OP: 「あの森で待ってる」 (Ano Mori de Matteru) by Bonjour Suzuki
“Never Back Down On Love”
I think it’s fair to say that Ikuhara Kunihiko’s return to anime was just as wild as expected. If you’re a fan of his previous works (Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum) then Yuri Kuma Arashi will be right up your alley as well. The approach in storytelling is near identical, Ikuhara’s favourite themes are prevalent even in this first episode, and by the end you’ll be left with that same sense of confusion that he manages to to achieve oh so wonderfully every time. And let me say this: the truth is in the title. There is Yuri, there are Bears, and there’s a Storm coming.
As expected of Ikuhara, the setting is gorgeous, making use of sharp angles and bold colours in the architecture of Arashigaoka Academy, accompanied by the scenic gardens that surround it. But behind all that beauty there is devastation. Ever since the Kumaria Meteor Shower that made the bears on Earth rise and feast on humans, the Severance Barrier has been put up to keep the humans safe from the bears, and the bears from eating the humans. On the human side we have our princess-like main heroine, Tsubaki Kureha (Yamane Nozomi), and her secret girlfriend Izumino Sumika (Ogura Yui). I say secret because Sumika seems aware when no one is watching, allowing them to spend some bonding time together. In typical Ikuhara fashion there is a fair amount of symbolism surrounding this, one of which being the recurrence of lilies. White Lilies symbolise chastity, virtue, and purity, so having the human girls be introduced as ‘lilies’ is clearly intentional, as is having Kureha and Sumika’s secret romance spot being a lily garden. Their love is as pure and untainted as the flowers that surround them, that is until an Invisible Storm comes and ruins them, destroying not only the garden but everything it represents within the series: their secret relationship, their honest love, their purity.
Lots of Concepts:
At this point the Invisible Storm is a strange concept, apparently set out to destroy that which is ‘pure’, but it’s brought up as if it has happened before and isn’t something entirely new. That being said, bears have arrived, and if I were to place a bet I’d say they might have been the cause for this ongoing storm. Yurishiro Ginko (Arakawa Miho) and Yurigasaki Lulu (Ikuta Yoshiko) arrive on the scene, but even if they look like human girls, they’re actually vicious little teddy bears; cute, but still deadly. Ginko doesn’t leave much of an impression, but Lulu certainly does – she’s pretty open in her affections towards Ginko, and she makes it clear that she’d love to eat as many girls as possible. Take that as you will, because there are several ways you could interpret that and they’re probably all accurate.
Whilst the girl bears are exciting, I equally enjoyed the Judge-Prosecutor-Defence Attorney trio that we see in the Severance Court. Life Sexy (Suwabe Junichi), might just be my favourite so far – his declaration for doing things that are sexy as well as his ‘Shabadadu’ were enough to give me the giggles. Life Cool (Saiga Mitsuki) on the other hand seems to be more of a human sympathiser, whilst Life Beauty (Yamamoto Kazutomi) defends the needs of bears – they have to eat, and eat they shall. At this stage it’s a little difficult to piece all of these concepts, places, and characters together, but I think we’ll be seeing more of these bear boys before too long, which I’m definitely looking forward to.
I’ve seen a lot of mixed reactions to this first episode, which has surprised me a little. I suppose if you’re coming into an Ikuhara series without any prior knowledge then it can be a bizarre experience, but at the same time we’re getting something that’s certainly unique when compared to a lot else that seems to be on offer this season. Ikuhara has his own type of storytelling, his own bizarre ideas and recurring motifs, and I personally love it. The fanservice was pretty heavy in this, I won’t lie, but I didn’t mind it too much. And I don’t think I need to go in depth with the symbolism of this particular scene. I’m confident you can all decipher the hidden meaning behind such imagery.
I already have a theory on what’s going on behind the scenes, and it could be way off, but much like Mawaru Penguindrum it’s fun to try and guess what’s actually happening. I’ll call this the Honeypot Theory, and it has to do with teacher Hakanaka Yurika (Inoue Kikuko) and fellow student Yurizono Mitsuko (Yuuki Aoi) pouring honey in the opening, which I think may hint to them luring the bears towards these girls. It’s common knowledge bears are attracted to the stuff and eat it, so I have a feeling these two might be in on what’s going on here. Also, they both have ‘Yuri’ somewhere in their names like the two bear transfer students – that could be a null point but I’m going to stick with it for this theory right now. However Mitsuko did look genuinely shocked at the discovery at the end, and seems to care for Kureha, but her feelings may be part of her reason for luring the bears to her – if that’s what she really is doing, but then again, I could be proven wrong very quickly. She may just end up another victim to the bears like poor Sumika.
Overview – What’s Next?:
I didn’t expect death so soon, but I’m definitely interested in what’s going on. Kureha has lost her girlfriend, so I hope that she pulls out that sniper rifle and starts getting things done (was anyone else surprised when she started shooting at the carved bears?). I also presume we’ll be diving into the morality of Ginko and Lulu after we’ve witnessed them kill someone so soon. Honestly, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen this early in the game, but you can count me excited to see how this is all going to play out.
Anime vs Manga:
ED: 「Territory」by Miho Arikawa, Yoshiko Ikuta, and Nozomi Yamane