Love=Transgression: Against Judgmens in Yuri Kuma Arashi
Though I wrote a small article on Revolutionary Girl Utena, one that will require some future atonement on my part, I have resisted writing much about Kunihiko Ikuhara’s animated shows. This is in part because the fan community around these shows is well-developed, articulate, and far more invested in deciphering the particulars of his intricate, symbol-laden stories than I am. Web forums and fancies host enough close readings of Utena and Penguindrum to fill volumes. I have no interest in that kind of work. Therefore, this post is going to explore his new, incomplete show, Yuri Kuma Arashi (ユリ熊嵐) more broadly, investigating its political commitments and a few of the key social structures in the show’s fantasy world. Since the show’s run is only just over halfway done, there remains much to be seen, so expect a more cohesive and concrete follow-up later on.
For background on plot detail and for concise episode summary and analysis, you could do far worse than ANN’s articles.
Politics: Love and Transgression
There are two kinds of relationships in Yuri Kuma Arashi. One is predatory, manifesting in the act of a bear feasting on a maiden. These are attempts to impose a self-centred, exclusive possession of the other person. That symbolic act of consumption underpins the usual economy of desire in Yuri Kuma Arashi. Ginko lusts for Kureha, who has separated herself from the world in mourning for her dead beloved, Sumika. Secondary characters, who often function as the antagonists for one or two episodes, also exhibit this behavior. These exploitative relationships are often a pretext for the assertion of exclusionary power, especially by the hetero-enforcing Invisible Storm, which polices what they term “evil” individuals who do not conform. The mirror image of these predatory relationships is Lulu, whose relationship with Ginko is self-negating, a meek submission to love vicariously through her companion. On one side of the conflict in the show, therefore, is a whole system of sameness, of enforcing heterosexuality––despite the lack of male characters on the show, meaning that the women have thoroughly internalized this ideology––and utterly rejecting difference.
Arrayed against this Invisible Storm are the few loving relationships. There is enduring love between Kureha and Sumiko despite the latter’s early death. Kureha endures Sumiko’s death, Ginko––whose relationship with Kureha is both possessive and characterized by genuine love––protects Kureha and endures the latter’s cold reception with fidelity. Notably, Ginko and Kureha, who had been great friends in the past and are now approaching love for each other, are from opposite worlds separated by a wall. This Romeo and Juliet setup illustrates a foundational principle about love. That is, it is the unity of two rather than the exploitation of one by another, of different entities who though love come to realize a new subjectivity. Love’s subjectivity is dual, marked by contradictions and at times by great violence, but is also the foundation for a creative resistance to death and the emergence of truth and beauty. I speculate that one reason for the division of the nearly all-woman cast of Yuri Kuma Arashi into bears and humans was to highlight this point despite all the major relationships being lesbian. Suspicious, quick-tempered Kureha and modest, somewhat gullible Sumiko possess important differences but their love, symbolized by a lily garden, is their common property, a world in itself to which they are both exclusive witnesses.
Three characters that seem radically exterior to this turgid tangle of repressed and tragic love stories are the Judgemens. These are Life Sexy, Life Cool, and Life Beauty, three bears who also function as judge, prosecutor, and defense, respectively, in the Court of Severance. The only male characters on the show, they are distant observers who are, so far, rarely shown interacting with the world. Most of the time they exist in a space that is radically separated from the bear and human worlds. They serve multiple functions in the show, from narration to comic relief. But their primary role is to arbitrate women’s relationships. Thus far, therefore, they are God as Lawgiver, transcendent beings who have seeming omniscience and a nosy insistence on regulating bears’ behavior. Their seals and names are also important, as they label Lulu and Ginko “criminal-bears” and also bestow stamps of approval on the bears’ true love. One wonders when this whimsical legal apparatus will fall, given it is capricious and limiting.
So far, the main political thrust of the show has been to emphasize the connection between love and transgression of barriers both internal and external. Because the world of Yuri Kuma Arashi has a host of repressive institutions, on which more in a second, there is plenty of opportunity for rule breaking. There is an anti-institutional bent to the entire show, valuing the pure embrace of love––note, not just friendship, as there is abundant explicitly sexual imagery––as a means of maintaining life and truth in the face of the deceptions and repressions of patriarchy (The Judgemens) and other structures. Speaking of which:
Fragment 1: The Church and Religious ideology
Recently, the show has introduced a religious institution followed by bears. It is dedicated to the veneration of the Holy Mother Kumalia. Kumalia is a comet that incited the division between bears and humans, and its name is basically a combination of “Maria” and the Japanese word for bear, kuma. Mary, of course, is the Divine Mother of Catholicism and Christianity more generally, though the distinctly “high church” affect of the bear’s ceremony suggests an explicit relation to the former. Mary is notable for being, in the Catholic dogma, eternally virginal, taking on the role of symbolizing purity. In a show primarily about love and sex between women, that is a fascinating addition whose role is not yet clear. This church, moreover, incites a crusade against the humans on behalf of this Holy Mother, another theme I believe will be further explored later.
Fragment 2: The School
Wuthering Heights Academy is the main setting for the action in Yuri Kuma Arashi, the most prominent institution in the show. Administered by Yuriika, who was formerly in love with Kureha’s mother, its students and administration both play a repressive role. The students, who have formed a society called the Invisible Storm, police their own ranks and expel all who break the unwritten social rules of the school. Meanwhile, Yuriika herself is more than suspicious, and will likely be revealed as the central antagonist of the story in coming episodes because she has been shown preying on students and keeps drawers of dead girls in her office. Subtle she is not.