ユリ熊嵐 第1話 「私はスキをあきらめない」
Yuri Kuma Arashi #01. 「Never Back Down on Love」
Source Material: Original anime series
Studio(s): SILVER LINK
Director(s): Ikuhara Kunihiko (幾原 邦彦)
Series Composition: Ikami Takayo (伊神 貴世), Ikuhara Kunihiko (幾原 邦彦)
Character Design: Sumimoto Etsuko (住本 悦子)
Music: Hashimoto Yukari (橋本 由香利)
Yuri Kuma Arashi, first referred to as the Kunihiko Ikuhara/Penguinbear Project, is an original television anime series created by Ikuhara Kunihiko, famed creator of the Revolutionary Girl Utena series . Notably, it is the follow-up to Ikuhara’s 2011 Mawaru Penguindrum series, which was in turn his first directorial effort in twelve years, since Utena. A manga adaptation for Yuri Kuma Arashi preceded its television debut in Gentosha‘s Comic Birz imprint, starting in February 2014 with art handled by Morishima Akiko.
In a secluded area, two females schoolmates of Arashigaoka Academy, Tsubaki Kureha and Izumino Sumika, requite their love for each other, but their conciliation is interrupted by the alarming of something called the Bear Alert System. Long ago, an asteroid in the universe known as Kumaria exploded and its remnants fell to Earth in the form of a meteor shower, triggering a global phenomenon in which all of Earth’s bears came together and started attacking humans. Taking defensive maneuvers, humans built a great structure called the Severence Barrier to repel the bears, but it did not completely counteract the bears’ advances. Disguised in the form of humans, bears Yurishiro Ginko and Yurigasaki Lulu infiltrate Arashigaoka Academy as transfer students to go about their way in gluttonously eating every student on campus. At their homeroom introduction, they set their eyes (and noses) on Kureha, simply because she seems particularly delicious-looking. During class, Kureha notices Sumika leaving the room abruptly and, concerned, frantically runs after her, first to the secluded area where they previously rendezvoused and then to the rooftop of the school building, where she finds Sumika fortunately unharmed and care-freely holding in-hand her pastry and to-be lunch. As the two girls share their lunch on the roof’s conveniently-positioned bench and passionately lean upon each other, Ginko and Lulu watch them from a distance in their diminutive bear forms, anticipating their own delicious meals. Later on, Kureha and Sumika’s cherished flowerbed in the park has had all of its flowers snipped, and Kureha fears it is an omen for the oncoming tragedy she refers to as the “Invisible Storm”. Sumika passionately replies that she won’t back down on her love, and her optimism reassures Kureha, who resolves to protect Sumika no matter what happens. Yurizono Mitsuko, classroom representative of the girls’ homeroom, enters, noticing the ruined flowerbed and suggests that the three girls team-up to overcome the Invisible Storm together. As they signal their new friendship with an outburst of laughter, a brick thrown into their immediate area halts their joviality and signals a judgment to fall down upon the girls. That evening at home, Kureha remembers her earliest childhood memories with Sumika and engages in target practice with her rifle, using bear figurines as targets. The next morning, police cars and barricade tape surround the girls’ flower bed, and rumors about the next target for the Invisible Storm having been selected spread across campus. In the classroom, Kureha receives a phone call from an anonymous caller who confronts her ideals of love with the challenge of the Severance Barrier, summoning her to the rooftop where the bears await her. Kureha rushes to the rooftop with her rifle in-hand and is subsequently ambushed by Ginko and Lulu. Before they are able to indulge in eating Kureha, Ginko and Lulu suddenly (and mystically) find themselves in the Severance Court where Judgemens Life Sexy, Life Cool, and Life Beauty begin their trial. After a discourse of opinions amongst the Judgemens and Ginko and Lulu resolutely declaring that they choose eating humans over “becoming invisible”, the two are given permission to eat Kureha. Ginko and Lulu go through transformation sequences that change them into their human forms adorned in bear-themed garments and engage in a seemingly metaphysical intercourse with Kureha. Kureha then awakens in the school infirmary with Mitsuko sitting by her side, conflicted by the thought of whether what had just happened was a dream or reality. Mitsuko leaves to get Kureha a warm drink and passes by the flowerbed to find Ginko and Lulu devouring the corpse of an unknown girl and watchfully recognizes them as the two transfer students from the day before.
