…now that makes all the sense.
What They Say:
After an asteroid explosion and meteor shower lit up the sky over planet earth, strange adorable bears began to attack and devour humans. The earthlings responded with violence of their own, and in the end, a massive barrier the Wall of Severance was erected to separate man from bear. This fragile peace lasted until two high school girls encounter a yuri flower blooming only to be shaken by the piercing warning of the Bear Alarm! Once again, bear and man- or bear and girl -will be pitted against each other in a deadly and mysterious showdown brought to you by Kunihiko Ikuhara, the director of Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena.
The audio has a 5.1 release in English and a 2.0 in Japanese – I watched half of it in English and Japanese to compare – and with the Japanese release I did have to raise the volume a little from my default settings, however, there were no other issues regarding sound quality, echoing, synching with subtitles, etc – with shows like Free and Haikyuu also out, interesting that shows with high yaoi/yuri followings are now getting releases in the UK and with dubs no less, so the quality is important and fortunately this is high quality overall.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in full screen format via NTSC transfer to PAL format with the show combining animation with some of the brightest clarity I’ve seen on a Blu-Ray, it is incredibly well defined and in your face with the animation (considering the mix of symbolism, darkness with the out and brightness it is really well done) –with no real problems with the subtitles, the sound synching in either language, no pause lag or in general, it is a quality release, perhaps one of the best ones out there.
There was no packing for this test release.
The menu has the book drawn from Kureha’s mother with pages done in the background with music floating by which is heavily symbolism for the show, whilst on the bottom bar are your selections of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras. One annoying thing is that the font colour is pink and the colour used for the selections is red so it is actually hard to see what you are selecting at times so that is annoying. Selections are selectable quickly via main menu and popup menu but the colour scheme makes it slightly more delayed than usual.
In terms of extras, we get the text less opening and 4 versions of the text less closing due to different drawings used in the endings signifying the relationship of the 3 main girls.
We also get two dub commentaries – the first one is for episode 1 involving Christopher Bevins (Voice Director/voice of Life Cool), Jamie Marchi (Writer/voice of Lulu), J. Michael Tatum (voice of Life Sexy) and Josh Grelle (voice of Life Beauty). Whilst both commentaries are a bit wacky, they do cover different things – this one talks more about the style of the show, referring the creator of the show being also famous for Utena and Penguindrum, the reference to symbolism (some obvious, some not so obvious), how the over the top stuff can be fun to voice and sometimes there are just obvious casting choices for shows like this (the Monica/Jamie dynamic is a popular one) and how to make some of the jokes adaptable from Japanese to English.
The second commentary in episode 12 though delves into the themes. Chris returns as does Jamie, but we get Alex Tipton (Kureha) and the always wonderful Monica Rial (Ginko) to indulge in some madness – whilst not being distracted by Jamie’s pet bunny, they talk about what the show is symbolising, as in a representation of Japan’s views of homosexuality and the whole themes of exclusion comes from that as in it is a ‘phase’ – it is surprisingly deep and smart (though plenty of goofiness is still intact) with thinking how the themes can apply to society everywhere – they also talk about how easy it is to see a show dubbed now for release – I was there when Monica debuted in Nadesico for example, and she says how releases for her work could take a year and a half to be released, and today you have broadcast dubs so you see it in a week – a good showcase on how times have changed, in all manners of speaking.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the midst of UK shows that come to pass, we’re starting to get shows that cater a lot more to the yaoi fandoms – Free and Haikyuu come to mind – however it is never fully implied and is there more of a tease to said fandoms. Yet the other side of the coin, yuri, hasn’t really come to pass so much with Blu-Ray releases…
…then this comes along. And it isn’t just implied, it is full on canon.
Yurikuma Arashi (literally Lily Bear Storm, or Lesbian Bear Storm) is created by the writer of Utena Kunihiko Ikuhara, and considering the symbolism in that show with its shoujo-ai, it isn’t that surprising. This definitely screams Utena-lite with a lot of the symbolism in the show, and half the time it actually tells a good story with it representing Japan’s stance on homosexuality, almost treating it as a phase, and how it is not considered normal to society – the exclusion motif can be pretty painful to watch as well with these thoughts in mind.
