Reviews: Hundred, Yuuki Yuuna, Upotte!!

Last year, I opened up the blog for commissions: an offer to review anything. I’ve rarely written reviews, so this felt like a good way of motivating me into the practice. Sadly, a lot of frustrating things IRL took me out of my comfort zone for blogging for quite a while. I never want to publish anything I haven’t been able to focus on properly, especially if it’s been commissioned by a fan of the blog, so these pieces are coming out a lot later than intended. 2021 is a new year for UEM! though, and a new year for me. It’s high time we got back to talking about anime here.

With all that said, let’s get to it.

Hundred

There’s something really chivalric about how Hundred treats its heroes. When Hayato protests president Claire Harvey’s decision in the first episode, he must then prove himself in combat against her. His bond with Emilia is similarly shown through how they fight and get stronger together. The ‘Hundreds’, futuristic suits that respond to the user’s aptitude for using them, resonate well with a long history of stories about knights whose armour, while functional, often served a more symbolic purpose for the prowess of the heroes who wore it.

Transformation sequences bring in elements of magical girl narratives into this dynamic, highlighting how our heroes devote their whole bodies to battling the ‘Savages’ that are wreaking havoc on Earth. These giant mechanical monsters similarly function like your typical medieval monster – invading, rendering normal people helpless, and demanding unique prowess in order to be defeated. The series’ opening channels a lot of this epic, heroic energy, foregrounding it over the show’s more lighthearted vein of ecchi comedy.

Ultimately, this is a harem anime, and it does its genre proud. Emilia’s initial masculine disguise presents her as a potential ‘trap’ at first, and this develops into tomboyish charm: her early banter with Hayato is similar to the teasing we get from Oregairu’s Saika Totsuka. Beyond that, Emilia’s ‘childhood friend’ vibes blend together well with how she shares in Hayato’s gift of being a Variant. Claire’s overt tsundere tone plays on her authority getting regularly undercut by her love for Hayato, while Sakura’s obsession with wanting to marry Hayato before even meeting him parallels the perspective of the fans that idolize her, including Hayato’s sister, which does a good job of fleshing out her character’s later entry.

Each of the girls brings out a different side of Hayato, playing to one of his strengths while also playing with one of his weaknesses. Both Emilia and Sakura also had roles in Hayato’s past, preventing one girl from holding all the ‘childhood friend’ powers, which makes for a more exciting harem overall. Beyond Hayato’s fan club, Reitia and Fritz model a moe relationship that adds to the show’s focus on cuteness over lewdness, which is furthered by Hayato’s desire to use his Hundred to protect the smiles of those around him.

Hundred puts effort into drawing ties between its futuristic action and its mix of bawdy and sincere romance. Hayato’s missions always set the stage for ecchi hijinks to ensue, but many of the show’s best ‘lewd’ moments come with greater relevance to the plot. When Emilia shows her scar to Hayato as they share a bath together, there’s a great blend of both tender fanservice and serious development for their relationship. Later, while Claire and Hayato share time together at a lake, Claudia calls it a ‘date’ to Emilia to try to separate her from Hayato. But rather than focus on the awkwardness of Claire bathing and Hayato talking to her with his back turned, Claire begins to expand more on one of the show’s darker plot points. This frequent tone-shifting keeps the pacing of each episode more varied than many other harem shows can manage, though it is frustrating that a lot of the show’s ‘serious’ tone outside of battle sequences comes from pure plot exposition and one-sided infodumps.

As the existence of ‘artificial variants’ emerges, the story turns towards a darker reality that rests beneath the initially simple narrative of Savages battling Slayers. But the show ultimately carries a comforting and heartfelt tone. Family matters most: all the characters’ relationships with each other, and the ecchi moments they share together, can be seen as a domestic norm, and thier battles come across as them vying to safeguard that. Boob grabs may be a cliche, and Hundred resorts to them often, but this repetition is also a comfortable ‘norm’ for ecchi anime, something the characters are fighting to protect. This adds a wholesome dimension to the show’s perverted hijinks, which is a welcome gesture in a genre saturated with tropes that often get copy-pasted into a story with little further attention.

