This Hero System origin story for Yuki Yuna Is a Hero has been more uneven than the Sentinels arc, I think, but that’s also been to its benefit overall. Lower lows come with higher highs, of course, and the final battle we see Proto-Yuna and Nogi the First wage on the Vertexes for much of this episode definitely constitutes a ‘high’. The CGI-animated Heroes have smoothed out a bit from last week’s efforts, so Yuna and Nogi’s massive Mankai transformations feel like they’re properly showing off rather than working within any sorts of compromises. There are big, layered setpieces to this fight, seeing things like the girls splitting up to go all Dynasty Warriors on hordes of the creatures, or Yuna pulling off a Rider Kick as one of her particular big finishes. It’s a reminder that the spectacle of its magical-girl mayhem has been a selling point of this cartoon since its inception, even as the show has progressed to also trying to make us feel a little bad about enjoying such sights.
That tonal divide, along with one of the affecting generations, is what this capstone on Wakaba Nogi’s story is trying to bridge. “What does it mean to be a hero?” this episode keeps asking, contrasting the characters’ selfless sacrifices in combat with the point that they had no choice but to suffer at the altar of the story regardless of whether they actually chose to fight. Key bookmarks in this episode feature Yuna and Nogi formally introducing themselves to ‘us’ after we’ve already been following them for weeks, and the character-profile factoids we learn about them give little indication about their dreams and goals before or beyond their roles as Heroes. What were their hopes for themselves before this dimensional disaster and religious heroism bureaucracy thrust them into these roles? The struggle against those individualized goals and the prescribed role of a fictional character in a tragic parable would undermine anyone’s sense of worth, especially when that story is itself a story within a larger plot we’re seeing as a framing device.
As with the big fight itself, there’s a sense of layers to that conceptual pathos that elevates Yuki Yuna‘s particular brand of heartstring-tugging tragedy here at the end of this arc. We find out that Wakaba actually survived that massive battle off-screen, living on not just in a physical sense but in a manner that she was able to pass down the story of her and her comrades such that later generations of Heroes wouldn’t forget them. There’s a dual effect that comes from what we’ve understood from the world-building of this arc: the Heroes might have had their acts hidden from the public on account of the backlash that Chikage succumbed to, but they still required a sense of acknowledgement, put forth here in a way that might help the still-struggling Heroes of tomorrow to soldier on. In that momentary, generations-crossing catharsis, it perhaps justifies why this tale had to be related in the middle of what we know was Yuki Yuna’s darkest hour.
Yes, much as the story of the Sentinels rounded back to a turning point in Togo’s arc, this storyline loops around to us once again following the titular Yuna as she’s having an absolutely miserable time. It is kind of funny though, as my initial distaste for returning to this arc has softened thanks to how Great Mankai Chapter is able to present it after that flashback interlude. Foregone conclusion as it is, there are knowing allusions in the dialogue to the Heroes still having one last big battle ahead of them, with the point that things will get better for Yuna after all. But also the wrap on this one actually lets its focal present-day character connect with one from the flashback parable, as opposed to the way Togo just heard about the Sentinels and learned some kind of life lesson from it. The writing’s dodging around the complex technical questions of how Takashima Yuna is able to meet in the spirit realm with Yuki Yuna, and how ‘real’ the whole experience is can come off a bit goofy, but it’s goofiness that fits the character of these two, and given the sheer stretch of low points that Yuki’s character was in at this point, I’ll take any retroactively-inserted relief I can get.
Some of the conceptual stuff we come full-circle to with this conversational coda still aren’t great, such as the series once again trotting out the suggestion that Yuki’s suffering was ‘deserved’ after all her heroic efforts in previous stories. But alongside that point, the Yunas bring up the fact (already long since clocked in this series) that the gods are imperfect, and the girls may not need to suffer longer simply at their behest. This I like because it continues to tie into that theme of character agency that the Yuki Yuna cast have been railing against since inception. Proto-Yuna lamented her disappointment in her own hopes for herself, but seeing Yuki Yuna as her own metatextual later iteration allows her a degree of forgiveness with that as an outlet. The previous seasons of the anime certainly had their catharsis factor in terms of the characters ‘earning’ their freedom from the crushing effects of the system. So now this season has used its framed flashbacks to step back and show the more internal thought processes that allowed the girls to make their decisions. That’s the main point Takashima makes: She ‘didn’t have time’ to choose for herself, ostensibly because her story was already over by the time it was being told. Yuki Yuna, meanwhile, exists in the present, and is able to choose to survive. And at the same time, she can choose to prevent Takashima from further suffering in her own story.
This kind of convergence feels like the connection Great Mankai Chapter was shooting for and missed in connecting its first arc with the established narrative. But I’m all too happy to have it properly click here. This ends a storyline I initially found uneven on a quantifying high note, and even back-ports some material into one of my least favorite parts of the Yuki Yuna show that brings up my opinion of it a bit. It’s remained consistent with the themes I personally enjoy about the franchise, and eight episodes in, that justifies this continuation more than I was expecting.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter is currently streaming on
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.