In a past life before Japanese anime became the subject of my scrutiny, the hallowed halls of theatre regularly played host to my judgemental eye. Masters of Stanislavski’s system employed their emotions to play on mine, aueteurs of Epic Theatre made me focus on the bigger picture and Theatre of Cruelty’s surreal imagery stimulated my senses – but all were tried in my court where the pen was my gavel. Almost a decade later, a single experience would call all these memories back – Funimation and Anime Limited’s spectacular, artistic experience known as Yuri Kuma Arashi.
Directed by the renowned original creator Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena), Yuri Kuma Arashi is a tender, sensual and thought-provoking love story that would be dealt a great disservice if judged through the same lens as other anime, as at times, this Petri Dish of visual, moral and spiritual expression feels more like a play.
In fair Arashigaoka, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny in this fairy tale romance that on occasions feels like a trippy Romeo & Juliet. The Wall of Severance has protected humanity since a meteorological event turned bears hostile, but when Kureha Tsubaki’s beloved is slain, it becomes apparent that the wall has been breached – by bears with a particular fondness for Kureha.
Not content with just the fantastical, Attack On Titan-esque threat of undercover shape-shifters however, Yuri Kuma Arashi also explores a more abstract yet relatable threat that our teenage lead must face – the Invisible Storm – a clandestine classroom cult that systematically excludes any who fail to follow certain accepted social norms. This is especially poignant given the prominence of lesbian relationships in the story, which helps craft an effective parallel between their real-world stigmatisation and that of the bears in-universe.
As a creator, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s name has become synonymous with symbolism and sensuality; two elements that are at the core of Yuri Kuma Arashi. While the series fully embraces the sexuality of its main cast, its tantalising use of symbolism allows it to avoid being too visually explicit and exploitive, giving intimate scenes a delicate, sensual touch that sets themselves apart from anything else in the medium. This extends even to instances of violence, which are depicted as occurring off-screen or through far less graphic symbols.
Like his previous work Mawaru Penguindrum, the series’ use of repetition may put off users but I found its execution sublime. Here, familiar scenes or phrases act as triggers to detach me just enough from the story for me to appreciate the larger meaning of a particular set piece – a key feature of Epic Theatre. This narrative philosophy, combined with surrealist imagery such as the abstract stumbles into the Severance Court and the observant roles its inhabitants play, makes me wonder if Yuri Kuma Arashi could unfold wonderfully on the stage.
A studio typically more pedestrian in design, I have never seen Silver Link this visually ambitious, with a striking and abstract aesthetic even rivalling the masters of the style, SHAFT (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Monogatari). More ambitious however, is Yukari Hashimoto’s spell-bindingly diverse soundtrack; featuring tracks like “Mysterious Twilight” that set up twisted alien atmospheres, “Gorgeousmell” that wouldn’t sound out of place in up-market nightclubs and tracks full of sweet, fairy tale whimsy like “Kuma Tale (Mukashi Mukashi)”. My personal favourite however, is “Suki no Kioku”, one of multiple re-inventions of the classic “Ave Maria”. I could definitely see myself buying this soundtrack and listening to it many times.
Although it criminally fell under the radar during its initial broadcast, with its quirky narrative structure, tender celebration of love and all around beauty, there are very few anime like Yuri Kuma Arashi – definitely worth a watch.
Title: Yuri Kuma Arashi
Production: Silver Link
Distributor: Funimation (c/o Anime Limited)
Platform(s): Blu-ray + DVD Combi-Pack
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
Released: Out Now!
Disclosure: A copy of “Yuri Kuma Arashi” was supplied by Anime Limited, the distributor, for the purposes of this review.