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Yuri Kuma Arashi Blu-ray Anime Essentials Edition Review

9 min read
Ikuhara continues to be a guiding light for many

The Invisible Storm consumes all who stand out. Will you back down on love? Or is your love the real thing?

What They Say:

In the world of Yuri Kuma Arashi, humans and bears have separated themselves from one another. The Wall of Severance exists to keep them apart, each side believing the other to be evil. But there are those who wish to cross that wall. Those who look to challenge the social order will be swept up by the Invisible Storm. The storm excludes all who refuse to remain invisible. Will you become invisible, or is your love the real thing?

From one of anime’s most eccentric Directors, Kunihiko Ikuhara brings us a story of true love that stands in the face of adversity. Yuri Kuma Arashi is a wild ride, with messages as pure as a garden of lilies.

The Review:
Audio:
Audio for this release is presented in Dolby TrueHD, with 5.1 surround sound support for the English dub and 2.0 stereo for Japanese audio. In order to match the show’s bubbly presentation, the audio is expectedly cute, each sound cue resounding with a twinkle and pop. As with most of Ikuhara’s projects, the Director has his hands across the board, assisting in both Series Composition as well as Sound Direction. For Yuri Kuma Arashi, he teamed up with Haru Yamada, having previously worked with Ikuhara on his spectacular Mawaru Penguindrum a few years prior.  Ikuhara’s theatrical flair makes for some humorous audio inserts. Some of my favorites include the dramatic “Bear Shock!” vocal bit during bear girl transformations, and the various ringtones that come from Wall of Severance phone calls.

Music Director Yukari Hashimoto also previously worked on Mawaru Penguindrum and would go on to do the music for Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai from this year. Hashimoto’s music weaves perfectly between Yuri Kuma’s cutesy moments and dramatic peaks. Fluffy keyboards and innocent vocals become tinged in electric ferocity, as the show continually bounds and leaps between atmospheres.

The opening and ending themes also represent the show’s dynamic mood shifts perfectly. The opening, “Aoi Mori De Matteru” is performed by the main cast with the arrangement handled by Bonjour Suzuki. A mix of Japanese and French dream pop, the opener is a seductive confession of love, the breathy vocals feel as though the singers are whispering directly into your ear. The song’s lyrics very deliberately fall in line with the show’s themes, painting the emotions of our characters in full color.

The ending theme, TERRITORY, is once again vocalized by our main trio – Nozomi Yamane, Yoshiko Ikuta, and Miho Arakawa. In complete contrast to the opener, the ending theme is a candy-coated banger, bringing an exhilarated energy to each episode’s cliffhanger. Overall, the audio presentation is flawless, providing just as much characterization and ambiance as any of the show’s other properties.

Video:
Yuri Kuma Arashi’s visuals are a feast for the eyes. Slathered in pastel colors and rife with loveable character designs, the fairy-tale presence of Yuri Kuma turns the cuteness up to 11. While the show tends to dive into darker themes of death and carnal desire, it never breaks that adorable mold. If anything, the overt contrast of things like human/bear warfare only adds to the show’s entertainment value.

The world of Yuri Kuma is pretty nonsensical, but those fantastical elements are grounded in the world-building. From sliding-door transition cards to the Wall of Severance’s adorable bear-paw pattern, Yuri Kuma isn’t trying to play coy about its theatrics – each and every character is in on it. This is a show where bears and humans want to find their happily ever after, and the visual production conforms the viewer to accept this charming, nonsensical world. Even if some of its meaning gets lost along the way, I find it difficult to say Yuri Kuma Arashi is anything but beautiful.

Packaging:
Yuri Kuma Arashi comes as part of Funimation’s Essentials line, with the entire 12 episode package contained on two discs. The case follows Ikuhara’s stylistic flair of soft colors, geometric patterns, and cutesy graphic designs. Our three main characters stand side-by-side with Ginko and Lulu’s bear forms prancing alongside them. Both the front and back garner a postcard-like backdrop, complete with trimming, symbols, and typeface that pop in a rich golden color atop a muted, diamond-patterned background. The inverse of the cover sleeve is the same as the cover, which is a bit disappointing, but its simplistic design is an eye-catcher nonetheless. Both Blu-ray discs come in a golden finish, with the ‘Yuri Kuma’ insignia and diamond pattern seen on the front cover.

Menu:
The Menu continues the aesthetic presence of the Blu-ray case, with consistent use of pink, white and golden colors. The title sits statically across the middle of the screen, with a looping animation in the backdrop. The illustrations come from “The Moon Girl and the Forest Girl”, a fairytale book that plays a central role in the story of our main characters throughout Yuri Kuma Arashi. These are some of the anime’s most unique cuts art-wise, so it was a sound decision to have them represent the show right out of the gate.

The menu is a simple set up with your typical options lined across the bottom of the screen. Navigating into any of the sub-menus doesn’t interrupt the main menu song or animation loop.

Extras:
Disc One contains a single extra, with Funimation staff providing commentary dubbed over the first episode. Disc Two is much more packed with extras. Along with textless versions of both Opening and Ending songs, there’s a bonus option for several of the show’s ending themes, as the illustration changes across several episodes.

Also included are a heap of promotional trailers as well as trailers for other Funimation titles.

Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
For those uninitiated with Kunihiko Ikuhara anime, Yuri Kuma Arashi may start off as a bit of a head-scratcher.

All-girls school?  “Seems pretty par for the course.”

Heavy Yuri implications?  “Wouldn’t be anime without it!”

Hold up, some of the students are actually bears in disguise?!  “Okay, that’s new.”

And the bears and humans had a war that separated their worlds?  “Uhhhh, alright I guess so.”

