Yurikuma Arashi – 06/07 Review
Well, then again who actually would want to follow the social cues of a frigging cult, right?
Right now this series’ story feels like one of those that needs to be reminded that brevity is the soul of wit. After seven episodes it still feels like each new plottwist is based on someone sharing new information with the audience. Due to that the series never seems to move on and capitalize on the consequences of the happenings. So far the series has been circling around an unchanging status quo while explaining why that status quo exists. The death of Sumika has been the only meaningful event of this series. All the other stuff just has been a setup to clarify the situation. And yeah, none of this is very entertaining.
That’s what the series is really about, isn’t it? The whole series is just this long setup to explain how great love is.
Right now it feels like Yurikuma Arashi is becoming less by showing more of its story and world. The further you go into this show the more you notice the lack of substance which simply isn’t suited for such a heavily stylized way of storytelling. Due to the lack of substance things that should be complex just end up being complicated. And no series needs complications, no matter how pretty those complications are.
The world of Yurikuma Arashi is a very frustrating thing. It’s mired in a stylish mixture of allegories, symbolism and whatnot but it’s all about adding meaning to a broadly written story. Without the surface-level story having an inherent sense of depth, the series’ “depth” ends up being a jumbled mess of seemingly almost random stylish decisions. After all, Lulu’s fairy-tale-castle-flashback-story doesn’t evoke the same atmosphere as the war-scenes of Ginko’s war-scenes and her sitting in the church praying to Kumalia. I’ve already mentioned how this series seems to be more concerned with taking things away since this helps the series to present incomplete pictures which leave enough room for later plot-twists or revelations. And I would like to remind everyone that it’s still unclear what the human world is like actually.
It would all work better if the series would actually be more focused on just telling its story. You never get the sense, though, that the series is trying to make a point because it never feels like the series is fully committing to any scene unless it’s in the service of a cheap plottwist. There’s always this sense of vagueness accompanying each scene that says “This isn’t the whole story.”. It happens less in these episodes because the story is starting to take shape but what this series has done so far certainly hasn’t motivated me to care about this series’ story.
The series deliberately muddled its waters by not committing to its story and hid behind its allegories, symbolisms and whatnot – but in this case this stuff is simply distracting. If the series would actually manage to make a decision regarding its style, then you could at least buy into the atmosphere of the series but it always feels like there’s something missing. You have a lot of stylish ideas in this series of how to portray the story but it never feels like all those ideas work well together. For example, there are the limitations of the human world, as we always only get to see a couple locations, would’ve been an interesting idea – except the flashback-scenes don’t commit to this and the more the story takes shape the less the series has been able to sustain this limited choice of locations. Sometimes the interactions between the characters feel staged in a way that would feel more at home in a theater-play but the series has already shown that it will readily break this formula in order to tell a story in a more TV-series-conventional way.
Of course, a big thing with limiting the locations and making the whole thing feel like a theater-play is that the characterizations have to make up for that lack of locale-variation. And this series just can’t do that. It can’t, seriously. The story isn’t the only thing lacking in substance because frankly the characters don’t have a lot of genuine depth either. With the way this series is telling its story in this vague, artificially paced way very few scenes actually commit to having good drama.
Just take the first two episodes for example: Ginko and Lulu are the only bears in the story that we know of. Sumika gets killed by bears. But neither Ginko nor Lulu are responsible since there are even more bears hiding among the humans. Obviously, Kureha cared about Sumika and losing her is therefore tragic. But what are the stakes here? I mean, you could say that the series is trying to do a misdirect by making us believe that GInko or Lulu might have eaten Sumika (which the series manages to do for the most part, I would say) but why should I care about that? I know why Kureha would want to take revenge on the bears but what’s the bears’ motivation here? And this series’ crappy storytelling doesn’t give me an answer to that. It isn’t a mystery either because Kureha is genuinely trying to take revenge in the story. Of course, when you’ve seen the opening you know where the story is headed and that Kureha would become friends with Ginko and Lulu eventually (or even more than that as the OP indicates).
But nothing in the series indicated why I should care about this apparent friction between the bears and Kureha. Sure, the series also hinted at the bears wanting something from Kureha but the latter seems completely oblivious as to what that might be and the bears never really say what their goal is in those first few episodes. There’s no drama happening there because there isn’t a genuine confrontation happening. And without that those episodes didn’t have any real weight within the storyline. I mean, does anyone even care about the bears that already got killed in this series at this point? I don’t. The series doesn’t either. After all, isn’t it weird how the whole “bears hiding among humans”-thing has never really led anywhere? Kureha said it to the principal (who might be a bear as well, I guess) and with her being a bad guy, you could say that she simply kept it secret but a series shouldn’t actively avoid dealing with consequences like this. But that’s what it always feels like: Every time Kureha is asking good questions, she’s talking to that principal – who’s a bad guy. Maybe that’s the point but drama-wise: That’s one hell of a buzzkill-decision to make, creatively speaking.
So you have this series that never commits to having genuine drama and all of a sudden shit gets real! Oh my god, that sixth episode and that letter from Sumika! First of all, we get once more this moment of “Hey, how about I mention this detail now that has never been mentioned before!”. Or maybe they even mentioned the letter in the first episode but if they did I don’t remember that. It’s no problem, though, because the sixth episode just can’t stop shutting up about that letter. The episode is clearly built around the premise of “What has Sumika written in that letter?”. And you get this weird setup of how Kureha’s supposed to open the letter on her birthday. Add to that a montage of her class getting closer to her again and you get a real rabbithole, the episode successfully falls into.
