Yuki Yuna is a Hero! - Magical Girls fight ableism!
This anime revolves around a group of friends in an after school "Hero Club". After gaining a reputation as local heroes by doing good deeds, getting involved with their community, and finding homes for stray kittens, Yuna Yuki and her friends are offered the chance to become real heroes by transforming into magical girls and defending their home from inter-dimensional beings called Vertexes. Stoked at the opportunity to do real good, the club agrees to become heroes! But as the story progresses, they learn that by using their powers, they are agreeing to lose the use of some part of their physical bodies, possibly forever. For a series squarely in an action genre where characters rely heavily on their physical strength, athleticism, and quick reflexes to navigate through the tribulations of a hero, let's explore how YYiaH manages to be an affirmative story for people with disabilities.
Ability is addressed right away in the series, long before the issue of fighting and becoming warriors is even introduced. Mimori Togo, one of the members of Hero Club, does not have use of her legs and uses a wheelchair. Unlike many characters played in wheelchairs, Togo's disability is not obliquely featured when we meet her, nor is she ever portrayed as an other because of it. For the first few episodes, Togo is shown to be a normal girl perfectly at home with her friends, and the fact that she needs to use a wheelchair is never shown as an obstacle or even as a plot device. When the group first gets their powers and are able to transform and fight, Togo initially feels ashamed and worries she is a burden because she believes she cannot fight the way her friends can, but instead of using this as a device to make her character look weak, handicaped, or damselish, and instead of feeding her anxieties or offering dismissive platitudes, her friends encourage her that she was chosen for a reason and has an incredible amount of strength she can use regardless of her disability. When she finally does muster the courage to transform, the writers could have easily played off her disability by writing her magical girl form to have use of her legs, and in doing so stating that her "true" or "ideal" form is "better" abled, but they don't. Instead her transformation incorporated her wheelchair, becoming a kinetic, mind-interfaced spider-like frame that can adapt and move to her needs (its really cool actually), and instead of giving her passive powers like healing, tech, or magic typically associated with "support" type characters, she becomes a super badass sniper and gunslinger, packing massive battle damage that is integral to the girls' success in combat.
When the other characters begin to lose abilities in other parts of their bodies, for example one girl loses the ability to speak, another loses sight in one eye, another loses the ability to taste or smell, they mourn their ailments and are appropriately concerned when it's learned that their new disabilities might be permanent, but they never wallow, or think of themselves as less because of them.
A major plot point in the show is when they learn that the Taisha, the guardian gods that give the girls their powers, are knowingly and intentionally taking physical abilities from them as their powers mature, but even in the face of such a horrible revelation, the emphasis is on the violation of trust and issues of consent, not on the fact that because they were deceived they now all face the realities of disability. In fact the girls discuss how even if they knew that they would become disabled by becoming heroes, they would choose to accept the responsibility anyway in order to stand by their values and loved ones.
To me, this balance of mourning what has passed and what has become with the affirmation that even with disability they are still strong, powerful, caring, worthy humans that can accomplish their dreams in spite of challenges, is an extremely healthy and ability-positive way of approaching disability that is rarely seen in media, especially in action anime. I've seen this series described in a lot of genre lists as a "dark magical girl" title similar to Madoka or the Magical Girl Raising Project, but I think ultimately this series is much more affirmative than dark. The theme here isn't so much about the failure of magic or humanity, but the ability to find light, strength, and will within oneself in spite of our limitations. It also has a happy ending ;) but don't let me spoil it for you!