And now for something completely different…
Yurikuma has been pretty much a nonstop bear-shock horror movie experience from the word “go,” and while I was starting to settle in to that experience and finding ways to not just analyze it, but also kind of like it, I do think that after the Mitsuko Madness of last week we were sorely in need of an episode that offered us a reprieve from the harsh angles, saturated colors, and unrelenting intensity of Arashigaoka Academy. Fortunately Ikuhara must have realized that himself, because this week takes us away from the main story almost entirely and delivers a lovely, melancholy, and at times pretty darn funny fairy tale.
Oh, and speaking of—Ikuhara included a fairy tale in an anime, you guys! Everybody do a shot!
Then grab a chaser and gather ‘round, boys and grrls. It’s story time at the Severance Court.
After a brief flashback of Lulu pleading her case to the Severance Court so she can cross the wall with Ginko (more on all this later), we cut back to the current time line and get a look at the Severance Court when it ISN’T in session. Turns out that when the CourtBears aren’t working, they’re just like the rest of us: Lazing around in their comfy pants and showing people their butts.
The bears have all taken their animal forms today (“So uncool!” a certain someone laments), which apparently allows them to shatter the fourth wall, greeting the audience and promising to entertain us with a story entitled “The Princess Who Gave Up on Kisses.”
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very sad, for her mother and father had oh wait, nope, no, wrong Ikuhara anime. This story takes place in a bear kingdom, a few years before the Wall of Severance was erected. Although actually, there IS a little princess in this one, too.
That’s right, folks, our own Lulu was once heir to a throne, loved and adored by all within her kingdom. It’s worth noting, though, that she keeps her servants and subjects at arm’s length, as shown by the bee that keeps chasing people out of her personal bubble.
5-Minute Mark Theory Time! Yes, we’re five minutes in already. Not much to talk about yet, but we can spend a little time on that buzzing bee of Lulu’s. Bees (especially honeybees, which is what Lulu’s seems to, er, be) are known for living in colonies and defending their hives, queens, and honey against outsiders; but because bees die after they sting someone, they generally leave you alone if they don’t perceive you as a threat.
So I think it’s pretty clear that we can read Lulu’s bee as a kind of general metaphor both for the behaviors we use to keep people at a distance, and the moment when we accept another person as someone we both trust and wish to keep safe. As such, we’ll be keeping an eye on when and if that bee’s red streak ever sees fit to circle someone other than Lulu herself.
But trouble comes to the world when the planet Kumalia explodes and douses the sky with shooting stars, and trouble comes to Lulu on the same night, as her mother gives birth to a bouncing baby boy. “Congratulations,” her attendants tell her, “you have a little brother! Oh and P.S. we live in a patriarchal society which makes him the official heir to the throne and you don’t matter anymore so we’re gonna go shower him in all our affection now k thx bai.” Primogeniture SHOCK!
(I seriously cannot stop giggling at this.)
Time passes, Prince Mirun grows into a toddler, and Lulu’s resentment builds with each passing day. Unwanted by the kingdom and forgotten in her room, she watches from her window and thinks of Mirun as something that’s “in her way,” despite the fact that he’s pretty freaking adorable and seems to be the only person in the kingdom who genuinely cares about her.
One night as the two stand on the balcony and watch a shooting star, they talk about an old fairy tale which says that “real love climbs into the sky and becomes stars,” and that when a star falls back to earth, it turns into a “Promise Kiss.” Mirun’s convinced that the shooting star they just saw was his love for his sister, so he vows to track it down and give Lulu the Promise Kiss. D’AWWWW.
Lulu’s bee quietly encircles both her AND her brother, but despite this obvious sign of affection, Lulu decides to use her brother’s love against him. When he tells her he loves her and asks for a kiss, she says him she’ll give him one only after he brings back the Promise Kiss. Then she bundles him up in a box called “love” and promptly kicks him off a cliff.
But against all logic, Prince Mirun returns with a jar of honey, “sparkly and the same color as a star,” which he assumes means it’s a Promise Kiss. It isn’t and it doesn’t, and Lulu chucks it out the window and across the valley.
