Review/discussion about: Yuri Kuma Arashi
(As supplementary material for this review, please refer to my writing on the symbolism for this anime, Yuri Kuma Arashi and the Effects of Symbolism)
Love is such a simple word. But when you think about it, there is a lot more to it than at first perceived. Love can be used to bring someone wonderful happiness or utter sadness. Love can make you extremely nervous or completely at ease. Love can even be used to bring about total beauty or despondent sin. This omnipresent feeling is incredibly complex, being something that everyone feels in one form or another. Ultimately, though, it is a good feeling. But much like the symbols that this anime thrives on, its meaning morphs depending on the context. In other words, love is like a symbol where all of its roads, all of its interpretations, lead to a solitary destination. Yuri Kuma Arashi is founded on both love and symbolism, creating what can only be coined a masterpiece.
YKA (the acronym of choice from here on out) stars Tsubaki Kureha, who is shown to be in a romantic relationship with her female classmate, Izumino Sumika. However, following the latter’s tragic death, Yurishiro Ginko and Yurigasaki Lulu — two bears having crossed the “Wall of Severance” — begin to protect the now lonely Kureha from the “Invisible Storm.” All in the name of “never giving up on love.”
From this tiny description alone, it becomes rather apparent that YKA isn’t anything like other anime around it. The show does warn you about the direction it will be taking — the title of the anime is literally “Lesbian Bear Storm” — but even then, as one begins to partake in what it has to offer, it seems to come off as almost incoherent. What is the “Exclusion Ceremony?” Why are there bears disguising themselves as humans? How in the world is the “Severance Court” logical? It’s not until one realizes that the show does all of its explaining through symbolism that things go from being annoyingly complicated to astoundingly genius. For this is arguably YKA’s strongest point: every single aspect of the show has meaning or purpose. It doesn’t matter what is chosen — be it the constant flashbacks, a portion of a character’s name, or even a common flower — everything is symbolic. But more importantly than just having a myriad of symbols, for any show can generate them, what YKA does with the symbols is simple yet remarkable. And that is fully supporting the themes it presents.
The themes, like the symbols, are not just interesting but also difficult. Difficult in the sense that they are rarely touched on or investigated in anime let alone other mediums. YKA sets its sights on three distinct motifs: sociopolitical commentary on the perceptions of prejudice, specifically in regards to sexual discrimination and racism; telling a complex yet richly unique love story; and challenging religious connotations associated with preconceived beliefs. These themes sound menacing, which is why the symbols exist to aid in the understanding of the ideas that are being tackled. The anime very early on starts with a look at prejudice and what it means in relation to society as a whole. The first half of the show focuses mostly on sexual discrimination, using female homosexuality as its example of choice. Many of the symbols presented, such as Kureha’s preference for “shiokara spaghetti” symbolizing her homosexual tendencies, Harishima’s hypocritical sex highlighting society’s often unfair criticisms, and Reia’s picture book The Moon Girl and The Forest Girl demonstrating how such love is hard to obtain but within the realm of possibility; each provides the audience with the ability to see that YKA views such prejudice as not just wrong but evil. The second half does the same, but instead using racism rather than sexual discrimination. The war that occurs on “The Day of Severance” shows the hatred between those who are humans and those who are bears, Yuriika’s red boxes symbolize her ingrained sense of oppression, and Ooki’s harsh treatment towards the bears showcase the shift in narrative focus while still maintaining the stance that prejudice only brings about harm to those it is targeted at.
YKA doesn’t just stop with prejudice; it also tackles yet another controversial topic in the form of religion. Essentially, the anime denounces what such affiliations often teach. Once again, many of the symbols used back such arguable claims. Kureha’s birthday “party” being mired in religion’s often violent behavior, the bears’ religious fanaticism in their devotion to Lady Kumalia, and the human girls not believing in anything but the “invisible atmosphere”; such scenes paint religion as this toxic entity that, like prejudice, only seems to bring about harm to those that completely follow or abstain from that kind of thinking. In other words, the anime wants you to have beliefs, but in the one variable, the one idea, that, no matter what, always remains true. And this idea is none other than love itself. YKA presents love as something that should not only be strived for but also something that should never be forgotten. Because despite all of the sin that may form as a result of fighting for pure love — whether it is Ginko’s overwhelmingly selfish desire to have Kureha all to herself or Kureha’s childish pride getting the best of her unknowingly — love is, even with all of its flaws, something good. That is, the solution to all of the prejudice, all of the violence, and all of the hate, is love. It’s the emotion that anyone, no matter our ethnicity, creed, or background, can understand.