The latter end of the series has a few bum notes: the revelation that Emilia is a princess accomplishes next to nothing for the show’s larger plot, serving mostly as a vehicle for Claudia’s insistence on her returning home. Emilia barely seems interested in the topic when it comes up. Claudia herself is also the least likeable of the girls: she doesn’t fit properly into the harem, and opportunities for her to stir up new conflicts fall flat. She mirrors many of Claire’s character dynamics but lacks the depth that the ‘queen’ gains over the course of the show. LiZa struggles from the opposite of this dynamic: her relevance to the plot gradually increases in terms of the concept of her character, but her voice through the computer she operates has little visibility or agency throughout the show. For someone who underpins the operation of Little Garden, it’s disappointing that she speaks far less than she is spoken of.

The danger of the ‘full body armament’ could have also been explored more: Hayato loses control of his power early on, but he quickly gains mastery over it off-screen. If he’d remained struggling with his Hundred somewhat, easy opportunities to flesh out his character further would have arisen, as strengths that double as weaknesses are potent for developing conflicts for harem heroes who need to be both revered and challenged by the rest of the cast. With Vitaly’s death pushed to the front of the finale, cutting a great opportunity for dramatic tension, Hayato’s fight to save Nesat could have been more climactic if it had felt like the culmination of Hayato’s efforts to overcome the monstrous side of his own power.

Hundred appreciates the value of blending ecchi comedy with chivalric heroics and romance, but it lacks an understanding of how to take advantage of this dynamic over the course of a narrative. The relationships between Hayato and his ‘harem’ are initially built well, but the payoff for them is minimal, and the final few episodes lack impact overall. The show practically runs on the cuteness of Emilia and Claire, which is functional for a harem anime, but the plot could have been a lot more memorable.

Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero

It’s not everyday that an afterschool ‘hero club’ becomes tasked with saving the world. Nor is it reasonable to expect a bunch of average high school girls to transform into fairy-like warriors and push themselves to the limit at the drop of a hat. Yuuki Yuuna gives us the typical magical girl action-adventure setup, making us root for Yuuna and her friends to overcome their fear and fight for everyone they love. That’s what a hero should do when they’re called into battle – right?

Yuuki Yuuna captures the slice-of-life antics of school life with a happier mood than other ‘dark magical girl’ narratives like Madoka Magica and Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku. There’s a lot of time invested into convincing the audience that the everyday lives of the girls are important to protect, which becomes ironic when the girls’ powers become a threat to their own happiness and comfort. Channelling the tragic trope of shrine maidens raised to be human sacrifices, a staple of the history of Old Japan, Yuuki Yuuna uses the iconography of magical girls to question the reliance of modern society on ‘heroes’ in general, a question that spills over into concerns over how much civilization has really progressed.

In the West, we idolize superheroes who, while given great powers, must in turn give their whole lives to fight against evil. Yuuki Yuuna wants us to look beyond the surface of heroism and at the damage that occurs beneath the spandex and glittery transformation sequences. The tone shifts provided by the show’s moments of cute-girls-doing-cute-things help amplify our empathy towards the cast. These aren’t just two-dimensional ‘heroes’, destined to spend their lives saving the world. They’re human beings, first and foremost. They’re bishoujo; aren’t they what we’re supposed to protect in these stories?

There’s little choice in any of the girls’ decision to be a hero. They’re roped into saving the world through Inubozaki’s Hero Club, and forced to fight alongside each other if they want each other to survive. The landscape they fight on may be colourful, but the reality they face is cold. Later, they are forced to sacrifice parts of themselves they hold dear if they want their prior efforts to mean anything as the invading ‘Vertex’ become stronger. Like flowers that blossom, their use of ‘mankai’ must result eventually in the death of their own beauty and happiness.

The result is a subversion of the typical monster-of-the-week format, where each encounter would teach the hero a lesson that makes them a better person, amassing infinitely as long as the show continues to air. The first few encounters establish this trend: the greatest battles that heroes face are within themselves, whether that’s overcoming anxiety due to a disability or a traumatic childhood event, or embracing the kindness of your teammates. Family and friends can invoke greater battle grounds than any of the mystical landscapes upon which the heroes fight to defend the Shinju-sama.

But what good are these inner accomplishments if the body that harbours them must be destroyed through the sheer force of the fight? The crisis of losing what you fight to protect penetrates the latter half of the show’s runtime. With little worldbuilding given beyond the lives of our heroes and their duty to defend the Shinju, which we see the whole school praying to, there is little room for approval of a system that sacrifices our heroes for the sake of the world. We don’t want the world; we want Yuuki and her friends to be happy. What value is the health and wealth of society when it can be but barely viewed from a hospital bed?

