Reviewby Theron Martin,
Yuki Yuna is a Hero [Collector's Edition + CD]
Karin is now a full member of the Hero Club, which is good, because the girls face by far their biggest battle to date. The remaining seven anticipated Vertexes blitz them all at once, leading to an epic showdown where most of the members discover an upgraded level to their powers, called Mankai. Thanks to that they barely triumph, though the physical toll on most of them is also great. Success means time to recuperate, relax, and goof off, though as they eventually learn, their task is not quite done yet: one more Vertex still remains. Of greater consequence, though, is an encounter that Yuna and Mimori have with a crippled girl who claims to be their predecessor as a Hero. The truths that she has to reveal about the Hero System will rock the girls to their cores.
The middle third of the series, which covers episodes 5-8, is a study in dramatic contrasts. Its content varies from intense battles to placid, occasionally comedic slice-of-life and back again before ending with (comparatively speaking) grim revelations. Along the way it shows exactly why Yuki Yuna Is a Hero excels in all three aspects.
Previous episodes have shown some fairly intense and involved battle scenes, but episode 5 is the first time in the series that a whole episode is devoted to one. It does not disappoint, as it delivers a collection of power-ups and intense actions sequences which make for an excellent battle in general; when judged against scenes from other magical girl series, it stands with Madoka Magica and Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya in offering the finest of such fare. The advent of the Mankai forms has been slightly hinted at before, as the flower emblems on each of the girls' battle costumes were clearly charging up towards something, and the results are spectacular. Each of the girls gets an impressive addition, though the stand-out is definitely Mimori's space flight-capable mobile gun platform. Beautifully-designed, flawlessly-integrated CG give these scenes extra visual punch, but pacing, creative use of perspective and flower motifs, and uniquely dramatic musical backing also all contribute.
After that the series shift gears back down to a more low-key approach, with two episodes almost entirely involving the girls just muddling around, dealing with the physical consequences of the battle that they have been, doing some soul-searching in Karin's case, and in general just having fun. The light, goofy humor seen in some earlier episodes not only returns but even magnifies as bit, with the net result being to show that the girls are simply enjoying life now that their major crisis is (they presume) over. The merits of how smoothly and naturally the series plays this out should not be underestimated; all too many series either force this content or overplay it rather than just letting it happen. Between that and filtering in just enough hints that there's something more – much more – to the girls' situation than what they are aware of so far, these episodes never get boring.
The story gradually transitions back into a more serious mindset as episode 8 progresses and story elements which have only been vaguely hinted at so far start coalescing into a bigger and more worrisome picture. (And like with some of the first volume episodes, a lot of foreshadowing for revelations that are still coming can be found here if one knows what to watch for.) Again, how smoothly this is handled is to the credit of the writing and direction. The consequences for what is revealed towards the episode's end also perfectly set up what will happen for the rest of the series.
For all that the series does right, though, the cast is still where its greatest strength lies, and through these episodes its full potential starts to become manifest. These are all very distinct personalities, with their own distinct attitudes, quirks, and concerns that (at least in some cases) go beyond cookie-cutter archetypes and aren't tailored just to be cute. And even beyond that, they interact so naturally and organically that the extra care and emphasis taking in conceiving and writing these interactions (as detailed in the Extra for the first volume) is quite evident. Rarely in anime – even in magical girl series – do we see the warmth and depth of both the established and developing friendships here, especially between Yuna and Mimori, and that plays a big role in carrying the series through its slower parts.
The attention to details in the artistry is a joy as well. It shows in little details like how all of the girls' phones are clustered around a common charger when they are in the hotel in episode 7, and I never knew that there were wheelchairs specifically designed for the beach or for taking disabled individuals into the water before seeing this series. These episodes also introduce a transformation scene for Karin, mercifully condense transformations for other girls for the big fights, show Karin with her hair down for the first time, and offer plenty more bizarre Vertex designs. Aside from one short hot springs scene, though, fan service is minimal. In addition to the above and the battle scenes, the artistry also stands out in its use of color gradations to reflect natural lighting conditions, such as a beautiful sunset in one scene, and even non-combat animation remains strong.
The musical score also remains strong, especially in gentler moments. The soothing vocals used for the aforementioned sunset scene in particular are a beautiful touch, while battle themes promote the intensity in an atypical but still generally effective fashion. Opener and closer remain constant.
The English dub by Bang Zoom! Entertainment is actually a slight improvement from the first volume, as any hint of hesitancy or stiffness in line deliveries is now gone. These actresses know their characters well by this point and they uniformly deliver with all of the appropriate enthusiasm, hesitancy, and/or emotion, especially Sarah Anne Williams (Sword Art Online's Lisbeth/Rika, Madoka Magica's Sayaka) as Karin. In the one significant new role, fellow Madoka Magica alum Christine Marie Cabanos does a decent job as Sonoko. The English script is right on the money, too, as it easily captures the feel and emotions of the original meaning without losing any context.
As with the first volume, Pony Canyon delivers its deluxe package in a 7½ x 10½ inch case, this time with Fu featured on the cover and Itsuki on the interior. Both a Blu-Ray and a DVD version are included, each of which features clean opener and a set of Japanese commercials for the series and Spanish in addition to English and Japanese subtitles. A CD is also included again, and this time it is more of a true soundtrack than a character song album. The eleven tracks on it start with a piano-only version of the opener and then proceed through expansions on, and remixes of, assorted musical themes from throughout the series. As a result, several of them come out with a distinct techno dance beat flavor; in fact, you could probably get away with playing most of this disc at a rave, especially one held at an anime convention. Physical Extras include case-sized cards featuring Fu and Itsuki, whose character profiles and concept art are also the focuses of the included booklet. Both of their original seiyuu are interviewed for the booklet, as are interviews with the character designer/animation director and the co-music directors; these provide some insight, such as how much attention was paid to balancing the five girls physically in the visual design stage, but are nowhere near as insightful as the set in the first volume. All four episodes are also profiled, with highlight points to consider for each that are, in some cases, quite interesting as little details to watch for on repeat viewings.
The biggest problem with this release is, of course, Pony Canyon's sky-high asking price, and even having a more listenable CD in this set doesn't change that. Yes, there are some nice Extras, and yes, this is some great storytelling and animation, but even with the quality on both ends the price is difficult to justify. That's too bad, because this set of episodes, and especially the way the quality and interest factor does not drop off after the epic fight in episode 5, was what first put the notion in my head about this being one of 2014's best series.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Strong character interactions, episode 5's epic battle sequences, gorgeously-conceived Mankai forms.
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