Introduction to The Women of YU-NO Part I: A Character Driven Masterpiece
YU-NO is probably not the ‘great work’ of the VN, but it is absolutely the foundation upon which all other visual novels are based. The first step laid in the genre that would go on to publish such legendary works like The Fruits of Grisaia, Steins:Gate and of course, Fate/Stay Night. None of those works, and the countless more that have followed, would have been possible without this single visual novel. It is the forebear, the grandfather of the genre, and the shoulder upon which all other pieces of work stand, for nothing would be the same if it wasn’t for this story. Whatever you may think of it, and that is your opinion to have, that is the simple truth.
YU-NO: A Girl who Chants Love at the Bound of this World is a masterpiece, and it joins the ranks of High School DxD and Fate/Stay Night as one of my favorite pieces of media of all time. It has been an absolute joy experiencing this series, and a memory I won’t ever forget. I have been blessed and honored to have shared my thoughts on this story with my readers, and I hope that, if my words have made you curious, you look into this story yourself and see if you come to the same conclusions that I have. There is now only one thing left to say.
The Women of YU-NO Part I
Your Love Awaits Beyond this World……
The show worked hard to build an interesting mystery. Then it dropped this blonde-haired girl with elf ears on us! Capture from the Funimation stream.
Those were the words that ended my months-long look at the series YU-NO: A Girl who Chants Love at the Bound of this World. I had come across the anime during my seasonal look and once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The world, the characters, the story, all of it pulled me in such a way that only a handful of series have. It even made me finally take the leap into the world of Visual novels, and my fondness only increased tenfold.
I have been running Shallow Dives in Anime for almost three years. I’ve watched a lot of anime, plenty good and many great ones, but only YU-NO has been the series that I have loved with all of my heart and soul. And while I’ve already talked about the series at length with fellow blogger Infinite Zenith, I am always willing to do it again. That’s why we are here, Crow! We’ve gotten into the weeds with Chivalry of a Failed Knight, and that was a great back and forth. You’ve now watched the entire series and probably have some thoughts and views. Why don’t we start with your overall thoughts, and then go arc by arc?
Overall Thoughts on YU-NO
For the record, Dewbond’s in normal text and I’m in bold!
It’s interesting that you mentioned Fate/Stay Night. I watched it years ago, and among the things that impressed me was the sheer scale of the world. It was not content to take place in an expansively spacious universe. No! It had to go perpendicular on the temporal axis by pulling in heroic spirits from the past. They weren’t set decorations. Their experiences formed their perspective, and their perspective defined their characters. The world’s enormity defined the series, yet each detail carried weight and importance.
It took me months to process what I thought of that series. That’s a great sign. The more complex the plots and character interactions, the more I want to appreciate them. So I spend a lot of mental time tracing the plot lines and intersections. I examine how each character’s traits strike and rebound off the other characters. Finally, I end up with an organic map of the artistic work. If a series survives that process, I can only marvel at the craftsmanship that produced it.
Is this a view of the intricacies of infinite spacetimes? Or a map of the series intertwined plots? Why not both? Capture from the Funimation stream.
Guess what I’ve been doing with YU-NO? Yep! Same thing. And it’s holding together as well as Fate/Stay Night. From the perspective of artistic skill, that’s pretty high praise, and I intend for it to be.
We wanted to look at this series through the lens of its arcs. Thinking about that, we realized that really meant we want to talk about the women in this series. Each demonstrated… Well, I don’t want to give too much away about the Women of YU-NO yet!
The TL/DR answer to your question? The story spans multiple space/times, presents characters that demanded my attention. Also, it handled atypical time hijinx with the best of them.
The Women of YU-NO: Starting with Ayumi Arima
It feels like I’m getting a little too stuffy. So, I’ll just add that good heavens, was Ayumi Arima attractive or what?
Ayumi Arima is the best girl No question, and she’s absolutely gorgeous.
And she is also the best place to start our look into the series. As I have watched both the anime and read the visual novel. I can examine the character and storyline from both angles, but I am interested in your perspective as an anime only viewer!
Also before we start, I am going to proceed with the assumption that viewers are familiar with the story in terms of its time-looping hook. Just to save us a bit of time explaining.