Much of what YKA does in terms of style, art, and overall direction is the prevalent tactic of mirroring. Mirroring here involves the idea of showcasing “the same, but different” events or moments. Mitsuko’s black bed of sin and Yuriika’s nighttime attack against Kureha, within the same episode, is a fantastic example of such a move. The dichotomy of the situations is great enough to see their individual importance yet simultaneously similar enough to establish connections between these separate parts. Such connections then bring about stronger bonds in relation to the symbols and subsequently the themes, too. Along these same lines, the majority of the shots within the anime are done focusing on the center. Rarely will the show deviate from this formula; nearly everything shown is placed in the middle of the frame. Such camera work makes not only whatever is happening on-screen grab your attention but also applies its own form of mirroring that the show is so fond of.
The character designs for the anime are both nicely done and thematically symbolic of what each person represents, the messages they convey, and the kind of love they embody. Lulu’s wavy twin-tails, green colored attire, and expressive faces symbolize her as not just the comic relief girl but also as someone whose previous greediness gave way to unfettered charity. Ai’s simplistic yet balanced design hold connotations in relation to the show’s purpose of having society come together through unification. And even insignificant ones such as Katyusha and Eriko were crafted in such a way as to make it clear how unimportant they are in the overall show.
Finally, actual animation for YKA is always above average. This is mainly due to the rather “simplistic” art of the anime itself; by presenting the show in a fashion comparable to the picture book within the anime — more mirroring — it uses softer shades and water color-esque backgrounds that lends itself to less rigorous frames. Characters are always moving fluidly when in human form, bear form, or the human-bear combo; the CG usage is appropriate yet minimal; and the anime’s diverse scenarios — Kureha’s cleansing summons, Ginko’s backstory, Lulu’s escape, etc. — provide the anime with ample opportunities to enact the “show; don’t tell” philosophy that it and its symbols utilize.
YKA’s symbolism doesn’t end with the plot or the animation. The characters likewise see symbolic purpose within the show. While the side cast is as important as the mains — more specifically, Sumika, Mitsuko, and Yuriika — the coverage here will be on the big three; namely, Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu.
Now one of my all-time favorite characters, Lulu is a girl whose past is filled with loneliness. Taking on the form of a bee, her attitude in life caused by the position she held made her ambivalent towards anyone and anything around her. She had everything she could ever ask for, but still felt incomplete. And when her little brother Mirun “stole” her status, she turned her self-loathing into hatred, into desire, to remove the person responsible for taking that which she, ironically, didn’t truly care for. It’s not until Mirun dies that she understands the folly of her ways and the love she couldn’t see due to being blinded by hatred. When she is found by Ginko, she has a change of heart: she becomes the best “wing girl (bear)” anime has ever seen. Helping to save Kureha from the “Invisible Storm” daily, treating Ginko’s wounds when she undergoes duress; Lulu transitions from avoiding love to fighting for and protecting it. Yet, her greediness still comes through when betraying Ginko, reinforcing love’s complex structure. But in the end, she maintains her newfound philanthropy, sacrificing herself to save not just her love, but her lover’s love, from being eliminated. Lulu’s final act of love was not only the least greedy move conceived but also earned her the title of “true friend.”
As a staunch defender of love, Ginko refuses to let go of the feelings she had with the girl who, mirroring Ginko’s own help, saved her from being “The Lone Wolfsbane.” Ginko initially looked to Lady Kumalia as the person to save her from the loneliness she felt, but it was Kureha who gave her the love she always wanted. Years later, Ginko then sets out to do the same: protect Kureha from anything that would potentially ruin her. But as we see, Ginko’s pride, her desire, had always loomed over her; while she most certainly wanted to reciprocate the love she had felt, it was for selfish reasons as opposed to doing it for the good of love. Even her treatment of Lulu, ignoring Lulu’s advances and emotions outright, was performed only because she wanted nothing else but Kureha’s love. And when Ginko’s literal criminal activity — her “killing” of Sumika — is revealed to the woman she values most, she takes the bullet she knew she had to, but still devolves into a mindset where only lust resides. But to her, “love is the real thing,” so she fights back, overcomes her instinctual habits, and does what she should have done the entire time: love Kureha not for herself, but for the girl who “loved her from the beginning.”
As the star (and more contextually, the moon) of the anime, Kureha undergoes the largest development throughout YKA. In the beginning, Kureha’s motivations are just, to an extent; that is, while she, too, fights for the love she holds dear, she shuns anyone else from getting near her person. But this makes sense, given her situation: the girls ostracize both her and Sumika, causing her to gain huge mistrust for others. Combined with the recent bear attacks, she feels desperate, wanting nothing more than to have back the girl who loved her so much. Which is where Ginko comes in; Ginko’s constant support for Kureha breaks the girl’s outer shell, slowly but surely, until Kureha has her own revelation. She discovers that it was her selfish pride that made her forget the girl who had always been there watching over her. Sumika’s love was good as well, but it wasn’t so much the love she gave to Kureha that mattered but instead what it taught her. And that is that true love always exists. Thus, Kureha chooses to literally transform herself from human to bear. She realizes that love isn’t about the sex or race one is; love transcends boundaries, differences, and walls because love is simply good.
