“Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A world of optimism and hope. A ‘you can do it’ when things are tough.” —Richard M. DeVos
Yūna Yūki is a member of her middle school’s Hero Club, devoted towards lending a helping hand to all who require it. When mysterious entities known as the Vertex appear, Yūna and her friends wield the power of a Hero in order to defeat these enemies and protect the Divine Tree at their behest of the Taisha, their benefactors. However, the Hero system has a lethal trade-off, and as the Hero Club continues engaging the Vertex, they begin losing body functions as a result of awakening their powers. Faced with the prospect of fighting for the Greater Good at their own expense, Yūna and her friends’s predicament drives the narrative behind Yūki Yūna is a Hero (Japanese title: Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru): this is a magical girl series released back during 2014’s fall season and shares numerous similarities with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Among these similarities include a terrible truth about the system the heroes are fighting to protect, the characters’ temperaments and their portrayal as being alone in their struggles, the concept of fighting enemies in an extra-dimensional space and even elements in the soundtrack. Yūki Yūna is a Hero exists in the shadow of Madoka Magica, and although the series’ merits are contentious owing to the numerous elements shared, Yūki Yūna is a Hero manages to differentiate itself from Madoka Magica with respect to its central thematic element.
In comparison with Madoka Magica‘s magical girls, Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s heroes are chosen by the entity known only as the Taisha based on their amplitude. Yūna, Mimori, Fū, Itsuki and Karin are heroes as a consequence of a decision that they have no part in, and this difference sets Yūki Yūna is a Hero apart from Madoka Magica, where the girls take on the role and responsibilities of a magical girl because there was something they desired enough to give up their life for it. The singular problem of choice is thus stripped away from the girls in Yūki Yūna is a Hero: the anime explores how individuals might react to an undesirable truth in the knowledge that they never had a choice to begin with, and consequently, as Yūki Yūna is a Hero progresses, the actions that Fū and ultimately, Mimori undertake imply that in situations where individuals are drafted into a role without knowing the full picture will almost certainly experience considerable difficulty in accepting the reality when it becomes available. Similar points are brought up in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Harry constantly is haunted by how much Dumbledore had kept from him, and while Dumbledore held his secrets ostensibly in the name of keeping Harry safe, this also becomes a liability when Harry sets out to destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. In both cases, the appropriate course of action is a compromise, to let individuals know enough of the picture to carry out their task, but not disclose all details as to impede their progress. The Taisha very nearly become undone when Mimori is overwhelmed by the truth, and given their circumstances, Mimori and Fū’s responses are plausible reactions.
By removing the option of choice presented in Madoka Magica, Yūki Yūna is a Hero illustrates what happens in a system built on information hiding, but further suggests that people are strong: it’s ultimately Yūna’s belief in what she feels is right, and her ability to protect her friends, that allow her to annihilate the Vertexes and all threats to their world. In contrast with Madoka Magica, which insists that efforts and hope must give way to despair, Yūki Yūna is a Hero aims to present the opposite, showing that despair and failure is overcome when individuals with strong enough bonds and conviction strive to make a difference. There are no elements of Nihilism in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, and self-sacrifice is not painted as a preferable option. Paired with the fact that Yūna and her friends manage to make the most of things despite fighting a war they never chose to participate in, Yūki Yūna is a Hero winds up being more optimistic in nature than Madoka Magica. Some individuals regard this as a failure in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, suggesting that self-sacrifice is a heroic attribute in and of itself (by this logic, to shy away from self-sacrifice is to renege on what being a hero means, and this is completely false). However, this assumption is incomplete, failing to account for intent in a hero’s actions. It is this intent, the will to make a difference for the betterment of others, and the acceptance that some sacrifice will be required, that defines a hero. Like Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows, who intended to die to Voldemort and spare his friends, Yūna is prepared to do what is necessary with the aim of saving her friends. This determination and resolve makes Yūna a genuine hero worthy of considering herself thus. When everything is said and done, the experience that Yūki Yūna is a Hero confers on audiences is a decidedly different one than that of Madoka Magica: it is not to say that one is intrinsically better than the other, but rather, that each magical girl anime present a different take on what life as a magical girl is like.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The last time I did a recommendation about a mahou shoujo anime was three years ago, shortly after I had finished Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I find Yūki Yūna is a Hero to be a fine anime for applying a slightly different spin on Madoka Magica to present the alternate idea that optimism and hope is viable even in worlds where the protagonists are dealt a particularly poor hand.