With her late entry into the Hero Club, and a small arc centered around her coming to rely on the club and not only on herself, Miyoshi Karin has a standout role as an emblem for anxieties around ‘hero’ work. Her unhealthy relaince on supplements is one of many red flags that these girls are overworking themselves for the sake of saving the world, and the way she eats dried sardines reminds us that the work of a hero is beyond the youth that these girls should be enjoying. Even the fun of the beach episode is undercut at the end by the news that the Vertexes are not yet defeated. In the context of Japan’s culture of working overtime, the cast’s inability to enjoy their school life becomes even more depressing. With all that said, Yuuki Yuuna does an impressive job of keeping a heroic spirit of hope woven into the show’s later episodes.

Haruka Terui brings ample energy to the role of Yuuki, which stands out given her limited experience with voicing main characters. There are stellar VA performances throughout all the battles, cast agains the backdrop of a pounding symphonic OST that channels the religious overtones of the story into every confrontation between hero and Vertex.

Togo’s disability also offers a great example of representation of the disabled in anime. She is challenged, but not limited, by her physical impairment, and she overcomes more than just the boundaries of her body by the end of the show. While becoming a hero gives her the freedom to move again, the courage required to take that first step (again) is a truly inspirational character arc. Her role in the climax cements her as one of Yuuki Yuuna’s strongest characters, which is noteworthy given her appearance and demeanour at the start of the series. It’s beautiful how Togo always had Yuuna pushing her along, physically and metaphorically, since she lost the ability to walk herself. But after losing the will to be a hero, and the will to live, while gaining newfound freedom through godly power, she realizes she can turn the tables and be the force that pushes the world beyond the stagnant corpse that it has become.

Yuuki Yuuna works hard to build a tight cast of characters for the audience to root for, and then works equally hard to problematize the way we initially supported them. The ‘dark side’ of magical girls comes not from their enemies, but rather from the system that brings and demands them into being. At twelve episodes, Yuuki Yuuna is easy to binge and offers a cheerful and tragic tale that keeps up momentum until the very end. If you’re left wanting more, fear not – a second season, comprised of two extra ‘chapters’, is also available. But even as a standable story, Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero is everything you should want out of a ‘dark magical girl’ anime.

Upotte!!

Cute girls with guns can make for a good time, but what happens when the cute girls ARE guns? And what happens when they have guns too? If that doesn’t make much sense, you’ll find yourself comfortably fitting into the shoes of Seishou’s Academy newly transferred teacher. At Seishou, normal school antics are blended into firing range practice and other army exercises. Some students dream of who will choose them as their personal firearm. It’s a lot cuter if you don’t think too hard about it.

There’s some real ammo in Upotte’s staff lineup: director Takao Kato is a veteran at capturing the bumbling over-the-top antics of anime girls, having also directed and storyboarded To Love-Ru and more recently provided series composition for Keijo!!!!!!!!, whose director, Hideya Takahasi, meanwhile managed storyboarding an episode direction for this ONA. Fans of Keijo!!!!!!!!’s boob-and-butt-centric sumo may find similarities between it and the hyperbolized gunmanship in this series, though its ecchi high notes are a lot less impressive that other shows of its genre.

The character designs of Upotte belong to the dumpier, less polished era of moe. Many ecchi moments see the cast reduced to crude chibi-like versions of themselves, emphasizing that the focus is bawdy comedy over voyeuristic ecchi, though plenty of short-lived scenes are provided to entertain fans looking for the secondary defition of ‘plot’.

Scenes flit between slice-of-life antics with references to guns thrown in, and full-blown history lessons about firearms with cute girls used as illustrations. The result is a banquet of history and humour if you have an invested interest in rifles and machine guns, but for those who aren’t gun otaku the infodumps might appear more like bland moe-ifications of Wikipedia pages rather than entertaining segments. Regardless of your degree of fascination with firearms, these narrator-driven sections often come together too much like powerpoint presentations that cut into the comedic action of each episode. Having the cast lead the explanations of each other’s strengths and histories would have made more a more enjoyable watch.

The focus on making the girls metaphors of firearms also renders their family backgrounds and physical existence in an extremely abstract light; unlike other shows that have girls physically transform into what they represent, the cast of Upotte!! instead have their human attributes, habits and holdups defined by the gun they’re supposed to represent. You really need to be in tune with both the mindset of gun otaku and the workings of bishojo anthropomorphism to get the most out of this ONA.

