The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love At The Bound Of This World
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YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. ?
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I'll admit, I was hoping for more from YU-NO. As an adaptation of a sprawling scifi visual novel originally released way back in 1996, and with a subtitle as grandiose as “A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World,” I was anticipating significantly more madness in this first episode. Unfortunately, though this episode opens with clocks and trees spinning through space as a baby cries in the distance, it soon resolves into a pretty conventional visual novel adaptation, with all the usual attendant issues.
Most of this episode is taken up with introductions of all the presumed route heroines, making for an unfocused and pretty dull experience. We watch as our protagonist Takuya wanders around his hometown and school, sharing random conversations with a wide array of attractive women. Over the course of these conversations, we learn that his parents are dead, his adopted mother Ayumi is involved in some suspicious construction project, and his dead father was an archaeologist with an interest in parallel worlds. Eventually, all of these hints converge in the most predictable way possible, as a naked girl from space appears, Takuya is asked to hand over his father's dimension-hopping device, and then everything resets into another timeline.
The actual plot of YU-NO so far seems to be “the most common parallel world narrative told very slowly,” with this episode's predictable turns made significantly less compelling by its extremely slow pacing. Adapting sprawling visual novels into anime is always a tricky feat, because visual novels are stuffed with idle conversations that don't tend to work in animation, but YU-NO doesn't make any efforts to address that issue. Additionally, the dialogue isn't too compelling, and Takuya himself isn't actually likable—he pulls off an “it must be your time of the month” joke within five minutes, and this episode's biggest theoretical joke is him ripping off his clothes to leap at a new transfer student. Couple all that with the generally middling visual execution, and you end up with a production that's probably an easy skip whether you're a fan of the source or not. Adapting visual novels to anime effectively is always tricky, and YU-NO unfortunately demonstrates many of the reasons why.
I went into YU-NO knowing nothing about the anime's origins. After doing a little more research, I'm of two minds about this show. Taken simply as an anime premiering in 2019, YU-NO feels like the weirdest kind of throwback. It's not that harem anime have disappeared by any means, but they aren't this overt anymore. YU-NO is right in the thick of its era of horny though, right down to orphan teenage boy Takuya attempting to (and probably successfully) sleeping with the adult women in his everyday life.
The episode opens with Takuya getting a face full of the school nurse's panties. I don't think I've seen “school employee wears bondage to work” in a while, and the sexy school nurse trope is mostly retired. It was a major staple of harem games in the late '90s and early 2000s though, and it's the first clue that this show is based on older material. The rest of the episode plays out much like the first 45 minutes of a harem visual novel, with Takuya walking around school and encountering various potential girlfriends ranging from the school's idol to the new transfer student to his own adoptive mom.
The story climaxes with a sci-fi-jargon-filled explanation for a premise adjacent to Steins;Gate. Takuya is going to spend his time hopping through parallel world lines, interacting with ladies, and uncovering a nefarious plot. The comparison might not seem fair; the YU-NO visual novel predates Steins;Gate by at least a decade, but it was incredibly popular for its time and likely inspired a lot of media after its release. Still, it's now decades after YU-NO's big break, and the media it inspired is far more familiar to modern otaku than the original floppy-disk hentai game. Releasing an anime adaptation now without effort to update it seems like a risky move. I'm not sure I'll keep watching if it doesn't manage to elevate itself beyond its seedier aspects.
I'm having a bit of a hard time getting a firm grasp on this episode. In part that's because it commits one of my personal cardinal sins of storytelling by introducing far too many named characters right off the bat, but it's really more an issue of simultaneously feeling like I've seen/read this story at least a hundred times before and recognizing that this is desperately trying to do something different with the parallel worlds formula. That makes it a mix of both the interesting and the tired – elements such as the obviously evil man, the too-cute mom figure, and the mysterious naked girl are as grizzled as the evil guy's beard, but Yuki, protagonist Takuya's best friend, seems like he's got more going on than the usual supporting character, and Mio, one of the many potential love interests, thus far doesn't fall into any of the usual tropes, or at least not excessively. That does seem to indicate that there's some potential here. Likewise some good details are present in the artwork that remind us that the story is based on a game that originally came out in 1996 – from Takuya's house phone to the neat stack of coins on top of the payphone Yuki uses, it's a nice subtle way to let us know when the story takes place.
That is largely overwhelmed, however, by the more glaring issues with the episode. For one, Takuya's kind of obnoxious in a blandly flirty way; his little trick of leaping out at new student Kanna and stripping is pretty gross, as is his propositioning his homeroom teacher, no matter how much she seems to be in on the joke. While I appreciate that there are attempts being made to show that Takuya's not just a twit, but rather a person with both awkward and serious components to his personality, the tendency to lean in to the supposedly funnier pieces undermines much of that. The same can be said of the “mysterious” aspects of the story, which feel rushed as plainly evil Dr. Ryuzoji asks about artefacts that Takuya's recently deceased father may have left him and lightening strikes occur on the tidal island where stands a stone with strange inscriptions that Mio and Yuki are currently investigating. In the episode's defense, this may be needed to get the story going; visual novels have more leeway with world building than anime does in terms of time granted.
