Yuri Kuma Arashi – Episode 2

Hey guys. I don’t know if I’ll be keeping this up, but I really can’t resist doing a writeup or two for a new Ikuhara show. Almost nothing else in anime lends itself to close reading as consistently and necessarily as his work – he’s basically always constructing a conversation on the level of metaphor and theme, and Yuri Kuma Arashi seems to have almost disposed of the base narrative level entirely in preference to that stuff.

Yuri Kuma Arashi is also a show about bears who are lesbians having fun naked times together. So… yeah. Ikuhara’s definitely decided to embrace his own niche, but I certainly don’t have a problem with that. You can check out my writeup of the first episode if you’d like, as we’re already knee-deep in plenty of potential thematic threads, but who knows where this will all end up. Let’s hang out with some lesbian bears!

Episode 2

0:37 – Nobody likes stagecraft like Ikuhara likes stagecraft. There’s a sense of theatricality to his work that is illustrated both through the storytelling and through the use of the actual trappings of theater – curtains, title cards, simplified visual representations. Opening with a repeated visual “book cover” like this is basically to be expected, along with the use of the iconic bear stamp. Symbols like that were all over Penguindrum, which wasn’t just content to reflect on the 1995 Tokyo Subway Attack, but made its priorities extremely clear in its symbology.

Yuri Kuma Arashi

1:00 – Working in tandem with Ikuhara’s love of storytelling on the level of metaphor is a kind of flippant disregard for storytelling as grounded narrative. He certainly creates compelling stories, but the actual specifics of worldbuilding and what is “real” or not are secondary to the ideas and emotions he’s evoking with his choices. Ikuhara is basically the opposite of someone like Tolkien – worldbuilding is a set of brushes you use to create an emotional effect, or to contrast ideas like adolescent sexuality and classic fairytale gender roles against each other in a general way. And Ikuhara doesn’t try to “hide” this – stuff like this tossed-off explanation at the beginning here are basically a joke at traditional worldbuilding’s expense, letting you know what kind of world you’re getting into. Sometimes you gotta troll

1:03 – More symbols to keep in mind. The hexagon bear print, the “Wall of Severance”. Incidentally, as someone on my twitter feed pointed out last episode, these hexagon prints seem to come directly from The Shining

1:14 – These backgrounds are still great. The image of a wall being constructed in the background works equally well in evoking society’s barriers and in adolescents being forced to hide their own sexual identities

Yuri Kuma Arashi

1:20 – You can’t help what you are.

1:23 – The architecture in this show is so good. Gorgeous colors, lovely geometry, and those strange bars of lighting, again framing this as some kind of unreality. Incidentally, Yuri Kuma Arashi’s architecture seems to have been at least partially inspired by the film Suspiria (image courtesy of @vestenet)

1:27 – Hated and loved you from the beginning. Still ambiguous

1:36 – To cross the wall. Physical barriers generally indicate societal ones – this show’s version of Utena’s castle in the sky

1:50 – KUMA SHOCK! The show seems to be representing Ginko and Lulu in their bear and “human” forms pretty interchangeably, given the class rep here recognizes them

Yuri Kuma Arashi

2:25 – Syyyymbolism. It’s the teacher and rep doing this, incidentally. And note the bird symbol on the teacher’s uniform, matching the background – birds were one of the first symbols in the first episode

2:30 – I think the sex represents sex

2:45 – The doors open. The bears are waiting to meet you with open arms

3:34 – And ending with stage curtains in the background

3:37 – Love these warnings. Interesting disconnect between the flat but angled foreground tape and the painting-style shaded background

3:42 – It’s nice how well the show can evoke the idea of sunlight in spite of the artificial bands of color-change in all the backgrounds. In fact, here the effects complement each other, because the sunlight and bands are parallel

Yuri Kuma Arashi

3:46 – It’s as of yet unclear whether she was taken by bears or the invisible storm, or whether that’s a good or bad thing. Perhaps she’s embraced her identity and moved on

3:49 – The flower is a symbol of purity and youth, but those can be cages as much as anything. Particularly in the context of a show where the only men sit on a judge’s bench and decide what is allowed to be sexy

