“Yuki Yuna is a Hero” and Me

21 Dec

By: Stephanie Weirich

Yuki Cover

(WARNING: If you are presently watching “Yuki Yuna is a Hero” but have not watched the most recent episode, or if you aren’t watching it but think you might at some point, I highly advise you to click away because I am about to spoil the fuck out of it for you)

Here is the most personal question I will ever ask of you: Have you ever been diagnosed with a chronic, incurable illness?

And here is the most personal admission I will ever make to you: I have.

In September of 2013 I fell ill. Incredibly ill. So ill that I woke each day surprised to be alive. And this illness lasted so long that at a certain point, when the pain had been so constant, so unrelenting, I stopped thinking that waking up alive was a blessing.

Finally, the last week of September, I ended up in the ER. After one CT scan and a colonoscopy I was diagnosed with an illness called Ulcerative Colitis. This is a chronic, incurable illness that causes my immune system to attack my large intestine, leading to immense pain and bleeding ulcers in the wall of my large intestine.

As of now, according to all medical science and opinion, I will have this disease for the rest of my life. While I take medication that allows me to function (mostly) normally, this will always be something I will have to deal with and the cost it has placed upon my life is immense and permanent. I will always have days where I wake up wracked with a red hot pain that prevents me from doing much more than suffering silently. There are places I can never travel to because should I get a stomach virus, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I will be out of commission for a great length of time. My chances of getting bowel cancer have sky rocketed and the possibility that I may someday need a colostomy bag is very real. I will always have to be careful with what I eat, what I do, where I go and I will always need to know where a bathroom is at all times (but hey, I can definitely tell you which places in the greater Seattle area have the cleanest facilities).

These are the facts of my life now. The ABCs of my existence.

Why I am telling you this at all, but in particular, why am I telling you this now? Because it is important. Because it is an integral part of who I am. Because now, for better or worse, it shapes how I view everything and how everything affects me. And that includes anime.

If you have ever wondered why I promptly disappeared, why my writing for this site has been sporadic at best, this is why. This diagnosis and its effect on my life has been the most difficult thing I have ever experienced and I have struggled to make sense of it all since then. And as with so many other times of struggle, this time too I turned to anime to cope.

At times this coping took the form of hiding from emotional engagement. For a time, my greatest solace was to come home, smoke as much pot as I could reasonably handle (as it turns out, when you have a chronic, painful bowel disease, the gatekeepers of the medical marijuana licenses just sort of hand you a card the minute you show up) and then zone out with anime. The fluffier the better. The gentler the better. I turned to comedies, like “Engaged to the Unidentified” or “Arakawa Under the Bridge”. I sought out shows that would (hopefully) make me believe that the world was still a good place, a kind place, such as “Natsume Yuujinchou.” But the common theme around what I sought out was that I was looking for ways to escape. I wanted to see things that would help me forget the reality of my situation. The reality that I had lost something incredibly precious: the life I had always known.

The world would be a better place if we were all a little more like Natsume.

The world would be a better place if we were all a little more like Natsume.

Over the past year since my diagnosis, I have had to readjust to life as I know it. I have had to grieve the loss of a life that I took for granted. I have had to fight my way back to a new baseline of normalcy. And it has been the hardest thing I have ever done. So now, while I am not always ok, while I am not always at peace, while I still have days that I am angry, so very, very angry, I am better than I was a year ago. I am learning to cope. I am learning to be better. I am learning to be kinder to myself. I am learning how to face the possibility of my increasingly impaired future.

Motherfucking heroes and shit

Motherfucking heroes and shit

The combined impact of all of this now brings me to “Yuki Yuna is a Hero.” If you have been watching “Yuki Yuna is a Hero” then you know that it’s a magical girl show about the necessary and terrible sacrifices of heroism and the way friendship and love gives meaning to those sacrifices and that heroism. You also know that while this show started off gently, beautifully, with a muted pastel color palette that matched the gentleness of the day to day activities of our titular heroes, it has recently taken a darker turn. If you have been watching it, then you, like me, have been able to see all 5 girls—Yuna, Togo, Fu, Itsuki and Karin—grow into their responsibilities of being heroes while their bonds with each other intensify and deepen. We have watched the reality of their world test them in very real and horrifying ways, and we have learned the truth of that world together and with them.

And the truth of their world and their role in it is very simple: in order to be heroes, in order to save the gentle and beautiful world that they call their own, in order to use the immense powers that have been gifted to them to prepare them for this fight, they must sacrifice their bodies. Piece by piece, fight by fight, they must give themselves away, literally, for the greater good. They have been given an ultimate form, an ultimate power (just like in every other magical girl/shounen action show/anime with powers ever made) and every time they use this ultimate power, they will lose a part of themselves. At first, it’s something relatively minor. Togo loses hearing in her left ear, Yuna can longer taste anything, Itsuki can’t speak and Fu loses sight in her left eye. Karin is the one girl who does not use her ultimate form, and thus the one girl left unscathed. Not long after this though, they are introduced to another girl, an older hero, who has lost the ability to do anything other than lie in a hospital bed, gazing out at the world with her one good eye. This, we are told, is the very real cost of heroism: the total obliteration of the girl’s bodies. They are sacrifices, in the way that young girls are always sacrifices to deities and the greater good. They will lose everything, but they will be worshiped as gods and taken care of for the rest of their days.

