Yurikuma Arashi – 02/03 Review
Kureha’s house at the crossroads with one road having a sign for humans and for the other other street one indicating bears.
Is Yurikuma Arashi too artsy for its own good? Maybe… I certainly feel like telling the series to get on with it. Its repeating elements may serve a narrative purpose by coming up quite so often without much change but I would rather have meaningful stark changes than a series repeating itself for the sake of when it will make an exception. Even something as artsy as this series can get get formulaic when it just doesn’t move on. I mean, first of all, I’m not even sure what this series’ endgame is supposed to be. Really, more than a question of like and dislike, it’s a question of curiosity and indifference with this series. You either wait for the end in order to get the whole picture or you just leave disinterested. This series certainly ain’t a crowdpleaser.
At times like these I feel like this series wants to sell the idea of how one should be more tolerant towards homosexual romances.
It’s really difficult to critically review a series like this one. I don’t claim to know enough Japanese to get all the ambiguities of this series and pausing every couple seconds in order to catch all the allegories, symbols and whatnot isn’t something I want to do for this series, either. Mawaru Penguindrum was already obscure and complicated in its presentation but I feel like this series takes this even a step further.
The first thing to note is that Yuri Kuma Arashi is stylish and the series’ director Kunihiko Ikuhara is the driving force behind that stylishness. One should also note that this doesn’t make the series better. No, Ikuhara has gone so far down the rabbithole with his style that we are at the point where his series have become a “love it or hate it”-affair. I’m all for anime-directors being allowed to have a personal style but it should serve a purpose. And actually there are strong indications Ikuhara is indeed following a particular opinion of his: That heterosexual romance would end up dominating a series too much and therefore lesbian romances are better. It isn’t really a logical opinion but it does establish his connection to lesbian romance which plays a big role in this series.
With this series, though, I feel like we have arrived at the point where I feel like the director is standing between me and the story just waving his hands to get my attention and make me notice that HE is directing this series. Ikuhara’s style dominates this series to a point where the series ends up being a warped version of its original material. Style overtakes substance in this series as the series foregoes any traditional means of storytelling.
There isn’t a lot of human warmth present in this series as it goes through all its allegorical images and scenes in an effort to convey a message it actually isn’t revealing at this point. That’s the most frustrating part about watching this series: Not knowing what it’s all about. These episodes have introduced all these stylish references and allegories but… it just doesn’t amount to anything right now. The coherence this series has been establishing in style is easily shattered by the audience asking “Why? Why should I care?”. This allegorical succession of sequences that all serve a certain yet unknown purpose feels more like someone talking in a different language to me while I as a viewer try to figure out what the words of this different language mean. Rather than letting me as a viewer engage with the series, I always feel like I’m playing catch-up with it. I’m always one step behind when the series throws another obscure allegory at me and forces me to figure out how it fits into the context of this series’ story and what its essential meaning is.
And the most frustrating part is realizing that no matter how intricate your research is, you won’t figure out what is going on right now. I mean, you may say, of course you don’t! After all, how long did it take Mawaru Penguindrum to introduce the Children-boiler as a concept? Ikuhara doesn’t reveal all his allegories from the very beginning and makes understanding them the task of the series, no, Ikuhara turns allegories into a process. And that process isn’t giving you a complex allegory and expecting you to figure out what that allegory means, the process is to turn the series’ allegories into the story. The story of this series isn’t what goes on with all of its characters, it’s subtext of all these events that mystically hangs in the air, intangible like smoke until the series finally deigns to allow its audience to look at the fire which had caused the smoke.
Ikuhara’s allegories overlay the setting and turn into this enigmatic, surreal gathering of various concepts and ideas whose meaning appears in its subtext via translation. This isn’t a series that wants the audience to relate to its story but instead wants its audience to decode its story. At that point, though, you naturally aren’t watching a story anymore, you watch Ikuhara’s take on that story. The most important element of the story isn’t the story itself but what Ikuhara thinks about it. And at that point you have to decide for yourself if you want to take that ride or just move on. This series doesn’t come to you, you come to the series, so to speak. The series makes you responsible for being able to follow into its allegory-riddled rabbithole.
And this sequence always makes me question the complexity of this series. This imagery is SO blunt and straightforward that it’s really nothing more than fanservice (even despite the series’ attempts to do somewinth with this sequence).