Wait, now the bear-girls are going to court to have their Yuri desires approved?  “…”

If you’ve made it this far, welcome! You’ve passed the Ikuhara anime crash course. Now strap in, because we’ve only scratched the surface. There’s a reason Ikuhara is so highly regarded by the community, and it goes well past his tendencies to anthropomorphize his characters.

On the surface, Yuri Kuma Arashi is a fantastical retelling of Romeo and Juliet – a story of unrequited love, torn apart by society’s stubborn barriers. But it also goes much deeper than that. While Romeo and Juliet stands as a timeless tale, Yuri Kuma is staged in a very modern scope. Ikuhara has always been the spearhead of LGBTQ representation in anime, and this project is no different. While the story and setting itself is nonsensical, the subjects being challenged are very real-world issues. Don’t let its sugary exterior fool you, Yuri Kuma Arashi is a biting criticism of social exclusion and ‘othering’. If your love is true, no social order has any right to stop you from loving whoever you want.

So how does Yuri Kuma go about tackling these topics? Well, calling it ‘over-the-top’ or ‘roundabout’ may be an understatement. Arashigaoka Academy is the all-girls school where our story takes place. We’re very quickly introduced to the peculiar circumstance that sets up the world of Yuri Kuma. Long ago, the planet Kumaria exploded, showering the earth with twinkling meteors. Soon after, bears felt a craving and began to eat humans. Thus leading to the world splitting in two – one side for bears and the other for humans. The barrier standing between them was known as the Wall of Severance.

Back at the academy, we meet Tsubaki Kureha and Sumika Izumino, two girls planting a lily garden together on campus. They are passionately engaged in the blooming of their garden, both determined to see their “love” through to the end. But the world of Yuri Kuma is not forgiving to girls who wish to stand out. Soon, the ‘Invisible Storm’ will set its eyes on these two.

Meanwhile, two transfer students are introduced to the Academy – Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki. While human in appearance, these two are secretly bears in disguise. Their focus falls onto Kureha, her “delicious smell” has established her as their target. But as we come to find out, Kureha has a history with bears. Not only did a bear eat her mother, but with the Invisible Storm having excluded Sumika, she became a ripe target for the bears and soon met the same fate as Kureha’s mother. Though the bears continue to take the things she loves, Kureha refuses to back down on the love she received. The undying struggle to fight for what you love – this is only the beginning for Yuri Kuma Arashi.

While I hold the show’s visuals and sound design in high regard, I believe the story’s pacing will be a divisive element for viewers. As with his other projects, Ikuhara’s stories are very premeditated slow-builds. Repetition is a big piece of the formula, smacking you over the head with the same flashback scene or transformation sequence, while gradually revealing a new piece of info. For many, this is part of the charm of Ikuhara’s writing. Sometimes that extreme familiarity with a scene or dialogue is just what’s needed to catch you off guard when something new is brought to light. Even so, the show’s pacing may be too slow for some. Despite that, the content of this story deserves your attention.

Yuri Kuma employs a mix of techniques – utilizing both direct verbal storytelling and indirect visual storytelling. Characters state their intentions clearly, leaving no room to parse their words. The strong will of our characters propel the story forward, which makes it feel much more like we’re watching a stage play. But its Ikuhara’s visual storytelling that gives Yuri Kuma Arashi a leg to stand on.

If it wasn’t apparent, just about EVERYTHING on screen is a symbol or metaphor of some kind. The countless amount of lilies, Kureha’s gun, the principal’s heart-shaped box, the ‘Invisible Storm’, hell even the bears themselves might simply be metaphorical. But it’s that unnecessary coat of glossy paint that pulls us in. If this was simply a show about two normal school girls having a taboo relationship, it honestly wouldn’t need to be animated. THIS is why people gravitate to Ikuhara productions.

Why have a clique of girls simply ignore the outcasts when we can have the Invisible Storm – a system in which the class vote to exclude the “evil” lurking among them. That evil being the girls who stand out and choose not to be invisible. In this zany world where a girl’s love isn’t self-governed, why not create a courtroom where the ones who approve a girl’s love are the only males in the show?

As I mentioned before, this show approaches its themes in a very roundabout manner. But it’s this overly dramatic, out-of-this-world approach that makes it worth a watch. Ikuhara harnesses the power of anime to its fullest, crafting a compelling narrative at no cost to the stunning appeal of its visuals and soundscape.

In Summary:
Yuri Kuma Arashi puts the ‘fairy’ in fairytale. The dazzling presentation is an easy hook and just beneath its sweet façade is an important story worth telling. The struggle of LGBTQ representation in not only Japan but around the world, is the very reason for this show’s existence. Ikuhara continues to be a guiding light for many, and his craft has proven to stand in a league of its own.

Features:
Digital Copy, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1, Dolby TrueHD Japanese 2.0, Episode Commentaries, Textless Opening and Ending themes, promotional trailers

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade:
A
Video Grade:
A
Packaging Grade:
B
Menu Grade:
B+
Extras Grade:
C+

Released By: Funimation
Release Date:
May 21st, 2019
MSRP:
$22.49
Running Time:
300 Minutes
Video Encoding:
1080p High Definition (HD Native)
Aspect Ratio:
16:9

Review Equipment:

LG 55UH6090 60” 4K UHD Smart LED TV, Xbox One X Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 4K, Sony STR-DH550 Receiver 5.1 Surround Sound System, Sony SS-MF600H 200w Tower speakers (x2), Sony SS-SR16 60w surround speakers (x2), RCA RT2300 70w center speaker, JBL SUB500 150w subwoofer

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