(from Aiden's original review)
Finishing middle school, Akari Akaza joins the high school Amusement Club, composed solely of her two childhood friends, Kyouko Toshinou and Yui Funami. Chinatsu Yoshikawa, Akaza's classmate, soon becomes a member and we find ourselves with four girls in a clubroom with nothing to do - guess what happens.
Right off the bat, this whole genre begs the question: Why do straight guys fantasize about lesbian schoolgirls?
Certainly none of the intended audience (and don't kid yourself: shows like Strawberry Panic, YuruYuri, and Sakura Trick were never originally intended for LGBT people) is actually able to relate to the characters within, and certainly this is therefore the kind of quixotic "slice-of-life" pablum drawn from the fevered, overcaffeinated imagination of moe-addicted otaku writing for their likeminded peers, likely devoid of any real-life experience with actual schoolgirls (much less ones who fancy each other).
One theory is that it's an equivalent to the yaoi experience, where fictionalized gay male relationships are used as a proxy for straight ones (with males taking on both of the otherwise clearly defined Japanese gender roles of dominant male and subservient female) without the messy jealous feelings readers might have with a female protagonist. However, yuri often lacks the dominant-submissive (uke-seme) dynamic that is prevalent in boys-love stories, and in this case, with a protagonist that is essentially invisible, there is simply no place for any male viewer to insert themselves - one is not precisely meant to relate to Akari Akaza, but maybe chuckle at the juxtaposition of her cuteness and her inability to parlay that cuteness into actual, consistent attention.
Instead, by creating an artificial funhouse-mirror version of our world where men (and presumably, heteronormativity) essentially don't exist and these young women naturally then gravitate towards each other, YuruYuri attempts to appeal towards the sort of dynamic where an audience derives pleasure and enjoyment from watching these young girls engage in what is essentially one, long, goofy pillow fight, while occasionally dropping into less innocent diversions (particularly where Chinatsu, Chitose, and Chizuru are involved). The idea is that watching other people be happy makes the audience be happy, in ways that are potentially either altruistic (if you're an optimist) or voyeuristic (if you're a snark monster).
So, um, why do I like this show?
Certainly, I should know better. I recently dinged Sakura Trick for being one gigantic, embarrassing girly-makeout fan service machine, so what makes YuruYuri any different? Well, for starters, with the character ages running slightly younger, overt sensuality is mostly replaced by an overwhelming cuteness -- one merely needs to watch the opening and ending sequences to get all the "bubblegum cute" they need for a decade (and possibly enough to induce a decade's worth of cavities). But don't be fooled into thinking that the overwhelming cuteness is inherently and consistently innocuous -- there are certainly times when lines of decency get crossed, and those are moments that have an equal chance of leading to genuine laughs or facepalms (and honestly wondering if maybe you shouldn't have let the missus know you were watching this). Weirdly, some of the ickiest humor is right in the beginning of the show (with Kyoko creeping on Akari's underwear in a throwaway scene that is, mercifully, never mentioned again).
To the credit of the creators, the characters are interesting and unique enough not to feel like the same archetypes from every other slice-of-life show ever. For all her lack of presence, Akari is a honest-to-goodness sweetheart, though definitely a "false lead" protagonist as she very quickly falls out of focus. Kyoko is a little too energetic for her own good, and sometimes tries a bit too hard to be funny, but is shockingly talented and book-smart. Yui is cool-headed and acts like she's above it all but cares too much about Kyouko to leave her alone. And then there's Chinatsu, whose outward cuteness belies a strange inner darkness that turns all her creative endeavors into the stuff of nightmares. She's easily the most polarizing character here (and strangely, ended up my personal favorite). This is not to get into the side-characters like yuri-shipping and nosebleed-prone Chitose, her snarky yet just as fantasy-prone twin sister Chizuru, Kyoko's unknown rival (and secret admirer) Ayano, constantly catfighting childhood friends Himawari and Sakurako who are obviously soulmates secretly in love with each other ... it goes on, and we end up with a relationship polygon (all girls, mind) rivaling that of any soap opera, only, strangely, without the angst.
If there's a major flaw in YuruYuri, it's that it all becomes a bit routine after a while. Jokes that are pleasant-to-riotous the first time get a bit tiresome after a while. Part of the problem is that the writing is often just not very good, and we just don't get the richness we'd see in, say, the field trip episodes of Azumanga Daioh, or even Haruhi Suzumiya. It's telling that the setting feels like it could be anywhere in Japan rather than the Word-of-God stated Takaoka, Toyama, because the writers just don't explore the regional angle at all whatsoever; mostly, we just see the club members in their room or their homes, and usually, that's it.
But even the repetition of character interactions has an oddly compelling charm to it; I looked forward to every time Kyoko would try and get Chinatsu to cosplay, or every time Chinatsu would call out to her "Yui-sempaaaaaai". That's when it feels less like repetition, more like reliability. For the most part, these characters are really pretty adorable - and when they're not, the jokes are often pretty darn funny. It's a shame, then, when the occasional off-color gag reminds you that this is actually intended as a show for basement boys fetishizing junior high schoolgirls -- if anything YuruYuri succeeds as entertainment in spite of its intent, because the dichotomy between the sophomoric writing and the appealing execution is simply staggering, though perhaps less so than its spiritual successor, Sakura Trick.
Much of the credit should go to the voice cast, all of whom do a competent-to-excellent job of giving their characters distinctive and enjoyable personalities. All four members of the club stand out in their own way, all voiced by relatively new voice actresses who quickly form a recognizable and fun rapport, evident as soon as the opening theme plays; the rapport may be manufactured, but it's well-made and worth noting.
You can't and perhaps shouldn't overthink YuruYuri, because this simply isn't the kind of show that benefits from intense (or even cursory) scrutiny. It's obvious that just about everything is being played for laughs (even when maybe it shouldn't be), and since the character relationships are perpetually locked on *just* this side of platonic, you're guaranteed not to approach anything resembling resolution or character progression. Folks looking for any sort of coherent, ongoing narrative here may as well be searching for written directions for IKEA furniture.
I can think of a zillion ways this show could have gone off the rails, but YuruYuri was a thoroughly entertaining experience. Sometimes a show doesn't need to be smart or even objectively *good*-- sometimes, easy-going and happy go lucky can be quite enough.
While blatantly exploitative, occasionally repetitive, and only occasionally flirting with accidental brilliance, YuruYuri is reliably entertaining and awfully cute. Moe fans will eat this up; conversely, the serious-minded may want to give this a skip. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: (Aiden) Early teens and over. Suggestive fantasies, nosebleeds and the occasional forced kiss are the only real objectionable content. It is clean in general for a show about teenage girls chasing after each other.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source, in Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (12/12)
YuruYuri © 2011 Namori / Ichijinsha / 7FEC
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