“When we appreciate how much we have, we feel the urge to pare down, get back to basics, and learn what is essential for our happiness. We long to realize what’s really important.” –Sarah Ban Breathnach
When Heroes from across several generations are summoned to attend Sanshū Middle School, Fū realises that the Hero Club lacks an udon dish. Heroes of different eras attempt at working out what makes the ideal udon, but despite their initial efforts, are unable to create a single dish that captures the Heroes’ essence. Undeterred, the Heroes decide to keep trying and enjoy the process. This is Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Churutto!, a spin-off series of shorts based off the 4-koma, Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Bouquet of Brilliance. In contrast with the serious nature of the original Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Churutto! (Churutto! from here on out for brevity) is a cheerful and light-hearted set of side adventures that are only tangentially related to the original story, giving familiar characters a chance to bounce off one another in a zero-stakes setting where the only objective is to devise and cook up a winning bowl of udon: the chibi art style emphasises that nothing of note will happen within these episodes, and in the end, Churutto! simply indicates that the journey matters more than the destination; as the Heroes from different eras come together to try and cook up a worthy dish, they get to know one another better, have a blast and realise that even if they’ve yet to succeed in their goals, the process is memorable and enjoyable.
Series such as Churutto!, Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! and the Strike Witches/World Witches Take Off! are more than spin-offs of their original series: they allow a series to simply let the characters relax and partake in calming, adorable everyday adventures far removed from the usual horrors and danger associated with their respective series. For better or worse, magical girl or military-moé have the unusual propensity for drawing in viewers with a deep-seated, persistent belief that every detail exists to be picked apart or criticised, from individual actions to technical aspect behind a world and its mechanics. Such discussions can appear excessively serious, so when spin-off series appear and place characters into gentle, humourous circumstances, the producers and creators typically mean to demonstrate that even though their regular series have a discernible goal and nontrivial amounts of danger, the same characters are very much human: when given the chance to kick back, away from their typical duties, magical girls and military-moé characters all have distinct personalities, along with their unique likes and dislikes. They have triumphs, and they make mistakes, the same as people in reality do. Shorts like Churutto! thus serve to show that at the end of the day, the characters are at the heart of every story; whether it be taking the fight to the Vertex, or fighting over which style of udon is the best, Churutto! stands alongside Slow Ahead! and Take Off! in demonstrating how, even without Siren or Neuroi, amusement can still be had. Consequently, when characterisation alone is already of a solid quality, placing them in a well-developed world with an appreciable threat creates a scenario where it becomes easy to root for the characters and follow their efforts towards success.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Churutto! is clearly for folks who’ve seen the whole of Yūki Yūna is a Hero and all of its spin-off series: being a novice myself, I’m unfamiliar with the other works, and as such, this particular series introduces a bunch of new characters I’ve never seen before. However, while I imagine seeing everyone would be a treat for people who are familiar with everyone, Churutto! itself is highly accessible. Episodes are only about a minute and a half long, following the super-sized Hero Club’s effort to make a new signature dish for themselves.
- Seeing three Yūnas side-by-side, acting in unison brings joy to Mimori, Chikage and Renge, each of whom are infatuated with their respective Yūna. A quick glance at the calendar indicates that it’s been a shade more than three-and-a-half years since I last wrote about Yūki Yūna is a Hero: in 2017, Washio Sumi is a Hero and Hero Chapter aired, extending the amount of animated materials to a series that had come to its own despite being thought of as being similar to Madoka Magica. These comparisons were drawn because both series featured magical girls fighting against very abstract foes and making great sacrifices to protect their world, only to learn that those running the world had played them for chumps.
- I myself picked up Yūki Yūna is a Hero at the behest of one of my readers, who’d been certain I would find the series enjoyable. This reader was not wrong: when I finished, I felt that Yūki Yūna is a Hero had been a more optimistic series. However, people do seem to insist that Yūki Yūna is a Hero is supposed to be a deconstruction (similar to Madoka Magicai), and unfortunately, from a semantics standpoint, this isn’t correct: deconstruction is the act of studying a work by assessing its components and their meaning, and in doing so, one can find meanings that even the authors might not have intended (similar to emergent properties in complex systems). However, the popular (and incorrect) definition argues that a work is a deconstruction if it subverts expectations and conventions for a given genre by being realistic.
- Unsurprisingly, Tango-Victor-Tango is behind this definition: misinterpretation of Jacques Derrida’s precepts resulted in this concept being taken to mean going contrary to expectations. Derrida had suggested that deconstruction involves creative, lateral thinking. Tango-Victor-Tango’s users, ever intent on imposing their own standards on literary theory, took Derrida’s terms to mean “how would fiction play out if the rules of real life were in play?”, and argued that real life makes everything in fiction darker and more cynical. By their terms, if a work causes the characters to encounter any sort of adversity or setbacks, it’d qualify as a deconstruction.
