Soon…the Invisible Storm will come. But fresh interpretations and critiques always taste the best! Gao Gao~!
*Note: This post was written at the time of Episode 2, so the theories are quite outdated at this point because Ikuhara is a master troll.
Bearly a month into the game of Yuri Kuma Arashi and the second episode has already started to confirm a lot of my predictions as to what Ikuhara is trying to get at with the show’s themes. Before you read the rest of this post though, I’d encourage you to read both lpf’s write-up on the first episode – as his reasoning helped solidify my own theories – as well as the comments section of my last post, since the discussion there directly pertains to what I’m going to talk about here.
Before I dip too much into my own interpretations, I do believe the fact that Yuri Kuma Arashi is only a single cour in length is already affecting aspects of the pacing to some degree. As a direct result, Ikuhara’s thematic scope is showing signs of being much narrower than his previous works. While not an inherent flaw in and of itself, this has led to events and characters alike being condensed in favour of the central idea. Although Yuri Kuma Arashi still remains thematically engrossing and artistically daring, its brevity presents some glaring structural drawbacks. For one, events are not given sufficient build up and as a result do not always convey their intended emotional impact. This can sour some of the more melodramatic scenes as they escalate along with the characters’ hysterics. Motivations are not detailed or clarified, and while a lot of this behaviour can be attributed to pure sexual lust, I feel more care needs to be taken if Ikuhara wants us to be able to connect with his characters’ psychological states.
Additionally, the main cast has still not been properly established aside from brief emotes and catchphrases – with the major players being portrayed more in line of what they symbolize as opposed to who they are as emotional beings. I tend to feel this is an issue of Ikuhara facing difficulties compressing the material and his ideas to fit the mold of a 12-episode structure. My reasoning is that Yuri Kuma Arashi is the shortest work that Ikuhara has ever directed to date. As Ikuhara only headed a handful of shows during his two decade career – many of which were 3 to 4 cour mahou shoujos that allowed him to be more lenient with story structure and thematic delivery – he may either be set in his old ways or hasn’t had the chance to adjust to a single cour format.
Though structurally imperfect at the moment, once we look past aspects such as the limited animation and characterization, we begin to see Ikuhara’s intriguing ambitions for Yuri Kuma Arashi. At the time of writing this post, the second episode has just aired and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there’s meant to be a thematic link between the setting and characters. I mentioned before in my last post that Ikuhara has established this connection from the get-go by presenting shots of background construction during important moments of the narrative. Essentially, these shots are there to remind us that humanity has created this reality. They’ve driven the bears away out of fear and locked themselves behind their own walls; Ikuhara is emphasising that this is a man-made system. It’s a prevailing physical barricade as well as a mental one. And although this interpretation may seem rather obvious, I feel it’s a key component of Yuri Kuma Arashi’s very upfront commentary.
My interpretation of Yuri Kuma Arashi is that Ikuhara’s ideas are rooted in a critique of the concept of “Class S” relationships. Class S is a term used to describe the view that an attraction between two women is simply a phase of adolescence, rather than an event driven by the women’s’ corporeal desires for a sexual relationship. An accepted perspective in contemporary Japanese society is that even if two women become romantically involved, they are just “practicing” for when they do enter a heterosexual relationship later in life. However, women that have openly identified themselves as being homosexual were met with social disdain and their same-sex relationships were no longer considered acceptable. Between the traditional views on Class S relationships and the sentiments expressed in Yuri Kuma Arashi, I am inferring that Ikuhara considers these perspectives to be oppressive; social pressures that will cause major anxiety for any adolescent girl with an inkling of a homoerotic crush.
At the start of Yuri Kuma Arashi, Kureha and Sumika are in an open relationship with one another. However, it’s a relationship where it feels as though both girls are walking on eggshells, trying to maintain their public image of a “pure” love. In Ikuhara’s view, they are in love but not truly “in love”. It’s a love that is still adhering to the greater social guidelines and not one where they can truly realize their fabulous desires.
Sumika is presumably “killed” by the two bears, Lulu and Ginko, who are only masquerading as human transfer students. But this is only a single reality, and as a director, Ikuhara is very talented at skewing our perception of reality as it applies to his characters’ emotional ones. The scene involving Sumika being “eaten” by the bears is meant to be ambiguous – although I feel there’s strong enough evidence to believe she was actually raped by Lulu and Ginko. The second episode unfolds with a funeral for Sumika that ends with the teacher placing her portrait in a cupboard and sealing her away. The scene in question is pretty abstract but the idea behind it is likely that Sumika’s “purity” has been corrupted and she is to be cast aside by society; alienated but not able to accept her own homosexuality, thus becoming invisible. The bears have claimed yet another victim.
And speaking of which, Ikuhara strongly hints at the end of the second episode what the bears are meant to symbolize in Yuri Kuma Arashi’s narrative. Though the first episode’s backstory intentionally threw us for a loop by claiming that the bears were alien invaders, this is really one crazy, Ikuharan allegory for an alienated group in society – in this case, homosexuals. The wall of severance then becomes this figurative statement on homophobia while the Sankebetsu Bear Attacks are liberally woven into the narrative to embody society’s feeling of fear towards these homosexual relationships.
At this point it should be clear that subtlety is not what Ikuhara is going for here. His artistic flair and flamboyancy aside, he’s being provocative by exaggerating behaviours and finding ways to creatively bypass TV censors to display a bunch of explicit sexual imagery. He wants us to see the flaws of such a system, and the resulting horrors. Granted, some of it does come across as being a bit ham-handed, but let’s not forget that Ikuhara also has a wild sense of humour! These past two episodes have shown that Ikuhara is willing to poke fun at his own intentions and pretentiousness. His characters frequently spout ridiculous catchphrases in broken English and he’s clearly playing up the campy horror elements – despite this mood being a cornerstone of his critique! Sure, more attentive pacing and richer characterization would certainly make Yuri Kuma Arashi a more wholesome show, but the bottom line is that it’s an extremely fun piece to watch and engage with. In my view, I can’t help but respect Ikuhara for that, despite Yuri Kuma Arashi having clear structural and production flaws. Ikuhara is truly bearing himself out there with his style, storytelling and humour. I have no idea whether these interpretations will still hold up in the coming weeks – and considering the curveballs that Ikuhara likes to throw, I doubt they will! Right now, I can say with certainty that I enjoyed the mental exercise and hope that people reading this write-up did as well!