Fuu on drums, Itsuki on keys, Karin “Nibosshi” on bass, Togo “Wasshi” on…biwa? And Sonoko thrashing on a Les Paul, roaring out “Udon! Udon! Udon! Udon! Rawwwwrrrr! Tasty!” With Yuuna as awkward background performer. The Hero Club Rock Band Yuyuyu is born! (Think K-On meets Aggretsuko.) But wait, after some karaoke and a feast, we cut to a new scene and a new theme: the middle-school girls are now strategizing Itsuki’s rescue in an airsoft match (that Wasshi takes way too seriously of course), à la Gun Gale Online. And after that, they channel Yuru Camp and embark on a relaxing wilderness holiday, where Itsuki proves to have all the enthusiasm and none of the skill of Nadeshiko when it comes to cooking their supper (although the girls declare her glowing purple curry to be delicious).
What is happening, you may ask? After two seasons of harrowing struggle, brutal suffering, and of course, that staple of the dark magical girl sub-genre, despair, the girls of the Hero Club are finally living their best slice-of-life lives, having vanquished their final magical mystical foe six months earlier. They’re doing normal teenaged girl things. Having normal teenaged girl conversations.
Almost. Because weaving through the whole episode is an undercurrent of tension. It’s visible in Wasshi and Sonoko, the veterans of the group, who cannot sleep through the night but won’t admit it; in Fuu, the founder of the club who got them all sucked into the previous seasons’ horror, as she nervously checks the phone that used to alert her to the enemy and trigger the girls’ transportation to the battlefield; and where does sweet lil Itsuki’s rage come from? While Yuuna…well, Yuuna shuts down the conversation, pretending as if nothing happened. The tension builds until one gloomy evening the Taiga reappear at Wasshi’s house, beseeching in their silence. The girls must return to the war; this time, as the leaders of a military force.
I had high hopes going into this one. Like I said in the preview post, this is a great series for fans of the darker take on mahou shoujo like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and has, in my opinion, done a better job than Madoka when it comes to developing the story beyond the first season (the second season being split between sequel and prequel). And it looks set to continue on that way! This was a great new season opener: full of humor and delightful details for those familiar with the series, but also working on a level that doesn’t rely on previous knowledge of the franchise. The episode plays with genre conventions in a manner reminiscent of the first episode of the series back in 2014 (but with better pacing), doing what Yuki Yuna does best, which is to take what should be a slice-of-life cast and throw them into crisis. Or by now, well into their heroic arc, the frangible process of post-traumatic recovery.
Yuki Yuna has always highlighted the inhumanity of a socio-religious system—a culture even in this not-quite-Japan—that demands such costly sacrifice of its youth. There is something deeply unsettling when the ones who should be protected become the ones compelled to do the protecting, and this series has never shied away from exposing the brutality of such a troubling inversion. When the elders of the Taiga religious order turn up at her door once again, Wasshi expresses her frustration briefly but powerfully before acceding to their request. This makes me think that in this season, more so than previous ones, the girls may very well end up fighting a battle on two fronts: against both the alien enemies of humanity, and the human authorities overseeing that war effort and press-ganging hundreds of girls into military service. In short, this may just be the most revolutionary season of Yuki Yuna yet! I’ll certainly be tuning in, especially now that Karin has started answering to her nickname—only I wish they’d stuck with the original translation, “Fishface”.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: the Great Mankai Chapter can be streamed on HiDIVE.