Yuri Kuma Arashi – Still Rubbish, and still Beautiful
January 25, 2015 Leave a comment
During my first impressions of Yuri Kuma Arashi I explored some of the central themes that the series appears to be dealing with, especially those surrounding the idea of women in male roles as found in a wide variety of anime and manga. Those themes remain particularly interesting to me, but this series does not, and instead of exploring such themes in an interesting manner, it is clear that the anime is a classic case of directorial indulgence. It is fairly obvious by now that Kunihiko Ikuhara does not need to justify any of his stylistic, or thematic choices. When discussing the current state of Yuri Kuma Arashi I had an interesting comment that Ikuhara is able to get away with such bland, uninspiring anime because he directed Utena. A series – albeit a rather superb one – that is getting close to two decades old has somehow given Ikuhara an aura so powerful, so impenetrable, that regardless of his abilities it seems very hard to criticise him without people claiming that you simply do not understand his deeply symbolic style.
I am not saying that he is a bad director, if anything the stylistic touches that he gave Utena turned a particularly fascinating manga into one of the most memorable anime series I’ve ever watched. However, watching these first few episodes of Yuri Kuma Arashi gives the impression that Ikuhara truly believes in his own genius, and is willing to add any amount of random symbols, weird backgrounds, and other, over-indulgent elements simply because he can. The same sadly happened with Mawaru Penguindrum, a series that I am not overly fond of – one that has some interesting aspects to the story, particularly its exploration of what might happen to those who are the children of criminals, specifically the children of Aum Cultists. However, I don’t really think those themes and narrative elements went far enough, or were lost under the unending avalanche of stylistic ticks that denote an Ikuhara series. In many respects I have similar issues with those same stylistic elements as I do with those used by Shinbou and Shaft, feeling that they detract from any story, or are used to hide the complete absence of a proper story and character development.
The story so far is largely nonexistent, with characters talking about love, delicious meals, and other largely unimportant things that seem to mean very little, or even add anything to their development. It is an empty shell of a series, one that uses the façade of Yuri, and curious background to give the impression of artistic depth and intelligence. As a series it lacks the basic building blocks of an interesting story with characters that are little more than empty shells. We can talk about metaphors and symbolism for as long as we want, but if they aren’t being used in aid of narrative structure and progression then they are both empty, and pointless. The best series and films I know use metaphors and symbolism in aid of the story telling and character development – they have a reason, a point, a meaning. Yuri Kuma Arashi lacks that same meaning and depth, with symbolism thrown around seemingly at random. They do not appear to be used in highlighting important aspects of the stories narrative, or used to enhance existing character or story progression.
Symbolism in and of itself is not necessarily bad, in fact as already mentioned, symbolism, alongside metaphors can be used to enhance a story by adding depth to characters and narrative arcs. However, when such things are used constantly, and without a strong narrative and characters to create a solid framework for their use, they are arguably meaningless. This is what we see in Yuri Kuma Arashi, lots of symbolism surrounding the apparent purity of Yuri and love between girls, as opposed to the violence and polluted nature of bears, which ultimately seems to represent the entire plot of the series. Then there is the problem of story progression, something that Ikuhara isn’t always very good at, with a tendency to focus on creating a setting, and lots of repetitive scene usage.
After three episodes very little has happened – girls have died, girls have been revealed to be bears, who have then also died – but to what end? Are we supposed to care for the characters that have died, despite being empty and easily forgotten? Is the series supposed to be a retelling of the Sankebetsu brown bear incident, when a very large brown bear killed seven settlers in Hokkaido between the 9th and 14th of December 1915? If so is there any meaning behind such a retelling, one that appears to be ignoring the original environmental implications of new settlers displacing wild animals and encroaching on territory and habitat. These questions are important because so far any sense of story, or character development has been either vague, or nonexistent. Instead we have lots of repeated shots and animation – sometimes useful for reinforcing particularly important points – but here seem to be used to fill space.
Ultimately Yuri Kuma Arashi simply feels empty, nothing the characters do appears to have any real bearing on story progression, or how other characters will act. Furthermore, the world itself feels empty and artificial, perhaps this is partly deliberate, a world free from the pollution of everyday life, where young women are free to live carefree lives. The bears then are the encroaching reality of people’s everyday lives, forcing these girls to come to terms with the realities of growing up. Unfortunately there is very little in the series to make you care for the characters, they are cardboard cut outs, and about as interesting and engaging as watching paint dry. Kureha clearly cares for Sumika dearly, and yet Sumika is such a boring, pointless character, so the pain and tension that we are presumably supposed to experience from Kureha’s anguish simply doesn’t exist. Something that is fairly troubling considering the emphasis placed upon characters over other parts of the story – so if the deaths of characters like Sumika do not illict an emotional response from the audience then they are pretty poor as characters. Ginko and Lulu are similarly empty, and while some of Lulu’s antics are entertaining, they also appear to have little impact on the series and characters, which seems a little odd when we look at their apparent role in the development of Kureha’s character.
I still love Utena, it’s a great series, and many of the criticisms levelled at Yuri Kuma could conceivably be pointed at Utena (or for that matter any number of other anime), especially when the visuals and symbolism are concerned. However, Utena, despite its madness, and some questionable episodes, is a good series, with interesting characters, and a solid, if slightly odd story. Yuri Kuma has none of those things, and by now I am beginning to question Ikuhara’s ability, and whether Utena was a one hit wonder, the series that allowed him to express the weird and wonderful things going on inside his head, but within a more structured format. In recent years we have had Penguindrum, a series that had some interesting moments, but ultimately fell apart for me, and now Yuri Kuma Arashi, a series about as empty and soulless as it is possible to be. It might be a beautifully animated series with wonderful backgrounds, but as a piece of story telling, or even simple entertainment, it is rubbish.