- This is, of course, untrue. There already exists a concept that describe works of this nature: “realism”, the practise of representing situations, individuals and outcomes in a manner consistent with the reader/viewer’s truth (i.e. the probability of a good or bad outcome can be described by a normal distribution). In other words, characters can’t unexpectedly suffer devastating misfortune with a low probability of occurring in their context any more than they should be saved by deus ex machina at the last possible second. Moreover, realism and cynicism are not necessary or sufficient conditions for one another – a work isn’t more realistic simply because there is more misfortune or cynicism in it, and a realistic work needn’t be cynical or dark in nature.
- Consequently, with these definitions in the clear, neither Yūki Yūna is a Hero nor Madoka Magica are deconstructions: they don’t analyse or break down the magical girl genre, but instead, present them in a different fashion where consequences of certain decisions are more consistent with what one might see if real people were presented with extraordinary circumstances. Viewers can naturally deconstruct these works and figure out elements of significance to them, but the works are not deconstructions in and of themselves. Of course, trying to correct a decades-long misconception at Tango-Victor-Tango is to invite a permanent ban from their rather touchy moderation team, and fights like these aren’t worth fighting.
- When I look back to the last time I wrote about Yūki Yūna is a Hero, we’d just entered 2018, and I finished writing about the last episode in Hero Chapter. Although that initially left me with more questions than answers, the extensive lore in Yūki Yūna is a Hero meant after a little bit of reading, I was able to understand what’d happened a little better. Hero Chapter aired late in 2017, a time when I’d been with my first iOS developer position for a year. It’s always a little shocking to see how quickly time flies by, and back then, I recall being a complete novice with things like UIKit and Autolayout. If memory serves, Hero Chapter‘s finale had aired in early 2018, when Yuru Camp△ first aired.
- Besides Yuru Camp△, the first bit of 2018 had been quite uneventful, but at around this time of year back then, I received word that there’d been a request for me to go and help bring a Xamarin mobile app to completion. Originally a two month project, the assignment saw me flying out to both Denver and Winnipeg to help out – while it was a very tough assignment, it was also quite instructive in retrospect, and I ended up pulling through by treating myself to a decent meal each and every evening. It suddenly strikes me that I would very much like to go back to some of these restaurants at some point in the future: for me, Winnipeg is only a stone’s throw away, and I remember enjoying two particularly wonderful dinners after long days at the office.
- While I did have the foresight to make a note of which restaurants I ate at during my business trip, I regret to say that both The Beachcomber and Mon Amis Brasserie in Winnipeg are closed now. This is unfortunate, because both places served excellent food, and Mon Amis Brasserie was particularly special because it was located on the Esplanade Riel Footbridge: the evening I went there, I enjoyed a delicious braised-pork belly burger to the sight of the Red River. Reminiscing about the places I’d been to before makes me long to travel again – I’d probably start by enjoying dinner out at a local restaurant first and then gradually set my sights on grander destinations.
- While my plans include returning to my favourite poutine place in the mountains, eating a hearty dinner downtown during the cold of the season just before Christmas, trying a local katsu joint whose food look very tasty, and giving ahi tuna a go at some point, it suddenly strikes me I’ve got no plans to go to a udon place. One of my friends has been itching to check out all-you-can-eat sushi places around town, too, and if memory serves, I’ve had udon to “fill up the corners” after an evening of sushi. I suppose that if my Churotto!-induced hankering for udon persists by then, I’ll definitely order some.
- Whereas I merely enjoy udon, in Churutto!, it quickly becomes serious business as the Heroes attempt to both work on the ideal udon for their club. From researching ingredients to creating the perfect bowl to serve it in, even if the girls’ efforts aren’t particularly fruitful, it was fun to watch everyone doing their utmost to contribute something to the project even if they weren’t particularly skillful at cooking.
- Sentinel team ends up deciding that they can at least Yakunara utsuwa mo and end up creating their own ceramic bowl, but in a manner reminiscent of Himeno and Mika, make something which, while creative, is totally impractical and ill-suited for comfortably eating noodles. Their final product is a sculpture that brings to mind the likes of the Vertex.
- Hoping to get at some divine inspiration, the Miko Heroes figure they might speak with the Shinjū directly. Itsuki subsequently shows up to do some fortune telling, but her tarot reading indicates death is on their horizon. This is completely unrelated to the udon, of course, but is a clever callback to when Itsuki’s lethal cooking very nearly kills Karin and Yūna.