We, the audience, already know that the class is evil long before the finale of the episode starts (which is another stupid decision this series has made) and because of that, the eventual birthday-party of Kureha is just ridiculous. I mean, the class actually being the bad guys without Kureha knowing while the audience knows isn’t exactly smart but you can make it work. It’s when the episode adds flashbacks of Sumika dealing with the demands of her class that shit hits the fan.
Apparently the class has already decided to exclude Kureha a long time ago and Sumika was supposed to bring her back into the fold or exclude her. But Sumika genuinely falls in love with Kureha and now she’s against excluding her. What follows is the kind of evil that’s just stupid. The class basically orders Sumika to break up with Kureha in a year and to convince her that she should find a new friend – which she conveniently has already picked. Imagine the classic film “12 Angry Men” with the main-character being the only one in the room having his ‘reasonable doubt’ but except of having a movie about him convincing the others of his ‘reasonable doubt’, it’s about the other people forcing the main-dude to create a reason for him to not take part in the jury because he has a different opinion. That’s what’s happening here. If everyone being in agreement is the point then why is dissent treated as this nuisance the class has to suppress at any cost? The audience knows that’s wrong, of course, but the series never goes beyond showing this obvious evilness. It’s the kind of shoddy portrayal of villainy where it feels like characters are evil for evil’s sake.
This becomes very obvious at the birthday where Kureha opens the letter which says the person in front of her is her new friend. But the class-rep is saying: “Yeah, I made Sumika write that letter and I’m supposed to be your new friend. But fuck it, I hate you!” And what is very indicative of how unexciting this series’ drama is, Kureha just reacts with a “Uhm… What…?”. Mind you, this isn’t a gesture of exasperation but a gesture of confusion – and it never turns into something else. Kureha really just stands there confused and paralyzed while the scene unfolds around her. Then the class-rep throws the letter into the newly made fire since they just needed burn that lily-garden of Kureha and Sumika to the ground (symbolism, guys!). But that’s when Ginko appears and jumps into the fire to retrieve the letter which is treated like it’s made out of hot iron. She gives Kureha the letter which she reads and now the new friend standing in front of her isn’t the evil class-rep but Lulu and Ginko. Then Lulu has a little monologue about how much Ginko loves Kureha to which Kureha can just once again just confusedly reply: “Uhm… What…?”
And then we get an entire episode dedicated to Kureha sort-of remembering that Ginko had been her childhood-friend. Kureha never mentions the class, not does she feel a strong need to investigate what Lulu meant when she talked about Ginko’s love. The series just pulls another thinly veiled metaphorical storytelling-device in the form of the storybook out of its hat as if that would put everything into context (which it doesn’t). Ginko also gets some flashback-scenes that explain her past before she had met Kureha. But do you see the pattern? The series is telling us more the story than letting its characters actually create one. Stuff like being unable to distinguish between humans and bears disguising themselves, Kureha’s plot-convenient amnesia and the series taking a lot of time to explain what’s really going on, it all just keeps you from giving a shit about the story. It also doesn’t help that Kureha has the charisma of a sack of wet potatoes.
It’s a pity because the stylishness IS there and in moments like when in the flashbacks of episode 07 we see the war between bears and humans, you can see an interesting visual style telling a story in an unusual way. But the reason why this series can’t keep up this stylish façade is that the story just doesn’t deliver enough substance for truly stylized storytelling. And as that façade falls apart you’re left with a rather mediocre story which in addition to that is populated by not very fascinating characters.
- I get it that this is a stylized reality but I still frowned when I saw the scene where Ginko is jumping into the fire and somehow ends up in this place ‘between’ the flames.
- The reveal of Ginko being passively involved in Sumika’s death is a VERY cheesy bit of storytelling. I can already picture the soap-opera-like moments this will create.
- Also, repetition is a stylized gimmick. If you want to turn it into a storytelling-device you do stuff like Rashomon or Edge Of Tomorrow for example, you know, since you’re actually supposed to do something with that. I’m fine with the catchphrases (even though the series certainly overuses that one quite a bit) but stuff like spamming the audience with repeating basic information about Sumika’s letter in episode 06 simply is NOT okay. In the seventh episode this had been the question of Kureha remembering her friendship with Ginko. And what is the payoff of constantly mentioning the book of Kureha’s mother and Kureha asking herself if she knows Ginko? Kureha saying to Ginko: “You’re the Forest-Girl, aren’t you?”. An ENTIRE fucking episode for THAT?! But well, like I said, the series was still too busy explaining what’s going on to care about moving on.
- Of course, Lulu’s the one to find the letter describing a new revelation about what’s really going on (I assume the letter either hints at how Ginko came to have the necklace of Kureha’s mother or how she knew Sumika would get eaten by a bear and did nothing). Otherwise she would’ve become an extraneous character fast now that Ginko and Kureha are so close to having this Promised Kiss.
- This series’ setting should’ve been the one seen in Lulu’s flashback – both in the bear-world and the human-world. Romance is a matter of destiny in this series considering how it talks about the “Promised Kiss”. And when it’s forbidden love, it isn’t only destined but also world-changing. A genuine fairy-tale-setting is perfect for such a dreamy interpretation of romance. The human-world school has literally been the place where the main-girl’s lover died and where the bad guys are – since episode 01! It doesn’t add anything to the story in terms of atmosphere!