Even beyond the blatant usage of the word “yuri” in the show’s title, Yuri Kuma Arashi is dead give-away as an Ikuhara Kunihiko brainchild with its visual style and forthright attempt at establishing an animal mascot for the series (I say after having purchased a Mawaru Penguindrum hoodie for my own personal wearing recently). Go a little further into the premiere episode; and from a directorial standpoint, you may notice those familiar creative touches of Ikuhara’s preceding series, Revolutionary Girl Utena and (more recently) Mawaru Penguindrum, such as the accentuated scenes situated in fields, meadows, beds of flowers, shots of gigantic winding staircases, strands of hair dancing in the wind amidst flower petals, and the strange phasing in-and-out of dimensions wherein supernatural authority figures bestow some kind of judgment or declaration upon our protagonists (wow, that last one sure did raise the bar quickly). Put altogether, it’s a bit convoluted but it’s definitely gearing up to be, again, similar to Ikuhara’s previous works, in terms of abundant symbolism underlying a fun-loving premise. And Yuri Kuma Arashi may just possess the most accessible premise of all Ikuhara’s works thus far, that being a very basic, comedy-esque set-up of alien-influenced bears waging a feast of human beings through smarter-than-the-average-bear means. Heck, it could even be the set-up for a full-on horror gore-fest of a series, or a Shingeki no Bear post-apocalyptic dark fantasy; but a metaphysical, surreal, and allegorical magical girl series would have been a guess that lied at the very end of the prediction list. But who says that that’s a bad thing? It sure isn’t Ikuhara and it’s that kind of attitude precisely that allows the absurd mixture of oddities to be entertaining enough. Having worked with a different animation studio for each one of his core works, from J.C. Staff for Utena to Brain’s Base for Penguindrum to now Silver Link (which technically derives from former J.C. Staff employees) for Yuri Kuma, Ikuhara is a creative nomad by all means (he has even been cited expressing interest in collaborating with American surrealist film director David Lynch), but it’s not all for naught so long as he maintains such a consistent collaboration history with talented personnel. The relatively new animation studio Silver Link (founded in 2007) has been on my own radar as of late particularly because of recent productions such as Nourin, Non Non Biyori, and Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya. At the same time, their visual presentation can be rather under-impressionable and overly-tame with productions such as last year’s Girlfriend (Kari) and Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?, but Yuri Kuma Arashi has only done work in upholding the favorable part of the studio’s reputation. With the additional involvement of other venerable industry veterans such as composer Hashimoto Yukari (her score for Toradora! is still one of my favorites), the show is essentially set with its line of production values. What’s left is to see just how well Ikuhara’s textual story-telling persists. His approach at abstract and slow-engaging narrative is one I like to think that I’ve adjusted myself to for the most part, but I can’t say I can give it the full benefit of the doubt after having dropped Penguindrum a quarter of the way through during its particularly unbearable (pun intended) and stagnant stage of story-progression. For the time being, I can enjoy the contradictory air of remiss and severity that Yuri Kuma currently flaunts. The completely unintimidating, pint-sized bear forms of Ginko and Lulu, the most chibi-fied character designs featured in a Ikuhara work yet, and the ridiculousness of the three Judgemens (in name and appearance) are all visual components that divert attention away from the pretty serious plot brutality of young schoolgirls being killed and or eaten alive (although I am waging for these deaths to be revealed as a much more light-hearted, mendable, and cartoonish kind of demise). And probably at the forefront of the show’s prospective profundity and sophistication is this episode’s establishment of the conflict of love between the pair of pair of girls. When one thinks of a typical love story, one may think of a love triangle, but as opposed to that, Yuri Kuma is more geometrically fit to be two love lines confrontationally crossing each other’s paths, like, well, a cross. It’ll be interesting to see how their ideals contrast and compare―two of the girls from both pairings even recite the same line to convey their feelings (see episode title)―in this account of the Severance Barrier challenge (though I guess one of them is already dead at this point, her postmortem presence is sure to continue to have an effect on protagonist Kureha, the seemingly unforgetful and unforgiving type). While I don’t reckon that things will get so psychedelic that girls will be transforming into automobiles and driving lesbians into the horizon of abstract freedom, we can most likely rest assured it’s bound to be jam-packed with enough of that signature, stupefying symbolism to be more than just the aforedescribed elementary premise of Attack on Bear.