But then you also get the painfully obvious fan service moments and the symbolism there is pretty much…yeah, you can figure it out.
The story is told a lot via flashback, the first episode is about our lead, Kureha is a girl attending Arashigaoka Academy, in the midst of a standoff between humans and bears (back-story is basically a planet called Kumaria went boom, bears came down from it to Earth and attacked humans, and a wall is blocked to separate them. And yeah, there is an obvious joke I could make in this day and age but I’m not American so I won’t go there) whilst having a sweet girlfriend named Sumika – however they appear to have been persecuted by showing their feelings out there instead of hiding it, with some students trying to help them – particularly the class president Mitsuko. However two suspicious new transfer students Ginko and Lulu enter, who are clearly bears in disguise and are captivated by Kureha’s scent and Ginko in particular being jealous of Sumika.
So it comes as no surprise to learn that Sumika is eaten by bears – however with Kureha also in danger, she receives a call asking if her love for Sumika is real and to go to the rooftop. She is attacked by bears, but Ginko and Lulu appear to be not behind this, and instead have a trial with three mysterious entities known as Life Judgement who grants them ‘yuri approval’. And after a very suggestive symbolism scene, they are appear to save Kureha though she is unaware what has happened, though Mitsuko discovers the two girls are bears…
So yes, this immediately is a bit strange and at first, it really makes no sense. This is later added with other students being bears in disguise, such as Mitsuko’s apparent lover Konomi (leading to one of my pet peeves – the hypocrisy of the secondary cast but will get to that later) getting jealous of Kureha ‘stealing’ Mitsuko away, yet Mitsuko saves her from Konomi…
…only to later show that Mitsuko is a) a bear and b) was the one who ate Sumika.
O.K, so at this point it seems very episodic, reusing animation and symbolism (some taken straight from Utena) – yet from about episode 3, there is a smart way this story goes. Throughout the rest of the series, you get flashbacks of pretty much all the cast which slowly forms the story. You get a lot of sweetness about Kureha and Sumika’s relationship, you learn about Lulu’s past as a princess of bear country and her little brother (Lulu by far the most likeable character in the show outside of Kureha and Sumika), you see how manipulative Mitsuko is that you moan that she isn’t in it that much, and also the introduction of the teacher Yurika, who was a friend of Kureha’s mother Reia who passed away also due to bears…and you then just what she is capable of and how twisted her psyche is too.
The crux of it is that Ginko actually used to be a childhood bear friend of Kureha during the war between humans and bears, as the idea of exclusion is rampant. Not just of the war there, but the fact there is a student council doing something called the Invisible Storm, which is literally a class of the students picking someone to be excluded to not be the norm. It is always Kureha, and all the secondary villains basically pick on her, destroy her lily bed, or in general are pretty petty.
The problem is Ginko, the main good guy remember, isn’t THAT much better. Throughout the show you get a good grasp of how sweet Kureha and Sumika were, and Ginko was getting jealous. And we learn that she actually LET Sumika die, and by the end of the show she doesn’t get any repercussions of it – plus their relationship is pretty much ‘it’s destiny’ and didn’t have the same chemistry as Sumika/Kureha did. And she (and Lulu) did eat more than one girl (some granted were part of the crew that tried to exclude Kureha but…). You do feel for her when Kureha continues to reject the friendship at first, but considering he was pretty much trying to sexually assault Kureha at one point it is a bit hard to get behind her. Lulu is a far more likeable character when you learn her back-story, she is clearly in love with Ginko but supports her love for Kureha, and she is a ton of fun which is why it is a bad saddening that she gets a background role for most of the show.
The show has some genuine sad and tense moments – the biggest one is the significance of the letter that Sumika wrote to Kureha for her birthday which she has to open on her birthday. You learn that Sumika was tricked by one of the secondary villains (Kaoru, a girl who tries to be nice to Kureha but was tricking her, and yet another person being extremely hypocritical in terms of excluding Kureha) but Ginko does put her effort in trying to save it and the words on the letter do tie in to the destiny angle, (and Kaoru does get what’s coming to her but the reveal of who does kill her brings the story full circle into quite a creepy angle) it still falls a bit flat in terms of their relationship outside of the fact they were childhood friends, and Ginko protects Kureha via making her lose her memories due to the deus ex machina that are the Judgement guys.