What we see among all of the girls here — Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu — are many of the same traits. All three experience loneliness, selfishness, and sin in one way or another. Hearkening back to the talk about animation, the idea of mirroring occurs here without end. And it’s not just these three; many of the characters have gluttony, envy, and wrath caused by any number of moments — abandonment, ignorance, jealousy, etc. But once again, this falls in line with the anime’s take on mirroring; while love is ultimately something that should be obtained and given, it is not without its own sin. Most important of all, and what our three main characters here demonstrate, is that love has only one weakness: you. Lulu’s indirect death of Mirun, Ginko’s inaction that killed Sumika, and Kureha’s own inability to understand love makes it undeniably clear that love can defeat anything, as long as you yourself allow it to happen.
The opening theme for YKA is a beautiful arrangement that is, like the show itself, extremely unique. The sultry whispering, the choir singing, and the French lyrics fill the piece with a wonderfully calm and sensual feeling. In contrast, the ending theme is quick, jumpy, and fun, making it both catchy to the ear and the mind. What’s fascinating about the OP and ED, though, is not just their sound, but how they continue the mirroring that has been reiterated both here and within the anime. It’s not just in the tone, too: the pieces are (coincidentally) found at the beginning and ending of the show; the “singers” alternate — Kureha is the focal point for the OP, Ginko for the ED; and the lines of each song follow particular scenes from YKA, messages that the anime advocates, and even have purposeful word reuse between them. In short, even the OP and ED are symbolic tools for the anime.
The original soundtrack continues this same trend. All of the pieces have their titles being given meaning depending on the situation — for example, “Yuri Rabrinsu” is Mitsuko’s theme song, a literal lesbian love labyrinth. Others maintain the show’s religious undertones — “Yuri Shounin!” plays a portion of the “Ave Maria,” the world-renowned Virgin Mary prayer. Yet others still hold contextual relevancy — “Futari no Mirai” is a stunning track that plays during the saddest of moments and mirrors the scenarios it is played during. Each song isn’t just wonderfully composed; they are all, once again, their own symbols that reinforce all of what YKA does.
Voice-acting sees above average performances for everyone involved. Nozomi Yamane as Kureha for both her first major role and her great range, Miho Arakawa as Ginko for her “growling,” and Yushiko Ikuta as Lulu for her perky way of speaking each deserve their own, individual shout-outs.
I’m a fan of “yuri” content; so seeing it throughout the show here in a tasteful manner was a definite boon. The comedy of the anime is likewise just as great; I still, to this day, think back to Lulu’s over-the-top murdering of her little brother, with her screaming “Die!” and “Desire!” only to have Mirun show back up with a huge smile on his face, and it always makes me chuckle. Lulu carries the majority of the comedy with her, but Ginko isn’t averse to it either. Her delusions, and especially the bath scene, were downright hilarious to watch. And on top of all that, the romance the anime offered was amazing. I seem to gravitate towards unorthodox couples, and Kureha and Ginko’s relationship is no different. So watching all of their efforts, all of their love, coalesce as one made me extremely happy to see.
The show not only resounded with me on a personal level, but it also allowed me to flourish as a writer. Over the past two months, dissecting nearly everything that it contained, all of the research that I did, and the words that I wrote; this is an anime that will forever be something that I can look back on and say to myself, “This was the anime that elevated my prowess in writing beyond my wildest imaginations.” It’s a show that I’ve fallen in love with, and, like the characters and their love, is an anime that I’ll never forget.
Yuri Kuma Arashi is a special show. Not just because of the lesbians, the bears, and the storms; but because it accomplished everything that it set out to do. The symbolism is masterful, the themes are profound, and the execution is impeccable. It’s not everyday that one gets to witness something so perfect unfold.
But this season, I did just that.
Story: Great, incredibly unique, symbolically powerful, thematically astounding
Animation: Great, excellent art style and direction, very nice and purposeful character designs, above average actual animation
Characters: Great, Kureha, Ginko, Lulu, and the rest of the cast symbolize and mirror love
Sound: Great, fantastic OP, ED, and soundtrack, with above-average VA work
Enjoyment: Great, “yuri,” comedy, romance, and personal improvement makes this an anime that will stay with me forever
Final Score: 10/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3