Naturally this is a fairly egomaniacal approach that only the greatest directors should take and Ikuhara could be counted among those. After all, Revolutionary Girl Utena is an anime-classic. This style of surreal theater is very distinct but I certainly don’t like the direction this is going. What always confuses me about this series is realizing how normal the actual story seems in comparison to how Ikuhara presents it. Due to Ikuhara’s style you expect some elaborate deep mystery gets presented to you whose meaning is as much a challenge to the audience as it is a part of the storytelling. Forbidden love, society enforcing conventions and the dramatic struggle between two factions who are considered to be enemies but don’t have to be surprisingly: Nothing about that seems original or compelling on its own. But the good part about this is that Ikuhara is doing this. Even if you don’t like his style, and I’m not a great fan of this series either right now, but at least this is a series brimming with personality. And I think more directors should be allowed to have as much creative freedom as Ikuhara has in this case obviously. These days you either get original animes spearheaded by experienced and famous anime-directors/writers/whatever or you get the race of “Who manages to adapt this popular LN/VN/Manga-series x first to become an as-popular Anime-series (hopefully)?”. And then there are the sequels, of course, like the new Ghost-In-The-Shell-stuff or Eureka Seven AO. Stuff like Ikuhara’s series is still far too rare in the anime-industry.
But let’s start talking about the actual episodes. One of the biggest problems of this series is how abstract and staged most of its emotional scenes seem visually and because of how they are presented but what the characters express seems either emotionally detached in a stylized way or seems far too mundane for how staged the whole thing feels. Just take Kureha’s grief over her lover’s death as an example. These three episodes had plenty of scenes of Kureha grieving and dealing with her death but her scenes feel staged. Stuff like repetition (her always sitting on the bed in her room and her shooting at the bears at the gunrange) and flashcuts that take away from the feeling of normalcy put a distance between her struggles and the audience despite her sympathetic struggle. You can add to that a fundamental distance between the characters and the audience as the former are reduced to soundbites and habitual visual motifs quite often. This series makes it very hard to give a shit, is what I’m saying.
That’s why the third episode has been the best one so far. Mitsuko Yurizono’s villainous role in that episode has made that episode one of the most relatable so far. Her desire to get Kureha’s trust in order to eat her and the way she plotted the downfall of Kureha is all stuff you can actually relate to. It’s all conveniently staged, favoring more the intent of her actions than mundane logic of course but at least you know what her deal is. The reason why it’s possible to somewhat relate to the drama in this episode is that you can at least feel like you know Yurizono. When Ginko and Lulu appeared as bears in the previous two episodes the series had been giving a you a lot of mixed messages regarding their status. Are they the good guys or the bad guys or are they supposed to be in a moral grey area…? Nothing either confirmed or denied any of these options since it was mostly just this incoherent mess of an unfinished answer to that question.
The third episode is great but it’s moments like when Ginko and Lulu confront Eriko in the garden when I just remember how much I dislike this series. Eriko has been seduced by Yurizono and she manipulates her into starting a witchhunt for Kureha as she still keeps her distance from the class and refuses to become “invisible” (basically saying “If you’re not one of us, you’re one of THEM… them being our enemy.”). But Eriko really is just a minion of Yurizono in this episode but still she gets her comeuppance at the end of the episode for doing that. But the thing is: Eriko doesn’t have a personality or any real characterization to speak of. Her being eaten by Ginko and Lulu is more symbolic than relatable on a personal level. And that stuff is why I don’t like this series: Okay, so you want to fill this series with surreal theater while trying to deliver an abstract message – but at least try to sell me that idea! I feel like I’m doing most of the work here trying to give a shit about this series! I need less posturing from this series and more substance. Right now it feels like the series is more concerned with being complicated than being deep.
Episode-Rating: 2nd Episode: 6.0/10 3rd Episode: 7.0/10
- For those who actually want to know what is going on in this series, you can find good summaries here, here and here.
- Stuff that confuses me: Why isn’t Kureha able to shoot bears anymore? What is the different between normal lethal bear-eating and the approved bear-eating Ginko and Lulu are doing?
- Speculation: Couldn’t it be possible that this Wall Of Severance is as much about keeping bears out as it is about keeping humans in? Also, the whole “invisible”-shtick isn’t just about conformity and having female friends rather than lesbian romances, doesn’t it also seem like some defense-mechanism prey-animals would use when confronted with hunter-animals like bears?