3:51- The service also looks like a stage play. Lovely colors, with the visual banding once again complementing the existing lines of the composition. And in the background, flowers transform into birds as they move towards the sky

3:55 – Jeez, look at that shot. As hinted at by the movie references, there’s a slight undertone of horror movie aesthetic going on in this show, and this shot is a prime example

Yuri Kuma Arashi

4:09 – The birds that intermingle with all the other girls disappear at the bears. Perhaps girls are “supposed” to turn into birds, but are hunted and imprisoned if they turn into bears – a certain accepted outcome allows one to fly over the walls that inhibit everyone else. I also like the unnatural spotlight, as well as the irony of the line here – not losing sight of herself might be what caused her to be taken away. Maybe we’ll lose more girls over time

4:27 – More fun with imagery. Calling it out in the script

4:58 – “Pink triangle” almost seems too easy for what this show’s doing, but it’s interesting how the color banding clashes here

5:13 – The image of the school is directly followed by this, a line of file cabinets where Sumika’s photo is being put away. Pretty ominous implication, and an echo of Utena’s Black Rose Arc

Yuri Kuma Arashi

6:10 – The voices of the peanut gallery. In Utena, crowds served a specific purpose, as the contrast between the “stars” of the show and the spectators in their lives actually drove several of the subplots. In Penguindrum, crowds were dehumanized, simplified to stop-sign abstraction. Here, they’ve returned, indicating this is once again a story where the court of public approval is key

6:28 – I love these bears

6:48 – Goddamnit these bears

7:06 – Great shot

7:30 – Considering her entrance in that last shot and her hair pin here, I think we’ve figured out Konomi’s motif

Yuri Kuma Arashi

7:49 – This is a very gay school

7:56 – So she’s been marked by the storm, and other people can tell?

8:15 – Pretty direct. Also I guess they’re gonna have sex in this hallway now

8:45 – No hard feelings from last episode, apparently

9:00 – Moe bears

10:10 – Lovely framed shot. Again, like a stage play

Yuri Kuma Arashi

10:19 – The banding doesn’t seem to happen here. Is it specific to the school, to give it a kind of otherworldly look?

10:39 – The way the two are positioned in the shot heightens the sense of intimacy, pushing them together

10:44 – Then Kureha pulls back, and the next shot emphasizes the actual distance between them, as well as Kureha’s defensive posture

11:13 – Not really sure what to make of the bear and fish

11:28 – Stagecraft again. Like an intermission frame, or frame of dialogue from a silent film

Yuri Kuma Arashi

11:43 – These shots keep cutting off Ginko’s head, emphasizing her as an unknown

12:15 – The bears seem to wield ‘shameless’ sexuality as a weapon. It’s a classic, harmful stereotype – the “dangerous lesbian” corrupting girls. I wonder where Ikuhara’s going with it – it actually kind of fits in with the horror movie bits. Horror movies are rife with fear of feminine sexuality – how often does the couple who have sex survive?

12:35 – Wonderfully framed shot. I love the symmetry of the sunlight, the line of houses, and the rifle

12:55 – And yeah, ending on this melodramatic ad break. I’m impressed with how well these characters integrate with these ornate backgrounds

13:29 – Yesss

Yuri Kuma Arashi

14:00 – Kureha’s phone has the Severance symbol. Hm

Right, it’s when the court is calling. Makes sense, if they’re actually the gatekeepers

14:16 – Ikuhara loves repeating stuff like this. “If your soul has not yet given up…”

14:28 – That seems to be the direction we’re going in. Perhaps the point is “define yourself as a bear, and society will accept your kind of love” – that in order for someone like Kureha to be accepted at all, she must be defined as a monster, and must furthermore define herself as a monster. Thus resulting in things like Ginko’s attack earlier, where she can only act on her emotions in the way she’s been defined as allowed to

14:38 – Lovely colors and lighting. The night shots are as nice as the day ones

Yuri Kuma Arashi

15:01 – Jealousy seems key in this story

15:11 – So did the storm catch her first, and turn her into a bear? Is half the student body already bears?

