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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
7:49 – This is a very gay school
8:15 – Pretty direct. Also I guess they’re gonna have sex in this hallway now
9:00 – Moe bears
10:10 – Lovely framed shot. Again, like a stage play
10:19 – The banding doesn’t seem to happen here. Is it specific to the school, to give it a kind of otherworldly look?
10:44 – Then Kureha pulls back, and the next shot emphasizes the actual distance between them, as well as Kureha’s defensive posture
11:28 – Stagecraft again. Like an intermission frame, or frame of dialogue from a silent film
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
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
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
16:43 – 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
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
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
21:40 – Oh shiiiiii
22:05 – Great shot. And this music is great too, really hammering in the cheesy horror movie vibe
22:45 – OH SHIIIIIII
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!