10-Minute Mark Theory Time! It’s no secret that Yurikuma is very much a story interested in women’s issues, and I think it’s pretty obvious that Lulu’s tale is at least in part an exploration of the kind of frustration and resentment created from living within a patriarchal society, where she is devalued and displaced simply because she’s a girl. But what makes this story so much more layered than just “Girl Vs. Broken System” is that Prince Mirun is a total sweetheart—he initially benefits from the system, yes, but it’s not a system he acknowledges or even seems to support (judging by the way he treats his sister), and in the end it hurts him just as much (if not more) than it does Lulu.
So if we’re going to draw lessons from this fairy tale (as fairy tales generally ask us to do), perhaps we can draw a couple. First, that unequal societies hurt everyone, even those who appear to benefit from them. And second, that we should take care not to confuse structures with individuals, taking our anger out on innocents or friends instead of the systems or authority figures that are causing the real harm.
Lulu keeps trying, but all the Sarlacc Pits and volcanoes in the world won’t stop her brother from getting her that honey. No matter how she “kills” her brother (and I’m putting that in quotes because the murders are played so brightly and in such ridiculous fashion that I get the sense we’re not supposed to take these as serious efforts), Mirun keeps coming home with the same pot of honey, and Lulu keeps chucking it off into the woods again.
Until one day, apparently through no fault of Lulu’s, the prince meets with an “accident” (we’ll later learn that he was stung by a bee while trying to retrieve the honey for his sister) and dies for realz. So Lulu becomes the “favorite” of the kingdom again. H… hooray?
After the eye catch, we flash back to the present for a bit, where Kureha is still dealing with the trauma known as Mitsuko. Ginko and Lulu come in through the window they broke back in Episode 2 (yay continuity!) to check up on Kureha, and Ginko even makes some of her special honey porridge.
Kureha is understandably annoyed and suspicious, but Lulu assures her they were just worried—they aren’t “invisible” like the others, they want to be Kureha’s friend. When Lulu tries to give her some of the porridge, Kureha remembers when she and Sumika used to share food on the rooftop (psst! the food is a metaphor). “Sumika is my only friend!” she snaps, and knocks the bowl out of Lulu’s hand.
Lulu kinda looks like she’s about to go postal, but before she can, Life Sexy takes us back to our fairy tale, where Princess Lulu is being fawned over by servants, subjects, and suitors alike, as the “princes” Sexy, Cool, and Beauty one-by-one try to court her (pun!) and are one-by-one turned away.
15-Minute Mark Theory Time! I’m not sure if the princes in Lulu’s story are supposed to actually be the CourtBears or if the CourtBears are just playing parts in the story, but either way, mad props to those of you who suggested way back during Episode 1 that the CourtBears represented the three main “types” of boys commonly portrayed in heterosexual shoujo romances. The fun thing about metaphors is that you can map your source onto multiple targets, so I’m not going to close the door on the CourtBears and say that this is the be-all, end-all interpretation of them, but in this particular scene? Oh yeah, Lulu is definitely rejecting a trio of romantic stereotypes.
Point being, Lulu has everything she thought she wanted, but instead of feeling happy, she’s “plagued by an awful feeling of emptiness.” And anyone who’d been watching the bee buzz around Mirun for the last 10 minutes is thoroughly unsurprised.
Lulu dreams of Mirun returning to her, once more bearing (I swear I’m not even trying to make these puns anymore, BUT THEY WON’T STOP) the Promise Kiss. When she wakes up, it’s to the sound of someone tapping at her window. But it isn’t Mirun. No, it’s Cloaked Ginko, who’s traveled from a far-off valley to bring back the honey/Promise Kiss that Lulu kept throwing away. “If you forget what you’ve lost, you really will lose it,” Ginko tells her, removing her hood—and Lulu’s bee immediately encircles the two of them.
When Lulu touches the honey, she remembers the circumstances behind her brother’s death, and finally realizes: “I hated you from the beginning. And I must have loved you from the beginning, too.” Which again brings us back to the present, where an unusually melancholy Lulu tells Ginko, “Fulfilling your love is my love. I feel like if I do that, I can see him again. Just one more time…”
…Then Yurikuma makes me feel a bunch of emotions and I tell it to stop but it won’t stop, so I pull myself together and press play and keep watching.