The girls measure their prowess against each other frequently in conversations that come across like arguments between gun otaku wrapped in the veneer of schoolgirl gossip. Popular guns are the talk of the school, while defective models derp around in endearing fashion. However, the power of each gun feels limited by the way combat is carried out; it’s clarified that, as the girls are guns, they won’t die from being shot. There’s no bloodshed: the sound and visual impact of a shot is all we have to feel its weight. The conflict between the characters revolves around social supremacy over the school rather than their actual lives. Once the series starts to focus more on these conflicts the humour is dialed back, and what remains doesn’t pack as much of a punch, which clashes against the raised tension that the script and series composition are trying to conjure.

Indeed, the middle arc features a pair of ‘fake AKs’, Sako and Galil, as antagonists, one of whom we see orgasming to the thought of dominating the other guns. Sako is far from the focus of any other fanservice, and way outside the tone of the rest of the show’s softcore ecchi ideas, so this comes across more bizarre and disgusting than cute or erotic. The series would have felt stronger if it had focused more on the squishy, ero-kawaii side of moe and avoided this kind of sexualization. It fits better in shows like Shimoneta, where the whole cast is mental when it comes to sex and the jokes are all about pushing boundaries (and one’s ‘love nectar’ down unsuspecting throats), but Upotte’s strengths come from juxtaposing the serious facts of gun history and culture against the soft sexiness of blobby moe girls. Slotting other kinds of erotica into the series is like shoving high-calibre ammo into a gun not designed to fire it. The gun jams; the show stumbles.

This dramatic middle arc also has an unsatisfying conclusion: Ichiroku and Elle win through superior tactics, and focusing on the rules of the competition over rivalry between enemies. Sako’s lapse in focus seems purely down to her own personality, and her kiss with Funko feels forced, like the writers know she’ll lack relevance unless she has this random romantic tie with our protagonist. This all clashes against the show’s focus on the girls being purely the product of their associated gun’s attributes. Upotte!! could do a lot better if it stuck to its guns, so to speak, and maintained its focus all the way through; the cast should not lose their unique selling point, their metaphorical link to weapons, in the show’s most dramatic moments.

The casual dialogue between the show’s central cast members is where its anthropomorphic dynamic shines best. Iori Nomizu provides great comedic cuteness as Funko, a similar performance to that which she gave as Haruna in Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?. The other VA lack anything that makes them stand out from any other CGDCT cast, but that familiarity tends to be a goal for this genre rather than a setback. If you enjoyed Date a Live, many of its cast members have prominent roles here.

Upotte!! is rife with charm, but while its character designs and early bumbling antics are entrenched in the strengths of moe anthropomorphism and schoolgirl slice-of-life, it’s aim is shaky when it comes to keeping its sights on these selling points. Action sequences give a break from bawdy antics in favour of milquetoast tension between characters who are at their cutest when they’re contrasting their deadliness as weapons against their innocence as teenagers. The high points of the show are never when an episode is reaching its ‘climax’: the best bits seemed shelved for unrealistic girls-with-guns fanservice that, while possibly ticking the boxes for gun otaku, falls flat for a moe fan like me.

Coming up next: Sore ga Seiyuu, a Please Teacher & Please Twins double feature, and some straight-up hentai.

___________________________________________________

It really has been a while. I’m indescribably thankful to my Patrons who have continued to support the site while I’ve been absent for so long.

To give a brief update, the latter half of last year has really made me appreiate how I’m nowhere close to being a shut-in. I thought having my place of work closed down and being on furlough (paid to sit on my ass, wow) would motivate me like never before to do things for the blog, but the isolation only drove me up the wall. I missed many opportunities to develop what I do online, but that’s all in the past now, and the lessons back there have been learned.

The UK is back in lockdown, so I’ll once again be challenged with keeping myself sane without my rather social full-time job. Getting these first few reviews done and polished was the first big step towards making this stretch of time off better than before. I’ve also made a new discord server, where you can yell at me to publish more often directly. It’s been growing slowly via my Twitter; there’s a channel purely for hedgehog pictures. It’s quite a nice place overall.

Last of all, I’d like to thank my Patrons again, some of whom have requested reviews that are either posted above or still in the progress of being made. If you like what I do, please consider supporting the blog. Any donations help me finance my computer, save up for upgrades to equipment, and improve my quality of life overall.

Here’s to a 2021 full of Unnecessary Exclamation Marks!

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JekoJeko

The internet's finest Loliconnoisseur

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