order to fully cover all of its aspects, and one would likely have no shortage of content if they were to open a dedicated blog about the visual novel. However, such a project represents something that far exceeds my ability to handle, and so, for YU-NO, I’ve opted to kick things off with a standard-sized post about the anime. YU-NO opens with Takuya dealing with the aftermath of his father’s passing, and out of the gates, Takuya seems unaffected by things. He notes that he and Kodai never shared a particularly close relationship: Kodai had once been a cosmological astronomer of sorts, but the discovery of Mount Sankaku and its mysterious properties led him to pursue history, instead.
- Ayumi’s story provides viewers with a strong exposition to what YU-NO‘s universe is about: in the town of Sakamichi on the coast of Japan, there’s a mysterious geological formation that is quite unlike anything else in the area, and a company called Geotech is continuing research into the area and the Pyschite mineral, to the residents’ opposition. Ayumi is thus under a great deal of pressure to keep the project going, while at the same time, assuage the residents’ concerns. In several timelines, the stress causes her to commit suicide: Takuya comes to make use of the Reflector Device Kodai had given him to set things right, culminating in a clever plot to turn the tables on Kaori and Hideo.
- Kōzō is the principal of Takuya’s school. He’d been associates with Kodai and had known him for some time, but encountered an interdimensional being that would kill him and take his identity. The imposter Kōzō retains the original’s memories, and attempts to seize the Reflector Device from Takuya. However, as Kōzō, the being also is able to play a more social game, acting as the original Kōzō would. This creates a sense of unease around his character, as viewers are never too sure what his true intentions are early on, and further complicating things, Kōzō possesses a form of hypnosis that has a similar impact to the Imperius Curse.
- The artwork and animation of YU-NO‘s 2019 adaptation, while simple compared to some other works out there, are nonetheless of a solid quality. Details like the bulky base phones and CRT screens reinforce the idea that YU-NO is set in the 90s, a time before ubiquitous smart phones. In this slower time, conversations are more personal and heartfelt, and YU-NO conveys this in a highly convincing manner. Production was handled by Feel, a studio with an illustrious portfolio: Yosuga no Sora, Locodol, and Oregairu Kan are among some of their works that I’ve seen.
- While it might be disappointing to some, my earliest exposure to YU-NO actually comes from seeing this moment Mio on social media during its airing. In Mio’s arc, Takuya helps Mio deal with a scandal surrounding her father, the mayor of Sakamichi. Mio is set to transfer out of their high school and study abroad, but before then, she decides to explore the interior of Mount Sankaku. Her disappearance prompts Takuya and his best friend, Masakatsu Yuki, to look for her. In the tunnels of Mount Sankaku, Masakatsu dies, and Takuya resets, deciding to take Mitsuki with him instead. Under the influence of Kōzō, Mitsuki holds him hostage, but Takuya escapes and locates Mio, promising they’ll escape together.
Imperius Curse hypnosis magic that Kōzō wields makes him a formidable foe, and while both Takuya and the viewers might initially believe that alternate timelines simply meant that he’s more unhinged and unreasonable in one, commonalities that all of the timelines share hint that regardless of which space Takuya is in, some things are held constant. Takuya is not aware of this in Mio’s arc, and after saving Mio, he resolves to save Mitsuki, as well. Mio had long been jealous of Mitsuki for having a physical relationship with Takuya, driving one of the conflicts of her arc.
- Whenever Takuya completes one timeline and sets it on a stable course, he is sent back to moments before he succumbs to a powerful headache besides Mount Sankaku. Notions of infinite universes bring to mind the likes of Rick and Morty, where the concept is utilised to create a unique sense of humour. However, its surrealist humour and zany adventures have been overshadowed by a small subset of its viewers, who view Rick’s attitudes on the universe as appropriate. In Rick and Morty, Rick’s intellect and experience instills in him a sense of nihilism, cynicism, and narcissism as a means of coping with what he’s seen, but some viewers take Rick’s design as vindicating their own poor character.
- YU-NO, on the other hand, casts Takuya as a caring and kind individual, whose experiences simply make him more resolved to do right by those around him. He may be lecherous, but this is all done to lighten a moment up. The end result is a different kind of humour, and a different perspective of how parallel universes and time travel may impact an individual. By this point in time, Takuya is not surprised that Eriko is not who she seems: she’s been in pursuit of Kōzō for quite some time and explains his background to Takuya after Mitsuki, under Kōzō’s influence, relieves Takuya of his Reflector Device.