To me, Ayumi’s route/arc is the best one in the series, as it delves into the most interesting story. Ayumi herself has the best chemistry with our series lead Takuya Arima and in my mind, the best romantic moments. For the character herself? Well Ayumi is a widow, having lost her husband at a young age and is trying to straddle this reality with the stress and responsibilities of her work. Not helping her is Takuya, who harbours hidden affections for her, and the frankly assholeish Toyotomi, who wants to get her into bed as much as he wants those company secrets.
It’s easy to root for Ayumi. She’s trying so hard! Capture from the Funimation stream.
The Women of YU-NO: Ayumi at the Limits of Her Endurance
She is a woman overwhelmed, and the route makes that clear with scenes like the protest, and Ayumi’s multiple suicides throughout. But there is also a genuine need from Ayumi to be loved, and there are scenes, especially in the visual novel, where she lets her guard down and shows that affection to Takuya. He in turn is desperate to save her from herself, and the moment where Takuya gives her the harsh truths, and they make peace is a wonderful scene. Doubly so when the visual novel allows their romance to fully blossom.
Crow, what did you think of Ayumi’s arc?
I had to overcome some mental hurdles. First, Ayumi’s his step mom. Outside of anime, polite society (whatever that is!) still considers that a bit of a taboo. Okay, a big taboo. Of all of the women of YU-NO, I struggled the most with Ayumi. But there were mitigating factors.
First, it seemed to me she was a lot closer to Takuya’s age than his father Kodai Arima’s age. The story never suggested it, but my head canon is that Kodai did that on purpose, knowing how his son was.
Which is to say, the dude knew what he liked, and he went right after it! I want to say a few notes about Takuya first, because his traits drove a lot of the action (in more ways than one). First, he didn’t disrespect the rules. He only followed them when they made sense.So, when Assholeish Toyotomi orders Takuya and his friends to stay away from Mt. Sankaku, he ignored him.
The Women of YU-NO: Takuya’s Character is Important
Despite his less than astounding grades, Takuya’s bright. He remembers details (if he needs to). He had strong deductive and inductive skills. Given some of the problems he gets himself into, those skills came in handy.
Takuya’s no stranger to bandages. Capture from the Funimation stream.
Takuya is also casually brave. Maybe being raised by an academic version of Indiana Jones had an effect, but it’s hard to rattle Takuya. That’s a great trait for a protagonist to have!
But most of all, Takuya is absolutely fearless when it comes to letting the women in his life know he finds them attractive. That’s front and center in the opening scenes where he confidently comments on Eriko Takeda’s white panties. She’s a teacher. She should have taken him to task! Something both non-threatening and complimentary about his approach convinced Eriko to just accept that about him.
Unrealistic? I have to say no. I’ve seen that in action in real life. It’s a sexual forwardness that, when divorced from cruelty or antagonism, feels endearing. If shared between friends.
I like how you set up Ayumi’s arc. Can you talk a little bit about what you liked about it? How do you think Takuya and Ayumi’s characters interacted so well?
The Women of YU-NO: Taykua and Ayumi’s Interactions
I got ahead of myself here (it’s cause Ayumi is my favorite route) and we haven’t yet talked about Takuya, our leading man, so let me get into that.Takuya Arima at heart is the quintessential visual novel lead. He’s a plot device to get the reader from point A to B, but thankfully YU-NO allowed him to become something more than that.
Takuya in my view laid the foundation not just for visual novel leads, but also for characters like High School DxD’s Issei Hyoudou, Steins;Gate’s Rintaro Okabe, and Fate/Stay Night’s Shirou Emiya. While each of those characters are vastly different, there is a little bit of Takuya in all of them. Takuya is at heart a good man, brimming with self confidence that never really borders on arrogance or ignorance. He’s attractive (you don’t lay that much pipe if you aren’t) both physically and mentally. He’s curious about the world around him, and has a sense of justice that doesn’t feel self-serving or naive.
But most of all he’s respectful and kind. I always thought that Takuya was a person not in lockstep with the other people around him. He’s a high school student, but at the tail end of his time there, and many moments have him acting more like an adult and world weary man than he should be.
