So, here we are at the end of another year at least close enough to it anyway. It has been quite a year, easily one of the most interesting and difficult years of my life. But I hope that next year I can finally achieve the first step in my life goal at long last. Anyway, I end the year on an extreme high with what I consider a very great show which is……
Yuki Yuna is a Hero
2014 TV series, 12 episodes
Studio: Gokumi, Director: Seiji Kishi
Writers: Makoto Uezu, Takahiro and Osamu Murata
Yes I have been hinting at this review for quite some time. Yes, Yuki Yuna is a Hero has now become my new favorite anime recently. It is very telling when I have watched this show more times than most of the anime I have seen within the past year. But I find it to an interesting surprise yet as well as a show that offers something different to a genre that frankly needed something like this.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero involves the lives of the members of the Sanshuu Middle School Hero Club. The Hero Club is like a community service club, doing cleanup on the coast, holding plays for local kindergarten class and the like. The members include Yuna Yuki (the genki redhead), Fu and Itsuki (former a gung-ho big sis leader and the latter a shy timid imouto) and their smart but wheelchair bound friend Mimori Togo. But then one day their small town world is changed forever and they get thrusted into a new adventure. Said new adventure involves saving the world from trouble in the form of Vertexes, these otherworldly enemies of humanity with the sole goal to destroy the Shinju-sama, the guardian god of their world. The quartet of girls have been dispatched from the Taisha to protect the Shinju-sama by engaging the Vertexes in an alternate dimension to the world they live in.
What immediately strikes me about Yuki Yuna is how sincere it is, in terms of characters and story. Granted, at first glance, the characters come across as the types one would expect from a girls club anime but over time they expand into their own, experiencing some of the more interesting character arcs I have seen in anime. By the end, you end up caring for the girls in the Hero Club and if you don’t well you got an issue relating to their stories.
The story of Yuki Yuna is one about confronting adversity and overcoming it with hope and optimism. In other words, it amounts to being your own personal ‘Hero’. Yuna and her friends aren’t just heroes in regards to fighting off the otherworldly Vertexes, but because they also overcome their own obstacles in life as well. That’s why I love the slice of life aspects of the show as it adds in girls club slice of life story elements to better flesh out the characters and the strong group dynamic prevalent in the storyline (episodes 4 and 7 come to mind). Episode 4 is the first pure slice of life episode, focused on Itsuki and her overcoming her performance anxiety with regards to singing in front of the class. Episode 7 is the vacation trip episode which is probably the greatest slice of life anime episode ever, so soothing and pleasant. Some of the slice of life moments like the end of episode 3 are so much dawww and heartwarming it is sure to melt away any cynicism and doubt. Indeed while the story does venture into bleak territory it never loses sight of the innate hope and optimism that must be preserved. It also borrows elements from video games (vertex battles, MS transformations, party dynamics, energy levels, use of smartphones, etc) as well as the show does take some visual cues from Super Sentai.
But then the magical girl parts of the show aren’t anything to sneeze at either. Yuki Yuna inserts aspects of mythic legend into mahou shoujo, similar to what Rayearth did near 20 years prior. Except Yuki Yuna touches on something far more specific. Takahiro, the creator of the show, originally intended the show to just be an action-oriented mahou shoujo and in the episodes he wrote for the series (2, 5, 7-8, 10) a lot of that does appear. Episode 5 in particular is the best action set piece the series offers, and his episodes also glimpse into larger concepts: the nature of the good vs. evil struggle, recurrence of heroism throughout human mythology, etc. I still find very odd that this is the same guy who came up with Akame ga Kill but that just goes to show much of a versatile creative mind Takahiro is.
The production by Studio Gokumi is well-handled for the most part. Seiji Kishi is a bit of a hit or miss type director but here at least he strikes this one out of the park with some moments (episodes 5, 10-12 especially) where the productions excels greatly.Magical girl transformations are quite nice to look at and the battle sequences are a definite highlight of the series. Gokumi has shown to not disappoint in the past with shows like Kinmoza and A-Channel and they do the same if not more so. It goes along with the sincerity angle this show goes for as it is like the production crew is doing the best job they can and managed to pull it off here. The music done by Keiichi Okabe of Nier fame is a particular highlight for me and helps to cement those video game elements a bit more.
The English Dub is really good for the first 4 episodes, with Lex Lang directing combined with Caitlin Glass and Edward Murry writing the dub script. However, with episode 5 there comes a point where the english dub goes up a notch in terms of overall quality, with Chris Cason taking over as ADR Director/Scriptwriter. The reason for this shift are unclear but for the better in my opinion as that where the dub truly shines. Granted, the cast is very small but dedicated to their work which shows in the final product. Special mentions go towards Sarah Anne Williams as Karin and Erika Harlacher as Togo, they really nail their roles especially.
Now, the release history for this series is quite interesting. Right about the time the show was winding down near this time last year, I heard that Pony Canyon (a Japanese music production/publishing company) had obtained the license for release/distribution for Yuki Yuna in the States, in a cooperation with RightStuf.com. I became even more happy when it was announced that the show was getting an english dub and a nice DVD/BD/CD combo sets, though wished that they didn’t go with 3 separate sets instead of a complete collection set. I didn’t mind the price point so much, especially as it is for a show that I adore but I can understand why it was a turnoff for some. Granted, the show is available online through Crunchyroll and Netflix so hey at least you got options for viewing.
So, Yuki Yuna is a Hero is very great series in just about every regard. Now while I find Madoke to be the more thoughtful magical girl show, Yuki Yuna is certainly the more heartfelt one. It’s a very sincere effort in terms of character and story, with a nicely done production to boot. Of course, what really gets me is the English dub, easily one of the best I have heard this year. This show is well worth the price at least me being a superfan. Yuki Yuna is a Hero gets a wholehearted recommendation from yours truly, watch it and enjoy.
Have Happy Holidays and here’s to a New Year!