The moment of truth.
I considered dragging out the tension like an extended drumroll (durarararara…), but instead, let’s spend the last half of the post talking references and the first half talking personal reaction, which is this: I’m sticking with Yurikuma Arashi. I wasn’t sure if I would last week, but this episode assuaged a lot of my fears and gave me hope (and some outright confirmation) that my initial readings of this show weren’t completely off the mark. There’s still plenty of time for Ikuhara to step on a land mine and blow this whole, crazy experiment to the Moon Kingdom, but it’s looking slightly less likely that that’s going to happen, at least.
There are a lot of reasons this episode sealed my commitment to Yurikuma (and upped my interest in it, too), but I think the main reason is something I didn’t even realize had been bothering me, which is Kureha’s role in the story. Looking back, it strikes me that the main reason the first two episodes were so creepy and unpleasant was because Kureha was such a passive presence: she didn’t know what was going on and, as such, had no real means of fighting back (hell, she wasn’t even conscious half the time). But she opens her eyes rather literally this week, and while she still has a long way to go, she does begin to assert herself to an extent we haven’t seen before. And that not only makes the show a lot easier to watch, it also makes Kureha a much more fascinating central figure.
So what madness have she and the gang been up to this week? So beary glad you asked!
Kureha’s teacher, Hakonaka Yuriika, holds an assembly before the school reminding them of the ongoing bear crisis, Sumika’s death, and the currently missing students Yurikawa Konomi, Akae Katyusha (Katyusha is a Russian diminutive form of Ekaterina, by the way, and definitely not a Japanese name), and “several others.” Ms. Hakonaka encourages the girls to stick together for protection, going so far as to urge them to “never be alone.”
And hey, have I mentioned that this series is really starting to feel like a fantasy/horror representation of what it’s like to be a young woman in the world? Because holy hell, did this opening monologue ever hit home for me.
Mitsuko, under the impression that a little rooftop hugging and some light mounting makes her Kureha’s new GF, tries to hold Kureha’s hand during the assembly. But Kureha is all:
And sinks that ‘ship before it can even leave the harbor. Mitsuko is undeterred, further cementing her position as The Worst.
After the opening theme and school assembly both come to a close, Kureha has a private meeting with Ms. Hakonaka, who it turns out was a “special friend” of Kureha’s mother, Reia. She provides Kureha with some very good advice about not repressing her emotions (in this case, her grief for Sumika), and also drops some useful background information for us folks at home: Namely that Kureha and Sumika’s flowerbed once belonged to Reia and Yuriika, until the bears “stole” Reia, anyway. Kureha also lets Ms. Hakonaka know that there’s another bear on the lam.
5-Minute Mark Theory Time! There’s some consideration floating around that anyone with “Yuri” in their name is actually a bear, seeing as how Ginko, Lulu, Konomi, and Mitsuko all share the same yuri (百合, “lily”). This would naturally cast suspicion on the girls’ teacher (Hakonaka Yuriika), but I do want to point out that the yuri in her name is in her first, not last name, and also that it isn’t spelled with the same 百合 kanji characters. Instead, it’s spelled with the katakana characters ユリーカ, which—without bogging this down too much in Japanese linguistic details—connects it more closely to the borrowed word “Eureka” than the actual yuri flower. So while I wouldn’t place any bets on it, there is at least a chance we can trust Ms. Hakonaka, for now.
Meanwhile, Mitsuko continues to live up to her title as The Worst, when she gets her paws on Oniyama Eriko and, with a little flattery and some of her famous grabby-hands, seduces her and orders her to “let me eat Tsubaki Kureha.” And just in case you weren’t sure this was Serious Bearsness, Ikuhara threw in some flower imagery and spooky choir vocals, which has been his cue for SRS BRSNS for the last 20 years or so.
Ginko and Lulu seem to sense the danger, although they can’t pinpoint it yet. They can’t do much of anything yet, including getting closer to Kureha, who’s totes ready to shoot some bears. Well, shoot some bears, and reminiscence about how unreasonably cute Sumika used to be. And I know all these flashbacks are romanticized and saccharine and emotionally manipulative as hell, but guess what? IT’S WORKING.
Kureha worries that she’ll someday “forget love and be invisible like the others.” Although it looks like she won’t have to worry about that for a while, as Eriko’s about to start a Very Important Class Meeting while Kureha is out of the room.
