Reviewby Theron Martin,
Yuki Yuna is a Hero [Collector's Edition + CD]
The revelations from Yuki and Mimori's meeting with Sonoko – most specifically, that the girls are sacrifices to the Shinju-sama and so will continue to lose functionality in their bodies as they continue to fight – also rattle Fu, whose attempts to contact the Taisha about it produce no satisfaction. Mimori's unsettling experiments about whether or not they can die also produce worrisome implications about the nature of their fairies. The final straw for Fu comes when she discovers what Itsuki's secret goal is and how her participation in the Hero Club may have cost her that goal, while the final straw for Mimori comes when, after a second meeting with Sonoko, she seeks out the truth beyond the veil of the world. As despair takes over and calamity arises, the strength of the bonds amongst the Hero Club members will be tested like never before. But where individual spirits may falter, five may yet pull through.
The non-fighting parts of the first two-thirds of Yuki Yuna is a Hero establish each of the five members of the Hero Club and build strong bonds of love and friendship between them. Although that development was quite satisfying on its own, the final four episodes show exactly why such development was also critical to the story. Had the Hero Club members not laid their groundwork so well, their ability to help each other deal with the major crises of faith which come up would have been far less convincing, and almost everything in the plot of the final third of the series concerns that.
In that sense the series' creators may have learned a lesson from Madoka Magica, the series to which this one will always inevitably (and I think rightly) be compared. As well as that series did a lot of things, the strength of its interpersonal bonds, and especially whether or not those bonds were strong enough to justify the actions taken by some of the characters, was one of its least convincing aspects. Not so here. When Karin declares at a pivotal moment that she is no longer fighting for the Taisha but is instead fighting for the Hero Club, we do not have to wonder how that came to pass, as previous episodes have been thorough and meticulous about showing how Karin was drawn into the fold. (And seeing the fierceness of her commitment, after she had been so reluctant and standoffish earlier in the series, is one of the many special moments in this block of episodes.) When Itsuki steps up in a big way while Fu is in a funk, thus symbolically showing that she no longer needs to stand in her sister's shadow, we do not need to question where she found the resolve. There are other examples, too. Likely it is not coincidence that the girls are mostly shown at their most vulnerable point mentally and emotionally when alone.
This part is not just about the characterizations, however, not by a longshot. Episode 10, which seems to be the default episode for single-season series to reveal the previously-obscured truth about a major character, here reveals the full story behind Mimori's circumstances, including the unsettling details concerning her drastic attempts to investigate the role of the fairies; when Mimori sets her mind to something, she does not play around. The action element is also back in full force, with a bit of action in episodes 9 and 10 and a climactic battle covering all of episode 11 and the first half of episode 12, one which cannot adequately be described as anything less than a spectacle. The half-episode denouement also takes the time to make sure it resolves things properly with the girls – and no, this one does not take a Madoka Magica direction on that. The main weakness here is a tendency to get a little overwrought with the dramatic content, as in a handful of places cutting back the explanations by various girls by even as little as a few seconds would have made the writing flow a little smoother.
The technical merits on both visual and audio fronts are at their strongest throughout this run. When the battle music kicks in, it juices the intensity of the scenes tremendously, but music director Keiichi Okabe also understands when silence is the best choice. Though the visuals remain essentially the same, closing theme songs change up for episodes 9 and 10 to better reflect the mood of the story at those points, and watch for a significant visual update for the final episode's closer. On the visual front, the artistic merits nicely maintain quality control while mixing in some potent imagery, and the sharp use of CG affords Karin a Mankai form every bit as dramatic as those of the other girls. The look at what lies on the other side of the Shinju-sama's wall is also a visual experience unto itself.
The English voice work here also offers no letdown, which is significant because there was an awful lot of room here for it to run into problems. All of the key roles aside from Itsuki have passionately emotional scenes through these episodes, ones which could challenge the range of just about any voice actor, but the cast consistently proves up to the task. This is especially true for Sarah Anne Williams as Karin, who has one prolonged scene where she is screaming almost constantly. One case where a character sings was left undubbed, however. The English script, which stay relatively tight, offers no concerns, either.
The physical release retain a similar structure to the previous two: an oversized case containing Blu-Ray, DVD, and soundtrack CD all stored in a clear plastic sleeve, with bonus interior art featuring Karin in Hero form. Amongst the physical inclusions are the standard booklet and two illustration cards: one with Karin in her school uniform and another with all five Hero Club members depicted in school uniforms but with their fairies. The only on-disk Extras are a couple of short series previews and commercials. That leaves the booklet to provide the meat, and it certainly does. Karin is the featured character this time in the concept art and profile section, and episode guides for episodes 9-12 are also present; as before, these point out certain things to look for in each episode. Interviews this time around include Juri Nagatsuma (the Japanese voice of Karin), sound director Satoki Iida, original planner Takahiro, and the entire Project 2H concept team. These provide considerable insight, such as how Karin's existence was initially kept as a surprise (she does not appear in any of the promo material), how the creators realized that they had something new with the concept of the Mankai and Sange states and how those came about (these were patterned after the cycle of blooming and wilting of flowers, since a flower motif is pervasive throughout, and were also kept a surprise), and how the series somewhat plays with audience expectations; Madoka Magica is never explicitly mentioned, but certain comments suggest that they were aware that the audience was expecting this to follow Magica's lead more closely. Much more is brought up that would take up too much space to get into here.
The one other significant knock against the final volume (aside from, obviously, its price) is that its ending may not be entirely satisfying. To be sure, the story of the five girls is resolved completely, with a full sense that while their story will continue, their lives as Heroes is done. However, the way things are left concerning the Vertexes and what's beyond the wall is not really dealt with, nor is the reasoning clear about why certain things happen. (One such thing, a scene near the very end, was deliberately meant by the creative staff to be left open to interpretation, albeit with a suggestion that it does have some specific meaning which may be clearer in the future.) The series ends with the note “Yuki Yuna's Chapter,” and that and certain other aspects of the last few minutes suggest that we may not have seen the last of this franchise – perhaps with a new batch of Heroes to be focused on in a sequel. Although it's hard to imagine the creative team equaling what they have wrought here, I, for one, would welcome another attempt.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Action scenes, emotional appeal, included interviews.
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