Christmas celebrations in the broken, besieged world of Yuki Yuna is a Hero provide a welcome respite for the bruised and battered girls of the Hero Club—an afternoon’s pause in their battle to save the remnants of humanity from the supernatural enemy that would devour them.
Technically, it’s January 5th, but the girls are pretending it’s Christmas since Fuu-senpai was still recuperating in hospital on the actual day. And although she missed New Year’s too, it’s Christmas that is in the spotlight: there’s a decorated tree in the corner, zany family games (biased in favor of the youngest member of the team, Itsuki, since Christmas is for kids, after all), snacks galore, and Yuna—seemingly arbitrarily—dressed as Santa Claus.
And of course there are also gifts—though not the kind you might expect. These gifts are the only surviving artifacts from the first generation of Heroes who lived and fought three centuries earlier, when the world first came under siege. Yuna might be the one sporting the costume, but it’s Nogi “Sonocchi” Sonoko who plays the part of St. Nick, hefting a giant sack into the room and handing over the most precious item, a volume entitled The Hero Annals, to Togo. Although it was penned by her own ancestor, Sonocchi hasn’t read it yet, having instead waited to share it with the group. The girls settle in for story time as Togo begins to read.
The ensuing four-episode flashback tells the story of the First Heroes. After relentlessly blitzing our hearts in a blender (as per usual with this franchise), the series returns to the present and our Hero Club girls, now somewhat sobered from their earlier carefree Christmas antics. It is time to go out and win a war.
So, were the five minutes of not-even-quite-Christmas in this episode just a framing device? A way to gather the girls together, give them (and the viewers) a cutesy slice-of-life respite and ease the tension before squaring up for the final four-episode battle arc?
Maybe. But I don’t think that’s the whole story.
First off, the tale of the First Heroes is a wake-up call, especially for Yuna. The girls don’t talk about it openly, but their dialogue, priorities, and decision-making throughout the remaining episodes makes it clear that on Christmas Day, the story they heard was more than just a story to them.
The First Heroes are perfectly obedient to the Taisha, the religious order that manages humanity’s resistance and which selected the girls for elevation to Hero status, equipping them with their magical abilities. The First Heroes are also friends, but their priority is bringing the fight to the enemies of humanity in the way dictated by the authorities over them. Friendship, though heartfelt, is secondary to duty. In the end, and without spoiling too much, they get the results they were trained for, but at a tragic cost.
This cost is something that Yuna has, in previous seasons, already proven unwilling to pay: the cost of losing a friend in the line of duty. It’s what marks out her story from that of the other Hero teams we encounter throughout the series. But even so, Yuna continues to struggle with how exactly she should fight this war. She continues to struggle with where the line falls between obedience to authority and loyalty to her team; between self-sacrifice and friendship; between a life laid down and a life lived fully and with love.
Crucially, the tension inherent in this dichotomy is something that the rest of Yuna’s team pick up on as well, thanks to that story shared during their makeshift Christmas. Yuna may be unclear on her role, but they are not: they will not let her die a martyr and instead they save her from making a heroic mistake, giving her permission to live out her life, her humanity intact.
The story they heard that yuletide day was the greatest gift they could have received. It revealed to them the brokenness of the old way of the Heroes, and gave them the courage to press in and come together to forge a new way.
In this sense, it was truly a Christmas Day for the girls of the Hero Club—a single day to bridge the ages, to move them from the Taisha era of blood sacrifice and human works offered in barter for a temporary peace, into the new Heroic era where salvation comes from a more divine source.
Would the girls have dared defy the Taisha without having heard that story that day? I doubt it, particularly Togo, whose faithfulness to the religious institution was deeply ingrained and had already trumped all other priorities in her life more than once.
The second reason why I think the brief Christmas interlude is actually pivotal to the season as a whole, is because of Yuna’s costume. Stay with me on this one!
Yuna is the only one to wear a costume throughout the celebrations. Sonocchi, as the hostess and game master, wears some kind of yokai/dragon get-up initially, but jettisons it once it is time to get to the point of the day’s festivities, namely, sharing The Hero Annals. But Yuna remains in her jolly garb all the way to episode nine.
And it’s fitting too, because Yuna is a lot like St. Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for Santa Claus. In the 4th century, he served as a bishop in what is present-day Turkey, and became well-known for his acts of generosity. By all accounts, Bishop Nicholas, born to a wealthy family, was inspired by the tale of Jesus and the rich young ruler (Mark 10 and Matthew 19), and determined when he came into his inheritance to use his resources to protect and provide for others.
The story has it that he once rescued a boy who had been kidnapped by slave traders and restored him to his family. But his most famous act was to secretly toss a bag of gold coins through the window of a poor family’s home—three times!—in order to provide the household’s three daughters with dowries and prevent them being given into prostitution. These acts have earned him a reputation as one of the earliest combatants of human trafficking, and account for why he is today considered the patron saint of children and youth (along with a few other disparate groups).
As we discover in season three, Yuna likewise holds special status within the socio-religious order of the Taisha. She too determines to use her gifted status to protect and provide for others. Like Nicholas, Yuna is selfless in her generosity, with an eye ever focused on how to defend the weak and bear the burdens of others.
She is also someone who has experienced exploitation first hand: used by an organization that demands her life and blood and sends her repeatedly into a horrifying and brutal war zone. As a result she, like Nicholas, is determined to protect the dignity of human life and prevent the need for other girls to follow in her footsteps to the front.
But Nicholas also knew something that Yuna has yet to learn at this point in the series. Nicholas devoted his life to redeeming others, quite literally buying their freedom; but he also knew he needed a redeemer. He not only gave gifts of gold, alleviating the immediate material needs of those around him; he also shared the good news of the gospel, pointing others to the one whose gift of redemption was of a sort that never runs out and extends forever; that reaches down deep beyond the here and now and the needs of the moment, to the very fabric of our beings as those who have been wonderfully made, yet sorrowfully separated from that wonder and in need of reconnection to our humanity and the one who crafted it.
Nicholas knew his limitations. He knew that there was a kind of saving, a kind of redeeming that he could not accomplish, no matter the advantages and favor he enjoyed in life. At least, I think he knew all this.
This is the journey Yuna goes on through the rest of the season: the discovery that she cannot be the savior she thinks she should be, or that the Taisha expect her to be; that instead, she too needs a redeemer—someone else, someone divine, who will pay the price that is not hers to pay. She becomes like St. Nick, not just for his selfless generosity, but also for his awareness of his need to be saved.
It’s no coincidence, then, that the girls of the Hero Club choose Christmas as the theme of their celebration upon Fuu’s release from hospital.
And it is no mere whimsical quirk that Yuna is dressed as St. Nicholas.
So this Christmas, let’s remember the rich religious heritage that this Day marks: the beginning of a transformation in how the world navigates its brokenness, its war against the “enemies of humanity”, against death, suffering and sin. Let’s remember the new Hero who was birthed, and the heroes he releases each one of us to become: heroes who do not carry the weight of the world; who do not need to deny their own humanity for the sake of religious duty; but heroes who instead redeem what they can in the moment while pointing to the one who redeems all for eternity.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero can be streamed on HiDive. This Christmas episode falls in season 3, ep. 5.