All of the girls react accordingly, with Yuna the only girl who 100% accepts the responsibility of heroism and all of the terribleness that comes with it. Needless to say, some of the other girls, namely Togo, are not prepared to deal with the reality of their roles. Togo is so disgusted by this (and by an equally disturbing truth about the nature of the world itself) to such a degree that she decides the world must be destroyed to end this cycle of violence and sacrifice. This destruction leads to a dire, do or die situation, and all of the girls must decide to fight for the sake of each other and for the sake of this world.



This leads to Karin—a character who prior to her introduction to the other girls had no friends and no greater reason to fight other than that’s what she was told she had to do, a girl who has learned the ultimate value of her life through suddenly creating bonds with people who love her and that she loves in return—making the decision to fight for the sake of her beloved friends no matter the cost. And the cost is immense. As she fights a series of enemies, again and again she enters this ultimate state, each time visibly losing the use of a different body part. First it’s an arm, then a leg, then the other leg, then everything until she is rendered paralyzed, deaf and blind. The cost of her heroism, of her sacrifice, is a fate worse than death.

Now, you might be wondering how my earlier admission of chronic illness and Karin’s fate relate to one another. What I can tell you is that while I watched this scene unfold, while I watched her body be slowly taken from her, a creeping dread set in. I began to feel so overwhelmed, so devastated by this loss of mobility and person-hood that my stomach clenched like a fist while tears came to my eyes. Repeatedly, I found myself talking to my screen, saying “Stop”.

“Please stop.”

“Please don’t do this.”


Because I know what it is like to lose control over your body. I know what it is like to have the use of your body impeded and/or taken from you. Karin’s loss, even though she chose that loss and I did not choose mine, resonated with me on a much deeper and more personal level than I had anticipated. It has forced me to confront in a very real way many of the fears that my own illness inspires within me. On my worst days I have a very deep seated fear that over time, through this illness, my mobility, my person-hood, my body, will be eroded and destroyed, leaving me a shell of my former self, leaving me dependent upon people who love me more than I think I deserve. This fear keeps me awake at night. Now, I have fought to overcome this fear and with the help of family, friends and an excellent therapist, and every day I get closer to moving past it. “Yuki Yuna is a Hero” and Karin’s choice in particular, while it brings that fear to the surface, brings with it hope. Hope that I can always be stronger, that I can always be better, and that I can always learn to cope with the many vagaries and iniquities that life brings to us. I have hope that life has meaning beyond what I know now, that there is meaning in the bonds I share with others, that there is meaning to this illness. And while not perfect, this is perhaps my own personal conception of what heroism means to me: The ability to look at all that has been taken from me, and balance it against that which has been gifted to me, and realize that those gifts outweigh what has been lost. Like all of the girls in “Yuki Yuna is a Hero” have come to learn, the only thing that can be done is to keep moving forward with those that you love at your side, one step at a time.

I want to believe that Karin and myself, that all of us and the anime characters that we love can find the good in the world and in our lives. I want to believe that our personal sacrifices matter. I want to believe that we can all make peace with the consequences of our particular situations. This is one of the greater lessons that anime has the capacity to teach: that the world is good, that it is even better when we are good to each other and when we face whatever comes together. It is one of the many reasons why anime matters and why it has power. It is one of the main reasons I continue to turn to it and find solace in it throughout the many phases and turns that my life has taken. It is why I believe all of us come back to it again and again. It is a mirror that shows us our (maybe only slightly) better selves. It can give us a glimpse of a better future, a better world.

So tonight, let’s be a little kinder to ourselves and each other. Let’s be a little more understanding. Let’s be like Karin and all the girls of the Hero Club and find the greater good in ourselves and in each other. Let’s keep moving forward, together, even if there is fear in our hearts and tears in our eyes, because maybe one day if we try hard enough, there won’t be.


2 Responses to ““Yuki Yuna is a Hero” and Me”

  1. ianexclamation December 21, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. This was wonderful and poignant and agh, I have so many feels now. My mother was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis earlier this year and I see a lot of parallels between her struggle and yours and the characters you describe. I truly admire you. I know that, while it isn’t easy, your attitude toward everything is beautiful and inspiring. Love love love ❤

    • entropypieplate December 21, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      I said it before and I’ll say it again: thank YOU for reading. I knew when this moment on this show made me feel such a deeply visceral feeling that I needed to find a way to channel all of those emotions into something about it. I am always so grateful for the positive impact that anime is capable of having on my life and more importantly, I love sharing that with others. I’m also sorry to hear about your mom, I know that Rheumatoid Arthritis is a rough one, and it does share similarities with the effects of UC. I can totally empathize with what she’s going through and I know that she’s lucky to have such a wonderful son as yourself to support her. ❤ ❤ ❤

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