And you know what? This next bit is crazy important and pretty much straight-up tells us what’s going on with the Invisible Storm and at least half the themes of this story, so in place of our 10-Minute Mark Theory Time, I’m just going to transcribe Eriko’s speech in full:
“Friends are more important than anything else, agreed? The friends here in this classroom right now: that’s us. People who contradict our feelings are a disgrace, agreed? People who stick out from our crowd are just no good, agreed? People who refuse to fit in with us are a nuisance, agreed?! People like that who can’t follow social cues… are evil. Sumika Izumino got killed by a bear because of that. It’s only natural, isn’t it? Because she was evil. We must decide who the next evil to exclude is. Let’s Search Evil!“
And while I know I wasn’t the only or even the first person to suggest this interpretation of the Invisible Storm, I’d still like to take a brief moment to say CALLED IT, SUCKAS.
Oh, and then the class votes on who to exclude next and they pick Kureha, surprising absolutely no one. Mitsuko is just tickled pink by this (I half-expected her to “Mwahahaha!” at one point), as it means no one will stand between her and her latest prey.
Well—almost no one. Because the Lilybears are listening in, and they don’t appreciate this one bit.
During the brief downtime, Kureha continues to Think About Sumika And Make Me Feel Sad For Her, and Lulu remembers her first meeting with Ginko when she “found Lulu’s love,” and Mitsuko continues to have creepy internal monologues.
15-Minute Mark Theory Time! Mitsuko’s speech is all about how life is transient and that being a bear means living in the here-and-now. This certainly plays into the notion of the bears as pure id, although Mitsuko is mighty philosophical for someone who claims to be all instinct and immediacy. A part of me would also like to consider how this whole monologue sounds like an extremely callous version of Buddhism, using the central concept of worldly impermanence as a justification for selfish or cruel behavior instead of as the motivation to help alleviate suffering… but mostly, I just keep thinking that Mitsuko is The Worst, and how nice it would be if someone shot her in the face.
Which is about the time when Kureha receives another Mysterious Phone Call, grabs her rifle, and heads to the roof to confront the “remaining” bear. And who should she find on the roof but…
Mitsuko reveals everything in true Cartoon Villain fashion: That she’s the Mystery Bear, that Konomi was a bear, that she shot her own friend right in the face because she disobeyed her (“friends should be inferior to you because they’re easier to control that way,” she says). Most importantly, Mitsuko drops the bear shock! bomb that SHE was the one who ate Sumika.
And because no proper villain would reveal their master plot without mocking your One True Love along the way, Mitsuko tells us ALL ABOUT Sumika’s dying words, and how much of a “freak” she was. She even puts on her glasses and mimics the hair-tuck. THE HAIR-TUCK, PEOPLE.
Kureha tries to do what I’ve been shouting for the last five minutes, but her shots keep missing (Mitsuko says it’s because she’s unwilling to kill). As Mitsuko lunges for her, Kureha takes her weekly tumble down the stairs and into the Severance Court, but things are a little different this time: Instead of asking to “eat” Kureha, the Lilybears want to “save” her from Mitsuko.
Even Life Cool seems startled, which leads us to this potentially important line from Lulu: “We’ll eat humans! If we don’t eat them, we can’t protect Ginko’s love!” But we won’t learn anything else about that just yet—instead, the court goes through its usual motions and grants the Lilybears their seal of approval.
20-Minute Mark Theory Time! Heyyyy, so here’s a fun fact: The primary determiner for if something is “Yuri Approved” is whether or not some guy finds it sexy (shaba-da-doo). You know, I’m starting to suspect that the Severance Court will end up being the show’s real Big Bad, or at least a force the Lilybears and/or Kureha will have to go up against at some point—and I also suspect that the way Ikuhara chooses to address (or worse, not address) that all-male court is going to have a huge impact on how well this show fares further down the road. But for the time being, can we all just take a moment to ask: How the heck did it take me two-and-a-half episodes to come to this realization?! Get it together, lady. Seriously.
For the first time, Kureha is awake and semi-aware during the ensuing Lily Scene, and seems to kind of enjoy it, describing the Lilybears as “warm and kind” and remarking that she has “felt this somewhere before.” Also, she brought her gun with her this time (a bizarre phallic symbol or just a PSA on the importance of using protection?), so when she comes out of her Yuri Dream, she’s got her rifle cocked, loaded, and aimed at Mitsuko. RIGHT IN THE… armband?
Kureha is understandably shaken about her first kill (even though the chances of Mitsuko actually being dead are, like, 25 percent, tops), but the Lilybears are there to catch her before she falls. Could this mean Kureha is finally beginning to accept them as a part of her? Assuming that at least one of them, is, in fact, a part of her…
Oh—and just in case you forgot, the Lilybears are still kind of dangerous and scary, because they totally take Eriko out to the flowerbeds, show her where they’ve hidden the remains of Katyusha and the other missing students, and then prepare to eat Eriko, too. Bear shock!
…Okay, FINE. You win, Ikuhara. Strap me in, I’m riding this Love Bullet Train to its final destination, wherever the hell that may be.
