What They Say:
In a world divided between humans and hyper-intelligent, man-eating bears, Kureha attends an all-girls school and holds onto a simple wish—to spend the rest of her life with her classmate and soul mate, Sumika. But after a secret rendezvous ends in tragedy, Kureha vows to never back down on her love and put a bullet in any bear she meets.
As she plots her revenge, the bear-attack body count begins to rise and two strange girls transfer into Kureha’s class. She doesn’t know it yet, but the girls who call themselves Ginko and Lulu are actually criminal bears in disguise! As they try to win Kureha’s heart , an army of high school girls gears up to go to war with all of bear-kind and anyone else who stands up for love. At this rate, getting the yuri seal of approval from an interdimensional tribunal of cool, beautiful, sexy judges is going to be the least of their troubles.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good all around as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo and the English mix bumped up to 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is fairly straightforward with its stereo design as it has some good placement to it with some of the creative aspects of the shows set design. A lot of what we get is pretty much just dialogue, but it’s the kind that moves well and has some fun little tricks to it at times, and cute growls, that it comes together very well. The 5.1 mix expands on all of this pretty well with some creative aspects thrown to the rears and a few areas where the bass picks up more, but generally it’s louder and sharper in a lot of sequences that gives it additional impact. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Silver Link, the show is one that works a lot of trademark design looks that Ikuhara is known for and it has a lot of vibrancy and pop and some incredibly fluid areas. The visual design is a strong and distinctive one overall and the transfer captures it really well with some truly rich colors, a lot of strong detail that comes through without any problems, and some beautiful high quality sequences that are re-used fairly regularly. The end result is a transfer that captures the strong design and quality of the film and brings it to life in a great way.
The packaging for this release brings us a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that holds the four discs inside on hinges and it comes with an o-card that replicates the case artwork. The front cover has the appealing image of the three main characters in their school uniforms with some of the quirks of the show there, such as Kureha’s rifle and the two bears in the lower corners. It has a proper elite kind of school design to the background that’s framed by the pink, giving it a lighter and more inviting touch without being cold and distant – especially with that proper logo that speaks of elite education. The back cover works the same approach with the summary of the premise filling up most of it, albeit with a small font that’s in an off-gold color that’s a bit too muted for easy reading. The extras for the set are clearly listed and we get a decent small selection of shots from the show along the right as well. The bottom is filled out with the technical information for the two formats that’s clear and easy to read, even as it works white text on a plaid-like background of pink. There are no inserts included with this release but we do get artwork on the right reverse side of Ginko and Lulu posing with their bear paws while the left side breaks down the episode by number and title along with the extras.
The menu design for this release works things very simply but with enough theme and atmosphere set by it to work. Carrying the elite aspects of the cover design with the gold edging and gray background, the navigation along the bottom has a simple but classy look that works well with its minimalism. The rest of the menu is given over to whispy feelings where we get flowers, clouds, and lots of shades of pink moving through in slow motion. It’s almost dreamlike in a way but it works well to set the tone and mood of the show going into it. The layout is standard format and it’s easy to navigate both as a pop-up menu and the main menu, leaving us with a problem free release.
The extras for this release are a bit standard themselves but they’re all welcome pieces that we like having and going through. Fans of the dub cast get a couple of English language commentaries with the team talking about the show with a few episodes and their experiences with it. We get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, which are appealing to have on their own, and there’s a good selection of the original TV spots and promos for the series where you can see how it was sold on an unsuspecting audience.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When you get a new work from Kunihiko Ikuhara, you admittedly know what you’re getting yourself into. Yurikuma Arashi, which translates as Lily Bear Storm or Lesbian Bear Storm, was the project that came out in the winter 2015 anime season following time spent working on the manga about it for the year prior with illustrator Akiko Morishima. The anime series comes from Silver Link and the team here did what we’ve seen with Ikuhara’s works over the years by basically playing in the same field with the same visual design. Fans of Utena will be calling out shots throughout this and those that engaged in Pengduindrum will do the same. Amid it all we get other familiar pieces to anime storytelling in general these days and the result is a kind of hot mess of a series that’s appealing yet ultimately empty.
The series is essentially its own fairy tail, which means right from the start you have to throw out a lot of things you would normally want to know about a show. It’s looking to tell its morality play and themes of love and all the meanings within about friendship, loyalty, and probably half a dozen other ideas as well that are blended in. The background concept is amusing enough in that when a far-off world named Kumaria explodes and its remains (Kumarite?) crash into Earth in the form of a meteor show, it ends up hyper-evolving bears into far more intelligent creatures that are essentially the equivalent of humanity. While they may be looking like cute little teddy bears, they’re also quite vicious creatures as they end up wanting to gobble up mankind because that’s a bear’s nature. The violence is all presented in a cute enough form early on as we see dozens of young women being eaten as that reinforces the theme of the series. A series which features essentially no men.
