Admiral Ackbar Approved!
We begin eleven years ago, when young Kureha went with her mother and Ginko(!?) to the lily garden and took the photo that lives in Kureha’s music box. Well, we just hit the ground bear-shocking this week, didn’t we?
Unfortunately Ginko has since been cropped from the photo and Kureha’s memory, but hey, thisdoes explain the tiny human hand high-fiving the tiny bear paw in the opening theme, don’t it?
As that opening theme ends, Kureha awakens to Ginko licking her cheek and wishing her a good morning, growl-growl. So Kureha licks her back and wishes her a good morning too, growl-growl. Like ya do, if you live in an alternate universe where Kureha is totally okay with random students appearing in her bedroom and slobbering all over her face. I have a brief “Did Ikuhara just pull the rug out from under me AGAIN?” moment, but thank heavens, no—turns out Ginko’s just fantasizing. The real Kureha has leaped to the other side of the room, brandishing a pillow and demanding to know what Ginko’s doing in her house.
Oh yeah, about that—Ginko and Lulu have moved into your attic. Cheers!
There’s a pun in this exchange that gets totally lost in translation, because soba can refer to both soba noodles as well as the word meaning “nearby” or “beside,” so they’re celebrating their soba niwith soba, and once again the Lilybears manage to be adorable and silly while also creeping me the heck out.
Kureha approves of the pun enough to eat the noodles, but not enough to let them stay. They’re still arguing about it when they get to school and the other girls start “whispering” about how Kureha’s class keeps losing students and this is totes Kureha’s fault (I mean, they’re kind of right, but that’s no reason to be all Mean Girls about it). Kureha takes this opportunity to remind Ginko and Lulu that being her friend is a terrible idea ‘cause the Invisible Storm’s got it out for her.
Of course, this does nothing to weaken Ginko’s resolve.
5-Minute Mark Theory Character Analysis Time! A lot of this episode functions mostly as setup for whatever madness is going to happen next week, but one thing I think it does well is showing us how (what appear to be) years of social exclusion have shaped Kureha. For all that she’s loathe to trust other students and reacts to the Lilybears’ attempts at friendship with open hostility, she also seems to at least in part buy in to the gossip from the other girls.
“There you have it, I’m bad luck,” she says, a complicated line that is simultaneously (1) an excuse to keep others away without having to admit the real reasons for doing so (fear of being hurt/betrayed again, loyalty to Sumika, etc.), and (2) suggests that at least a part of Kureha agrees with them. Hear something about yourself from enough people, and it’s hard not to start believing it.
Up in Ms. Hakonaka Yuriika’s triangle drawer office, Mitsuko’s photo is going into one of the pink drawers (putting her chances at being alive roughly equal to Sumika’s, I s’pose), despite Kureha’s repeated attempts to tell Yuriika the truth about Mitsuko’s unBEARable personality. But Yuriika brushes her off and says she must have been so upset about Sumika that she hallucinated it. Then Yuriika quickly changes the subject to birthdays, because cake is so much more pleasant than bear-shock. Kureha’s turning 17 this Sunday and Yuriika wants to her get something.
When Kureha doesn’t answer right away (since shouting “The best gift of all would be FOR YOU TO BELIEVE MY STORY ABOUT MITSUKO BEING THE WORST” probably wouldn’t go over so great with her teacher-guardian), Yuriika fills the awkward silence by reminiscing about the star pendant (yes, THAT pendant) she bought Reia for her Sweet Seventeen, as a promise that they would “never forget love.” We’re reminded that remembering love (and especially lost love) means never being truly alone, but because remembering can be painful, Yuriika says we should “try to focus on something else and not be too hard on ourselves.” Which sounds slightly contradictory to “not forgetting,” and is further muddied by Yuriika’s advice: You can always get another one!
And OKAY, I know we’re not in our “theory time” yet, but can we talk for half a sec about how even though Yuriika is being kind and sympathetic and makes some decent points about Kureha needing to work through her grief rather than get trapped in it, the whole thing just feels… off? Like the music is all spooky organs and the color scheme alternates between chilly blue-greens and violent reds (there’s a wall of death, for heaven’s sake) and everything is really sparse and angular, all of which combines to create the strangest sense of disequilibrium and unease, practically begging us to read this scene as dangerous rather than benign. (The Suspiria film does this a lot too, by the way, combining disparate elements to create a sense of “wrongness” throughout.)
