Yuri Kuma Arashi and the Effects of Symbolism, Part 2

by BanjoTheBear

Court is in session

Court is in session

If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you start with Part 1 to familiarize yourself with all that is the very complex device known as symbolism.

This time, we’ll be taking a look at what exactly the show is trying to convey, what the majority of the essay will consist of until near the last few parts, and break down the first three episodes. There are actually a lot more symbols going on in these opening episodes, but we cannot fully look at them until much later. So while it may not seem like there is much to dissect, trust me, there is a lot to get through!

Day two, let’s go.

Yuri Kuma Arashi’s Thematic Presence

Since we now have a better idea as to what exactly symbolism entails, we can finally jump into the meat of the analysis.

At this point, it’s important to clearly lay out Yuri Kuma Arashi’s own themes, or what the symbols are being used for. The anime has three overall ideas:

-Sociopolitical commentary on the perceptions of prejudice, specifically sexual discrimination and racism

-Telling a complex yet richly unique love story

-Challenging religious connotations associated with preconceived beliefs

They all sound super fancy because they are; they’re themes that are rarely tackled in the medium, let alone in such a manner. And in order to “clearly” depict its story, characters, and themes, the symbols contained within the show are utilized.

A Systematic, Symbolic Breakdown

From here on out I will be detailing, with as much wit as I can muster, the various symbols used, how I interpret them, and the supportive rationale needed to make such claims valid. They’re loosely categorized by episodes, and organized in such a way as to describe them based on when an “appropriate” amount of information has been garnered. Furthermore, pictures are provided for easy visualization.

Each separate symbol will be split into three distinct parts: “literal” where the symbol is described, “interpretation” where the underlying meaning is attributed, and “explanation” where the evidence for said meaning is brought forth.

~EPISODE 1 – “Never Back Down on Love”~

Adjusted Oculars

Adjusted Oculars

-Literal: Sumika’s glasses

-Interpretation: ironic representation of pure love

-Explanation: Uniqueness is always important within storytelling. And here, Sumika is the only woman who wears glasses in the entire show. She has “augmented vision” in terms of love, as well as in terms of seeing. But glasses are needed for people with improper eyesight, and subsequently her perception is “flawed,” and therefore so is this kind of love. That is, pure, absolute goodness does not – cannot – exist.

The Lily Garden

The Lily Garden

-Literal: A group of flowers located near the school grounds

-Interpretation: Love, purity, and sex

-Explanation: This garden holds huge significance throughout the entire anime. It is the source of love (both Kureha’s and Reia’s), the source of death (Ginko and Lily kill behind the garden; opposite of love is hate), and where other important events go down (Kureha’s near exclusion, Ginko’s entrapment, etc.). The garden is constantly tampered with, too: it is cut down as a “deflowering” of love, it is regrown to rectify past trauma, and it is closed off to remain stagnated and static. Each of these situations occurs depending on the current happenings of the show.

While love and purity of it are evident, the lily also has several other meanings as well. It is often associated with the Virgin Mary, a Christian figure of chastity. [10] Taking into account the Japanese pretext, the lily is also known as “yuri,” and therefore female homosexuality. This type of thinking stems from not only the name of the show, but the opening scene as well: Kureha and Sumika sweetly whispering to each other, while entwining their fingers together – another symbol of passion.

As a final note, it’s also worthy to mention the design in the center: squares rotated within each other. Squares represent order, formality, and peacefulness. [11] But due to the tilted and rotated nature of each square, we know that the structure (of the show and the door’s purpose) is slightly off. Again, since this is one of the first shots we are given, it sets the direction and tone of the anime; and set it, it does.

~EPISODE 2 – “I Will Never Forgive You”~

From Flowers to Flying

From Flowers to Flying

-Literal: plants slowly turn into birds

-Interpretation: lilies give way to doves; love is lost and life to death

-Explanation: What’s interesting here is the use once again of lilies, but this time in conjunction with doves. Like lilies, doves are representative of love. Where they differ, though, is in their “form.” Lilies are grounded, rooted, and uniform, with a clear “location.” Doves are moving, fleeting, and chaotic, with undefined behavior. In other words, love goes from being known to unknown. At the same time, the transition from the lilies to the doves signifies a departure from life. Going from the Earth to somewhere “up high,” just as Sumika did the day before. This thinking is further reinforced by the use of lilies during funerals. [12]

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Home Is Where the Heart Is

-Literal: where Kureha lives and finds comfort

-Interpretation: She lives at a “crossroads,” with two paths to choose: to give or not to give up on love

-Explanation: On her block, Kureha’s house is vibrant and pink, contrasting with the dreary and dull neighborhood that surrounds it. More importantly, however, is where it is located. It’s at an impasse: on the left is a sign for “humans” (and more specifically, a mother and daughter) while on the right is a sign for “bears.” She doesn’t know exactly why she has her current feelings, what exactly she wants, and where she’ll ultimately be going. Being caught in the crossfire between the humans and bears is a constant situation Kureha finds herself in, and is what helps to drive many of the events of the story forward.

The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase

-Literal: A set of steps leading to the school’s rooftop

-Interpretation: a stairway of love

-Explanation: Using the appropriate term “stepping stone” here; doves are found once more in this symbol. But interestingly, their orientation is different. Now, instead of flying up they’re spiraling down. That is, now instead of love “getting away,” the staircase leads to the starting point, or the nest, to the home of love. Simultaneously, stairs provide the ability to not only get to new heights but also fight against a universal power (gravity). They support, guide, and move a person from one area to the next against a force that otherwise is always pushing against us.

Finally, the spiraled nature of the steps indicates uncertainty, a particular ambiguity attached to the situation they connect. This is further reinforced by the offset nature of the shot; the stairs are placed somewhat right of center.