The narrative gave us a sense that even at the beginning of the story, Takuya had a history — and it weighed on him, but he bore it well. Capture from the Funimation stream.
Also Takuya is a man who knows his limits and plays within them. He’s a horndog to the bone, but he doesn’t lust and chase after the women. He gives them space, and admires them for who they are, as well as their bodies. You see this with Mio, Kanna and Kaori in their respective stories, who all seemed to be attracted to his sense of humor, honor and decency. It’s a great balance that not all stories are able to get right, and I admire them for it.
The Women of YU-NO: With Ayumi, It’s Personal
Now you don’t see this as much in Ayumi’s arc, as it is a more personal stake for him. There is an attraction on both sides of the romance between him and Ayumi, mostly because she was only married to his father for about a year or so before he died. Ayumi is still young, in the prime of her life, and Takuya is already 18, leaving high school and by all accounts a fit, attractive and intelligent man. The sparks between them are evident, especially in the visual novel which has moments of tenderness and development the anime skips over. The sexual tension is palpable, because again, they aren’t that far apart in ages. I believe Ayumi is only in her mid to late twenties.
In terms of moments from the arc, I still think the moment I was sold on the series was when Takuya sees Ayumi’s first suicide. The atmosphere is just perfect, he comes home to the rumpled up and stained bedsheets, the filled waste bin, and the sounds of water running. Seeing Ayumi dead, her wrists slit, and all of what came before had me almost stand up and go “Oh I am fucking IN!” I had to know more, I had to see the rest of the story, and that sent me down a path that I never regretted once.
What did you think of this moment, Crow, and the events of the arc in general?
The Women of YU-NO: Takuya Finding Ayumi Dead Came as a Shock
I think you did a great job framing her situation. She was in over her head, and she knew it. But she refused to retreat on any front. I admire that about her, and I recognize how she arrived in that position. Not naming any names, but let’s just say that I have some experience in finding myself behind enemy lines, under constant sustained fire, and with no means of resupply. After a while, you lose the ability to orient yourself, and it comes as a complete shock when you hit the wall.
You’re right about Takuya coming upon the site of Ayumi’s first suicide, which is a strange sentence to write… It deeply offended his sense of justice. It shattered his optimism. Up until now, and correct me if I’m wrong!, but Takuya had used the Reflection device to return to save points for relatively minor things like losing a fist fight. Now he gazed at the dead body of his step-mother, and as you said, he knew he had to act.
I honestly did admire her refusal to quit. I think Takuya did, too, and that’s another thing that struck him about her death. He knew that she could have prevented it. Even worse — he knew he could have prevented it.
Moments like this change a person forever. Capture from the Funimation stream.
After that scene, he had a more sober understanding of his power and what he could do with it. In a sense, I began to take the series much more seriously. I had the same feeling in High School DxD when Amano Yuuma/Raynare. It was the moment I knew this wasn’t just a light-hearted ecchi title. It was serious.
The Women of YU-NO: Takuya Had to Watch What Ayumi Had to Endure
The next iterations, Takuya had to watch how much Ayumi let Assholeish Toyotomi inflict on her in an effort to protect her job and Takuya’s future, just upped the stakes, for me as a viewer and for Takuya as her family. Her determination also made his pleas to her to let him help her all the more moving.
It does lead to a great ending though, the tender reconciliation between Ayumi and Takuya, one that goes ‘the distance’ in the visual novel. It was a sex scene that felt earned, and seeing the peaceful and joyous reaction from Ayumi can warm you heart. She has found her peace and balance, and it is only a shame that (unless you see their true endings), that Takuya gets warped back to the start of everything.
And speaking of the Reflector, most of Takuya using the Reflector for fun is actually anime only, as if the constant attempting to save Ayumi, only the bathtub scene is in the visual novel.. The time-looping is only used in the visual novel for jumping through each of the routes. The translation to animation from what is essentially a book can always be difficult.