Oh, and as if that weren’t enough, I just realized that the painting behind her desk is of a lily morphing into a flock of birds (or vice versa) a la M.C. Escher’s Sky and Water I, and DAMMIT, I CAN’T TRUST YURIIKA ANYMORE, YOU GUYS, SHE USED TO BE A LILY BUT NOW SHE’S INVISIBLE STORM, I JUST KNOW IT.
…But anyway, ‘bout that rebound dating—yeah, Kureha’s not into it. So she eats her chikuwa (a kind of fish paste) roll alone on the rooftop, while the Lilybears share their lunch Lady and the Tramp style.
Lulu doesn’t get the appeal of chikuwa, but Ginko explains that it’s “the taste of love,” something that “no human or bear or storm can destroy.” In other words, it’s not the food but its connection to love (Sumika) that’s so appealing to Kureha. (And oh, look, we’re talking about food again. There really should be a drinking game for this series.)
Which brings us to possibly the most important flashback of the episode, as Ginko takes us back to the Great Human-Bear War of Eleven Years Ago, when Ginko and her kindred decided to exercise their right to…
(Okay but actually it was a horrible battle and a lot of bears were brutally killed and Ginko herself lay dying in the snow.)
Along comes Kureha, to pat Ginko’s head and promise her she isn’t alone, because Kureha’s here and she loves her. It’s adorable and sweet and I feel like an even bigger jerk for making a joke about it, but more to the point, Ginko refers to her as “Lady Kumalia,” which is something we should probably bookmark for later.
Aaaand back in the present, Ginko makes it creepy again by drooling and declaring that she wants Kureha “all to herself.” Sigh.
Cut to the end of the day, when Harishima Kaoru (the noticeably unkempt student) approaches Kureha and apologizes for the exclusion ceremony. She says they want to “make it up” to both Kureha and Sumika, but Kureha’s BS-o-meter goes wild and she rejects their seemingly heartfelt attempts (none of you actually believed them though, right?), sending Kaoru back to the flock in tears. Which brings us to…
10-Minute Mark Theory Time! Hand-holding has become a kind of shorthand for physical (and emotional?) intimacy in this series, although often not in a positive way. It’s the first sign of mutual affection we see from Kureha and Sumika, but we quickly see it again when Mitsuko literally reaches out to the girls (“staining” herself in the process) and asks to be their friend.
Then, in this episode, both Yuriika and Kaoru touch Kureha’s hand when they’re trying to convince her of something (meaning that, like Mitsuko, physical contact is a tool they use rather than an honest gesture of affection). Kureha doesn’t openly reject Yuriika’s touch, but she’s withdrawn and silent throughout, and here with Kaoru she jerks away. Which also brings us back to that bear/human high-five in the opening theme, so… I guess my point here is just that we should keep an eye out for how and when people make physical contact (particularly involving hands/paws), because it seems to tell us a lot about not only them, but also their motivations.
While out shopping at the local Yuri Store (and browsing the latest Growl-Growl Monthly), Lulu decides that Ginko just needs to cook Kureha a meal she “loves as much as chikuwa rolls.” Naturally Ginko knows Kureha’s two favorite foods—shiokara (a kind of salty seafood liver mash that sounds positively disgusting) and spaghetti (well, napolitan, but they’re similar)—so the gals decide to combine the two into the most gag-worthy meal in existence.
Oh, and they will do it while wearing nothing but aprons.
Kureha is so delighted that she spends the rest of her life spoon-feeding various dishes (including an entire salmon) into Ginko’s mouth, also while wearing nothing but an apron. So, yes, you guessed it: Ginko is fantasizing again. Real Kureha refuses to eat it, is creeped that they even KNOW her favorite foods, and demands that everyone “stop trying to make me give up on my love.” Mostly though, she’s highly suspicious of anyone who tries to get close to her (understandably so, given the Mitsuko Incident), and you can tell these two especially puzzle her because she can’t figure out where they stand. When it comes to her classmates, there’s “Invisible Storm” and “Sumika,” and this new middle ground is strange and disconcerting.