- So, to continue in the tradition of recommendation posts about magical girls, this one is also formatted similarly, featuring a slightly larger collection of screenshots (thirty) and their usual complement of figure captions. One aspect of Yūki Yūna is a Hero that is distinct from Madoka Magica are the designs of the opponents and alternate dimensions where the protagonists fight. Whereas Madoka Magica relies heavily on imagery that has seen numerous fans analyse for the Witches’ backgrounds and philosophical value, the dimensions and enemies of Yūki Yūna is a Hero are more abstract in nature.
- Fū is the de facto leader of the Hero Club, offering support and guidance to the other members as they go about their everyday activities. She fights with a broadsword in combat, and similar to Mami Tomoe, she’s reasonably well-versed with the fundamentals of the Hero System and combat, fulfilling the role of a senior the others can rally around. The Hero System that powers the girls’ equipment, along with any communications from the Taisha, are run on smart phones as apps, and while it’s a clever sign of the times, their use also means that Yūki Yūna is a Hero could become quite dated if communications technology ever moves away from smart phones.
- If and when I’m asked, Mimori Tōgō is my favourite character: she’s most similar to Homura Akemi of Madoka Magica in appearance and manner, choosing to make her own decisions after researching any given topic to the best of her ability. This forms the basis for her nationalistic tendencies and motivation for fighting the vertices. There is one additional aspect about Mimori that leads her to claim the position of being my favourite character, and there are several screenshots in this post that should provide the justification for why this is.
- Karin joins the Hero Club, ostensibly to keep an eye on the other Heroes and monitor their combat proficiency. With the most experience of anyone in the Hero Club, her primary weapons are a pair of katana swords; Karin fulfills a similar role to that of Kyōko Sakura and even share a similar character development path, opening up to the other characters at Yūna’s persistent attempts to befriend her and bring her close to the group.
- Madoka Magica and Yūki Yūna is a Hero differ slightly in how they handle the depiction of their respective worlds: in the former, the world at large becomes increasingly cold and detached relative to the central cast as the girls become more entangled on the implications of being a magical girl, but in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the girls continue to be a part of their world even as they continue fighting the vertices that are encountered. This particular aspect is probably meant to hint at the idea that becoming removed or withdrawn in the face of adversity is probably one of the reasons why the magical girls in Madoka Magica fell prior to Madoka’s sacrifice.
- While Karin takes some time to warm up to Yūki and her friends, there are subtle signs even early on, that she’s begun to accept Yūki and the others. Here, they celebrate Karin’s birthday; visible on the table are cakes and sweets that are common to birthdays. I suddenly realise that I’ve never celebrated my birthday before with friends; all of my birthdays have been celebrated with family, and this year, I returned to Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse to take on the ribs-and-half-chicken dinner. I enjoyed every bite of the St. Louis maple bourbon ribs, smoked half-chicken, cornbread, steamed vegetables and fries, but this is about as much food as I can realistically finish in one sitting.
- In the downtime between taking on the Vertices (the enemy leviathans are singly known as “Vertex”), the Hero Club enjoys an outing where they partake in Karaoke. The fourth episode deals with Itsuki and her shyness preventing her from performing well on a music exam. She’s shown to have a great singing voice, and with encouragement from Fū and the others, she practises to ensure that she performs her best on exam day.
- This practise pays off, and it turns out Itsuki’s aced her exam. With all the other characters having a counterpart from Madoka Magica, Itsuki is unique in that she does not resemble Sayaka to any capacity, being a soft-spoken girl who greatly admires her sister, enjoys reading fortunes with her Tarot cards and fights with magical vines in combat. After this exam, Itsuki sets her sights on performing for others and participates in an audition of sorts.
