Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter ?
Community score: 4.2
It's apparent that, at this point in the series, what we're getting with Great Mankai Chapter is effectively The Silmarillion for Yuki Yuna: Instances of backstory and world-building ported in around the 'main' story we're familiar with. The previous storyline about the Sentinels contextualized the measures the Taisha were taking apart from the Heroes' anti-Vertex efforts, and this week an old book that Nogi's found gives us the most detailed version yet of this world's origin story. A quick research-skim confirms that these stories are themselves based on supplementary light novels that were written for the franchise, now being formally folded into animated format for the series. It seems this is still solidly supposed to be the Yuki Yuna show at its core though, so the framing around this week's flashback is rather generous, and it's implied that the revelations are going to be relevant to Yuna and the others moving forward.
That kind of thinking ahead is key, as Yuki Yuna continues to couch this stage of the story in some of the gloomier elements from the second season. Like the expansion of Togo's martyr complex last week, this one begins with extended ruminations from Yuna during her cursed phase that carried the last few episodes of that season, having her extoll to us the ideas that her suffering at the hands of their God was somehow deserved by her as a result of all the prior suffering she went through. It's a worrying dip into the straight-up misery porn aspect of the series' presentation that Yuki Yuna struggles with occasionally, even as we know that Yuna does eventually get better. It also helps that we get to see another goofy hangout session with the Hero Club for some relief before the big-deal flashback. Thanks as always to Nogi for being the loveable kind of weirdo who can set these things up for her friends and us, the viewers.
Much as I'd have been happy to watch a whole episode about those silly goobers playing board games, the Hero Annals that form the primary subject of this episode beg to be cracked open. And to its credit, Yuki Yuna knows how to make an impact, immediately flashing back to the actual-factual Year of our Lord 2015 (which would have been the very near future the year the original Yuki Yuna aired). The post-apocalypse state of the present-day world in the show has been a known quantity since its revelation as the big plot twist of the first season, so getting confirmation of just how 'normal' things used to be for a world that was basically the same as ours pointedly impresses the scale of what was lost to the encroaching disaster. From there it's easy to guess at the sequence of events that would have followed, but it's still neat for those interested in the franchise (which, three seasons in, should be applicable to any viewers still around) to see how the Vertex invasion played out, how the Taisha came to power, and how the 'original' Hero Club team was formed.
Now, the presentation of that Hero Club's formation and how their story plays out is where Great Mankai Chapter decides to do a narrative structure shake-up within the episode itself. While it is funny to think about how Yuki Yuna can't even tell a singular episodic story in chronological order at this point, this was presumably done at the behest of the audience already being well aware of what kind of 'Magical Girl' anime this is; the show may have wanted to get to the no-longer-surprising violence of Hero activity in a way that didn't feel like it was stringing us along. To be sure, it is still pretty effective at portraying that element, with the proto-Yuna of this team of yesteryear putting on an astonishingly visceral show with her punchy fighting style and blood-exploding body-wrecking power up (given the number of hotfixes we already know the Taisha had to push out to the Hero System from the prior seasons, we can only assume this initial version was super unpleasant in its mechanics). Much of this seems here to sell the point that the all-important tonal contrast in this show between the girls as fluffy heroic figureheads for the Taisha and the brutality of their Vertex-slaying efforts has been an element since day one, but at some point, it nearly feels like overselling it. Proto-Yuna basically communicates in primal screams throughout this entire section, and just in case you hadn't caught on that the edge of the edgy Magical Girl entry was right and truly back, she eventually undoes her super mode transformation with one last scream and a blood explosion that grimly splatters all over her onlooking teammates.
Telling this tale in such an order thus seems to be an effort to make The Great Mankai Chapter's expected emotional juxtapositions feel like less of a repeat of the revelatory beats from Yuki Yuna's first season. So right after all that intensity, the flashback itself flashes back to the OG Hero Club getting together the first time, all smiles and impressionable optimism even as we've quickly been informed that two-fifths of them will be messily murdered not too long from now. And honestly, for as manipulative as it can come off, it does kind of work in this moment. Tamako and her gal-pal Anzu come off sweet enough that I'm saddened to know that they weren't able to stick around, and the show makes clever use of this structure by showing how Chikage started out trying to put on airs as The Stoic One, even as we know from just a couple minutes ago that she absolutely broke down upon her first experience with death-dealing monster combat. We also get a contrasting context with Wakaba Nogi, who spurns the sweet goofiness we know from her descendent to sport the dour demeanor of someone who knew she was in a Dark Magical Girl show from the start. The decently clever tonal shuffling of the structure really does bring up the presentation of what we might otherwise brush off as the kind of flashback that was doomed to end badly.
It's clear that this story will continue, even as flashes back to our Hero Club reading the material also make apparent that this has overall portents for their own situation (possibly even carrying over into an actual post-Hero Story plot?). So the future of where this is all going remains compelling, even as the developments in the flashback can feel as obligatorily cruel as this episode's opening-scene spiels on Yuna's ongoing suffering. Basically, I'm far less interested in Chikage's apparent Joker Origin Story over anti-Hero social media comments than I am Proto-Yuna's own formative spin on the nature of being a Hero at this early stage in the system, and how it stands apart from the values of our titular Yuna. If this wayback flashback can dial in on that sort of concept, and keep things moving as nicely as this one did, this could prove a strong side-story in Great Mankai Chapter's books.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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