- In every timeline, Mitsuki ends up dying, but not before expressing her love for Takuya. The visual novel environment is a suitable place for exploring themes of causality, which deals in how cause and effect drives observable events in the world. This ends up being the main theme I got from YU-NO: that a balance exists between fate and free will, and specifically, that some things are preordained, but how severe an outcome is, as well as what it costs to reach it, can be influenced. The best analogy I can think of is a chemical reaction: the precise motions molecules take to interact with one another are stochastic and there can be an infinite number of paths they take, but the end result (the production of a product) will always be the same provided that the concentrations and conditions are held constant.
- Kanna’s arc follows, and for me, this was an enjoyable story, finally bringing all of the characters together. Knowing that Kanna is of importance now, Takuya attempts to befriend her, and learns that her stoic façade aside, she’s actually been longing for friendship. She opens up to Takuya, Mio, and Masakatsu, spending more time with their club activities. In the quieter moments, YU-NO presents a lighter atmosphere that offset the lingering questions viewers have while watching: a part of YU-NO‘s appeal is that the series keeps viewers guessing, but the cast of characters are also compelling because of their everyday interactions.
- Even in a science fiction mystery thriller, YU-NO makes room for the classic beach episode, which consists of an ordinary day far from the remainder of YU-NO, showing Kanna what an ordinary life as a high school student and friendship would be like. It strikes me that I’ve not looked at the cast for YU-NO yet. There are some familiar names: Kanna is voiced by Maaya Uchida (GochiUsa’s Sharo Kirima, Domestic na Kanojo‘s Rui Tachibana and Hiroe Hannen from Slow Start), Rie Kugimiya plays Mio (Toradora!’s Taiga Aisaka and Nena Trinity of Gundam 00).
- In Kanna’s storyline, she’s tailed by a mysterious man and ends up revealing that owing to her unusual physiology, she’s actually fifty and has been working as a fille de joie to make ends meet. Until she reunites with Takuya, she had nowhere to go: Kodai and Takuya’s biological mother had taken her in for a while, and she’d been alone ever since. The unknown man eventually spreads rumours about her, forcing Kanna to transfer, and when Eriko notices an unusual pattern in Kanna’s transfers, Takuya sets off to investigate.
- In a bit of foreshadowing, Takuya remarks that Kanna feels familiar, like family. Her arc culminates in a confrontation with the man following her, and after Takuya defeats him, Eriko appears to deal with Kōzō, who had been controlling the man. However, during the fight, the necklace Kanna has is damaged, and her life force begins draining from her. It turns out that Kanna’s physical health is tied to Psychite, and having created a save point after the necklace was damaged, Takuya has no other option but to retrieve more Pyschite.
- Takuya’s promise to Kanna sets in motion the events to the remainder of YU-NO: having now acquired all of the gems to the Reflector Device, Takuya has now the means of transporting himself to the mysterious land known as Dela Grante: reading Kodai’s texts and exploring Mount Sankaku with Mio helps Takuya to learn of its lore. The presence of another world leaves Takuya confident that Kodai is still alive in some way, and so, when the worst comes to pass, Takuya instinctively knows that this alternate world is probably his best bet for saving Kanna. He rushes off and asks Kanna to wait for him while he retrieves crystallised Psychite to save her.
- When Takuya materialises on Dela Grante, he encounters a beautiful mute girl named Sayless. It takes him the better part of a day to learn her name, and when Sayless brings him over to her place to rest, Takuya also meets the knight Illia. Takuya intends to cross the desert a short ways from the wooded area he’d landed at, but soon realises that the desert is so vast, crossing it does not seem like a possibility.
- Instead, Takuya spends most of his days training, learning swordsmanship from Illia and getting closer with Sayless. YU-NO taking Takuya to Dela Grante was a complete surprise and in fact, acts as the inspiration for the isekai anime that are so common in contemporary stories. However, while an unexpected twist, YU-NO‘s direction is neither unwelcome nor jarring: the series has long established that parallel timelines and worlds are possible, and Takuya’s biological mother may have have origins in such a world. Unlike contemporary isekai, many of which give only a limited idea of what an individual was like prior to their entry to another world, YU-NO establishes Takuya’s personality in the real world.
- As such, Takuya’s personality remains a constant, and Dela Grante never feels like an alien world as a consequence. Many contemporary isekai choose to slowly establish the characters’ old lives in a more incremental manner, creating suspense and anticipation in a different manner. In YU-NO, after Illia dies following a battle, Takuya and Sayless turn to one another for company, and thus, Yu-no is born. In the days following, life seems idyllic for Takuya; despite his surprise at how quickly Yu-no is growing, he cherishes the time he spends with both Yu-no and Sayless.
- YU-NO has its own ~After Story~ piece that similarly portrays a tragedy, that the protagonist must rise above. From what I’ve read, the segments of the story set on Dela Grante is supposed to be an epilogue of sorts, portraying the experience that Takuya has in retrieving the Psychite for Kanna. However, an epilogue is used to act as a comment following the denouement of a story, and from a narrative perspective, since we’ve not hit YU-NO‘s climax, it is inappropriate to count the Dela Grante sections as an epilogue.
