Japanese animated tv series (2015; vt Yuri Bear Storm). Silver Link. Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Written by Takayo Ikami and Kunihiko Ikuhara. Voice cast includes Miho Arakawa, Yoshiko Ikuta, Yui Ogura and Nozomi Yamane. Twelve 24-minute episodes. Colour.
When the minor planet (see Asteroids) Kumalia explodes some of its fragments reach the Earth as a meteor shower, causing bears to rise up and attack humans; the latter respond by building the Wall of Severance to keep them out. However, bears may apply to the Court of Severance to be transformed into humans (see Shapeshifters): two such, Ginko Yurishiro (Arakawa) and Lulu Yurigasaki (Ikuta), cross the wall, joining Arashigaoka Academy as transfer students. Ginko had known one of its pupils, Kureha Tsubaki (Yamane), as a child and loves her. Soon Kureha's lover, Sumika Izumino (Ogura), is eaten by bears. Despite homophobic persecution from the other girls in the academy (see Paranoia) and several deaths, Ginko and Kureha eventually find happiness together.
Though not illegal, lesbians still face social discrimination in Japan; something rarely confronted in the popular Manga and Anime series which specialize in lesbian relationships. This genre, called "Yuri", sprung from "Class S" literature (stories of close friendships between girls), depicting more overtly romantic and, later, sexual relationships. Their target audiences can be female and/or male, teenager or adult. The genre has many negative Clichés, most notably doomed romances and predatory lesbians (common tropes in western media too).
The series satirizes these matters (see Satire): the Court of Severance is all-male, with a voyeuristic judge; sapphic students are ostracized – "people who stick out from our crowd are just no good, agreed? People who refuse to fit in with us are a nuisance, agreed?"; girls eaten by bears are victim-blamed; bear-to-human transformation is identified with denying one's sexuality, becoming invisible so as to conform. Most of the points made are also true for other socially excluded groups.
Initially a disorienting flurry of oddity and charm, the series' tone soon settles into a Gothic romance and horror mode – amongst many other references, Arashigaoka Academy's design is based on the academy in Suspiria (1977) and its name is the Japanese title of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847 3vols). The bears are cute; when made human, no less so: their speech is often interspersed with "growl-growl" and, when devouring people, "chomp-chomp, munch-munch"; though when a dead bear is Cyborgized and used to generate electricity (see Power Source) it goes "buzz, buzz, nasty, nasty". Happily, that Zombie bear later finds love.
Yuri Kuma Arashi has some flaws: whilst the allegory and symbolism enrich the story, clarity is sometimes lost; and unsurprisingly, the satirizing of Fan Service is indistinguishable from fan service. But this rewarding and stimulating anime largely succeeds in its goals. The director and co-writer, Kunihiko Ikuhara, had previously worked on Sailor Moon and created the classic Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997-1999); a subsequent and equally bizarre series, Sarazanmai (2019), might be considered a companion piece to Yuri Kuma Arashi, focusing on three adolescent boys who are transformed into Kappa (see Supernatural Creatures) and being concerned with the treatment of male homosexuality in Japanese culture, individuals connecting and consumerism. [SP]
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