Don’t let the name fool you: Yuki Yuna is a Hero is not the innocent magical girl show of your childhood. Thanks largely to the popularity of the psychologically thrilling Puella Magi Madoka Magica series the magical girl anime genre has taken a decided turn for the dark and edgy and I couldn’t be more excited for the levels of artistry this brings to the table. Get your cellphones ready because we’re about to talk gorgeous world-building, heart-warming friendships, positive depictions of physical disability, and the most hardcore transformation sequence since Dragon Ball Z… and that’s just episode 1.
In classic bait-and-switch style we open with titular character Yuna and her three friends who are all members of their middle school’s Hero Club, a group dedicated to helping others in need (which can mean anything from finding homes for kittens to writing elaborate puppet plays for the local preschool). If you ended the plot right there you’d already have a pretty cool set up for a show, but of course it gets even better. Suddenly the four are transported to an other-dimensional forest that can only be described as being designed by the lovechild of Hayao Miyazaki and Lisa Frank.
They learn there that they have been chosen to defend the world as Heroes, beings with access to godlike powers through the aid of a smartphone app, and they must act quickly or else tragic disasters will begin occurring in the real world. Now, I know what you might be thinking at this point: haven’t we seen that kind of henshin in shows like Pretty Cure? No, my friend.
With their new destiny realized the girls must work to keep their powers a secret. but the more they fight the more they uncover a horrifying mystery from their past which could tear even the deepest of friendships apart… if it doesn’t tear the future apart first.
There’s a reason Yuki Yuna continually gets compared to multiple award-winning Madoka more than shows like selector infected WIXOSS (which fellow BNP member Willie Young reviewed here), and one major reason is its consistency in narrative and world building. Often in magical girl anime you either get beautiful, sweeping backdrops and creatively imagined. non-human creatures or solid, believable storytelling and relatable characters, but very rarely both. Just the designs of the enemy Vertexes (pictured below) evoke fear and wonder the way alien creatures should rather than slapping horns and a leather bikini onto a humanoid and calling it a day. Although I purposefully did not include the girls’ costumes to avoid spoilers, know that after you start watching just the concept of the intricate pastels and inventive weaponry are a cosplayer’s dream.
Another incredible detail to Yuki Yuna are the characters both in their relationships and their representation. You may have noticed that the dark-haired girl in the first picture (who goes by her last name Togo) is in a wheelchair. Surprise! This anime not only respects disability as a lived reality by depicting wheelchair-accessible schools and transportation, but this aspect of the character doesn’t automatically become magicked away and forgotten as a plot device. In fact, Togo becomes a central and important character to the show with some of the strongest contributions ranging from culinary skills to computer genius. Her relationship with Yuna, too, has everything to do with how deeply the two care about each other and nothing to do with pity or ostracism, which is a really refreshing change from nightmare depictions in, say, Black★Rock Shooter, for instance.
Altogether the entire series is only 12 episodes long, so it’s a breeze to binge watch via Hulu or Crunchyoll if you find yourself with extra time during the upcoming holiday season. Remember, it didn’t take long for the streets to give Madoka the magical girl crown it deserves, so don’t be the last one on your block to catch the next big thing in a long lineage of shoujo greatness!