A picture book nestled in a memory nestled in a flashback nestled in an episode. Well. Things must be getting serious, then.
Because Yurikuma was becoming just a liiiiittle too straightforward, this week sees us jumping back and forth through time like a Gallifreyan kangaroo. To help keep everything coherent (and avoid clogging this thing with the written version of establishing shots), I’ll be using bolded cues so everyone knows where we are in time. Allons-y!
We open with Ginko passing out in Kaoru’s BearTRAP!, Kureha wondering about Sumika’s letter, and Funimation hitting us up with some translated lyrics during the opening theme (or at least, this is the first time I’ve noticed them, as I’m usually up fixing my bearverage of choice during the OP). I don’t have much to say about it except that the line “even if you have to bend space-time, find me” kinda makes me hope we get actual time travel in this sucker (‘cause why the eff not!), and also that, because the French doesn’t get translated, I took to Google to learn: Viens avec moiis “come with me,” and jai besoin de toi is “I need you.” Anime is so educational!
Once that wraps up, we go History: One Month Ago, to find Sumika prepping to write that mysterious letter. While she considers her words, she has a Flashback to History: After the Entrance Ceremony (and no, I’m not sure if there’s a difference between “history” and “flashback,” but you can bet your sweet bippy I’m overthinking it as we speak), when she and Kureha first met. Sumika had lost the hairpin her grandmother gave her, and Kureha not only braved the rainstorm to find it, but was also the only person to even try to help.
The two quickly became friends, which led to that fateful History: Stormy Night, when Sumika threw herself into the rain to protect something precious to Kureha (oo, symmetry!). Which then led to the two going up to Kureha’s room and becoming a bit more than friends, as Kureha shares something very precious with Sumika:
A picture book.
5-Minute Mark Theory Time! So I reckon we can put aside the idea that these two are in a Class S “romance” or even just the early stages of a physical relationship. They’re pretty clearly naked under those covers, and this whole scene feels very tender and post-coital. I appreciate how Yurikuma has teased this out over half a season and then presents it in such a nonchalant fashion (it almost gets lost in the ensuing Storytime, which we’ll get to in a sec), as if to say, “What, you didn’t know this all along?”
And probably I would have, if anime/manga hadn’t conditioned me to assume high school girls never get past the hand-holding stage. (Though I still find it strange that keep saying “friend” instead of “girlfriend” or “lover” or some such. It’s like the words don’t even exist… which is an interesting theory in and of itself, actually…)
As for that picture book, it’s Reia’s unpublished story, The Moon Girl and the Forest Girl, which looks absolutely gorgeous and goes a little something like this: “Once upon a time” (I believe I established two episodes ago that we all have to do a shot now, so if you’ll excuse me…), there was a moon world and a forest world, separated by the sky. One day girls from the two worlds came into contact when a moon girl (human-ish) dropped her star pendant and a forest girl (bear-ish) found it. The two became fascinated with the other’s world and prayed to the goddess Kumalia to allow them to cross the distance—one so she could find the pendant, and the other so she could return it.
At first, Kumalia tells them its impossible because their worlds are “severed” and wanting to “cross that severance is pride—a grave sin.” But when they persist, Kumalia relents by telling them about a place in the center of the sky called “the Door of Friends” (lily image alert!), where they might be able to meet.
The girls take Kumalia’s ladder to the center of the sky, where a mirrored wall stands between them. Kumalia tells them that they have to “smash the ‘you’ in the mirror to bits” in order to receive the Promise Kiss from the other, although it may cost them their lives to do so. The girls stare at their own reflections, and then… The story ends because Kureha’s mom died before she could finish it?!
But it does leave the girls with a big question: “Would you risk your life to break the mirror?” Sumika is uncertain, but Kureha doesn’t hesitate to say that she’d “shoot herself” to prove her love.
10-Minute Mark Theory Time? Yurikuma (like most of Ikuhara’s work) is full of stories within stories, which are further complicated because those stories are often told by (flawed, opinionated, unreliable) characters. Lulu’s story was told by Life Sexy, who we’re at least intended to see as a kind of omniscient “objective” observer (for now, anyway), but this week’s story comes to us from Reia, someone who was closely connected to both Kureha and Ginko.