We’re taken back to the past, as Ginko tells Lulu she’s going to cross the Wall of Severance so she can return the “love” that she received from a human. Ginko is unusually emotive throughout this scene (which may or may not be good characterization, hard to say just yet), as she explains that she promised to meet “her” again so they could share a “Promise Kiss.” And, true, the humans might kill her, but Ginko’s not worried—she’s a criminal-bear, after all, and won’t back down on love.
So Lulu decides to go with her and help out. But first she has to get permission from the Severance Court, which brings us back to that opening scene, and that all-important question:
20-Minute Mark Theory Time! Not so much theories as just ramblings, but bear (dammit) with me here. It’s pretty clear at this point that food is connected to intimacy and love of all kinds (and not just the sexual sort, unless y’all are reading Lulu and Mirun’s relationship WAY differently than I am), so when Lulu throws away Mirun’s honey, she’s rejecting his affection for her. When she accepts the honey from Ginko, she finally realizes how much she loved her brother. Food is also connected to “Promise Kisses,” as giving someone a Promise Kiss appears to be when you reciprocate their romantic feelings for you (hence why “love” becomes a star and then returns to earth as a Promise Kiss), although I don’t think honey and Promise Kisses should be taken to be the same thing—Mirun just believes they are because he’s too young to understand the difference between the many variations of “love.”
Anyway, mostly I just wanted to lay this interpretation out on the table, so that when Lulu answers Life Sexy’s question with “I won’t give up on love. I’ll give up on kisses,” you’ll understand why I think it may mean Lulu will not stop feeling love, but has no intention of acting on those feelings. For all that she seems to be crushing on Ginko pretty hard, it seems that she’s genuinely doing this as a friend, to help Ginko find her own Promise Kiss before it’s too late.
Life Sexy thinks that Lulu is projecting her unfulfilled wishes onto Ginko and calls this “self-satisfaction” rather than “self-actualization,” and therefore finds her guilty of the crime of “arrogance.” But Lulu is A-OK with that—after all, she’s a criminal-bear now.
“Oh, well, why didn’t you say so? YURI APPROVED!” says our judge, and sends her on her way, past the wall and into the human world with Ginko.
In the present, we see the LilyBears regarding their Lovely Items. Lulu has her honey pot, and Ginko has a star pendant—which it just so happens bears (dammit!) a striking resemblance to the one Kureha’s mother is wearing in the music box photo.
And also, end of episode!
Man, but I loved this episode. I love character back stories and I love fairy tales, and I especially love Ikuhara’s fairy tales (if he wanted to write a book of them, I’d buy the hell out of it, just sayin’). He understands the curiously enchanting blend of brutality, tragedy, and tenderness that comprises so many of our childhood stories, and he’s very good at taking those components, adding a dash of his own absurdist sense of humor, and bringing it to life with beautiful music and imagery. Online buddy and fellow Utena analyst Vrai tweeted that this episode felt “like someone sat a 12-course meal in front of me after 3 weeks of throwing food at my head at high speeds,” and I think that covers it just about perfectly.
Although that does make this “afterthoughts” section a little difficult, because I’ve found that the more I enjoy something on a purely personal level, the less the analytical part of me wants to work. It tries to parse out references and map images to ideas, but then the rest of my brain goes “Dude, shut up, I’m trying to watch this, GAWD.” So while I was stuffing these posts with theories and analyses in the first three episodes largely because I wasn’t especially enjoying myself and needed to find a way to stay invested in the series, this week I’m perfectly content to just sit back and soak in the experience, mulling over everything that happened rather than trying to force it to all make sense right this very second.
As a result, I don’t have much to add to this one beyond the bits of questions and theories I posted throughout the recap itself. So instead of trying to guess every single ingredient on my own, I think I’ll just savor this 12-course meal for the time being, and let you guys talk flavors in the comments section. Thoughts? Theories? Did this one hit the spot for you the way it did for me? Sound off below!
Credits Due: I take my own screenshots but have neither the time nor the software to create animated gifs, so a big thanksto sailorcinnamonroll for giving the world that gif of Lulu kicking her brother off a cliff.