YU-NO is a Serious Drama
But I do agree with your idea of a ‘serious ecchi,’ and while I don’t think the anime version of YU-NO is an ecchi, and the visual novel is an eroge (especially in the original version), there is more than enough effort put into the story that makes the series more than just some time-traveling harem show. Hell, I wouldn’t even call it that to begin with. This is more an epic science fiction thriller, and see that more in the next routes/arcs.
And that I think is a good time to move to the next character! I think we should take some time to discuss Kaori. Crow, what do you think of the mysterious woman of mystery?
What does Kaori want from Takuya? From life? You know, I’m still not convinced I know. Capture from the Funimation stream.
The Women of YU-NO: Kaori
When we first met her, I couldn’t really tell where she was coming from. Was she the Immoral Journalist? The Intrepid Reporter? Something else? Clearly, by asking Takuya in essence to spy on his mother, she put both Ayumi’s job and Takuya’s reputation and possibly freedom in jeopardy. How skillfully she played on his desire to protect his step mom also suggested a less than moral orientation. She’s the most “gray” of the women of YU-NO.
We’ve talked about how confident Takuya is in his own sexuality. But when Kaori came onto him in the hotel room, even Takuya had to take a step back and say “Whoa there, cougar!” Takuya’s underaged, and he used that as his defense.
Which is interesting because he seems to have had a relationship with Mitsuki Ichijou prior to the series. I wanted to ask you: Did that get more attention in the VN? I just started it, and I just got off the roof…
The dynamic here interested me. He approached his relationship with Ayumi almost as an equal. They’d both been part of the same family, and they were on familiar terms. Kaori seemed really, really comfortable to exert her full “adult” powers to sway Takuya. She offered her body and she appealed to Takuya’s sense of responsibility. Also, she tried to use her position as a journalist to assert her lofty goals , so he should decide to bet onboard. It’s one of the few times, short of someone actually pointing a gun at Takuya, where he, at least initially, felt out-gunned.
The Women of YU-NO: Kaori’s Arc, Very Different from the Visual Novel
Takuya’s relationship with Mitsuki gets far more attention in the Visual Novel and the series is better for it, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about Kaori.
I should mention at the start that Kaori’s arc is the one that has the biggest changes from visual novel to anime. In the anime it is mostly stapled onto Ayumi’s arc and a lot of what happens in the anime is actually completely separated in the Visual Novel. And while Kaori is one of the lesser characters in the story, it does feel on reflection that she gets shafted a bit in the anime.
In terms of Kaori herself, she is a woman of mystery. Not just in her own route, but throughout the first half of the series. Is she a good guy, or a bad one? Is she a driven newscaster? Or is she a corporate spy? Is she actually attracted to Takuya, or is she just trying to get him into bed, which of course she does in the VN. YU-NO has Kaori be a little bit of everything, and she remains an enigma throughout.
Kaori showed amazing cunning. But even when she deceived Takuya, there was a sense of adventure behind her demeanor. Capture from the Funimation stream.
And that’s why I like her. The great thing about YU-NO is that it’s female cast is varied and interesting. None of them are the same and they all have their own wants, desires, and goals. Kaori is her own woman, who gets what she wants, but also depending on how you play or watch, has a sense of honor and kindness that is able to peek through. She’s also an absolute bombshell and her out and proud sexuality makes her chemistry with Takuya damn effective. There is a clear sexual attraction between both of them, and what is sparks in the anime becomes fire in the VN.
The Women of YU-NO: Kaori’s Love of Life
What about you Crow? What did you think of Kaori’s role in the story?
It sounds like I need to get a move on to read/watch the VN!
I liked her role, and I liked her, for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. My favorite part about her is that she seems to do what she wants, when she wants, because she wants. She’s seized control of her life. It seems she is a driven reporter because at times, that suits her. She seems like a corporate spy because to achieve her goals, she spies.
All of her actions, especially her interactions with Takuya, show how much she wants to live. She wants to leave nothing untried. Life for her is a huge opportunity, and she wants to see and do as much as she can.
Her confidence was amazing, too. She didn’t give off a vibe that she was overconfident. I didn’t see her try to do anything inadvisable on her own. Instead, she worked with Takuya, Assholeish Toyotomi, or both, so she didn’t get in over her head. I had the sense that even in the anime’s ending for her, the Reflector device contributed the most to her downfall. That makes sense, too. Unless she had the insights of someone like Kouzou Ryuuzouji, she simply could not have foreseen time travel as a tactic!
