Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Great Mankai Chapter – Ep. 1

I originally started covering Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Great Mankai Chapter when it aired in Fall 2021 but I ended up putting it on hold. At long last, I’m finally getting around to finish covering this season. The first two episode reviews will be the same ones, just re-dated and re-edited. After that, it’ll be entirely new writings. Since I still haven’t finished watching the season, this series of episode reviews is still going to be a blind run.

Now then, back to the review.

I originally covered Yuki Yuna is a Hero throughout much of 2020. The first season was a bonus pick to make up for taking so long with covering School-Live! (both shows were on my first review poll, the latter being the winner). After I had finished the season, I decided to continue on with the second one. There were certainly some road bumps along the way but overall, watching and blogging the whole package was a real fun time. I dare say, YuYuYu might be my favorite magical girl series post-Madoka though ask me that again when I have more shows of the like under my belt.

At the time, I covered YuYuYu with the impression that Season 2 would be as far as I go. There are apparently a bunch of light novel spin-offs and a couple canonically questionable comedy spin-off anime; maybe someday I’ll cover those for the blog. As far as the main TV show is concerned however, I really did think I’d be done with the 25 episodes that comprised it at the time. Bear in mind that by 2020, YuYuYu had been off the air for three years. That’s more than enough time for anime fans to assume they ain’t getting more of their favorite series. To my surprise and while I was in the middle of covering Season 2, a third season got announced! So here I am with Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Great Mankai Chapter (which doesn’t sound ominous at all…).

The prospect of a third season is certainly exciting but I must admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from it, more so when I finished Season 2. I mean, “spoiler alert”: Season 2 ended very conclusively. Yuna literally punches the big bad to death and sets her world free. The Shinju dies, leaving humanity to live on their own. The Taisha disbands after most of them turned into wheat (go figure on that). For all intents and purposes, the Hero Club lives happily ever after. What else is there for these girls to do?

Judging from this premiere, it’s possible the staff have been thinking that as well.

Turns out, I shouldn’t have wondered how YuYuYu can move forward but rather, where it can go in general. If there is a sequel to be had in Season 3, it’s presumably being saved for later as this season sets its first episode before and during The Hero Chapter. The episode clues you in on this by beginning with a clip of Season 1, right when Yuna (Haruka Terui) defeats the last Vertex. At first, I thought the writer(s) might be trying to address something from Season 1 once again but as the episode continues, its chronological placement becomes increasingly clear. The Taisha still exist. Fu (Yumi Uchiyama) is still a member of the Hero Club and hasn’t graduated from middle school, nor has she handed the role of club president over to Itsuki (Tomoyo Kurosawa). At one point, Karin (Juri Nagatsuma) mentions that winter break is in the near future. Unless a year has passed and these poor girls all got held back in school, we’re before the midpoint of The Hero Chapter, which takes place during Christmas and New Year’s. Episode 1 ends with Togo (Suzuko Mimori) getting approached by members of the Taisha, including Aki-sensei (Rina Satou). This is presumably right before Togo agrees to sacrifice herself to suppress the hellfire, subsequently causing her friends’ memories of her to be erased and thus bringing us to the beginning of The Hero Chapter.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I must admit that my biggest problem with The Hero Chapter is how dense it got. It’s not a confusing mess but it was getting tough trying to keep track of certain details and the whole half-season definitely would’ve benefitted from a longer run of episodes. At the same time however, I don’t think I need something to fill in the gaps per se. The Hero Chapter still got through all of its major story beats and, more importantly, those beats still got me emotionally (like, I’m still not over Yuna’s breakdown in the third episode for example). It may have been rushed but it still felt complete and effective to me so I don’t necessarily need an expansion to it.

To be honest, the episode itself is hardly the sales pitch that would prove me otherwise. Much of the episode is just an anthology of various slice of life antics with the Hero Club. It reminds me quite a lot of The Washio Sumi Chapter‘s third episode, right down to everyone getting all hyper and participating in some of the most ridiculous antics that YuYuYu has ever depicted. There’s even silly eye catches and a part where the gang goes camping. It’s more or less the same episode all over again. None of this is bad necessarily; plenty of it is funny. In particular, I enjoy the group randomly becoming a music band (a funny way to re-introduce everyone) and some of the callbacks such as Sonoko (Kana Hanazawa) getting everyone to say “KAGAWA LIFE”. Still, I don’t know if evoking what I thought was the YuYuYu‘s weakest episode is the best thing to do for the premiere of a brand new season.

One moment that did stand out to me is the heart to heart conversation between Togo and Sonoko during the Hero Club’s camping trip. The two talk about Gin and mustering the courage to visit her grave, with Togo being more apprehensive due to her previously forgetting her time as Washio Sumi as well as her still coming to terms with that past. That she apparently did forget Gin surprises me as she technically did call for her during the last episode of The Washio Sumi Chapter. Either this is a retcon or this episode is simply clarifying that Togo really did forget everything by the time she woke up from her last battle as Washi. Regardless, this is a really nice scene and I must admit that this is one thing that probably should’ve been in The Hero Chapter. The reunion that we did get to see in The Hero Chapter works but it is brief and there isn’t an actual moment in which we see Togo and Sonoko catch up on lost time, at least not in private like we see here. We also never really got to see them talk extensively about Gin. The most we got was Sonoko visiting Gin’s grave on her own, which was really more a catalyst for her remembering Togo, and a still image of Sonoko and Togo visiting the grave together at end of The Hero Chapter finale. I wasn’t that irked by it but I nevertheless welcome the show expanding on it, more so than giving me more hijinks.

At the end of the episode, we see Togo be greeted by members of the Taisha, including Aki-sensei (Rina Satou), setting the stage for when Togo inevitably decides to suppress the hellfire as atonement for her actions during the end of Season 1. Oddly enough, the show then cuts to a bunch of new characters, seemingly present to investigate beyond the barrier. My first thought was that these are probably characters from the spin-offs and sure enough, these are apparently the cast of the Kusunoki Mebuki is a Hero light novel series. That there is a new team at all is certainly odd. A bigger takeaway however is that it looks like the remainder of this season, or at least a chunk of it, is going to be an adaptation of those books.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. I don’t mind if any of the spin-offs are getting animated. It’s just that I watch Yuki Yuna…for Yuki Yuna as well as the whole Hero Club. Following a whole new cast for Season 3 is not what I signed up for. I also have to wonder why this presumed portion of Season 3 isn’t called “The Kusunoki Mebuki Chapter”. Maybe the two different titles for Season 2 got very confusing so the staff decided to just use one label this time around.

Random aside but if this season really aims to fill in some gaps with both new and old material, am I finally going to get an answer regarding the blue bird? That was the one mystery in The Hero Chapter that didn’t really get addressed. I almost forgot about it but then I noticed it make a cameo appearance when this episode showed the end of Season 1. Maybe it’s addressed in the YuYuYu expanded universe and the show might adapt it here. Maybe the answer will be given in new material. Maybe it’s not addressed at all. I guess I’ll find out eventually.

Is there truly a sequel in this season or is YuYuYu instead jumping back and forth across its canon? It’s entirely possible this season is going to do both, given the precedence set by Season 2. For now though, I can’t tell. I knew going in that the Great Mankai Chapter would be uncharted territory but I didn’t expect it to be like this. Granted, this also means that I’m very curious and until proven otherwise, I look forward to finding out the overall direction of this season.

OP: “Ashita no Hanatachi” by Sanshu Chuugaku Yuusha-bu

Thanks for reading!

This post was originally published on October 7, 2021

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