With 31 flavors of lesbian.
I was originally going to just catch up this series one by one in the traditional manner like a beast. But…it had to be THIS show. Only now, at the Ep. 3 mark, is the form of the series taking shape. And even then, it is JUST the shape, the shadow on the wall as the pieces assemble together.
Which is, to be sure, a serious weakness in this first act. And it comes down to intent. One phrase was used in the marketing of Yuri Kuma Arashi that raised eyebrows and palmed faces the world over.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of symbolism as a story-telling medium (not as a narrative tool, that’s different). Saying your piece is “intellectual” is often an easy screen to hide behind because, duh, it’s not SUPPOSED to make sense! It’s SUPPOSED to confound you and make you wonder who’s dick got blown to get it on the screen! Just as often, it’s an easy defense screen to hide behind, “It’s intellectual, you dope! You wouldn’t need it explained if you were who it was MEANT FOR!” like certain anime whose title rhymes with bill la bill.
Yuri Kuma Arashi may not be this type of show exactly, but you’re probably driving through that neighborhood to get there.
But, it’s still early. Perhaps it won’t be this bad looking back. Perhaps there will be a Madoka effect where the most seemingly innocuous, distracting conversation takes on a whole new shade on second viewing.
And in that vein, I will describing things as they appear from hindsight, not as the information is originally delivered, because that would be two episodes of me saying “Then X happens…for some reason.”
Some years ago a planet exploded, raining fragments on the earth that caused bears to rise up and begin preying exclusively on humans. Because of this, Humanity has begun to build, well, what the Funimation dub has chosen to call “the Severance Wall”, but it could just as easily go “Extinction wall”…again, TOO MUCH SYMBOLISM to determine which translation works best for now. So I’m going with the guys in a somewhat official capacity.
We are in the land of Yuri. Is it all of Humanity? Or a bubble universe where this small town of Yuri is what constitutes “Humanity”? Hard to say. I mean we SEE a map of Japan in news broadcasts but then why is the world this…weird way? But in this world every girl has a “Yuri-” name, as either given or surnames. Every one, except one of the protagonists BUT I’M GETTING TO THAT! The entirety of Humanity is female, and every girl is a lesbian it would seem.
Again, this is just what’s on screen. But hell at least Sakura Trick ACKNOWLEDGED (and later, showed us) fathers and other male attachments. No such luck yet in this series. So it’s confusing.
But not only that! Apparently there are STILL social pressures about BEING lesbians…for some crazy reason. I have two theories about this, one hilarious and one glare-inducing, but I’ll get to them. For now, just keep that nugget of info to yourself.
They call this pressure “the invisible storm”. We’ll later find out that this is actually a form of ostracizing that the girls at school participate in. One girl must always be “invisible” so that they can morally feel superior when they leave her in a ditch to die. Yep, victim blaming, shaming, it’s all here.
That’s what our two “leads” (I use the term loosely) Kureha and Sumika are doing: committing the crime of being lesbians. Shock!
And I have to level with you. I hate this pair. So it’s theory time!
Theory 1: This might be prejudice, but I kind of want this to be true. So here’s the short summary if you need a refresher on what DataportDoll thinks of “cute” yuri.
The idea that good girls don’t kiss, so when a romance involves two girls, they don’t kiss at all! They just hold hands and declare their love for their “very special friend”, and that’s what passes for lesbian romance.
BANBA! I know it’s been a while, but we need you again!
This whole idea is SHIT. Its premise is SHIT. And it only contributes to the idea that lesbians “aren’t really having sex”. I loathe this concept. If this concept was a puppy, I’d drown it while laughing.
And that is exactly the kind of romance that Kureha and Sumika have. And unfortunately for us, it’s the only thing we have to connect us to these two for the first couple episodes. So YOU CAN IMAGINE how much fun I was having with these two.
So here is the theory in entirety: Kureha’s world, represented most strongly by her bond with Sumika, is “false yuri”. Bears represent the “true yuri”, one based in lust but capable of becoming as cute and intimate as the good-girl yuri she had with Sumika.
This could be one reason that Sumika is the only character who does not have “yuri” in any part of her name. This could also be why the Court continues to demand of Kureha the same question. Much like a fairy tale, not satisfied with her answer. “Yes my love is real.” “Bitch no it ain’t.”
Two bears have entered the world of Humans, Ginko and Lulu.
And, well, turns out the bears eat Sumika. Spoilers. You know I thought the abstract bear cartoons were just symbollic for the backstory. But no, that’s what the bears really look like in their bear forms.
So eating is both literal and figurative. On the one hand, they do murder Sumika (and we are led to believe, Kureha’s mother). But then we get this sequence that has repeated itself each episode. Kureha recieves a call and goes to the roof, “If your love is real, give yourself to the bears, and your love will be approved.” We then enter…the weirdest courtroom ever.
Life Sexy, the judge, Life Cool, the prosecutor, and Life Beauty, defense attorney. Asking whether the bears will turn invisible (there’s that word again) or eat humans. The Bears declare they will indeed eat Humans! And then they have sex with Kureha, who awakens in the infirmary…yeah.
The next two episodes focus on student council president, Mitsuko, trying to get close to Kureha. We’d met her in episode 1 as a tertiary character, but now she enters the foreground. Kureha herself is rather trapped in her self-pity cycle, strained that her mother and Sumika have both been lost. The teacher even pulls her aside and shares she was Kureha’s mom’s “very special friend” (*teethgrind*)
Mitsuko seems to have a thing with one of the classmates, who’s jealous of the attention she’s giving Kureha. Kureha is slated to become “invisible” next, so why bother? But Mitsuko is undeterred, she even bursts in trying to kill Lulu and Ginko when they try to buddy buddy up to Kureha by providing sympathy for her lost friend…that they killed. Diabolical. But Mitsuko is rather evasive, purposefully vague with Kureha when she presses why.
To cut a long story short, she, too, is a bear. But from what we gather, a bear who elected to be invisible in the human world, the option that Lulu and Ginko refuse to take.
But this does not prevent her from wanting to…ahem…taste Kureha like Lulu and Ginko do. So the difference between eating and invisible is rather unclear. I figured it would mean she DIDN’T predate on humans. Obviously, not the case.
This culminates in her killing her bear friend (I don’t care what your name was Gopher), but only to make the move on Kureha herself. In a twist, the third episode has Lulu and Ginko in court professing to “protect” Kureha from Mitsuko.
So, this show is all over the place. While the imagery is nice, (if not a touch Suspiria), the designs warm, and a few of the gags are funny, it is, on the whole, not grounded enough to be effective yet.
Episode 4 is already out, and it seems like that will be changing, so we can only cross our fingers and hope that this begins to make more sense.
There is a definite flavor of Madoka in here, at the end of Act 1. There, Mami represented our safety blanket, and her death meant that we had no one to turn to to hopefully EXPLAIN this crap to us except the adversarial, possibly even villainous, Homura. Yuri Kuma Arashi has pulled the same card. Kureha’s safety blankets, Sumika, her mother, and Mitsuko, are now all gone, just memories to her. This leaves us only with Lulu and Ginko as our companion characters, who until now have been cast in that similar shade as Homura. And while Sumika has a strong presence (the use of flashbacks, dare say even overuse), it will be interesting to see if that persists.
But in all, Yuri Kuma Arashi is a series that is ONLY interesting right now because of the promise that there’s a direction here. There is little substance to allow it to stand on its own WITHOUT the symbolism, so its future comes down to being able to deliver.