- Hero Chikage had known nothing but loneliness all her life, but after meeting her team and their udon, her world completely turned around thanks to a bit of kindness and a simple bowl of Udon. This story would suggest that even simple gestures can convey a great deal. Here, Chikage is given a bowl of udon in its purest form: udon topped with Welsh onion, egg, dashi, mirin and soy sauce.
- Churutto! even parodies Aesop’s The Honest Woodcutter: when the Yūnas go missing, a search for them turn up a bronze, silver and gold Yūna. However, Chikage, Mimori and Renge have eyes for none but their own Yūnas, and Yūna Yūki’s natural disposition to befriend everything that moves means that the Aesop is completely lost.
- Sonoko, Mimori and Sumi end up being the judges for the udon contest, with Karin emceeing. It was rather enjoyable to see the characters’ old traits come out in a different context. The judges are presented with a creation set to act as the next big thing for the Hero Club, at least until a mysterious challenger shows up and presents a massive bowl of udon loaded with meat, soft-boiled eggs and other ingredients. Although there’s so much additional stuff that the udon are completely covered, Sonoko finds both immensely delicious.
- The outcome of Churutto! does seem to be that when it comes to udon, the sheer variety that is possible means that the Hero Club would be hard-pressed to find a single version that best represents them. This is similar to trying to determine what the best poutine or pizza is (e.g. the basic poutine is simply hot gravy and squeaky cheese curds on thick-cut fries, while cheese and tomato sauce on flatbread is the simplest possible pizza) – in their base forms, both are delicious, but are versatile enough so that a plethora of toppings could be applied to add flair to the dishes. This is why the Hero Club struggles to choose a single udon for their club.
- A part of the fun, then, is exploration – as long as the basic udon is nailed with dashi, mirin and soy sauce, the toppings would create variety and yield a delicious udon, whether it be pork, beef, chicken, tempura or any combination thereof. In the end, the Hero Club is unable to settle on just one udon and ends up sitting down to a back-to-the-basics udon while working out their next attempt. This brings Churutto! to a close, and with season three on the horizon, I am going to be watching it. At the present, I have no plans to do episodic posts for this season: Hero Chapter was special in that there had been six episodes, and these aired during the latter half of the autumn 2017 season.
- The chibi art style in Churutto!, with large heads, short limbs and little hands mean that the characters resemble infants – together with their mannerisms, Churutto! ended up being unexpectedly fun to watch (no different than K-On! or GochiUsa). After watching the first episode back in April, I ended up saving all twelve episodes until the season ended, then watched everything all at once. Since episodes only run for an average of ninety seconds, I finished the entire series in the time it takes to watch an ordinary episode to psyche myself up for the third season.
- With Churutto! and this post in the books, I’ve got no more posts planned out for the month of July. August is very nearly upon us, and I have a very special post planned out. This post is going to be about as long as my talk for Tenki no Ko, and because I also wish to knock out my talk for Yuru Camp△ 2‘s live-action drama and go over my experiences of DOOM Eternal now that I’ve cleared the Mars Core mission, there’s quite a bit of blogging to get done during the Civic Holiday long weekend. To ensure these posts are give proper attention, it means that I’ll be seeing readers come August!
While Churutto! is a welcome addition to the Yūki Yūna is a Hero series, news of a third Yūki Yūna is a Hero season comes as a bit of a surprise – Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter had ended on a very decisive note, and I had noted the series had made extensive use of imagery to indicate that Yūna and her friends have served their duties to the Shinjū in full. The Taisha were gone, along with the Vertex, and it appeared that the Hero Club were finally able to pursue their futures whole-heartedly, with Itsuki taking up the Hero Club’s presidency as Fū graduates and becomes a secondary student. Hero Chapter left no doubt in anyone’s mind that things were concluded in a satisfactory manner (even if it had left a few lingering questions), and as such, that there is going to be a third season at all means that one cannot reasonably enter with any expectations. The key artwork for this third season, titled Dai Mankai no Shō (Great Full Blossom Chapter) indicates that familiar faces are returning, and while it looks like a stretch, one cannot help but wonder if Churutto!‘s introduction of no fewer than twenty-seven characters, twenty-two of which are from different time frames, would mean that Great Full Blossom Chapter will see the Hero Club’s universe faced with some unprecedented threat on the scale of Thanos or similar, forcing the Shinjū to recall everyone for an Infinity War-style get-together in an attempt to deal with the aforementioned threat. Such a story could prove quite exciting, although given Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s past track record with world-building and pacing, such optimism is cautious at best. At this point in time, I do have plans to watch Great Full Blossom Chapter, and I am hoping that lessons from the earlier seasons are applied to make this one a solid adventure, as well.