Short version: Smart, confident, hot, and driven. Those are a great combination!
Is that a walkie-talkie, or are you just happy to see me? Kaori seemed game to find out! Gotta give Takuya respect for hiding the walkie talkie in his pants. Capture from the Funimation stream.
The Women of YU-NO: Easy to See Why Takuya Felt Attracted
Kaori, for as little a role she really has in the overall entire story, does leave a big impression. I agree with everything that you said, she’s smart, sassy, kind, sexy, and independent. It is easy to see why Takuya would be attracted to her and vice versa. But I also think she is someone who might not be the most loyal person. She would pick up and leave the moment her job was done. That is different from say Ayumi or Mitsuki, which is good. Having the female characters act and be different is what makes stories so good.
Now someone who is quite different from everyone else is Mio. She’s the high school girl of the story, the same age as Takuya, and has a story that while I really liked, I will also admit remains my least favorite of the heroines. To me, Mio is the one girl among the cast whose attraction to Takuya is a one way street, but I’ll get into that in a moment. For now, Crow, what are your thoughts about Mio, her story and revelations therein?
The Women of YU-NO: Mio
I’ll start by saying that I liked Mio. She was a studious, lovely young woman. As a high school student, she had the least experience of any of the women in Takuya’s orbit. I have to remind myself that’s as expected. But because of that, and legitimately so, she’s the most mundane of the characters.
I’m not saying she doesn’t have any appeal. Her passion for studying history impressed me. Her dedication to her friends struck me as commendable. Also, she’s the daughter of the mayor, but she didn’t use that as an excuse to ask for special treatment or to make life hard for folks. I liked that!
But she seemed mundane compared to Kaori, Ayumi, or especially Erika (who we’ll talk about later). I can’t imagine carrying on a conversation with her once we exhausted the mountain or the mysterious stuff going on. Again, she’s a lovely young woman — with an emphasis on young!
When we first saw Mio, I wasn’t sure if she was acting tsundere around Takuya, or if she really wanted to shank him. Capture from the Funimation stream.
It should be noted that the VN states outright that both Mio and Takuya are 18. So we aren’t dealing with any blurred lines.
The Women of YU-NO: Mio’s Inexperience
I agree with your view that Mio is the least experienced out of the female leads, and not just when it comes to sex. Out of the entire cast, and their respective relationships with Takuya, Mio is the one who again, is the most one-sided. It is clear that she is in love with Takuya, and treats his antics with that usual Tsundere attitude we all enjoy, or tolerate. But it is again, a one way street. I do think that Takuya likes her, finds her attractive and does in the end grow to love her, but initially I think he doesn’t have that view.
Takuya’s affair with Mitsuki and his attraction to Ayumi tell me that he has ‘moved on’ from the high school view of relationships that Mio is still in. He’s had sex, he’s been in a romance, which puts him ‘ahead’ of Mio and not really interested in putting up with her “I like you, but I can’t show you that I like you’ bullshit that she expects is the norm of things. In that regard, I like how Takuya acts as an almost mature and older mentor to her at times, giving her another perspective and view of the world. Compare that to Yuuki, their other friend who worships the ground Mio walks on. She’s not interested in that, and it is what drives him to do the stupid things he ends up doing.
What about you Crow, what was your view on Mio and her relationship to Takuya? Did you pick up on anything I said?
Those were good examples of what I tried to get across. I’m glad you brought those up. None of the women of YU-NO are weak or pathetic characters. Each has their own strengths, charms, and weaknesses. Glad we didn’t lose track of that! Well, glad you didn’t!
The only other point I’d like to bring up about her is that yes, he did end up loving her at the end of her arc. But I didn’t get a sense of the passion he felt for Eriko or Amanda, who we’ll talk about later. I don’t say that as a negative. It’s another positive thing about this series. Not only did it offer a variety of characters. The relationships they experienced with Takuya depended on their personalities, which I thought was a mature and nuanced approach.