The teachers’ back-story, Yurika, does tie in to both Ginko’s history (and why she wears Kureha’s mothers necklace – she is set up that she is the one who killed Kureha’s mother but the story is actually quite tragic in another way) and Kureha’s but her attempts to be a manipulative villain do fall flat (Mitsuko who was only in it half the time was far better at it mainly because she was the only villain who seemed truly villainous in a smart way and not just because they were assholes). And as for all the Invisible Storm heads, they are quite frankly, not just hypocritical (a lot of them were in closet lesbian relationships – so it is OK when it is hidden but not when it is out in the open, MUST EXCLUDE!) but incredibly, INCREDIBLY unlikeable. This makes the show potentially hard to wash from anyone who may have suffered some form of persecution – though the fact they are so unlikeable makes it easier for the main cast that you want to cheer on. And the Life Judgement guys are to me, just pointless as characters outside of being a deus ex machina to be used when any of the bears need something.
So throughout this review I’ve moaned a lot about the series – so I hated it right? Actually…no. The thing is this could have been amazing – the social commentary about Japans’ stance on homophobia is very well told, the backstories of the characters connecting into the present day story is told very well – Kureha herself is a very likeable lead who is kind, but also not afraid to speak her mind or take action then it hits the fan, and the bears are a bit hit or miss (especially as similar to the humans, most of the bears are quite frankly assholes as well especially when they exclude Ginko as well when she is hurt during the war) but Lulu is fantastic, Mitsuko should have been the main villain (and even in death manages to nearly screw over Ginko) and even though Ginko’s relationship with Kureha boils down to ‘it’s destiny’ she does have some kind moments and her back-story is just as sad as Lulu’s or Kureha’s.
The trouble was the way it was told was very smart, it still had a lot of confusion. The Utena-esque symbolism combined with the fact it still relied on fan service (the opening basically suggests a threesome between the three leads, which doesn’t quite happen and seems to just be there to draw in the yuri fans) means when compared to a more subtle series like Maria-sama Ga Miteru it don’t hold a candle, and ones that are straight forward girls love like Strawberry Panic or Sakura Trick, at least tell it as it is. This tries to hold the middle ground, and doesn’t quite hold up mainly due to its unlikeable villains (bar Mitsuko), the contrasting good guys, and the fact the more likeable and interesting characters bar Kureha (Mitsuko, Sumika, Lulu) get demoted down to either extras or die quickly.
It had great potential, the animation is beautiful and the symbolism and storytelling is smart, however it turned out to be a little bit of a mess and seems like a fan service series trying to be art. That said, it is worth a watch because it is one of those series that you root for the lead because of how hateful the villains are, and yet when resolution isn’t 100% by the end, you realise just how close the social commentary is to modern life. There is a manga version which is apparently much different to this which hasn’t been licenced, so I would definitely be interested to see what it does differently. For now, this is the series that has a lot of ‘what ifs’ to it, and you wished it was just that little bit tighter to being a rare UK yuri series that was top notch.
Watching Yurikuma Arashi you are going to be in one of the following camps. You will either see it as an artistic wonder that tells a great representation on lesbianism in Japan, you will see it as a fanservice series, or a combination of the two which in turn makes it a bit of a mess. With the unlikability of the villains and the fact it doesn’t 100% get resolved, it almost feels like it encourages the more upsetting or toxic elements of homophobia rather than displacing it, which at moments considering I have a lot of gay, bisexual and lesbian friends, makes me angry or uncomfortable. That said, there are enough moments for it to be an interesting commentary about the mindset of these issues in Japan, and the style of the creator of Utena makes it a feast for the eyes. Add a few fun characters like Lulu, a likeable lead like Kureha, and some excellent storytelling via flashback, it could have been so much more. As it is, it is a bit of a mess.
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: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation via Anime Limited
Release Date: October 31st, 2015
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.