- Prone position is one of the better stances for sniping, since one can absorb the recoil more easily , although Mimori’s assets may make it difficult for her to lie flat on the ground. Fielding ranged weapons in combat, Mimori wields a long range rifle, two pistols and has access to remote funnels, as well. Her transformation sequence is surprisingly fun to watch: a challenge I issue to readers is to see the minimum number of iterations that pass before one takes their eyes off the GIF.
- The mankai form (“full bloom”) that heroes take allows them to wield an extraordinary amount of firepower in combat for short periods of time after they’ve taken sufficient damage or expended a certain amount of energy (similar to the Revenge or Super gauges in Street Fighter IV). The tradeoff for this power is that the Hero loses a bodily function permanently, since the power comes directly from the gods.
- I wondered how well Hiroyuki Sawano’s themes from Gundam Unicorn would work with the Heroes activating their Mankai systems for the first time, and found the answer was “remarkably well”. Despite the initial similarities to the NT-D of Gundam Unicorn, the Mankai system is much more difficult to control or master, coming at an extreme cost to the user.
- One of the more notable aspects of Yūki Yūna is a Hero is the solid presence of optimism and humour even in light of the aftermath of the girls’ battle with the last of the Vertices. As a result of using their Mankai, Yūna loses her taste, Mimori suffers from hearing loss in her left ear, Fū loses sight in her left eye, and Itsuki becomes mute. In spite of this, everyone is in high spirits for having beaten the last of their enemy and looks forward to a speedy recovery.
- I remarked that the school rooftop in Madoka Magica represented the distance and uncertainty associated with being a magical girl in that universe, but in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the girls hang out up here during their breaks, where they share various conversations in a much more cordial manner. Here, everyone is looking forwards to some well-earned R & R following the successful completion of their assignment.
- Following their latest mission, the Taisha finance an all-expenses paid vacation for the Heroes. Fū and Itsuki enjoy some shaved ice on the beaches as their vacation begins in earnest, with traditional beach-going activities, such as swimming, watermelon-smashing and sand castle-building, coming out in full force. This episode marks the halfway point for the narrative in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, resembling the halfway point shift in Alien: Isolation where, after the Xenomorph is ejected into the void of space, players need only deal with hostile androids.
- In Cancún, the turquoise waters averages 26°C – 29°C; it is warm enough to feel like bathwater and is incredibly pleasant to wade through and swim in. Beaches in the southern regions of Japan attain similar temperatures and would yield an equally comfortable experience, giving Mimori and the others no problems in relaxing. This stands in stark contrast with the 11°C or so for beaches in Vancouver; at these temperatures, swimming for long periods without a wetsuit could grow uncomfortable for the uninitiated.
- Besides their accommodations, the Taisha have also arranged for exquisite cuisine to be prepared for Yūna and the others: crab, lobster and Kobe beef appear to be on their evening menu here. Seafood in the Prairie provinces is unsurprisingly expensive owing to the cost of transportation, and ever since experiencing fresh lobster in Boston a few years ago while travelling the Eastern Seaboard, I’ve longed to visit the Maritime Provinces to experience lobster and other seafoods.
- For the readers, here is the fourth “reason” why Mimori occupies the throne as my favourite character. I assure readers that this will be the last of such images: Yūki Yūna is a Hero switches to a more serious side after the eighth episode, which deals with the girls’ reactions to the revelation that their gods are acting for the Greater Good at their expense. This particular aspect of Yūki Yūna is a Hero became a polarising element, with at least one individual feeling “insulted” that Mimiori’s actions appear inconsistent with her establishment as someone who meticulously researches things.
- The individual in question is demanding that the authors hand them Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s main theme on a silver plate, claiming that elements, such as why Mimori chooses to fight against the others and why a system where recovery of lost body functions is purportedly impossible is reverted, are “unattended”. In response to this, I remark that Mimori is fourteen, an age where the frontal lobes have not fully matured yet to make the same decisions as adults. She reaches a particular conclusion through reasoning based on her experiences and while her decision may not completely be rational to viewers, applying an empathetic outlook will find that through Mimori’s eyes, her decision makes some sense.
