Yuri Kuma Arashi – Equal Parts Rubbish and Beautiful
January 6, 2015 Leave a comment
Yuri Kuma Arashi, one of the most anticipated series in ages didn’t get off to a particularly good start. The animation, such as it was, wasn’t especially brilliant, with dodgy CGI, and very little movement, and the story is about as nonsensical as Ikuhara gets. However, the backgrounds were beautiful, and there are some interesting themes hidden under all the random elements, and often distraction ‘symbolism’.
Ikuhara has often dealt with the fascinating issue of the Third Sex, or Third Gender within Japanese culture – that of men, and women who cross dress and represent the idealised masculinity and femininity prized by society. Utena for example had the central character taking on the role of the ideal prince, and while she never rejects her femininity, it is rarely something that features in her daily life. In the spring of 1914, Kobayashi Ichizo, former director of the Hankyu Railways, built what can only be described as a paradise on earth; about fifty miles from Osaka, in a small hot spring resort called Takarazuka. It is quite a unique kind of paradise because its only inhabitants are girls, with its main attraction being the Takarazuka Kagekidan (Takarazuka Revue), an all female opera group. These girls live a fairly cloistered existence in Takarazuka as they are segregated as much as possible from the sordid reality of the outside world.
In a mirror of the Takarazuka Kagekidan, the girls of Yuri Kuma Arashi seem to live an idealised existence, safe behind the Severance Wall, and away from the realities of the world. The abundance of Lily’s in the series pointing to the purity of the girls, and their growth as human beings – thus the destruction of these lily’s can be viewed as a loss of innocence. Such themes are found throughout Ikuhara’s works – although not necessarily involving the Lily directly – and his use of female characters in often very masculine roles (Utena, Himari, and now Ginko and Lulu – bears often featuring as more masculine than feminine). There seems to an attitude, often expressed by fans of Takarazuka, and also Kabuki, that men can’t be beautiful enough, or women can’t be feminine enough to suit the ideals of the audience.
As with other cultures, the tradition of theatrical, and now animated cross-dressing goes back a very long way in Japan, and like the theatre itself, it has religious origins. Such as stories of Amaterasu dressing in male clothes when she met with her brother Susanoo, or female shrine dancers (aruki miko) – who were also often prostitutes – dressing as men during their dances, and also male geishas being trained in the female arts during the Edo period. This tradition, and the sexual ambivalence found within Japanese religious traditions is something that Ikuhara taps into for his works. And, although the characters in Yuri Kuma are clearly female, and do not dress up as male, their attitudes and actions (particularly those of Ginko and Lulu) demonstrate the continued importance of fluid gender identities within Japanese cultural beliefs.
Furthermore, the title, and description of the bears in Yuri Kuma Arashi seems to be referencing the Sankebetsu brown bear incident of 1915 (Sankebetsu Higuma jiken), the worst bear attack in Japanese history. Later the subject of a stage play by Sou Kuramoto in 1986 titled Kuma Arashi. Pointing to Japans continued ambivalence to nature – on the one hand worshiping nature, but on the other attempting to control it by concreting mountains and rivers. The bear storm may therefore be symbolic of a loss of childhood innocence, and it requires the encroachment of dangerous, if rather cute looking bears in human form to dissolve the pure, idealised, but also highly unnatural surroundings that the girls find themselves in.
So there are some interesting themes within this first episode, however, there was also a significant amount of dead space and time. Watching the episode felt incredibly slow, and regardless of these interesting themes, there was little about the story, or characters that seemed especially interesting or engaging. Ikuhara does produce some interesting work, and his anime can often be packed to overflowing with signs, symbols, and symbolism – arguably not all of it meaning a great deal – that can quickly swamp any interesting elements of the story. As for the story, there isn’t really one, at least, not in any kind of coherent form, although that hardly surprises me. Having said that, the backgrounds were beautiful, and often very detailed, arguably the best part of the whole episode. But, if I am spending my time looking at the beautiful backgrounds, suggesting that there is very little happening on screen to keep my attention or interest. Ultimately I have not been convinced by this first episode, it has some interesting themes and ideas, but the stylistic elements are rather poor and distracting, although the beautiful backgrounds somewhat make up for that. simply put I was not impressed with this first episode, and nothing about it made me think the series might get better. I will however give it a few episodes to see if anything changes, but if it is as unengaging as this first episode I doubt I will continue.