- After Imperial Knights arrive at the cottage and attempt to take custody of Sayless, she commits suicide. Sayless’ spirit endures in Yu-no, and the two decide to travel across the desert subsequently in search of the Imperial Capital. The blistering sun is very nearly too much to bear, but right as Takuya and Yu-no are on the cusp of dehydration, they find an oasis in the vast desert. Deserts figure greatly in works of science fiction: their vast, unending expanse creates a mystique and desolation that acts as a visual metaphor surrounding the characters’ states. While effective in this function, I personally hate desert environments because of their monotony, and in games, desert maps are my least favourite settings to explore.
- YU-NO‘s 2019 adaptation features music from Ryu Kawamura, Keishi Yonao and Evan Call: the soundtrack features a wide range of music, from standard daily life pieces to tracks with a video game-like sound. However, the best incidental pieces in YU-NO are from Call, who had previously worked on Violet Evergarden‘s soundtrack. These pieces make use of string and choral elements to create a sound conveying scale and grandeur; Call’s compositions attest to the sense of mystery in YU-NO surrounding Dela Grante. Early in YU-NO, these tracks foreshadow something much bigger is in the works, and it is with Takuya’s arrival in Dela Grante that the scope of the myths and legends really becomes apparent. In this way, the soundtrack itself greatly augments the anime adaptation’s ability to create anticipation amidst the viewers.
- For the crime of “defiling the priestess”, Takuya is sent to a work camp where he is made to mine Psychite. In the process, he runs into two fellow prisoners, Kurtz and Deo, who resemble Masakatsu and Hideo respectively. While mining, Takuya begins exploring a means of escape and learns that the area is guarded by an electrical tower of the same sort underneath Mount Sankaku. When a red-haired women is brought to the camp, Takuya learns of a resistance group who intend to overthrow the Devine Emperor, which Kurtz and Deo are a part of. A plan is devised, and Takuya manages to retrieve a sword from Bazuku, the labour camp’s warden.
- In a thrilling escape plan, Kurtz and Deo incite the prisoners to riot, creating space to destroy one of the lightning towers, while Amanda and Takuya destroy the other after a confrontation with Bazuku. They are ultimately rescued by Kun-Kun, a humanoid lizard that Yu-no had insisted Takuya take in some time earlier. Amanda and Takuya reach the Imperial City and link up with the resistance, where they begin planning an assault on the Devine Emperor. Amanda’s conviction is strong, but through it all, she’s also incredibly lonely. Takuya’s presence and words helps her to lift her spirits, and the two share an intimate night together on the eve of the operation. Amanda greatly resembles Kanna’s mother, and it suddenly hits me that if this were the case, then Takuya would be Kanna’s father, which would explain why Kanna felt like family to Takuya.
- In the tunnels underneath the castle, Takuya encounters Yu-no and duels her, barely escaping. He makes his way into the castle interior and encounters Kōzō, but inadvertently frees him from captivity. Eriko appears to handle things, leaving Takuya to continue on. Inside the castle, Takuya runs into Yu-no again: after Yu-no plunges her sword into the Psychite-lined casket, her memories of Takuya return, and the two share a tearful reunion. At this point in the anime, each episode was so compelling that it was tricky to watch them one at a time, and I found myself watching them in pairs.
- Even in a series where surprises are expected, nothing prepared me for the revelation that Ayumi was the Devine Emperor. She reveals to him everything that’s happened: at some point, both she and Kōzō had arrived in Dela Grante from Phsychite creating a portal, and learns that Dela Grante had been constructed by prehistoric humanity in a bid to save themselves from a catastrophic impact event. However, Dela Grante’s orbit meant that every four centuries, it would be on a collision course with Earth. The Ritual, then, is to give the controlling computer, housing Grantia’s consciousness, a physical body that could operate Dela Grante’s navigation system.
- As time wore on, Dela Grante’s inhabitants fell into decline and forgot how to operate their own technology. Ayumi’s explanation and the Resistance’s simultaneous discovery of the truth would’ve been a shocking one. However, once the initial surprise wears off, everything in YU-NO falls into place. Takuya’s mother was from Dela Grante, and Kodai had been studying this civilisation extensively. These dialogues, at least for me, answer all of the questions I had about Dela Grante: altogether, YU-NO‘s storyline can be said to share similarities with Futurama, Rick and Morty, Halo and Portal. The scale of YU-NO‘s story is such that in the aftermath of its release, demand for character and lore-rich visual novels would inspire future creators, including Jun Maeda, who created Kanon, Air, CLANNAD and Angel Beats.