Or rather, Afterschool Research. I figured I’d set aside any overarching theories for the time being and focus on providing you guys with some Fun Facts instead. ‘Cause it’s just not an Ikuhara show if you’re not opening an army of Chrome tabs to look up references and allusions, doncha know.
The HORROR! …Movies
I watched Suspiria and I have some thoughts about how it’s informing Yurikuma, but I’m gonna hold off on discussing it in any detail for another week to give anyone who wants to watch it a chance to do so (it’s on YouTube). But as of Episode 4, weird 1970s horror movie spoilers could very well be a part of my recap posts. You’ve been warned.
And in other spooky news, @vestenet has noted that Kureha’s bedroom bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Bates’ room from the original Psycho. So make of that what you will.
I’m by no means fluent in Japanese, but I do have enough of a background that I can occasionally take note on key words ‘n’ stuff. Here’s a couple that caught my attention this week:
- Suki (好き) – Whenever the girls talk about their “love” for each other, they use the work suki, which is roughly equivalent to the English word “like” in that it can be used on both things (“I like college basketball”) and people (“I like Coach Bill Self”). (…It’s possible I was watching a game shortly before writing this.) And just like “like,” it can have romantic “love” connotations as well, although without having quite the same weight of meaning as ai (where ai-shiteiru is more akin to “I’m in love with you”). Not sure we should read too deeply into this since it’s fairly common for teenagers to use suki instead of ai, but I thought it was worth noting.
- Danzetsu (断絶, using the characters for decision/judgment and cut off/abstain) – This is the word that spins during the Yuri Trials, which the subs translate to “severance.” There’s enough nuance to the word “severance” that I went ahead and looked up the meaning of danzetsu to get a better idea of its specifics, and it has kind of a dual meaning, referring to both an “interruption” or “divide” between two things, as well as the cessation or “extinction” of something. Suggesting that both the Wall of Severance and the Severance Trials are not just about the rift between bears and humans, but also about the possible death of the bears (or humans? or both?) as well.
I mentioned earlier that the Japanese word for lily (yuri) has the double meaning of also referring to girls’ love stories (it’s basically the lady-version of “yaoi”), but I haven’t really talked flower symbolism yet. The blooms in Kureha’s flowerbed appear to be your pretty standard lillium candidum (horticulturists out there correct me if I’m wrong), commonly called the “Madonna lily” (or shirayuri in Japanese), which are symbols in both Japan and most western cultures for female chastity and innocence. Lilies in general have been connected to women in western culture for ages, in fact, as Greece and later Roman society associated them with the goddess Hera/Juno, and Christianity associates them with the Virgin Mary. The point of all this being that the yuri flower has been conflated with virginity for a real long time now, so Ikuhara’s use of it to depict not just “pure” girls’ love but straight-up sex feels like a rather deliberate subversion of the standard imagery.
Also, Mitsuko gets herself some black lilies this week, which look to be Fritillaria camschatcensis, or Rice Lilies. I can’t find anything on that specific type of flower, but black lilies are (unsurprisingly) tied to death and lies. Also interesting to note is that, if I have the species right, then they don’t actually belong to the lillium family. A nod to Mitsuko’s aggressive, predatory behavior, perhaps, and another way to separate her from Kureha and the Lilybears?
The First Crusade (1096-1099)
Remember, this will be on the test. There’s a lot we could talk about here, as the first crusade came about due to a number of factors (most notably recent church reform that gave the papacy new power over secular rulers and nations, as well as the mounting political/religious tensions and confrontations between Christian and Islamic communities in the Middle East), but for now I just want to focus on what the crusades tend to represent in modern culture, which is the “holy war”—i.e., the idea that violence is all right as long as you’re using it for a “just” or “righteous” cause (in this case, to defend fellow Christians from harm and bring the Word of Christ to new peoples).
I think there are two possible readings we can take out of this reference, depending on how we want to frame the idea of the “holy war.” If we want to go the more positive route, we could say that it’s encouragement for Kureha to take up her rifle and begin her own crusade—against aggressors, social exclusion, and in defense of her love for Sumika. But personally, I think it’s probably the other way around: I think the reference to the Crusades here is intended more for the student body than for Kureha, to serve as a reminder of how dangerous it can be when a group of people commit to zealotry, allowing for no dissenting beliefs, opinions, or behavior patterns.
It’s also reminiscent of the Japanese proverb “the stake that sticks up gets hammered down” (出る杭は打たれる), simultaneously a call for collectivism and a condemnation of individuality, of existing “outside the herd.” Most of Ikuhara’s works explore (and reject) the ideas inherent in this proverb, so it’s unsurprising to see it taking center stage here in Yurikuma as well. The question now is how we’re going to see that play out for Kureha and the Lilybears in the coming weeks. One way or the other, it looks like I’ll be here to write about it.