No archetype in any storytelling is given as much attention as the Hero. The Hero embodies all the ideals of our society, and everything that he does or happens to him (stylistically gendered) is a reflection of our sense of morality. The Hero is often an independent being as well as a mentor to the audience. But can this Hero interplay with other ideologies that aren’t traditionally as active or triumphant? Yes, she can (intentionally gendered). Our very existence isn’t so defined by just a few values that others are posited against it so easily. And for a series like this one, the Hero isn’t just the independent individual. The Hero is a cute girl that values the power of those immediately around her, in that they can all be freed from the essences that bind them.
Before I get into this review, please know that there are a few limitations. First, I previously commented (as did many others) that this series is very similar to another anime. There are useful comparisons, but I will NOT be talking about them! Second, again, I will not be arguing whether or not the series as a whole is in alignment with feminism, but I will be critiquing it in a feminist perspective. Third, I will be discussing the ambiguous concept of moé: an idea that is used commonly in anime and manga today, but still in development. For purposes of this review, I will be defining moé as the general comparison of girls to flowers, and the most ideal form of beauty for a flower is moé (from the Japanese term for a flower just before it blooms).
And fourth, if you’re familiar with my style of reviews, there will be SPOILERS.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero (Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru) takes place in an alternative present day at Sanshu Middle School. Here, Yuna Yuki (in the Western naming format) and her friends from the Hero Club do all sorts of fun activities, from putting on plays for children to having karaoke outings. But one day, their Hero Club is called by the gods called the “Taisha” to fight in their war against vaguely (and I do mean vaguely) evil forces!
Of course they’re not going to turn away from such an opportunity! They’re the Hero Club! And thanks to the power of the gods, Yuna and her friends are granted the ability to become magical girls: transforming them into powerful fighters with magical weapons to fight things greater than they are, had they just been normal middle school girls.
The Hero Club is a group of girls who are active in all their activities, no matter how trivial they may be. One day they could be volunteering to help children at a daycare, another day they are building monumental sandcastles on the beach. The girls follow a strict, almost militaristic code simply called the Hero Club Five Tenets, that guide not only their activities, but their entire work ethic. The Five Tenets, translated into English, are:
- Give people a good greeting.
- Try not to give up.
- Sleep well, eat well.
- If you’re troubled, talk to someone!
- You’re likely to succeed if you try.
I personally believe these tenets are values that we all have as well. It certainly works for them. But one thing I would like to point out is that these are positively charged tenets. Each one is worded in activity, asking us to do things, as opposed to the common code of telling us NOT to do things.
No. 2 looks like a negative principle, but the active term is “try,” not “not to give up,” rather than using the negatively charged phrase “don’t give up!” Being a hero in the Hero Club acts on positivity, not limitations from negativity.
Also, No. 5 is derived from a quote by Yozan Uesugi: “Try, and you will succeed; don’t try, and you won’t,” but has been modified from the original negative utterance.
But the conflicts these girls face go beyond just helping others and fighting the Taisha’s war.
The Hero Club members in their magical girl forms can grow one more level in the form called mankai (full bloom). In this form, their powers grow exponentially and they can take on much greater enemies with more ease. If these girls are idealized as moé characters, their mankai form is complete maturity; but with maturity comes a much greater cost.
Following mankai is sange (falling flower). And just as a mature flower wilts away as quickly as it blooms, these girls, too, pay a price for every time they go into mankai. For each mankai they unleash, sange takes one more thing away from the girls that’s a part of their being: things that generally relate to sensory perceptions, such as a loss in hearing, vision, taste, or becoming mute. Furthermore, each sange also produces a new faery, like a fruit. The produced faery is a protector of each girl’s power, and supports them in their battles against the gods’ threat.
But even so, these faeries aren’t as good as they are made out to be.
As Mimori Togo discovered, these faeries act on their own will to protect the Hero Club. However, they also ensure that the girls essentially live forever, despite their extended suffering. That means girls like Mimori can’t even commit suicide under the vigilance of these faeries. Thus, their suffering is prevented from ending!