15:26 – Hah, what a shot

16:16 – Another nice shot. There’s a nice contrast between the flatness of these painted backgrounds and how the shot framing creates depth through distance and layers of objects. This was more apparent in Kureha’s house, with the many foregrounded items

16:23 – I was gonna say something and then the show said it for me

Yuri Kuma Arashi

16:43 – Kureha runs uphill, in the opposite direction of the birds. The symbols are consistent enough to be understandable quickly, but their repetition across the many elements of the production creates an emotional world that the characters interact with in all sorts of ways

16:54 – How many classmates will Kureha have to take down?!?

17:15 – But it didn’t. They’re being turned on each other by the assumptions of their society. I think we’re getting somewhere

18:18 – All of their arguments and counterarguments are completely arbitrary “I feel like…” and “isn’t it obvious that…” declarations of how bears should act. All the bears can do is watch and object, but they have no power

You know, I kinda doubt a show like Lesbian Bear Storm would actually convince bigots of the structural power issues inherent in modern society, but it’s nice to think so anyway

Yuri Kuma Arashi

18:27 – Judgment rendered

18:35 – And once again. Either you hide yourself or you commit crime simply by acting according to your nature

19:04 – When the yuri is approved by the male council, Ginko and Lulu turn from awful bears into cute girls

19:57 – The triangle

20:14 – Some of Ikuhara’s best characters are the ones that are trapped in the structures they inhabit to such an extent that they become instruments of further oppression – like Nanami from Utena, Mitsuko is obeying the rules

21:04 – Mitsuko urging Kureha to accept what has happened. Beautiful shot

Yuri Kuma Arashi

21:40 – Oh shiiiiii

22:05 – Great shot. And this music is great too, really hammering in the cheesy horror movie vibe


23:00 – End with the spotlight, of course

And Done

Oh man, what an episode! So much fun, and I think the pieces we’re dealing with are really coming together, too. Ginko seems like something of a tragic figure, bound by what society has made her, while Mitsuko embraces it. And the little elements of horror affectation really work with how the show’s depicting both its overall drama and the bears specifically. Plus it’s beautiful, plus great music, plus it’s so much fun… yeah, great times in this show. This writeup ended up absolutely massive, so I’m not sure I can promise another one for next week, but I’ll try to work something. The show definitely deserves it. GAO GAO!

17 thoughts on “Yuri Kuma Arashi – Episode 2

  1. Why are the birds going down as Kureha ascends the stairs? Does it represent her going “against” the norms of the system she inhabits by accepting the bear court’s offer?

    • I think so. Both Kureha (through her “not backing down on love”) and the bears seem to be transgressing against their society, and birds seem to be associated with what girls are “supposed” to do/become.

  2. I really hope you continue with the write-ups for this show. My brain just doesn’t work in a way that lets me analyze these things like you do.

    • I think I might! I can’t write posts this exhaustive every week, but I think this one covered a lot of the base stuff I needed to set out regarding the show in general, so it should get more manageable from here.

  3. Well, damn, that was a FAR better episode. Stuff is definitely starting to slide into place for me, and the larger themes are beginning to take shape. My big takeaway from this week is about the artificial “love/sex” dichotomy we see enforced – the chaste relationship of Kureha and Sumika and their “not backing down on love” sits starkly against the other bear-girls and the way their relationships are characterised by sex and desire. All the bears are after Kureha not because she’s innately desirable, but because they’ve internalised the fetishisation of purity and a girl who believes in love. Just like in a fairytale (which the decor of her bedroom is definitely reminiscent of), she’s simply a prize to be won.

    Also worth noting – we got that wonderful shot of glass breaking as Ginko and Lulu escaped Kureha’s house, which reminded me of something in Penguindrum: in that series, broken glass is symbolic of the Child Broiler and the invisible children who got taken there. I’m not sure if Ikuhara is the type to reuse symbols across his work (since I haven’t seen Utena) but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

    • Yes, you totally benefit from watching Ikuhara’s catalog in order, because he maintains a consistent set of iconography throughout all his shows. The falling bullets references the Penguindrum OP too.