The most interesting aspect of the episode for me is the line Takuya reads in a book sent to him by his father: Time is reversible, history is not. That could have a lot of implications for the story and the idea of parallel worlds going forward, as it seems to say that you can go back in time all you want, but you'll never be able to change actual historical events. While the idea that history is resistant to change is a fairly common one in time travel stories, I haven't seen it as often in parallel world tales, and that could be where this series manages to make its mark. It may be worth giving this a second episode just to see if it tones down some of its less appealing aspects and gets into this idea.
It was only a minute or two into the premiere of the exhaustively titled YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. that I said to myself, “Ah, I see. It's based on a harem romance visual novel. Probably a really old one, too.” Maybe it was the inexplicable narration and faux-artistic visuals that opened the episode, or maybe it was the fact that one of the first visuals we get is of the teenage main character, Takuya Arima, gazing straight up his teacher's skirt and into her crotch, but that was about all it took for me to get that old sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It isn't that I hate visual novels, or even anime based on visual novels – it's just that I've been around the block enough to smell the real stinkers from a mile away, and Yu-No busts out so many of the genre's worst tricks that the show might as well be Pepe le Pew, which would make me the poor cat that gets traumatized by the pervy skunk week after week.
Here's the biggest problem that Yu-No faces right out of the gate: its method of adapting a twenty-five year old visual novel consists of spending a solid 75% of the episode introducing its story and cast in the laziest way possible; Takuya wanders around his school and neighborhood while each character of note arrives, one after the other, to dutifully announce their presence and spew some exposition that may or may not be relevant at a later date. There's no plot to speak of until the last five minutes of the episode, and the preceding eighteen minutes were so fantastically boring that I wouldn't blame anyone who checked out well before then.
We learn that Takuya's father was a famous archaeologist who is now dead, we meet all of the women (and the one token bro) in Takuya's life. There's the frosty Mio, and Kanna, the mysterious exchange student, Kanna, as well as Mitsuki, the lusty secretary of the duplicitous Kouzou Ryuzoji We also meet Takuya's stepmother, Ayumi, who Takuya addresses on a first name basis, and she looks so much like any other high-schooler that I initially thought the whole “mother/son” thing was just an inside joke the two shared. Also, there's a naked elf girl that Takuya runs into on the beach, who naturally makes out with him before disappearing into a cloud of faerie dust or something.
Some shows can get away with spending so much time in the setup stages, but Yu-No's art is too flat to make any of these character introductions interesting, and the people themselves have almost no personality to speak of. This isn't surprising, since I can't think of a single line of dialogue that didn't serve as a blunt instrument of clumsy exposition. Takuya is supposed to be our anchor to this story, but his only defining character trait is that he's a horny creep. By the time the plot finally emerges, and Takuya is being confronted by Kouzou about alternate universes and time-travel technobabble, I was struggling just to stay awake for the end-credits. Putting together this Preview Guide is all about identifying which of the spring's premieres are able get their hooks into an audience for the rest of the season, and in that regard, this show falls flat on its face. If you're a dyed-in-the-wool fan of ero-game adaptations, Yu-No might possibly be worth a look, but I plan on avoiding it at all costs.
This title has a bit of an unusual path getting to TV series form, as it started out as a visual novel whose original ero game version dates to 1996. A four-episode hentai OVA version was made in 1998 and released in the States in the early 2000s. In recent years the game has been remade (presumably in a tamer form) and rereleased on Vita and PS4, which is probably what resulted in a full TV series finally being made for it.
Anyone familiar with the ero game adaptations which were popular in the mid-to-late 2000s can probably guess this one's origins even without knowing all of that, as the overall structure of the first episode is very similar to such series: the male hero wanders around, encountering and interacting with many pretty girls that are presumably all potential love interests, until some semblance of a plot finally kicks in. The most interesting thing about this variation – aside from the fact that parallel-world-hopping will apparently be a key element, of course – is that multiple of the apparent potential love interests are adults, including his relatively young stepmother, maybe a teacher, and definitely the secretary of his father's associate, who is implied to have already had a secret relationship with Takuya. Of course there's the mysterious transfer student, the probable-tsundere girl, and the even more mysterious elfin girl who is probably Yuno, so there's lots of options to explore. And what better way to manage such a scenario than to literally have him jump between worlds to explore the possibilities with each girl?
Of course, I may be getting ahead of myself on the plotting, and there may actually be more to it than that. Still, it would be quite amusing to see such a series just go full meta and run with the notion that the male protagonist really is hopping between alternate universes to woo each girl. Nothing about the technical merits here stand out but they aren't bad, either. More quibbles could be raised at the outlandish way that the one female teacher dresses or that Takuya is coming across as a half-hearted effort to duplicate Sakuta from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. At least its ambitious names suggests that it might be striving for a little more, as it is undoubtedly a reference to the award-winning 1968 Harlen Ellison short story “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” which was also essentially about cross-time/cross-dimensional funny business. Hence there's hope that the series could eventually amount to more even though its start looks pretty generic so far.
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