The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter
How would you rate episode 1 of
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter ?
What is this?
After stopping the Vertex's final assault against the Shinju, the girls of Sanshu Middle School Hero Club lose their fairies but regain the bodily functions they have lost to their Mankai forms, seemingly marking an end to their days as heroes. What else is there for these girls to do then, other than simply enjoy their youth? The gang tries out a variety of activities, helping out others and enjoying some well- deserved R&R along the way. There's even time to question where they'll really go next, their lives finally seeming to be their own. But of course, circumstances for this team can never be that kind, and a new conflict looms on the edges preparing to drag the Heroes into putting their lives on the line again.
How was the first episode?
Context is important. In a vacuum, I would have hated this episode. It's basically just cute girls doing cute things: the anime. They form a band, play airsoft, go camping, hit up the beach and various hijinks ensue. It's light, fluffy, and utterly aimless.
However, in context, this is a much-needed episode. While it is hard to remember while watching this episode, Yuki Yuna is a dark magical girl anime along the lines of Madoka Magica and Magical Girl Raising Project. In the past, each of these girls have basically been tortured—used as weapons to fight a war they knew little about. In the process, they lost the use of their limbs, went blind/deaf, or had large chunks of their memories destroyed. Hell, Sonoko spent more than a year trapped in a completely broken body—and forgotten by the friend she sacrificed it all for. So if anyone deserves a 22-minute montage filled with happiness and merriment, it is them.
That said, it's nice to see that our heroines have not forgotten their past trauma even with all the silly fun going on. Washio in particular is clearly still struggling with all that has happened—even with it all seemingly behind her. Sonoko is likewise dealing with the fact that she suddenly has a future again—something that likely seemed impossible to her only weeks before. She has a lot of catching up to do if she wants to live a “normal” life once more—not that that really seems to be much of a possibility given the final minute of the episode.
All this brings us to the elephant in the room: despite being the third season of the show, The Great Mankai Chapter is not a sequel, nor is it a prequel like Washio Sumi. Rather, this one seems to be an interquel set directly after the ending of the first season but before the events of the Hero Chapter. This raises all kinds of questions—like why our heroines never mentioned the events of this anime before. Or perhaps, what we are watching is a different way the story could have gone—a parallel/alternate reality to the one where the Hero Chapter took place. Either way, it should be interesting to see how things unfold moving forward.
Coming off of the ending for the last season of Yuki Yuna Is a Hero (as much as you can remember anyway, given that it was four years ago and not currently available streaming anywhere), you might question where this new entry would even go. The Shinju is out, the world is slowly but steadily being rebuilt, and our erstwhile Hero Club really deserves some time off from the nonstop downer things were previously. To that end, it makes perfect sense for the show to shift into full, directly-called-out, slice-of-life mode for this premiere. The characters and their quirks are defined enough that we can kick back and enjoy them playing music, competing in airsoft, and going camping while trying not to concentrate on the fact that the world almost ended for like the second or third time just a little while ago.
For all that this first episode is 95% faffing about, it is admittedly lovingly-rendered faffing about. It's nice that even as we've seen these poor kids be put through the physical and emotional wringer several times now, they haven't lost the spirit that lets them act out skits like the silly goobers they still are. Nogi's probably the MVP for this kind of content, in that case. She's come a long way from the tragic backstory prop she was back in the first season, sparking situations and antics that all the other girls can bounce off of as this episode goes on. And it's filled with energetic, expressive character animation depicting it all; They didn't need to go that hard on the rock-band opening bit, but they did anyway. It's all an appreciable reminder of the general good will the concept of a 'Hero Club' built up in this series, as we see the characters hang out and help out others in simple, real-world ways apart from any transforming monster-battles. Of course, the shadow of that necessary turn in the plot looms large over the very existence of this premiere.
Yuki Yuna as a series has always generally toed the line with its pathos potentially tripping into out-and-out misery porn, something the back half of the second season quantifiably got dragged down with. As such, even the catharsis of that one's eventual release seeks to be inevitably undercut, as the opening tease of yet another massive magical-girl battle, as well as the final seconds of the episode, make clear that these poor girls just aren't going to be able to catch a break. Given the series has always struggled with tangibly managing its emotional manipulation with its habit of simply slamming some sort of reset button at the end of every pointedly-exhausting act, it stretches credulity regarding how we're actually supposed to feel going into yet another harrowing struggle that's going to emotionally scar everyone.
That's a reckoning for the series overall more than this first episode on its own, but three seasons in, I think it's a necessary one. If you're endeared enough to the Hero Club that you're tuning in for a third season, you'll probably get enough base entertainment out of their screwing around in this premiere, and there are even moments of reflection from the likes of Togo that would fit thematically even if we didn't know another conflict was coming up. But it's hard not to head into a third round of this series clearly gearing up for its usual cycle with any more enthusiasm than a simple "Well, here we go again".
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