That’s because heroes who act on behalf of the Taisha are revered as the gods’ protectors, and must be given extra precautions to keep them alive, regardless of their suffering. The Taisha is a powerful being that grants their abilities including mankai, but he is also a tyrannical being that ensures the girls will forever serve the gods, no matter how much of their own being is taken away! And none of this information was ever disclosed to any of them first-hand!
I don’t know about you, but something like this would totally piss me off! And yet, this is exactly how we treat moé. Flowers just before bloom are most coveted when we display them, whether they are in a vase, for ikebana (flower arranging), or even when we give them to a loved one. Flowers before the moé stage are not even visible, and flowers in bloom are subject to wilting. You might say that moé in anime and manga is a terrible comparison between girls and flowers, but the ideology behind it goes even beyond Japanese culture!
In other cultures, past and present, the most beautified or glorified girls are youthful, yet no longer child-like. This stage in human life is very similar to the moé stage of flowers. It is the prime of a girl’s life, and any woman after that youthful stage in general is no longer considered beautiful enough by comparison. Thus, women have tried their own techniques to make themselves more youthful to maintain that sense of beauty. But this fate is not a form of liberation for women. It’s an acceptance of the expected standard to be beautiful by the literal flowery comparison.
Similarly, our culture at large preserves the idea of an “eternal feminine,” in that girls must maintain a certain set of values that remain the same across all time. Concepts of beauty don’t die so easily, but the girls under that gaze do. And whenever we ascribe to characters we beautify or glorify, they become eternal to us: essential to our satisfaction, not existing for themselves. And while these girls are characters of fiction, I do believe that this is also how we treat girls and women in our society even now. And if I didn’t make that clear enough, that’s a travesty!
The situation seems hopeless for Yuna and her friends Mimori, Fu, Itsuki, and Karin. But just as they were given powers that essentially enslave them, these same powers are the means by which they are liberated. In the final battle against the Taisha himself, the Hero Club use their mankai form one more time in direct opposition to the ones that bestowed power on them!
In the aftermath of this battle, the girls return to their normal lives. And the results couldn’t be more satisfying.
Regardless of if they knew their fate or not, whether these consequences would be for better or for worse, girls like Yuna and Itsuki (and the others) would still choose to be heroes. The result of making the world better isn’t the goal of a true hero. It is the very act of doing something they may not have done otherwise. A hero’s life is worthwhile, whether they are raised as high as the stars, or grounded as low as flowers (ahem… reference to the opening theme song, “Hoshi to Hana”). And when we can transcend our being from something beyond just our situation, we too can become such a hero.
When the girls were eventually healed from their ailments, they could go about their daily lives again; but Yuna remained in a vegetative state. If this were a tragic tale, all hope would probably be lost, as the accomplishments of a hero die with the hero. But even to the bitter end, Yuna kept fighting. And it wasn’t just her. All the girls of the Hero Club are fighting with her!
It is ironic that we beautify flowers and maintain their worth by trying to preserve their essence, such as by pressing them. The flowers may maintain their beautified shape and color, but the flower itself is already dead. This is an example of preserving the essence, but destroying the existence.
But Yuna is no flower.
Yuna abides by the Hero Club Five Tenets more than anyone else. She kept fighting, just as a hero would. So long as she doesn’t give up, there is always hope. That’s why when it comes to our liberation, we must never give up, never accept things as they are at face value, and always strive for something better.
Finally, I would like to end with the monologue that Yuna delivers in their school play. And while the story is translated into English with the use of a singular term (since the Japanese don’t necessarily use plurals in their language), I would like to say that this is a message To the [Heroes] of Tomorrow:
You can be a friend to anyone you care for. You can be many times more powerful if you care for each other. You’ll have infinite willpower. The world’s filled with painful things and sad things and things you can’t handle by yourself. But if there’s someone you love, you’ll never buckle. You’ll never give up. There’s someone you love, so you’ll keep getting back up again! That’s why a Hero never loses!
Thank you, Yuna. And thank you, all the girls of the Sanshu Middle School Hero Club!
So if you’re looking for an anime that inspires that Hero inside all of us, watch Yuki Yuna is a Hero. And if you’ve been following along with me on my 3-month theme of reviews, we’re almost done. Two more reviews to go!