Because Kureha sucks at actually kicking the Lilybears out, they head upstairs to take a bath together. It’s the kind of scene that would come across as gratuitous fanservice in most series, but here the camera is respectful enough that it’s treated more like a moment of intimacy and secrecy between two close friends—it’s a safe space, one where they can let their guard down and talk about not only Kureha, but the “rules” surrounding their current human forms. Then Ginko has a shower fantasy that starts silly (light BURSTS FORTH from Kureha’s lady-parts) and ends in sexy times. But, again, I think Yurikuma does a solid job of making this a scene about sexuality rather than sexualization, so it works for me. Your mileage may vary.
Either way, ShowerBears!
In addition to the goofy humor and hanky-panky, we also gain some valuable information from both this and the previous scenes:
- The Lilybears are “only allowed to eat the flesh of invisible girls.”
- If Ginko comes right out and tells Kureha about their shared past, she and Lulu “can’t be human girls anymore.” So they have to hope Kureha remembers on her own.
Magical enchantments, man. Always gotta be havin’ their rules. Also, online pal Vrai jokingly drew parallels between the Lilybears and The Little Mermaid, and now I’m not sure I can unsee it. Or unhear it, actually, because ♪ De honey is always sweeter / In somebody else’s tree / You say dat you’d like to meet her / But dat’s gonna be tricky~ ♪
Up in her room, Kureha pulls out an envelope that Sumika gave her a month ago. It’s her birthday present, but she isn’t allowed to read it until her actual birthday. Sumika just “had to” give it to her early because… because…
15-Minute Mark Theory Time! This whole flashback where Sumika gives Kureha the birthday letter reads like someone who’s about to go off to war or die of a terminal illness. Sumika had to know something was going to happen to her. But did she know specifically that she was going to “be eaten”? And if so, how? And what does “being eaten” really mean? Maybe it’s not even a bad thing; it just sounds scary to the girls at Arashigaoka. So is it like a sexual awakening? Or specifically awakening to feelings of same-sex attraction? Does that make “getting eaten” just the way a bunch of homophobic people describe “coming out”? But then what does that make the bears themselves, and how does that explain their often predatory behavior? Are the bears real? Is Sumika real? SON OF A PENGUINDRUM, WHAT IF SUMIKA’S NOT EVEN REAL.
It’s possible that writing this in a sleep-deprived state of mild exhaustion has made my brain go a little loopy. So let’s just return to the story before I start fashioning a hat out of tinfoil.
When Kureha checks on her flowerbed the next morning, she finds it all cleaned up and ready for her to plant more flowers. Kaoru appears out of nowhere like the shady figure she is and says that she and the other girls did it because they want to honor Sumika’s “last wish,” which was for Kureha to celebrate her birthday in a garden of flowers. It’s weird that they would have “overheard” Sumika talking about this to anyone given that they all excluded the hell out of her before, but Kureha’s too distracted by SumikaFeels to get suspicious of Kaoru the way she did the Lilybears. (I also think Kureha is a lot lonelier than she lets on, and wants to believe the girls’ sincerity here.)
There’s more forced hand-holding, and then the entire class pops out of the woodwork to freaking APPLAUD Kaoru’s speech, and then there are a bunch of still frames of the girls helping to plant new flowers in the flowerbed, and we all just KNOW this is going to end in tears, don’t we?
Sure enough, all these warm fuzzies are IMMEDIATELY followed by another Exclusion Ceremony, which Kaoru has taken over now that what’s-her-ponytail is sleepin’ with the flowers. They’re tricking Kureha for some nefarious purpose, and the Lilybears are NOT happy about it. So they go back to the Severance Court to see if it’s okay for them to eat Kaoru, claiming they want to do it in order to “save” Kureha.
But Life Cool sees right through this: Ginko’s not interested in “saving” Kureha, but in becoming “her only friend,” and the quickest way to do that is to eliminate the competition. Loyal Lulu comes to her defense—“Ginko only wants to give back the love she got from Kure-chin,” she insists—but Life Sexy demands an answer from Ginko herself, and it’s a bear-shocker for poor Lulu:
But even so, Ginko refuses to give up or go back because she’s already committed a “serious crime.” And no, we do NOT get to learn about that crime, because our Beautiful defense attorney REALLY doesn’t wanna lose this case.
