Yuri Kuma Arashi and the Effects of Symbolism, Part 17
If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you head back and read everything that has been discussed up to this point and peruse the massive amount of symbolism that has been given. This anime is special and deserves as much attention as you can give it.
Today, we’ll simply be wrapping up what we have been building towards. We’ll talk about the anime’s overall themes, what the effects of symbolism have done for us, and some final thoughts on my experience through it all.
Last day, let’s go!
From Symbols to Purpose
Looking back at the entirety of this essay, realizing everything that’s been covered – the anime’s episodic direction, the purposeful music, and the characters’ representations – and thinking about what Yuri Kuma Arashi has presented to us, we still need to ask ourselves: what does it all mean?
That’s the first of two halves that we have been building towards these past few weeks. All of the dissection, the analyzing, the symbols; it’s all evidence for supporting the ideas, the themes, the meaning, of the anime itself. And as has been given as a reminder from start to finish, those themes are: sociopolitical commentary on the perceptions of prejudice, specifically sexual discrimination and racism; telling a complex yet richly unique love story; and challenging religious connotations associated with preconceived beliefs. The symbols were designed to guide us towards understanding these very ideas. Because it isn’t so much the symbols that are worth remembering, but what they symbolize that truly matters.
One of Yuri Kuma Arashi’s strongest themes is how we, as people, handle prejudice. In order to do so, the show presents two separate areas: sexual discrimination and racism. The former is a “newer” form that has seen huge focus and movements in the last twenty years or so, whereas the latter has been a problem for over ten times the previous. And as the anime depicts, they’re still an issue. The Exclusion Ceremony is at the forefront of this notion; when it comes to prejudice, while particular sectors are better off than others, the majority of people still seem to have some kind of stigma towards those who are “different” from them. It’s a hard thing to accept someone for being outside the “norm” because it is even more difficult to show empathy towards another. Being able to not just respect someone else’s background but also understand where they are coming from takes more effort than dismissing his or her side. To reuse an analogy, take the anime community. More often than not, when someone holds a perspective that isn’tthe majority, that person is vehemently looked down upon. “You’re wrong for liking that show,” “How can you be so dumb,” or, contextually and colloquially, “Why is your taste so shit?” Imagine similar sayings – employ empathy – for those in the previous fields of sexual discrimination and racism. “Being gay is wrong,” “This guy is black so he must be stupid,” or again, contextually and colloquially, “Fags and yellows are the worst.”
That last statement is very harsh. But the reality of the situation is that people who say such vile things exist. Is hating on someone for liking Chu2Koi on the same level as hating on someone for being homosexual or of a different color? No, it’s not. But like the symbols we have looked at, it isn’t the surface that matters; it’s the principle that does. What Yuri Kuma Arashi wants us to walk away from the show with is that nothing good comes from such prejudice, such hate. We’re people that come from different homes, cultures, and ideas. We’re a diverse species that have various ethnicities, knowledge, strengths, and views. We’re an amalgamation of so many separate traits but simultaneously the same. It doesn’t matter if you or I are a homosexual female or a person whose skin is slightly darker than the next guy or girl. Having any kind of prejudice towards anyone, just because they’re “different” only serves to create walls between us. Walls that prevent us from being the empathetic people we can be.
Yuri Kuma Arashi, along the same lines, explores other venues that look down upon others. Namely, religions and their teachings. An omnipresent figure throughout the anime is Lady Kumalia, the embodiment of love. But on the bear side of the Wall of Severance, where they seemingly worship her, they don’t enact love but hate towards the humans. Many religions that we know do this same thing; while some of what they say may be based on nice intentions, some of what they give is a detriment to those who don’t follow their ways. The anime often paints religion in this bad light: Kureha’s birthday ceremony, The Day of Severance, and the discussion on flashbacks are examples that show how unjust religion tends to be. In other words, the show wants us to understand that religions aren’t as loving as they would have us believe.
But at the same time, the show doesn’t want us to rest on our laurels. Thinking that the things being done around us now are “okay” isn’t correct either. That is, believing that the current state of affairs is fine isn’t right. Simply taking whatever is presented at face value, be it Yuri Kuma Arashi or the kinds of treatments those undergo prejudice receive, isn’t what’s smart. This kind of thinking has been presented before, and the solution has been right in front of us this entire time: love.
It sounds almost too optimistic, sappy even, but there really is nothing more to it than that. The one constant shown throughout the show, and even throughout all of history, is love. We’ve seen what it is and what it can do. We’ve witnessed Mitsuko taking out Sumika to get at Kureha, we saw as Lulu pushed away her little brother, and we were able to see love culminate between Kureha and Ginko in an extremely beautiful moment that transcended differences. Overall, love is this insanely complex feeling that is impossible to describe with some words, a handful of symbols, or even a whole anime. But it’s still something that we “get.” Love doesn’t have to be literal romantic feelings towards another, but that is one way in which to use it. Love can be calling up your mother to ask how she is doing, lending your friend some money to buy some food while out at a party, or helping a stranger who dropped his or her items on the sidewalk. Yet we know that love isn’t always good; the prevalence of desire and subsequently sin goes hand-in-hand with this emotion. But as all of Yuri Kuma Arashi shows and therefore what the symbols describe is that love is ultimately something amazing.
This was the first half of the essay: interpreting the symbols and arguing how they support its themes constantly throughout the anime. The second half was about symbolism itself. This essay isn’t called “The Effects of Symbolism” for nothing; we know that the symbols create the stalwart foundation of Yuri Kuma Arashi, but what have been theeffects of the symbolism presented to us?