- Ayumi stops Amanda and the others from being executed: now the truth is in the open, Amanda realises they’d actually been fighting for a lie. To contemporary folks, the sunk cost fallacy and social media means that many would rather die fighting for a false cause than admit they were wrong, but in YU-NO, more sensible minds prevail. Amanda stands down from her original goal of destroying the Devine Emperor and instead, focuses her energies on helping the Devine Emperor to save Dela Grante and Earth. This smaller theme in YU-NO was touching, showing how with the right information, people can be persuaded to change their stances, and YU-NO also means to suggest that some systems exist for the betterment of the group, even if it is not immediately apparent.
- Such lessons do seem like they are forgotten (or rejected) in the present, based on current events and reactions to them on social media: were Amanda and the resistance to adopt the same blind devotion to their case as extremists do in reality, Dela Grante would be destroyed outright, and YU-NO would fail in its endeavour to tell a compelling story. This is fortunately not the case, and the former Resistance members actively help out on the day of the event. The transfer is a lengthy one, requiring half an hour to complete, and during this time, Kōzō reappears, wrecking havoc. In the fighting, Amanda is pulled into a dimensional portal and disappears.
- While the Resistance continues fighting the specters that Kōzō has brought in, Eriko appears, and aided by Abel’s spirit, manages to kill Kōzō once and for all. Abel had once been Eriko’s lover and fellow researcher who died after encountering Kōzō during his exploration of the multi-verse, and since then, Eriko joined an interdimensional task force with the aim of bringing Kōzō to justice. With her job done, Eriko departs, but owing to the interference Kōzō had caused, Dela Grante is on an inevitable collision course with Earth. Yu-no ultimately propels Del Grante back eight thousand years, and the impact event results in the floating continent’s destruction.
- In the present, Takuya returns and true to his word, delivers a Psychite jewel to Kanna, which will allow her to keep living. The events of the finale show that Kanna is indeed Takuya’s daughter, and his promised fulfilled, Takuya prepares to be sent back to Mount Sankaku a few days earlier. This time, armed with the full knowledge of what’s happened, he meets Yu-no again and resolves to remain with her unto eternity, bringing YU-NO to an end and in the process, also sets a new record for the shortest time it’d taken me to finish a twenty-six episode series: under a month.
- I am well aware that, despite the size of this post, I’ve only really just scratched the surface for YU-NO. Overall, as an anime series, YU-NO earns an A grade (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.0 of 10): while starting slowly, YU-NO is very engaging and successful in bringing together elements from a wide ranges of genres together, as well as condensing out the visual novel’s storyline out into a format that newcomers (like myself) can follow. With this post in the books, I will be returning in the future to host a collaborative talk with Dewbond, whose knowledge and enthusiasm of YU-NO is, together with Ecchi Hunter’s constant Mio screenshots, what got me into this party to begin with. Entering the final third of September, I will be looking to wrap up the shows I’d followed for the summer, and once I get a handle of how two simultaneous episodic reviews will work, I will start said collaborative project, which will aim to cover some things that I did not get to in this post.
I believe that YU-NO is the first full-cour anime I’ve watched since 2018’s Sakura Quest (I’m still procrastinating on Sword Art Online: Alicization at the time of writing); I went through the anime on behest of Shallow Dives in Anime’s Dewbond, who had been curious to learn of my thoughts on YU-NO. Having gone in without any prior knowledge beyond Ecchi Hunter’s posts about Mio, I had no idea of what to expect. On the other side of YU-NO, I see a series whose story would’ve been revolutionary for its time, boldly combining elements from multiple genres and successfully keeping things engaging without overwhelming the viewer. In its anime form, the intricacies of YU-NO are conveyed – it was a fantastic journey from start to finish, paced well to hold the viewer’s attention. In retrospect, I am glad to have gone through it after the whole adaptation had aired: towards the end, it become tricky to watch episodes individually, since I would become antsy with each cliff-hanger that I encountered. YU-NO is probably the fastest I’ve ever finished a twenty-six episode series, and in general, the faster I go through an anime, the more likely it is that I enjoyed it. However, this is not the end: Dewbond indicates that YU-NO invites further exploration, and the visual novel, which received a modern remaster with updated visuals in 2017, is supposed to touch on some of the elements that the anime adaptation did not. This is quite understandable – the anime was already brimming with activity, and consequently, some storylines were merged, modified or shortened for the sake of keeping the adaptation to a manageable length. There are some lingering elements that YU-NO‘s anime adaptation do not cover, so it is the case that the visual novel will be the authoritative means of gaining further insights into the remainder of Takuya’s world. For the time being, with the YU-NO anime in the books, I can say I thoroughly had fun with this series. Further to this, I find the 2019 anime adaptation to be a fantastic starting point for anyone who wishes to learn more about YU-NO before deciding whether or not the visual novel is for them.