- Karin and Yūki engage a Vertex together once it’s shown that new enemies have arisen, more than the initial twelve the Heroes had assumed to exist. Concerning the second point about how the Gods can turn the system around, this can be boiled down to the fact that the Heroes are dealing with Gods who can perform miracles, such as healing mortals. As it stands, it is quite unreasonable to expect that a story be consistently forwards all the time,
- Following their latest showdown against the Vertex, Mimori and Yūki meet Sonoko, a Hero whose frequent use of the Mankai deprives her of mobility. She explains that the Taisha work under the Shinju, deities that aim to preserve humanity for reasons unknown, and Mimori later learns that the “defeated” Vertices are constantly being regenerated in an endless cycle that will eventually see the Heroes reach a similar state as Sonoko.
- After Fū learns that their disabilities are permanent, she is pushed over the edge by the knowledge that Itsuki will never be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a singer and seeks to annihilate the Taisha on her own, wrought with guilt at having brought everyone into this mess. She engages Karin here, and it takes a bit of effort from Yūki and the others to convince her that they have no regrets for joining the Hero Club.
- Curiously enough, the tenth episode of Yūki Yūna is a Hero is functionally identical to the tenth episode of Madoka Magica in objective, telling Mimori’s story in flashback and explaining where she’s coming from in order to explain why she’s about to carry out the actions that she does. Some viewers believe that the sudden inclusion of all of these elements “forces” drama in a bid to engage the viewer’s pathos, being “cheap” and “manipulative”. However, this is not a point that can be held against Yūki Yūna is a Hero: the anime as a whole aims to show the opposite message of Madoka Magica in that being together is how individuals can overcome seemingly overwhelming adversity.
- This is why Mimori is depicted as attempting to make the decision of ending the world on her own, and why it is Yūki and the others who convince her otherwise. Here, Karin engages no fewer than five Verticies on her own, engaging the
NT-D Mankai in order to defeat them more quickly at great personal cost. By this point in time, Karin’s completely embraced the Hero Club’s five core tenants and is fighting for something precious to her. While I would have included a pantsu screenshot here, so chaotic were the angles, the more serious tenour of Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s second half means that would be quite unnecessary.
- Repeated use of her Mankai costs Karin her sight, hearing and right limbs, prompting Yūki to enter the fray and bring an end to the madness. Concerning the sort of madness that I’ve heard surrounding discussions of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, it appears that it’s limited to only a handful of individuals who, to use an idiom, missed the forest for the trees. Thus, while the ending comes across as unclear and ambiguous for them, I find that it’s actually reasonably clear what Yūki Yūna is a Hero is about. For that, Yūki Yūna is a Hero is hardly a “full-fledged failure”.
- Blue-on-blue combat occurs as Fū tries to stop Mimori from realising her plans, but Mimori is willing to resort to any means of ending everyone’s suffering by bringing about the end of their world, eventually removing Fū from the combat. This leaves Yūna the only Hero left to stop her, and taking a leaf from Junko’s advice to Madoka about doing something out of the ordinary to stop a friend from making a mistake, Yūna closes the distance and decks Mimori in the face, before sorting things out through talk rather than force.
- While I found the themes and message in Yūki Yūna is a Hero to be acceptably presented, I acknowledge that it can be a little difficult to ascertain what they are. However, there is one review out there that demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be a hero and misses the entire point of Yūki Yūna is a Hero. The claims are as follows:
The problem here is that Yuki Yuna is a Hero wants to have its cake and eat it too; it advocates heroism, repeatedly pronouncing the tenets of the Hero Club as if they were the Buddha’s Five Precepts, but it denounces self-sacrifice. Puella Magi Madoka Magica flagrantly thumbs its nose at the law of physics that says energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it understands the deeper truth that this law of physics embodies, that nothing comes from nothing, that an effect cannot be greater than its cause, that everything in the real world has costs and benefits: Madoka is able to save the world by self-sacrifice, and her self-sacrifice is only possible because of what Homura has already done for her. Outlandish as the story is, this reflects reality—a hero can change the world, but he cannot bring benefits into being with no cost, because nothing comes from nothing. Out of what can a hero possibly make a better world, except his sacrifices? This principle is so fundamental that story structure demands it: we expect the conclusion of a story to arise out of what has gone before, and when it does not, we balk at it. Thus the ending of Yuki Yuna falls flat because its underlying message is wrong. In the end, Yuki Yuna is not so much a Hero as she is a Deus ex machina, and of a particularly blatant variety. The show intends to praise heroism, but instead inadvertently makes light of it because it shies from what heroism demands.
