I was drawn to Yuri Kuma Arashi because I heard its basic premise and it’s bizarre. Humans and bears were at war, the humans built a wall to keep peace, some bears sneak into a human school. That’s a premise that’s likely either going to be awesomely stupid & hilarious or just really stupid. The anime version was handled by Silver Link, and I’m hoping for the best thing I’ve seen from them. Which wouldn’t be difficult given the other works of theirs that I’ve reviewed. It could be sub-par but not bad and still be the best I’ve seen from them. Now, the original manga was created by Ikuhara Kunihiko, known for the awesomeness of Utena, the crappy melodrama of Penguindrum and directing a good chunk of the original Sailor Moon anime. So, there is potential there. But let’s take a look at Yuri Kuma Arashi and see if Ikuhara still has it or if Penguindrum was a sad precursor of where his work’s going.
Long ago, humans and bears lived in peace. Then, in distant space, Kumaria exploded. This somehow resulted in bears getting violent and resulted in a war between humans and bears. This eventually ended with the wall of Severance being erected to keep bears away from humans. In the present, two bears, Ginko & Lulu, sneak into the wall disguised as human schoolgirls. The two enrol in Arashigaoka Academy where they take an interest in Tsubaki Kureha, another student there. When Kureha’s girlfriend, Sumika, goes missing she receives a call from a blocked number telling her, if her love is true, to go to the roof and give herself to the bears. She heads up, rifle in hand and ready to prove her love. What happened to Sumika? Why are the bears interested in Kureha? And what exactly is this “Invisible Storm” that keeps getting mentioned? These questions may very well lead Kureha on a journey of personal growth that she never expected.
This story is odd and I’m not saying that in a demeaning way. It’s done in a style very reminiscent of a fairy tale, much like Princess Tutu, with Ikuhara’s own inimitable twist and all of the surreal elements one would expect from that. The trial scenes with Sexy judging, Beauty defending and Cool prosecuting as well as the Exclusion ceremony scenes being the most prominent. The biggest issue I had with the narrative is that it’s written like a relatively uncomplicated fairy tale, one character even announcing what she represents at one point while others are quite literally named for it, but it’s intended for older audiences. There’s a bit of a disconnect there and there, honestly, isn’t much reason for this to be made for older audiences. About the only thing that elevates it to that level are some of the more explicit yuri moments. Aside from that, the violence is very much toned down and the structure and dialogue are both very much that of a traditional fairy tale.
That being said, I quite liked the narrative, in much the same way as I liked Princess Tutu. The fairy tale element meshes quite well with Ikuhara’s surrealism. The love story has a surprising amount of tension, especially given how formulaic it is and it has a lot of strong moments. The themes of fighting for love and refusing to give up on love are both superbly handled, accentuated deftly by the way it uses repetitious scenes, like the aforementioned trial scenes. I really do like the main romance in general. It has a lot of sweetness to it, intermixed with some tragic elements.
The characters are about as complex as they need to be. By that, I mean that the major characters have a good amount going on. They have fleshed out motivations, back stories and they have arcs within the story that move them. The secondary characters have as much as they need for the function they serve. Some of them are simply there to embody a particular aspect and that’s what they do. Others are more side characters who need to do a particular thing and they get very basic motivations for it but not much in terms of personality. Yet others, notably Yuriika, are more developed. About the only complaint I have is with Milne, a small child character who does virtually nothing but try to cling to his older sister, Lulu, and act kind of obnoxious. The episode with him in a central role was definitely the hardest to watch. Yeah, I can understand a five or six year old kid being clingy, but that doesn’t make it not annoying.
The only real flaw with the art is the excessive fan-service. Which basically all revolves around high school girls. Way to keep it classy, Silver Link. And yes, that was sarcasm. That aside, I actually really liked the art in this. The way they portray the story book scenes, the surreal moments. I also appreciate that they do downplay the actual violence, opting to show a claw and then a collapsed form or to otherwise keep the camera away from the injury while also clearly conveying that the injury happened. It fits in with the fairy tale style. As does making the bears cutesy instead of more realistic. We also see Ikuhara’s flower fixation at play. In Utena, it was roses. In Yuri Kuma Arashi, it’s lilies and there are some really pretty scenes with them.
You might not expect this series to have great acting simply because the leads are all voiced by ladies without many roles. We’ve got Yamane Nozomi, who has one other credit on MAL, Ikuta Yoshiko, with credits for six characters & Arakawa Miho, she has the most with twenty characters. That being said, they all do really well. The performances in this are all capable but those three in particular have a lot to express with theirs and they all do so very well. I really like the music too. Hashimoto Yukari does a fantastic job of composing to suit the aesthetic.
Naturally, there is a lot. Every female character we spend any time with is shown or heavily implied to be into girls. Even Kureha’s mum seems to have been highly homo-erotic with another woman. I’m guessing she likes both. Although, we never even see the father nor is he mentioned. For all we know, she got herself artificially inseminated so that she could share a baby with this other woman. Feel free to make that your head canon. There are a handful of significant dudes, the blokes in the trial scenes and Lulu’s twit of a brother. None of them get involved with anyone romantically. So, it’s not an anime like Strawberry Panic where men only exist as an abstract concept, but it comes close.
So, that’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. It’s not what I expected, being more serious and lacking in stupidity, awesome or otherwise. Is it Ikuhara’s best work? No. Is it better than Penguindrum? No contest. Is it the best I’ve seen from Silver Link thus far? Absolutely. I found it quite enjoyable. I liked the way they used the fairy tale aesthetic and thought that the surreal elements added a lot to that. I found the characters endearing. The art, vocal performances and music were all strong as well. I would go so far as to call it a good series. Not one of the best I’ve seen but a solid 7/10. Next week I’m going to go back to requests and look at Terra Formars. So, that’ll be fun, possibly.