Normally when I’m writing something for the first time I try to pick a relatively easy topic, just to get a bit of practice before things turn into Serious Business. But that isn’t what’s going to happen this time. Instead, you’re getting lesbian bear school (and no, I didn’t just start typing words at random). The ever-helpful Artemis over at Otaku Lounge mentioned the anime Yuri Kuma Arashi, which translates roughly as “lily bear storm”, and that seemed as good a place as any to start.
I don’t really want to spend too much time talking about the events of the episode, but a bit of background and a brief synopsis might be in order.
At some indeterminate time, an asteroid exploded and its fragments rained down on Earth. This made all the bears stand up and start eating humans, who created the “Wall of Extinction” to keep the bears out. Life inside the wall seems pretty good in an inner-city sort of fashion. In case a bear manages to get past the wall, there are sirens and warning banners that can be used and apparently high-school students are trained in the use of weapons to defend themselves against bears. We’re told that this hasn’t happened for a long time, however, which might explain why they’re incredibly bad at it.
In the first episode we’re introduced to two students at an all-girls school, Kureha Tsubaki and Sumika Izumino, who are lovers. One day at school the “bear alarm” goes off, and the students are warned that a bear has got past the wall. In what is surely just a coincidence, two new students are introduced: Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki. We learn from their internal monologues that they’re bears who can take on human form, also lovers, and here with the intention of eating the students. Sumika runs off on her own, Kureha gets worried about her and also runs off on her own (despite the students being specifically warned not to do that), but fails to find her. Kureha does however receive a mysterious phone call telling her to go to the school’s roof if her love for Sumika is real, where she is attacked by the bears. There’s a weird dreamlike court scene where the bears are granted permission to eat humans, and then in human form they proceed to “eat” Kureha who wakes up in the school infirmary. Meanwhile another student discovers the bears in their bear form eating a girl. And that’s where the episode ends.
If you’re thinking this synopsis seems a little short on details, you’re absolutely right. The episode itself left a great many questions unanswered. We know next to nothing about the the bears, the conflict between them and humans, the Wall which surrounds the city, the school, or in fact anything else. Normally this would be a warning sign for me, but I was able to accept it in this case. It’s pretty clear that these sorts of things are not important to the story the creators wanted to tell.
What is less clear is what that story might be. In fact, it’s not clear at all. It’s certainly not an action-driven show, nor is it a slice-of-life drama. We have plenty of lesbians and cute girls, and a certain amount of titillation from that, but the show doesn’t seem to want to use that as it’s central theme. With so little attention paid to the setting it doesn’t seem likely that this is going to be driven by plot either. All we’re left with is the possibility that this could be a character-driven drama, but this leads to a major issue with the show… there’s no characterisation. The first episode of a show is pretty damn important, because this is where people decide whether they want to keep watching it or not. And yet by the end of the episode, we know almost nothing about any of the characters. This isn’t because they have some reason for being shrouded in mystery, either. It’s as if the creators thought everything important was so obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned, but to me it really isn’t. And I don’t think this is because I’m unfamiliar with the “private language” of anime tropes.
If I had to guess – which I do, because the show sure isn’t saying anything – I’d say that this could be a drama with characters struggling against their nature and the strictures of the world they’re in. We have some pretty heavy-handed symbolism going on with the girls, and the potential for a good deal of agonising if a bear-human relationship starts to develop. The court scene makes a point of bears being permitted to do what is in their nature (don’t get me started on what else I think of it). And we have a mysterious “Invisible Storm” which seems to be targeting the things the human protagonists care about. More symbolism, maybe. There are plenty of interesting stories which could spring from the bear bare facts we’re given, so there is potential if the creators feel like exploring it.
But you know, I have a sinking feeling that maybe they don’t. The thing is that all of the above conjecture is exactly that, conjecture. All we really have to go on is the heavy-handed symbolism and I feel like that just isn’t enough on its own. Yes, it has lots of allegorical representations. Yay. But you have to do something with allegory before it becomes meaningful; you have to say something if you’re expecting audiences to sit through 20-odd minutes of this. If you don’t then all you have is an episode of pretentious wankery, and I’m sorry to say it but that’s what Yuri Kuma Arashi looks like. It seems as if the show was so concerned with showing how rarefied its tastes were that it forget to actually come up with any substance.
Just to round out the picture, the show also handles its relationships in a surprisingly tasteless way. Maybe we’re supposed to assume that lesbian bears are less restrained about their desires than humans are, but I found it incongruous with the tone I thought the show was aiming for. Still, at least the scenes where someone is being “eaten” are carefully constructed to not be explicit.
I have to say that I’m surprised and disappointed by this show. I like girls with perfect breasts as much as the next chap, but that isn’t enough to sustain my interest in something like this. There’s no sign that the creators want to make use of any of the potential that there is in it. Apparently they’re content with heavy symbolism and generous helpings of Sapphic erotica, and while those could be part of a good show they’re not enough by themselves.
It’s possible that the show will improve as it goes on. As I’ve said previously, there is potential there. But for now, unless you have a real desire to see anime about lesbian school-bears (which is a remarkably specific fetish) I can’t honestly recommend this.
Question of the post: What do you think of Yuri Kuma Arashi? Where do you think it’s going?