- By this logic, if a hero does not sacrifice themselves totally for their cause, they are not a hero. This contradicts the underlying definition of a hero and does not reflect reality: a hero is an individual who sacrifices at least some of their personal concerns or values for a cause. Yūna, aware of what her continued fighting entails, decides to accept them in exchange for her friends’ safety. This is consistent with the definition of a hero. Similarly, the claim that Madoka Magica succeeds where Yūki Yūna is a Hero fails is completely false; Madoka’s total sacrifice, though creating a better world in the short term, ultimately leaves her unable to prevent and precipitates Homura from rebuilding the universe again for her own visions of protecting Madoka in Rebellion Story, undermining Madoka’s sacrifice completely (and with it, the entire comparison).
- Even supposing that the misconceptions that a hero necessarily must experience the consequences self-sacrifice to be of any worth holds true, the statement fails to account for intent. Yūna decides to place her own health on the line with the intent of saving Mimori, Fū, Itsuki, Karin and their world. This choice is what makes Yūna a hero, and that she later recovers from her coma is merely a bonus, suggesting that not all sacrifices need to have permanent consequences. Far from the misconception that “the underlying message is wrong”, Yūki Yūna is a Hero comes through successfully with its message and paints a more optimistic, neither better nor worse, alternate message to that of Madoka Magica.
- Ultimately, Yūna’s sacrifice results in a coma that she recovers from, and similarly, the other heroes recover from their injuries, as well. The rationalisations of the Taisha and Shinju are not expressed to viewers presumably because they would be beyond our comprehension. Considering their status as Gods, this is not unreasonable. There is one limitation in Yūki Yūna is a Hero that is not so easily explained, and that lies with the aftermath of Yūna’s actions; the girls now know that their world is a sham, being similar to what would happen if Neo had taken the Blue pill that Morpheus offered, with the exception that the Blue pill did not wipe one’s memories.
- With this caveat in mind, I find that the idea of the girls’ returning to their routine and living every day to their fullest, even in light of this knowledge that the world sucks, to be an appropriate one. People find the most meaning in their lives when they learn to make the most of their situation. Yūki Yūna is a Hero imparts the message that life can be lived with an optimistic outlook, and this brings this review to a close. I note that my perspectives on Yūki Yūna is a Hero mirrors my own outlooks on life. Not everyone will share this belief, and it’s quite acceptable to explain the merits of other viewpoints in the comments provided the discussion focusses on the ideas themselves.
Yūki Yūna is a Hero will likely continue to remain in the shadows of Madoka Magica, but the anime itself represents a solid anti-thesis and complement to Madoka Magica, making it worth watching. Thus, my final verdict is that this anime earns a recommendation for fans of the magical girl genre or those who greatly enjoyed Madoka Magica. While not all of the charm from Madoka Magica carries over to Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the different take on things is sufficient to merit watching. For fans whose interest lie outside of the genre, Yūki Yūna is a Hero can be worth watching, as well: enough of the details of this world are presented so that the narrative is self-contained (leaving only a few minute holes), leaving the decision of watching down to personal preference. From a technical perspective, Yūki Yūna is a Hero remains of a generally high quality with respect to both its animation and aural aspects. I certainly enjoyed watching Yūki Yūna is a Hero and seeing where the theme would end up: I’ve never been particularly fond of the belief that “grimdark” confers additional weight or value to a story per se, and it is refreshing to see Yūki Yūna is a Hero remind audiences that making the most of one’s circumstances with an optimistic outlook results in a worthwhile existence.