YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world.
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. ?

You have to wonder what YU-NO is even doing this season. It's not just that the source material is well over drinking age, this type of adaptation practically had to time-travel just to get to this era. Adaptations of isekai light novels may be all the rage now, but back in the late 90's and early 2000's, anime versions of ponderous hentai visual novels (sans the porn) were all the rage. Now this new take on YU-NO has invaded 2019 to remind us why we were happy to switch to RPG worlds and magic high schools.

Visual novels have come a long way since 1996. Even the latest versions of Fate/stay night fast-forward through the miasma of introductory text-walls or apply some directorial style to the proceedings. YU-NO opens exactly as you would expect, with our self-insert protagonist Takuya bumping into different ladies to have informative conversations with them about the plot, one after the other. There isn't much chemistry between Takuya and his numerous prospective romantic partners, so these walls of exposition are mostly in service of setting up building-blocks for the story ahead.

One upshot of this anime's heavy indulgence in exposition is that its potentially-complex story has gotten pretty easy to follow. The mechanics of the time-travel have only been relevant in passing moments so far, but the layman's explanation they give for how it works, the alternate universes it creates, and how consequences can spin out into timelines where there initiating events didn't technically happen should all scratch that harder sci-fi itch for certain audiences. However, the flip-side is that if a story is going to go this deep into the particulars of its temporal systems, it needs to start doing something compelling with all that world-building. So far, Takuya's only used his magic time-travel remote-control artifact to save-scum fighting some thugs at the end of episode two. And as funny as it was to see this dork create infinite alternate universes where he gets the crap kicked out of him, it hardly fulfills the promise of its premise in an exciting way.

Another issue with the show is Takuya himself. It's not simply that he's crass or unlikable, though as the type of charmer who greets a new transfer student by stripping in front of her, that's certainly part of the problem. It's more that beyond being a crude jerk to most of the women in his life, he doesn't have much else going on in terms of personality. This is likely an artifact of his former player character status, where he didn't have much to interject into narratively dense conversations beyond the odd snarky comment, but it leaves him meandering in terms of motivation and desires. He seems like he wasn't too fond of his late father or his research, but he keeps following up on the mystery anyway. Virtually the entire third episode is devoted to him watching his step-mom's troubles with her construction project, while just running errands for her or being vaguely supportive.

That third episode is a real question-mark for the plot and pacing of the show. The second actually seemed to build on a few of the mysteries Takuya was investigating, while showing off how the time-travel mechanics worked. But episode three shelves all that almost entirely for a focus episode on step-mom Ayumi and Takuya's relationship with her (and given the source material, you can place your bets now on where that relationship ended for most players). But the end result feels like a joke-free Parks & Rec episode, highlighting the major issue with this adaptation's old-school structure. Even without any sex (yet), all the scenes of Takuya flirting with various girls are still present, seemingly relying on all this open-ended flirting to fill space between the ominous time-travel story at the heart of the plot. As ponderous as it already was, this kind of filler makes the show feel like it's taking even longer to get to the point.

I don't want to come off like I really dislike YU-NO or even think it's necessarily bad. Indeed, several elements introduced in the second episode are fairly compelling, and I hope the story follows through on them in interesting ways. But three episodes in, this series feels like it isn't sure what it wants to be, which is surprising for a story that had twenty-three years to figure that out. Clearly something resonated enough in this story to make it a success back in the day, but this adaptation has little character or flavor so far. Maybe like so many of its visual-novel brethren, YU-NO will take off later in its run after everything is finally set up, but a show like this shouldn't make me wish I could time-travel past all that to get to the good stuff.

Rating:

YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.


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