Reviewby James Beckett,
YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world. Part 2 BD
Ever since his father disappeared and left him with the reality-hopping powers of the Reflector Device, Takuya Arima's life has been complicated, to say the least. He's cheated his own death and the loss of his loved ones countless time in his quest to unravel the conspiracy going on with his hometown and the ancient powers that lie buried beneath it. He's also experienced his fair share of love and romance too, and as Takuya becomes closer to the many women in his life, he begins to realize the staggering scope of the mysteries he's pursuing. One secret in particular threatens to completely upend everything Takuya has ever known and plunge him headlong into a battle beyond his comprehension. With the fate of countless realities hanging in the balance, Takuya's only hope lies in Yu-No: The girl who chants love at the bound of the world.
When I first started watching the entirety of 2019's YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world., I was only dimly aware of its source material's reputation amongst visual novel fans. Eventually, I learned that the much-lauded 1996 game is basically considered the Ur-text for some of the most beloved projects of recent years; it has influenced everything from Fate/stay night, to Clannad, to the Phoenix Wright franchise, though it's most obvious successor is Steins;Gate, which I've come to realize borrows liberally from plot-points and concepts that can be traced directly back to YU-NO. If nothing else, I was eager to see if this newest and supposedly complete adaptation of the show would live up to its legacy.
The first thirteen episodes of YU-NO, which precede the final thirteen (and a half) available on this Blu-Ray from Funimation, were incredibly hard to get through. Admittedly, a lot of YU-NO's rough edges come down to it having influenced media of all kinds for nearly thirty years. YU-NO's dimension-hopping premise and heavy reliance on dating-sim tropes felt incredibly dated and corny to me, but I can see how they might have worked really well for the audience of the time. Likewise, the way it handles its science-fiction and romantic elements often feels terribly dry and straightforward, but I can't really blame YU-NO for all of the shows and games I've seen that improve upon the ideas that YU-NO lays the groundwork for. What I can blame YU-NO for, though, is that a lot of its writing is just plain awful, whether you're judging by the standards of 1996 or today.
For one, Takuya Arima makes for an absolutely insufferable main character. His default attitude comes across as one smug, detached dullness, which is only punctuated by the ridiculous amount of sex-jokes he makes, or the occasions where the script calls on him to feel sad or angry about one of the girls he is maybe or maybe not in love with, though it never takes more than a scene transition to bring him right back to acting perpetually bored and disinterested in all of the crazy sci-fi nonsense that's happening around him. Funimation's English Dub, while taking some noticeable liberties with small details in its dialogue, is mostly fine, though Eric Vale's English performance gives me some pause. I at first thought he was a bit miscast, given how mature and disinterested he sounds as Takuya, but his take isn't honestly all that different from the Yu Hayashi's original performance. The English Dub just puts an even more casual spin on the script, which just makes it worse when Takuya goes through some traumatizing, universe-altering experience and immediately reverts to making sexually-harassing jokes to his friends and wasting everyone's time.
As for the bevy of love interests that surround Takuya, because of the show's need to cram dozens of hours' worth of text into less than thirty half-hour episodes of television, none of the characters get anything to do outside of their mini-romantic arcs with Takuya. It doesn't help that, at the end of the day, these arcs only exist to push him towards uncovering the mystery surrounding the Reflector Device, the events surrounding his father Kodai's disappearance, and the secrets of the lost civilization of Dela Granto. The main antagonist, Kozo Ryuzoji, is also incredibly weak, more so in this final half than in the first thirteen episodes.SPOILER ALERT: In order to properly discuss this half of YU-NO, I will discussing major plot developments from Episode 18 onward, as well as some elements concerning the original visual novel.
There is one substantial element of YU-NO's final batch of episodes that is admittedly a huge improvement over the repetitive and annoying dating-sim clichés of the first, though it comes with the huge caveat of effectively abandoning nearly every major character and plot thread that the first seventeen episodes focused on. After running through all of the main girls' “routes” with the dimension-hopping power of his Reflector Device, Takuya is finally given the ability to unlock the mysteries of Dela Granto that lie buried beneath his hometown. When he unleashes the Reflector Device's true potential, he is whisked away to the fantastical continent of Dela Granto, where he very quickly marries a mute prophet named Sayless (get it?) and fathers the titular Yu-No, a magical fast-growing daughter that has her own part to play in the fate of not only Dela Granto, but our world as well.
It's an incredibly bold and risky move to completely shift your story into a wholly different genre and tone two-thirds of the way through, and I can totally see how this would have knocked peoples' socks off back in 1996. Even now, in 2019, it worked wonders for getting me invested the story: Since Takuya wasn't hopping timelines and resetting the plot all the time any more, the plot finally felt like it was moving forward, and with actual stakes at that. Death is no longer something that can be easily reversed, and Takuya is forced to deal with the consequences of the increasingly complicated mission to rebel against the forces of chaos and save the multiverse. I don't blame anyone for being mad that a lot of the preceding time spent with all of the other girls in Takuya's life ends up feeling wasted, but I never cared about them anyways, so I was more than happy to go for whatever ride YU-NO wanted to take me on.
Unfortunately, the shift to Dela Granto isn't enough to save YU-NO from its greatest flaws. The art and animation are never more than basically functional, the writing is juvenile and terribly inconsistent, and Takuya remains a worthless protagonist. Even the fresh start he gets with the life and love he finds in Dela Granto is sullied by the story's inability to stray from its origins as a sex game from the 90s, since these elements have aged about as well as a jug of whole milk that has been left to bake in the hot sun for twenty-five years. Credit where it's due, this is much worse in the game, where Takuya actively romances and seduces two of his own daughters, in addition to his stepmother and his teacher (because why the hell not). Still, this adaptation of YU-NO doesn't tone down its preoccupation with the creepy and/or pointless sex – it just turns what was once explicit pornography into uncomfortable subtext.
YU-NO doesn't even have the good graces to provide an ending that doesn't fall completely flat on its face. In the show's rush to do the most basic possible job to wrap up the plot without even a hint of emotional payoff, the final episodes blow through a ridiculous amount of exposition and character turns, and then we abruptly arrive at the credits, with barely any time to process what the hell just happened. I should note that, in addition to a voice-actor commentary for Episode 23, this Blu-Ray does include the special half-length OVA, Episode 26.5, which bills itself as a kind of extension of the ending. But don't be fooled – the OVA is just an excuse to animate what basically amounts to deleted scenes/”What If?” scenarios from the game's alternate endings, not to mention some gratuitous shots of Yu-No's uncensored breasts.
As a cultural artifact, I'm sure YU-NO is invaluable. Its presence can be felt across the whole modern-day landscape of visual novels, anime, light novels, and more. It works with some awfully compelling ideas that probably felt downright masterful for people playing the game for the first time back in 1996, and the isekai half of the story is a marked improvement over the more conventional first act. As a modern product for the audiences of today, however, this adaptation of YU-NO doesn't hold up at all. It is alternatively boring, frustrating, and gross, and even its best moments are undercut by cringe-inducing writing, flat characters, and a disappointing climax. Unless you're an otaku history buff with a hell of a lot more patience than I have, I recommend letting this fossil remain buried in the ground for good.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D
Animation : C-
Art : C-
Music : C
+ Compelling ideas and some bold creative choices that must have been revolutionary in 1996...
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