In the time since the world went all screwy like this, humanity built a Wall of Severance that works to keep the bears outside of what man has. It’s at this point that you know better than to try and understand this in a real world and global sense and just focus on it as a fairy tale. Within the world of the bears, there are a lot that try to break through this wall so they can growl and gobble up lots of people because they’re delicious. But we also see that they’re able to transform themselves into looking like people – cute high school girls, of course – and there’s even a bit of a halfway transitional form where they’re all cute but with big paws all around. It’s cute and adorable and it’s filled with such yuriness when we get the transformation sequences,complete with the not subtle at all lily aspects, that you have to admire the overall quality of it. There’s just something utterly beautiful in pandering that you can’t look away – even when you see it in what feels like every episode. That’s an element that works nicely when watched weekly, but when you hit the complete series run there are a lot of things in the show – just like Utena and Penguindrum – that reinforces the repetition side in a big way and ends up becoming too much of a crutch, resulting in a strike against the show.
Within all of this setup we’re introduced to Kureha, a high school student who was very close to her best friend in the world with Sumika until one of the bears that managed to cross over the wall ate her. That has reinforced Kureha’s desire to kill all the bears in the world because of what she’s lost. This kind of angle is something that all students participate in as there are regular bear sightings and a growing number of bodies piling up recently, so everyone is on edge and weapons ready. And since you have bears that can change their look to be like people, well, you’d expect a lot more wariness over friends and acquaintances. Instead, most people tend to get more tribalistic here as the cliques are what drives it, especially as those that aren’t part of a clique are Excluded as part of a ceremony and there’s various levels to that. Again, this all plays into the views of how high school/teenage girls interact with each other and the kinds of social structures they have, which dates back to Ikuhara’s work on Utena.
Naturally, Kureha’s focus ends up turning toward the two bears that have snuck in, Ginko and Lulu, who have their own kind of odd relationship. There’s a slow reveal as to why events are moving as they do with who is interested in who, stories from the past, a bear-court that handles problematic bears by seemingly letting them just keep doing whatever they want, and lost memories that are all part of Faustian deals to achieve greater happiness. Watching this show over the course of a day I found myself becoming further and further disconnected from it as it peeled back the layers because each new layer made less and less sense. It brings me back to that fairy tale concept more than anything else because you end up looking for some sort of internal logic to work with but that’s not the point. The point is the story of true love that was lost, initially thinking that it’s Kureha and Sumika with a twist coming only to learn that it’s Kureha and Ginko, and the complications that exist because of it. But like most fairy tales, it’s far too light on anything meaty to give it weight because it wants to be all ethereal and sapphic in order to appeal there.
And I imagine that for a good size audience that will work. For me, the show just kept losing me the more it went on because it felt like it lacked anything meaningful. Yes, there are beautiful scenes of girls in various states of undress nuzzling each other and getting all near-intimate but not quite. There are some very high quality transformation scenes and there’s a slew of beautiful visuals for backgrounds with the seemingly trademarked Ikuhara style of coloring applied to it. And there’s even various moving staircases for us to follow. But all of these things in the end wound up taking me out of the show more than anything else because all you could see were reused parts of other series. And that makes you look closer at the show itself, which I’m sure has deeper and richer meanings, but ends up coming across as more shallow because you begin to see the pieces that do come from elsewhere. It’s an almost frighteningly beautiful work in a lot of ways yet it’s just as hollow and empty.
Having not been a part of the excitement of the simulcast itself with the anticipation and exploration of the show, coming into it a year and a half later and working through it in the course of the day has me feeling less than engaged with it. The only salvaging part for me are the visuals simply because I can’t not admire the stunning beauty and quality of so much of it, which is what’s making up a decent part of the grade. Beyond that, the story just didn’t grab me as it played out, the characters felt hollow and like little more than marionettes dropped into a play, and it simply felt forced across the board. The release is a solid one throughout with what Funimation has put together and I imagine fans will be quite pleased as we get a solid dub production with it, some fun extras, and a beautiful looking transfer that brings such striking colors and designs to life wonderfully. It’s unfortunate that the story itself is just so hollow.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Textless Opening Song – ”Ano Mori de Matteru”, Textless Closing Song – ”TERRITORY”, Promotional Videos & TV Spots, U.S. Trailer, Trailers
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: June 28th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.