      Btw Bob, another horror movie reference is that the Tsubaki house is based on Norman Bates’ from Hitchcock’s Psycho.

      Konomi being spotlight in the initial scene and foreboding blues are telling, but I think Ginko being framed next to Konomi’s motif also help to foreshadow that Konomi’s a bear. Secondly, the fish is framed next to Kureha. Most of the sculptures show the bear eating the fish (http://i.imgur.com/cNoGIUB.jpg), meaning Ginko eating Kureha and not the other way around (http://i.imgur.com/TZvHS4o.jpg). I’m guessing it’s just foreshadowing Kureha’s eventual character turn.

    • Ikuhara definitely has a variety of pet symbols – the bird was a recurring motif in Utena, flowers were even more important in that show, and as someone mentioned below, the bullet imagery has crossed from Penguindrum to here.

      I like your thoughts on the bears desiring Kureha because she’s representative of the purity their society artificially values, though I’m not sure how that sits with her being an “outsider.” I guess we’ll have to see.

      • I think there can be something to go with that. If the ‘bears’ or ‘monsters’ of society are those who act upon their lesbian tendencies, then as you had mentioned, someone must accept and become one as well. I think in the case of those who are already bears preying on Kureha, the prize to be won, they are attempting to turn her; they find joy in the process of ‘corruption’.

        I want more of this series. Asap.

  4. Well, we know and have seen that Ikuhara and YKA have a lot of intentional repetition, so future writeups shouldn’t be hitting up the same touchstones again and again. On the other hand, it is 1 coeur, so they might start varying the repeats for insight sooner.

    Every instance of bears we’ve seen thus far occurs after they’ve embraced some manner of selfishness, decided to take action for self-serving reasons that will compromise their visibility. Konomi decides to take Kureha out out of jealousy, and Mitsuko reveals herself after making a DELICIOUS SMELL move on Kureha. (We do know, though, that Mitsuko has eaten invisible humans. So even the security in suppression
    Ironically, in sci-fi it’s often selfish passions defining humanity against “wiser” logical aliens, whereas here, alien matter made the bears into the representations of the instincts suppressed by humans. Of course, this is Ikuhara, and given the “EVERYONE IS SECRETLY BEARS” trajectory we’re on, that origin story is probably going to get retconned into the “truth” down the line.

    In contrast, Kureha’s responses to the challenges have not been declarations of intent to another person. She’s still on the line between invisibility and bear-dom, and presumably, the challenges from the wall, her inability to actually shoot bears, and the child-like interior of her house, show that she doesn’t have the maturity to recognize the dichotomies surrounding her.

    (tbh, that makes her a poor protagonist at this point. Utena and Mari both had a hell of a lot more agency this early in their shows. Utena was able to challenge the system because of her naivete in some ways, while Mari was a counselling figure to Ringo and her brothers. Kureha is basically a passive object being fought over, impotent in her childish denials, and there’s no sign that her outlook can bridge the gap/demolish the wall. Hopefully, ep 3 will complete a first arc and address that situation.)

    The catchphrase game of this show is too good. DELICIOUS SMELL, sorega SEKUSHII, shabadadoo, GAO GAO, GYAO GYAO, kirakira, yuri approved, and on and on, but my favorite this ep was “Did you know that sad and lonely tears taste like a treat?” courtesy of Ginko.

    • Yeah, Kureha’s basically been strong intent with little action so far – but considering her lover was eaten by bears last episode, I’m willing to cut her a little slack in her journey. And I’m very interested in seeing where the chips fall on how sexuality, jealousy, and desire are all (or not) related to what creates bear-dom.

      And yes, the catchphrases are just way too good. DELICIOUSMELL might be my favorite now, but that final GYAO GYAOOO was so good too. I also love the transformation Gaos.

      • Oh, and I liked this part of the write-up too much:

        ““Pink triangle” almost seems too easy for what this show’s doing” cut to pink triangle of filing drawers
        This happened to me while I was watching the episode, talking to a friend at the time. “I can’t believe I missed the pink triangle school last time–oh. Pink triangle of drawers. gdi, Ikuhara.”

