Content warning: ableism, potentially unfortunate depictions of physical disability and wheelchair usage.
If you think this is yet another third-rate rider of the Puella Magi coattails, well… yes, that’s what it is. Again. Unlike Magical Girl Raising Project though, there’s a bit more thought put into it, the other-world landscape is pretty, the monsters are imaginative and everything just looks that much more… expensive. Oh and there’s no random murdering and brutalizing of queer girls, so that’s a plus. There is tasteless fanservice. Remember when this stuff was aimed at girls, not at creepy otaku men? Those were the days.
(Those were the days when magical girl shows were aggressively heteronormative, sort of sexist, formulaic, and sort of boring; Yuki Yuna puts lesbians front and center, it’s sort of sexist, it’s sort of perfunctory and… okay, to be fair.)
Let me introduce you to the cast of Yuki Yuna! There’s the pink one who’s cheerful. There’s the red one who’s especially violent and brash. There’s the blue, reserved one with the long black hair who uses guns and whose mysterious past turns out significant to the plot. There’s the yellow one who’s the mentor to everybody. There’s, uhm, this.
(I didn’t edit it so Madoka and Yuna have the same hair color, either, this is just what they actually look like.)
Backing up a bit, what is this show about? It’s about what has become a staple of the ‘magical girls, but dark‘ sub-genre, which is that young teenage girls are being used as child soldiers and their powers come at a terrible price. In this case, they borrow that power from the divine entity known as the Shinju, and use it to protect humanity from monsters known as Vertexes. (Not, somehow, vertices.) According to their mission brief—relayed facelessly through a special magical girl smartphone app (with which they also use to transform; that’s going to get dated fast)—there will be twelve monsters and, once they’ve gone through twelve, they can stop fighting.
Naturally there’s a lot more than twelve and, naturally, they can’t stop fighting. This is relayed somewhat slowly: the pacing of this show is glacial, episodes being spent on filler and ‘character development’ that’s all frankly the most perfunctory things imaginable. The writing’s weak, the characters are thin stereotypes (when they aren’t just worse versions of their Puella Magi counterparts), the interactions forgettable and genre-typical. Yes, the yellow one loves her little sister; yes, the little sister is a shy and timid crybaby; yes, we’ve really seen all of this before many times. Togo Mimori carries the show a little in that she fulfills Homura’s role, being mysterious and the first to learn of the terrible truth behind the power of magical girls, and she pulls a Homura by attempting to destroy everything to save the girl she loves.
If I sound really quite bored of all this, it’s because I am. It’s not simply that the show is derivative; even the beat-for-beat similarities would have been tolerable if the show weren’t so godawfully slow and takes many detours (including a beach episode… for a show allotted only twelve) before it gets to the point. There’s the fanservice of course, with the one decent character Togo being the vehicle for it all: the bouncing boobs (keeping in mind she’s, what, fourteen?) during her transformation, the tentacle bondage during same, the camera constantly pointing at her ass (she’s fourteen).
Speaking of ‘character development’, there’s roughly one personality trait assigned per character. The red one is a brash tsundere. The yellow one loves her little sister. The green one loves her older sister. The pink one is cheerful. Really that’s about it, and their characters don’t evince much else to speak of even after they learn their version of the incubator contract. They have no real relationships with anyone outside of the main cast (other than Togo, but she has amnesia), lacking either history or personal context.
Togo Mimori, by the way, is a wheelchair user; as it turns out her legs lost mobility because she mankai’d up during her first magical girl tenure (also caused her to lose her memory). It’s the ‘dark’ part of this show, that when a girl activates ‘mankai’—immensely powering up—she has to pay for it with a bodily function, offered up to the Shinju as sacrifice. Nogi Sonoko, an early-generation magical girl, activated this function over twenty times and as a result became completely paralyzed. At the end, the Shinju removes this part of the ‘hero system’ and heals all the girls. I’ll leave this to everyone else as to how it rates, though I expect it’d rank as a poor depiction of physical disability.
While this is a show that belongs to the ranks of magical girl utopia, meaning males of all kinds are blessedly absent, even as temporary crushes or disappointments, the main relationship between Togo and Yuna is strangely shorn of anything resembling romantic charge even though the writers have apparently said that they are romantic toward each other. It’s a weird opposite of queerbaiting (where characters act like they’re extremely lesbian for one another but aren’t actually), with them being very lesbian for one another but you’d never be able to tell because their interactions are so typical of genre that they’re indistinguishable from a hundred other platonic magical girls. There’s a few clues like how they use each other’s birthday for phone passwords (like totally platonic gal pals!), the occasional blushing, but by and large even Madoka and Homura probably had more on-screen queerness going on. It’s very strange: lesbian, but plausibly deniable. Of course, with the beat-by-beat homage to the scene of Homura and Madoka dying, you can tell what they’re implying, but it’s all so understated. (They’re more blatant in the visual novel spin-off.)
One saving grace is that, visually, the show looks fantastic; the monsters are weird, weirdly creepy, and unsettling in a way that reminds me a bit of the dolems in RahXephon. The music score is great, even if it’s often aping Puella Magi, one half traditional Japanese music and one half sinister Latin (or random gibberish that sounds like Latin) choral chanting. The girls’ costumes have a fun miko motif (they’re essentially holy warriors) and their powered-up forms are neat, if that kind of thing matters to you.
For the most part, Yuki Yuna isn’t a bad show. It’s very polished, especially compared to its fellow Puella Magi copycats, and more individualized than most. But it’s also not especially good. It’s not memorable, it’s not something to rewatch, there isn’t much to say about it other than to compare it to its superior predecessor. If you’ve got nothing better to watch, why not.