The Women of YU-NO: Mio Has Many Good Points
I am glad we agree, but I don’t want to rag on Mio completely, because she does have some good points. Her banter with Takuya is some of the best in the series. Unlike Eriko who likes to indulge Takuya, Mio won’t take any of his bullshit, and she plays the Tsundere role quite well. But more importantly, Mio is a person of great drive and ambition. Most of the girls in YU-NO’s first half are, but Mio is the one with the most to prove.
Despite having an obvious crush on Takuya, he isn’t the whole focus of her teenage world. She has a love of history and a desire to plunge into the unknown, her journey into the mountain and the revelations of what is underneath not only help expand the world, but also her character. While some might say it just makes Mio a plot device, and in a sense that is true, I think it helps flesh out her character. You can see the future researcher that she’ll become, but also someone who isn’t going to lock away her honest desires for that. She strikes a good balance between both, and she is a better character for it.
Mio really does have a lot of admirable traits. She’s smart and when she sets her mind to do something, she’s relentless. Capture from the Funimation stream.
It would have been easy to make Mio just be the uptight high school girl who just needed her senpai to notice her, but instead we have a capable and headstrong young woman who is more than her crush, even though that crush is important to her. Crow, let me ask you this before we wrap up this first look at YU-NO. With Mio’s and Ayumi’s arc, we slowly get the sense that there is more to the world than is let one. Takyua can leap through time, but the appearance of the lightning tower, the magical gem that Kaori is after, the tapestry that Mio and Takuya examine. It hints at something much more deeper and sinister in the world.
What do you think of all that?
YU-NO Reveals the Truth Slowly
I’m glad you brought up some of her positive details. I tried to allude to them before, and I didn’t want to leave an impression that I didn’t respect her. I do respect her, and the reasons we both gave make her a well-rounded character.
You bring up another good point with how the show slowly revealed that the world is much, much bigger than it first seems. Takuya’s time-jumps, when he refined his attack on the fake-thugs Assholeish Toyotomi sent after Ayumi, were relatively low-risk and kind of funny. It also established the possibility of time travel, but the stakes seemed so low that within the framework of the narrative, it was almost inconsequential.
Later, we saw that he could use the device to actually save Ayumi’s life, which upped the stakes. In Mio’s arc, we learned something else: The Reflector had limits. No matter how many times he looped, there was something that made it so Mitsuki had to die. Takuya had a device that gave him a lot of power, but that power could not rewrite fate. The setup for some of the next arcs.
In the VN, did you have the same kind of progression? The slow reveal of what the Reflector could and couldn’t do?
The Women of YU-NO: The Reflector’s Different Roles
The Reflector played a different role in the VN and anime. Capture from the Funimation stream.
In the VN, the Reflector is used more as a gameplay tool than actually having a narrative focus in the story. It’s mentioned a few times, but it doesn’t have the narrative presence that it does in the anime. That is to be expected as the anime doesn’t have the gameplay loop of jumping between each of the routes to progress further. Much of Takuya’s looping in the anime is only shown in the anime, but I think it is meant to reflect the person reading the VN and jumping constantly to get the best endings. I think it works in both, but I will say that I didn’t feel as much attachment to it in the VN then I did the anime, as I mostly followed a guide so I could 100% the game.
The issue with Mitsuki always fated to die is something that is brought up, but I think that would be best left to the second volume of this discussion. We’ve already discussed a lot, but there is so much left. We have three more arcs in the first half, then there is the big change that comes in the second, so I don’t think we’ll be done with YU-NO anytime soon. It’s been great to go back into this series again with you Crow, and I look forward to continuing in the near future!
Other YU-NO Posts
Other Anime Sites
- Shallow Dives in Anime: YU-NO: A Girl who Chants Love at the Bound of this World: A Piece of History
- Shallow Dives in Anime: YU-NO’s Takuya Arima and Amanda: Within a Minute
- The Infinite Zenith: In Which The Merits of YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World’s Visual Novel Are Introduced- Part I of A Collaborative Discussion with Dewbond
- The Infinite Zenith: In Which We Enter Dela Grante in YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World, Part II – A Collaborative Discussion with Dewbond