        • Stuff like that and when the characters just outright say things like “your love will bloom” while watering the flowers make me think Ikuhara enjoys trolling our specific segment of his audience.

  5. The fish/vagina jokes from last time around (“I like salted fish”, “Sure it smells a little when I open the container”) made me think that the innocent/pure lesbian/non-conformist girls are the fish themselves. Plus, like with Ringo in Penguindrum, you have that blue (// water) when the protag nostalgically thinks of her mother, which would lend credence to that idea. The fish in the figure is a salmon, right? If you’ll let me modify the salmon life cycle, ideally: salmon is born upwater, goes down the river (// school life), reaches ocean (// adult world, maturity) at which point he should fully embrace himself w/o a problem, thus reaching his full potential and becoming a bird. However, society doesn’t like non-conformist girls, so it sends bears to prey on the innocent fish swimming about and eat them. If you’ll allow me to speculate, it looks like the bears themselves were innocent lesbian fish once, most visibly Ginko with her constant talk re:pure love, but they were brought down by the invisible storm, faced the society’s patriarchs (Judgemens) who gave them 2 options: either to disappear (i.e. repress their feelings and become part of the herd) or to eat humans (i.e. not repress their feelings but fit the ‘homosexuality/non conformist behavior is weird & unnatural’ label (Or how Islam is totally dangerous, etc.) promoted by old society, which is why they’re portrayed as being pretty shameless with their sexuality). And bizarrely, the same bears are being hunted down by the very society that approved their extreme behavior! A bit like how the US gives weapons to Islamic militants behind the scenes yet (or rather, hence) bashes all of Islam publicly, playing on the population’s confirmation bias. (Yes I know I overly simplified the situation, it’s just to get the point across).

    Fish start at the lowest level (underwater). Bears are at the intermediate level (earth). Birds are at the highest level (air). From a fish’s POV, they could mistake bears for birds = mistakenly assimilate the idea that lesbians are dangerous and whatnot.

    Uh… Yeah. A bit jumbled and you likely already made these reflections, but hey figured I’d contribute.

  6. I had difficulty getting a read on the president this episode. Her reaction to walking in on the bears eating someone and the scenes we saw from her perspective based on that just didn’t fit with her own gleefully vampish bear persona. Maybe we’ve got a Manchurian Candidate thing going on?

    On another note, there’s been a lot of Internet back-and-forth on how this show handles its fanservicey elements (particularly regarding the rapey subtext/overt text of ‘eating’) in comparison to Kill la Kill. Any thoughts on that?

  7. This is a really quick trip into some bold prediction territory, but I have a few ideas about where this could end up. Nothing groundbreaking here.

    The bears represent one distinct form of “never backing down on love” where they embrace their sexuality. They are all about the physical, animal nature of sex. The “eros” of the world that Ikuhara has given us.

    Kureha, surrounded by lilies, stands as the pinnacle of pure, innocent love, just on the cusp of blooming into her sexuality. Something closer to “philia”.

    Both of these groups are in positions where the way they can express love is restricted by their society. Imagine what the Yuri Court would do to a bear who wanted a consensual relationship instead of simply eating a human! They’d turn invisible, disregarded as lesser. Kureha similarly cannot express her love.

    I would almost guarantee this story reaches its climax at the top of the Severance Wall, with Kureha showing Ginko the side of love bears are not allowed to experience and Ginko returning the favor in kind. Ginko in this scenario might be bear Sumika, or invisible Sumika–good luck predicting Ikuhara. A healthy relationship between equals can have both forms of love! It’s normal for people to want to share sex with their loved ones, and that is something you should not not be forced to back down from. There’s no doubt about it, there is going to be some kind of exchange in how humans and bears understand love. Maybe Kureha ends up crossing the wall into bear territory?

    I’m really excited for Ikuhara to bring it together. It’s odd saying this, but for how abstract this show is, there are plenty of puzzle pieces already falling in place. I love it. Thanks for the write up, you have some nice comments on the cinematography.

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