What they do first and foremost is teach us. A symbol is a kind of tool that lets literary authors, film producers, and anime directors convey ideas that might otherwise be too “heavy-handed.” Because what they do is make one think. Most entertainment is designed to do just that: entertain you to make sure you are enjoying whatever it is that is being shown. But with Yuri Kuma Arashi, and more specifically symbolism, it forces you to delve beyond what is given. Does that mean you have to construct a 17 Part essay on the anime and the topic in question? Not necessarily, but you can, because that’s one of the effects of symbolism; providing you with the opportunity to learn about things that you might not have known previously. Personally speaking, this essay has not only made me an expert on what various objects or moments symbolize but also different areas of life itself. My research into the show has taught me about Jacob’s Ladder, Japanese culture, flowers, historical movements, other artistic choices, and so much more that I can’t list them all. Combing through countless articles, editorials, blog posts, pieces, slides, threads, postings, and any other kind of writing was done to reinforce my own interpretations of the anime, but simultaneously provided me with knowledge that I did not have previously. And it was only possible because the symbolism was there, not as a preventer but as a guide for such understanding.
Jumping off from this effect, the second effect that symbols bring about is the ability to take a complex concept and dilute it into an easily graspable form. In other words, they perform a trick that most anime viewers know all too-well: “show; don’t tell.” There is a certain modicum of intellectualism involved with the idea. It’s often for the best for a visual medium like anime to present its ideas in a fashion that befits what it does. That is, demonstrate to the audience what it’s trying to highlight, not blatantly hand it (bear paw it?) to us. In Yuri Kuma Arashi’s case, take the ending; rather than having Kureha say to Ginko outright, “I love you!” all we need to see is their Promise Kiss and Ginko’s tears of joy streaming down her face to understand the powerful emotions that the scene contains. Or even something like representing the other side of the conflict as bears; their animalistic behavior, instinctual desire, and “different” viewpoints are captured in a single design choice. Even the constant mirroring that encapsulated the anime was only viable through the use of symbols. Being able to take something esoteric and condense it into something quite concrete – Lady Kumalia representing the pinnacle of love, Mitsuko’s black bed of sin, Ginko’s absurd delusions – is something not normally possible. But symbolism allows such a tactic to be fulfilled.
Finally, and the most important effect that symbolism brings to the table, is allowing someone to craft their own tale. We’ve talked about this near the start and throughout the anime, but symbolism, more so than anything else, allows one to interpret what they want to see. Now, obviously there are some symbols or motifs that are pretty cut-and-dry – the lily representing love and female homosexuality, Lulu’s honey jar falling and smashing taking on the meaning of her death, and “The Moon Girl and The Forest Girl” symbolizing the events and conclusion for the anime; these immediately come to mind and are nonnegotiable – nearly everything within the show can be interpreted as one sees fit. One shouldn’t overlook this as something very trivial; in fact, it’s extremely profound. Not many stories, be it here with anime or in other mediums, allow someone to literally take what is given and chisel out a figurative statue that follow’s his or her own vision. While Yuri Kuma Arashi is more on the complete far-end when it comes to using symbolism – they are beyond prevalent – such an amount makes it that much more your own piece of art as opposed to someone else’s. You can take the anime to be this wacky story about a bunch of lesbians, a herd of bears, and an unending storm. Or you can take the anime and dissect it, as I did here, to high heaven, making every symbol gain purpose or meaning. Or you can even do anything in-between. The symbols effectively grant this power to you, making the anime be more than just one journey. It becomes, like the mirroring that is incorporated, multiple adventures that are simultaneously the same but different.
And that’s it. Regardless of how you interpret the symbols, what you learned from this essay, or where you stand in regards to the anime as a whole, if you take away anything from it all, at the minimum it should be Yuri Kuma Arashi’s final words:
“You see, it is with your own love that the world awakens and changes.”
It goes without saying that I sincerely thank everyone who took the time to read everything that I wrote over these past two months. It was a labor of love, and something that I’d do again in a heartbeat, no questions asked. Even if you only read a few Parts, a couple of sections, or a single symbol, I highly appreciate you taking the time to do so.
Yuri Kuma Arashi rests next to my other top favorite anime of all-time, if it isn’t already apparent by now. While it doesn’t come close to trumping Chu2Koi, this is a show that I care deeply about. The execution, the themes, the symbols; it did everything it set out to do with such splendor, that it was a pleasure to have been allowed to watch it unfold week-by-week.
I’m very proud of everything that I’ve written on Yuri Kuma Arashi. And while I’m sad that this chapter in my writing career has come to a close, I’m also supremely happy. Because this anime, besides just resounding with me on a personal level, has allowed me to flourish as a writer, improving my capabilities in the field of reviewing, analyzing, and critiquing more so than any other show to date.
I hope that this essay has, in one way or another, been enlightening to you. I first set out writing about the show as a means to have the “qualifications” to simply review it. Then it became supplementary material to be used; I thought at the time I would only be writing a bit about the show. But as time went on, I wrote more and more. And my “little” essay here turned into something…well, not so little. Looking back on all that I’ve written, I honestly feel that this isn’t just the best guide to Yuri Kuma Arashi but also the greatest work that I’ve composed to date.
None of this would have been possible without Kunihiko Ikuhara’s amazing directing and overall concept. Yuri Kuma Arashi truly is a wonderful experience, and I hope that, after what I’ve written here, you decide to give it the shot it most certainly deserves.
And most of all, please take its message to heart. It’s up to you to spread the love. Nobody is stopping you from doing so.
So why should you?
List of References for Part 17