Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter ?

Yuki Yuna and the rest of the Sanshu Junior High Hero Club are back, but after the preceding two seasons, you might be wondering exactly where else their story can go. That was my initial concern at the outset of Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter, the first episode picking up on a spate of downtime ostensibly taking place between the end of the series' first season and the beginning of its 'Hero Chapter' which took up the back half of its second season. Yuki Yuna as a franchise has always functioned best when it's walking that thin line between putting its mighty magical girls through wringers both physical and emotional, and taking moments to reflect on how they actually feel about serving as 'sacrifices' at the altar of such angsty subversive metatext. However, as we land within the margins of the overall timeline once again (which, at the very least, makes for a hilariously overwrought chronological watch order), it does beg the question: what else even happened while we weren't looking between seasons that would be worth dragging poor Yuna and the others into again?

So it's something of a relief that The Great Mankai Chapter pivots after that first episode, rotating around to an entirely new gaggle of girls in different roles who had their own separate story going on while the 'main' Hero cast were resting between seasons. Starting with that switcheroo is admittedly a neat trick, as it allows the show to focus on these new characters with their own angle on the show's themes rather than trying to dump yet more problems on the original team (which was arguably the biggest issue that held the Hero Chapter back in its run). It ends up creating some believably parallel stories that expand the 'universe' of Yuki Yuna (both in a metatextual and surprisingly literal sense), while also setting up some manner in which the established plots might intersect as the timeline moves on, even if that element gives me trepidation for the same reason that further sequelizing this series at all did, as described.

Regardless, the main focus of The Great Mankai Chapter has thus far shifted to new main character Mebuki, who we find out was one of the other prospective Hero candidates for the position which Karin was ultimately chosen. We'd always known that Karin's background was more rigidly serious than the fluffy formative days of the main Hero Club, and getting to finally see that training firsthand is eye-opening. The series' firmly established status as (at least partly) a 'dark/subversive' magical girl show means that The Great Mankai Chapter can immediately embrace the Hero Boot Camp feel of this section in the second episode, with all the ugly, desperate emotions borne out of Mebuki's failure to secure the position presented with a bluntness we expect from this franchise three seasons in.

Granted, it could be argued that Yuki Yuna has always been a series that is a little too easily forgiving of the uglier elements of some spurned outbursts of its characters (Hey there, Togo!), so even after Mebuki's selection-ceremony freakout, we quickly see her summoned for a contingency role in the 'Exo-barrier Special Investigations Fleet', and she takes it on with surprisingly heroically-centered aplomb. It's here, and carrying through the third episode, that the main plot of The Great Mankai Chapter really starts to take shape, intersecting with those overall themes of the Yuki Yuna franchise. The girls of the ESIF learn how magical monster war is Hell far quicker than Yuna's or even Gin's crew did back in the day, with the overall design and tactics utilized for them emphasizing the militarized aspects of these magical girls more than ever before. The multi-layered concept of 'sacrifice' in the series has momentarily been supplanted by 'service', in this case of the clearly-conscripted variety.

The uniform presentation of the roles of Mebuki and these other new girls is emphasized by their continuous railing against what the system clearly wants to make of them. Mebuki is thus far able to prevent any actual casualties within the ranks of the ESIF, but the pressures of the job still compel several of them to quit the service, only to have the Taisha swiftly and coldly replace them, underscoring how 'disposable' these Sentinels are compared to the hallowed Heroes they initially strove to join the ranks of. And so, driven by a worldview built around the mantra of "Remain ever diligent and ensure you are not used as a mere stepping stone", Mebuki sets out to at least protect as many of the Sentinels as possible in her leadership, completing their mission of planting Divine Tree saplings to restore the destroyed world beyond the barrier.

I don't want to take too much time speculating on the overall plot at this point and how it might intersect with that broader timeline within the greater Yuki Yuna story, since we've really only just started this section and this franchise's storytelling can get zig-zaggy enough as it is. But I still think the presentation of the ESIF's job is worth noting here, an element of the world that makes sense was happening in the background, but was such a thankless task in the greater scheme of the Taisha's hero-organizing that we hadn't heard about it while following the main cast until now. That ultimate disposability of their role pointedly comes back in the ramping up of stakes at the end of this season's third episode, as the prophesized weakening of the main Divine Tree necessitates the seeming sacrifice of Mebuki's Miko friend Aya, as well as the removal and retrieval of those aforementioned saplings. Perhaps it's a bit on the nose these days to present the story of an older generation willing to literally sacrifice the children of the next, along with the potential restoration of their future environment, but I can't deny that it hits hard alongside the textual points of the show overall: That even the optimistic acts of heroism must succumb to the unsustainable bureaucracy of consolidating centralized power. Suddenly all that worldly anger still bubbling under Mebuki's surface seems just a bit more justified.

All that dense conceptual stuff dropped on us and a fresh-faced new cast in these first few episodes doesn't mean The Great Mankai Chapter is a total drag just yet (though I do shudder a bit remembering how Hero Chapter ended up feeling). That first-episode excursion with the Hero Club just trying out different activities remains a cute enough diversion, and we even see them pop up again in Suzume's flashback in the third episode here (amusingly highlighting the divide in their first-season styles and the kind of environment we now know Karin came from). And for all that her angst is a major motivator of this story so far, it's still nice to see that Mebuki has the capacity to be as much of a goofy goober as the other characters we know and love in this franchise, such as her eccentric enthusiasm for model kits that surfaces while she's out on a developmental date with Aya. As well, just because the battle scenes between the Sentinels and the Stardust monsters are supposed to illustrate the droll expendability of their actions doesn't mean they can't be exciting to watch. The series does continue to use CGI character substitutes whenever possible as some sort of animation shortcut during these action scenes, though the more mechanized military look of the ESIF battle-suits blend with that style more effectively, in my opinion. Though conversely, the unified look of those outfits along with the insistence of washing out the color palette for the scenes beyond the barrier can make it a bit hard to tell each of the girls apart during these segments.

Where The Great Mankai Chapter goes with all its setup here is anyone's guess, which is definitely a good thing at this stage. One gets the sense there's definitely going to be a fair amount of the series' trademark trauma porn motivating some of it, but the setup of the new characters and broadening story and world-building components feel appreciably expansive to this entry's potential. It leaves me decidedly more optimistic about the possible direction of this season than I was right after that very first episode, which is only fair, I suppose. One of the main jobs of a Hero is to instill hope, after all.

Rating:

Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

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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