~EPISODE 3 – “Invisible Storm”~

Black Lilies

Black Lilies

-Literal: A discolored flower

-Interpretation: A blackening or dirtying of love and purity

-Explanation: This small scene is usually shown at certain points; it always occurs when an evil or spiteful act of love is being enacted. Where the white lily is filled with good and innocence, the black lily is filled with malice and cunning.

A History Lesson

A History Lesson

-Literal: Kureha’s class gets some education

-Interpretation: Reference to the First Crusade

-Explanation: Albeit this is more of a faux-symbol, but I’m including it here due to the aforementioned importance of uniqueness.

A large portion of the show takes place in and around the Arashigaoka High School. But there is only one instance – this instance – in which the girls are actually heard to be learning something. And what’s peculiar is the subject at hand: Pope Urban II. Urban II was, like his title implies, a pope during the 11th century. He is infamous for starting what is known as the “First Crusade,” a movement aimed at removing the Muslims of Jerusalem. [13] While the crusading spread Christian thinking from Western to Eastern Europe, their exploits were also vicious: most notably was the mass murder of the different denominations – Muslims, Jews, and Christians. For more detailed information, please refer to [14].

In short, the girls are receiving information about a religious expedition mired in blood. But while the class is listening (and goofing around about the test and information), Kureha is not. That is, the rest of the girls are taking in, receiving, or otherwise accepting such atrocities as normal, whereas Kureha is ignoring it all. Her mind is elsewhere, signifying her purposeful lack of focus on such a topic and her distance from the rest of the class.

Ms. Forgetful

Ms. Forgetful

-Literal: An eraser given by Sumika to Kureha

-Interpretation: Memories and their degradation

-Explanation: Kureha’s previously stated state of distraction is caused by a memory she has of Sumika. It’s a precious item given to Kureha, one that holds sentimental value of her dearest friend. But the nature of erasers is shown: they start full and formed but eventually get smaller and misshapen. The same can be said of memories; that a specific moment is filled at first with wonderment and joy but is potentially lost later on in life. Kureha, at the same time, has similar thoughts, thinking that she may forget the memories she has of Sumika and love. But there are those memories that, for one reason or another, can never truly be forgotten, no matter how much wear and tear a person experiences.

The Exclusion Ceremony

The Exclusion Ceremony

-Literal: The class votes to remove someone from the group

-Interpretation: Ostracizing a person based on their background

-Explanation: This is probably the first symbol that is not only complex but quite profound.

The talk by Eriko beforehand gives some clues as to what exactly is going on here in this “ceremony.” When a girl of the “herd” doesn’t follow “social cues,” she is considered “evil” and cast out. In this case, not following the group is having deep feelings of love for another girl. This kind of thinking, of thinking someone is weird for not following the norm, is found everywhere in life. Furthermore, they’re of varying degrees of severity: a person may be looked at differently for liking anime (mild) or for having some medical condition (harsh). But hearkening back to the talk ofcontext earlier, this removal isn’t about hobbies or states.

Throughout the anime, deep feelings of love and sexualized situations can be quickly found. To add to this, on the human side of the Wall, there are no males; everyone is female. So, in stunning fashion, the show takes its first look at the treatment of homosexuals. Society has long had stigmas against those who are gay or of the LGBT community. The “Exclusion Ceremony” is the herd (society) excommunicating a person (Kureha) for holding incredible feelings of love that do not follow the norm (having homosexual tendencies). And, as will be seen later, this isn’t the only form of prejudice examined.

The term “Invisible Storm” now also makes more sense. The girls vote on a specific person to out, all through their phones. It’s done anonymously, invisibly; as a metaphor, society “outs” selected individuals with thoughts, words, and ridicule, all of which are intangible, or invisible, but very much so effective. In this day and age, it’s even easier to do so with the advent of technology, such as with computers and phones. And like a storm, such actions are often filled with unkindness and dripped in vitriol. Storms are ominous, bleak, and damaging; a perfect description of the class’s movement against Kureha.

A Not-So-Invisible Storm

A Not-So-Invisible Storm

-Literal: A raging storm threatens the lily garden, but is kept from harm by Kureha and Sumika

-Interpretation: Love protects love

-Explanation: The lily garden is an already established symbol for love, with the lilies and their changing state of affairs. The weather this time obviously reflects the “Invisible Storm” that has been alluded to so far. But it also demonstrates that the love between Kureha and Sumika is strong and just. So much so that their combined efforts – their love for each other – keeps the lilies they hold dear entirely safe.

Rooftop Romps

Rooftop Romps

-Literal: Where many climactic scenes take place

-Interpretation: A subversion of a common trope

-Explanation: Romance stories often contain cliché moments: miscommunication and blushing at the smallest things are usually rampant. Another common trope is the “rooftop confession.” Rooftops are places of seclusion; what happens there is usually not open to the public, making the events rather private to those involved. Meaning what goes down there is very much the focus. Alongside this are the romantic implications. Rooftops are where couples go for “alone” time, and as is common in anime, where feelings and confessions are had. So what better a place to have many of the incredibly important events in a love story go down than at the most common of all locations for such a story?

As a small aside, the third time here in particular showcases a setting sun. This symbolizes a closing of this chapter, the death of a character, and Kureha’s departure from awake to sleeping, all in one go.

List of References for Part 2

[10] http://www.whats-your-sign.com/lily-meaning.html

[11] http://onlinedesignteacher.blogspot.com/2013/04/shapes-and-their-meanings.html

[12] http://www.teleflora.com/about-flowers/lily.asp

[13] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/first_crusade.htm

[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade