Yuri Kuma Arashi and the Effects of Symbolism, Part 1
Winter 2015 brought us the typical anime offerings of harems, slice-of-lives, and comedies. But among the rough, there shined a rather peculiar diamond: Yuri Kuma Arashi. Sadly, many people had foregone the show for a variety of reasons. One, it defines the phrase “completely insane.” Its premise is just too crazy for many people to swallow. Two, is the show’s use of lesbianism. Again, some people refuse to accept such a development. And three – by far the largest reason for people ignoring the anime – is the use of symbolism. Each of these will be addressed in my later review, but my analysis here will be focusing on the third.
What follows is my attempt at accomplishing three goals: explaining the idea of symbolism and its uses, conveying and interpreting Yuri Kuma Arashi’s symbols, and how they connect to the messages, ideas, and motifs it presents. Hopefully by the end of my entire piece, you’ll not only have a greater understanding of the variety and effectiveness of symbols – which you can use throughout your own anime-watching career – but also a greater appreciation of “Lesbian Bear Storm” and everything it has to offer.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Symbols: A Discussion
Wikipedia defines a “symbol” as the following:
“A symbol is an object that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, visual image, belief, action, or material entity.” 
In other words, a symbol means something else. But it’s more than that. A symbol “has not only ‘literal’ meaning, but also additional meaning(s) beyond the literal.”  What symbols do remarkably well is present someone with something that has an absolute definition and an underlying interpretation. For example, take the Sun. Literally speaking it’s a star that’s really hot. However, depending on the circumstance, it can represent: happiness, hope, brilliance, godliness, etc.
The key word here is “circumstance,” or put more correctly, context. Symbols and their use bring with them multiple meanings, but depending on their place within a particular setting (be it in anime, literature, or film) the meaning changes. As another example, a closed treasure chest might represent good-will and fortune in an adventurous thriller but might represent longing and the unknown in a depressing drama. It’s extremely important to understand the setting in which the symbol is placed, for such contextual clues give rise to more rational understandings.
Symbolism itself isn’t “good” or “bad,” simply due to its nature. While it can be blatant, vague, obscure, in-your-face, roundabout, or any other descriptor attributed to its presentation, a symbol is not inherently placed in those aforementioned states. That’s because of the opinionated base that symbols are steeped in; multiple interpretations provide vastly different outlooks. What this implies, then, is that the symbolic meaning be followed by logical explanation in order to be considered valid.
That’s an important distinction. While a symbol cannot be good or bad, it can easily be weak or strong in regards to its use and ultimately one’s interpretation of it. Going the example route once more, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, in the first canticle Inferno, and within the Malebolge, sinners of simony are placed headfirst within holes.  Symbolically, such holes represent baptismal fonts, which in turn represent the church and Christianity. But given the situation, thecontext, it represents an inversion of sin and a “dethroning” of those of ecclesiastical positions. So, while interpreting the holes as being symbols of baptismal fonts is correct, taking into account the context aids in making such a symbol that much more coherent.
In the end, why even use symbols? Why doesn’t the author of a novel explain with words what he or she is trying say? What is the point of having an anime director incorporate random objects to get across his or her point when the characters could just say it through dialogue?
One reason is to give their work multiple meanings that a “simple, literal statement could never convey.”  Using symbols provides the work with a wide range of interpretations that would otherwise not be possible. By being so open-ended, symbols provide people with the capability of crafting their own perception of a book, show, or film. It makes the given narrative have different spins on what it means, and exactly what message it is trying to get across. In this sense, a symbol maintains a certain amount of ambiguity, acting as a bridge between the person and the themes. And when that bridge is discovered and subsequently traversed, a journey is had. But not everyone’s journey – everyone’s interpretation – will be the same.
Another reason to stick with symbols stems from a known adage, “show; don’t tell.” Laying out one’s thoughts directly is definitely doable, but it’s more “elegant” to demonstrate by simile or metaphor; “actions speak louder than words.” If a particular situation or message was detailed outright, it would not have that same sense of fulfillment. By relying on symbols rather than sentences, it not only makes the piece in question more intriguing for the viewer but also makes it more rewarding. Being able to obtain value or meaning by finding the answer, as opposed to having it told to you, is much more worthwhile. It’s impactful, powerful, and everlasting, traits that symbols bring about with ease.
I’ve been discussing what symbols really are and how they help craft a story, but what are some negatives that come attached to such a device? One issue involves the two extremes: way too difficult and way too intrusive. If a symbol is too nuanced, it may be impossible for the audience to discern. At the other end, if a symbol is too “in-your-face,” it may annoy or distract the audience from appreciating what lays beyond it. Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, can be quoted as saying, “The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural.” 
There is also another two-fold problem: under and over using symbols in a work to relay the overall purpose. On the one hand, symbols are used precisely because they are, more or less, “general.” When people see a heart, they know it means “love;” when they see a thumbs-up, they know it means “good job.” These are simple cases, but the idea remains the same: using symbols gives an extra layer of connection or thinking, providing the audience with a more thought-provoking experience. In conjunction with the previous conversation about multiple meanings and showing rather than telling, it would almost be a crime to not use such a compelling tool. On the other hand, “Heavy-handedness with…symbols is almost as bad (maybe worse, in fact) than not bothering with them at all.”  Bombarding the audience with too many symbols may cause them to become annoyed or distracted, preventing them from appreciating what lays beyond. If there are so many symbols that the focus on the story and characters is essentially lost, then the symbols aren’t being the bridges their supposed to be. Instead, they turn into toll-booths, forcing one to stop and “pay the toll,” where such payment is in the form of engagement.
Yuri Kuma Arashi can appropriately be said to be overabundant in its use of symbols – it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call it “Symbolism: The Anime” considering what it is comprised of. But such an amount is merely a form of tolerance. This density of symbolism within the show doesn’t detract from the story or the characters due to they themselves being symbols.
Putting aside such an arguable statement for later, when all is said and done, it comes down to execution. In essence, there are five prominent uses of symbolism: as small details, for motifs, in visual metaphors, with universality, and in hiding.  There may be more, but these encompass the majority and important ways in which they’re used. And Yuri Kuma Arashi follows these uses exceptionally well. There are small details such as passing references to Pope Urban II; motifs of homosexuality, love, and religion; metaphors in the form of walls and drinks; universal offerings with the lilies; even hidden ones with the layout of Kureha’s room.  And that’s just the beginning. What is listed is only a small helping of the symbols that can be found throughout the show from start to finish. But while the symbolism used may not always be so straightforward, what is clear is that despite their prevalence, their overall execution, strength, and meaning propels the anime from something simple to something special.
List of References for Part 1