20-Minute Mark Theory Time! Kureha’s mom is probably “dead” because of Ginko, right? The star pendant sparkled just as Ginko was about to admit to her crime, so it stands to reason that the two are connected. I believe someone in the comments suggested last week that Ginko may have been the one to “eat” Reia, although I’m hoping it’s nothing quite that serious, or that “eating” turns out to be more complicated than Kureha thinks—and it certainly seems to be, given the many ways eating has been used in Yurikuma thus far, both as something dangerous as well as a sign of connection and intimacy.
Despite Cool’s sound arguments, Sexy doesn’t really care if Ginko’s love is egotistical, so long as it’s “the real thing.” And she insists that it is, so they get Yuri Approval to make Kaoru their next meal. Which seems to be exactly what’s going to happen, until—
Bear TRAP! Kaoru knew what they were from the very beginning! Ginko is left in agony and Lulu in shock as the title drops and the end credits roll, leaving us all dangling from a cliff much like the one Lulu kept throwing her brother off. Can you STAND the suspense?!
This one was something of a table-setting episode, doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of setting up plot points and characters for the next part of the story. It was also, I think, the first time we’ve really felt the crunch of the 12-episode count—not that the pacing has ever been slow, mind you, but there were some events in this one, particularly involving Kaoru and the flowerbed, that rushed to the point of having the scenes feel a bit disjointed, with Kureha jumping from one location to another with the very distinct sense of “Okay, Events A, B, and C have to happen this week so that Event Y can happen next week.” As such, I think this may have been the weakest episode of the series, not as outright enjoyable as Ep4 but not as thematically dense as 1-3, either. Still, Dat Ending should give us (and Kureha) a lot to do next week, so there’s plenty to look forward to.
This episode also left me with some fairly split feelings on Ginko, which I’m still trying to work out. On the one hand, I find myself sympathetic towards her: She’s a war-ravaged bear with a violent past who seems to be carrying a lot of guilt, there’s a straightforwardness to her motivations and desires that I appreciate (as opposed to people like Mitsuko and Kaoru), and Lulu’s affection for her makes me want to have affection for her, too. But on the other hand, she’s possessive and selfish throughout this episode, ignoring Kureha’s wishes and even resenting it when Kureha appears to make new friends (and to be much happier because of it).
Now, there are some mitigating circumstances here, mostly because, to Ginko, she and Kureha are childhood friends. Coming over uninvited, making dinner, and keeping her company at school are the kinds of things a close friend might do for someone who’s depressed and pushing away human contact (as Kureha is), refusing to let them isolate themselves completely. But—Kureha doesn’t remember any of this, so instead of seeming like a friend badly wanting to help, Ginko just seems self-centered, doing what she wants rather than what her “love” wants. Life Sexy is right: It’s egotistical and arrogant, and that “all to myself” attitude is the height of immaturity.
Which actually brings me to a quick Suspiria comparison that struck me this week: The surprising immaturity of the characters. Suspiria takes place at a dance school where all the students appear to be college aged, and yet they often act like elementary school kids, such as when two of the girls get into a really weird fight that devolves into them sticking their tongues out at each other. Similarly, the girls of Arashigaoka Academy seem far more childish than you’d expect from 17-year-olds. I really noticed it this week when Ginko and Lulu pouted about how nobody else could be “friends” with Kureha except them, but it’s always been there, particularly in the way everyone (especially Kureha and Sumika) seem to avoid topics of physical or sexual attraction.
I suspect (hope?) this all ties into those ideas about “Class S” relationships and the unhealthy idealization of innocence that’s so common in all-girls (and yuri) anime/manga, and if its intent is to make me feel like something is “off” here, then mission freaking accomplished. I just hope these ideas get addressed and rectified as we go, and that everyone (particularly Ginko) ends up with meaningful character growth when all is said and done. I know Ikuhara has a penchant for writing dysfunctional romances for all sexual orientations, but even so, I’d really like this to be a story about a healthy same-sex relationship, rather than just a sequence of vaguely creepy and/or immature ones.