In other words, Reia probably didn’t intend for The Moon Girl and the Forest Girl to be a grand history or mythology, but rather a personal fable, meaning there’s a good chance the “moon girl” really is Kureha and the “forest girl” Ginko, and Reia wrote this story for the two of them. And until we know more about their past and Reia’s fate, I think it’s best if I leave it at that and withhold any serious interpretations for now, except to say that it reminds me of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl,” so maybe go read up on that if you get the chance. But I’ve no doubt we’ll be coming back to this at some point. The mirror/reflection imagery alone is worthy of a couple paragraphs.
Kureha’s resolve gives Sumika the strength to refuse to take part in an Exclusion Ceremony (led by Akae Katyusha, the first of the LilyBears’ victims), making the ceremony invalid because the vote isn’t unanimous. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if these were secret ballots, but this is happening on cell phones, so, yeah, the whole class (to say nothing of the NSA) knows exactly what Sumika did, and they’ve made “eliminating the traitor” their new top priority.
Which circles us back to Sumika’s Letter (History), and her realization that the Invisible Storm will “break” Kureha, not her. She finishes the letter and meets Kaoru out by the lily garden, where they vaguely discuss their plans to have Kaoru be Kureha’s “new friend” in order to “protect” her from the storm. Even so, Sumika wants to give the letter to Kureha herself.
And while this sure sounds like a break-up letter, Sumika still promises not to give up on love.
Back in the present, Kaoru dashes my brief hopes of her being triple (quadruple?) agent as we see her hanging out in Touga’s Sheet Boutique and Seduction Emporium, clothed in both kinds of merchandise and speaking to a Mystery Lady who told her that Ginko and Lulu were actually bears.Unfortunately, Lulu used BearFLASH! to grab Ginko and escape.
The next day, Kureha tries to apologize to the LilyBears only to find that they’ve moved out. Meanwhile, Lulu adorably takes care of the injured Ginko, growl–sniffle. Because in case I haven’t mentioned it in a while, Lulu is adorable. She wonders how Kaoru knew they were bears, and Ginko’s necklace sparkles as if to give us a hint. But who could the Mystery Lady be?
15-Minute Mark Theory Time! It’s the teacher. The Mystery Lady is the teacher, and if I had any money I would put it ALL on that bet. Because the music and color schemes last week assured me that she was A Shady Character, and because she’s the only person (besides Kureha) who could possibly recognize that star pendant and connect it to the “bear” who supposedly “killed” Reia, and also because WE IMMEDIATELY CUT TO HER OFFICE AFTER LULU WONDERS WHO TIPPED THEM OFF.
…But hell, this is Yurikuma, so for all I know, it could be one of the CourtBears (the figure is drawn with stereotypically “feminine” curves, but c’mon, this is anime we’re talking about). Or maybe The Worst Mitsuko got a haircut and snuck back in to school to seduce more students and take out her RivalBears. My point is there are plenty of bear-shocks left. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
After some light reminiscing where Kaoru continues to make me halfway believe she’s secretly on Kureha’s side (you’d think Kureha and I both would have learned by now), Kureha explains that Sumika’s love is the reason she hasn’t turned invisible yet, and Kaoru shows her true (black lily!!) colors once and for all.
Ginko senses danger and springs awake, much to Lulu’s adorable (SO ADORABLE) relief, but there’s no time for snuggles because Ginko’s gotta take a phone call.
It’s the CourtBears on conference call with their next challenge: To prove her love, Ginko must go to the flowerbed where “the moon girl” is waiting, and if Ginko “gives herself to the flames,” her love will be approved. And meanwhile the CourtBears balance ominously on constructions sites like they’re in an anime or something.
As night falls, Kureha finds the flowerbed decorated for her birthday party. The rest of the class does that creepy thing they do where they all pop out at once (invisible girls, man), each one carrying a candle. You know. To put on the giant birthday… cake.
At Kaoru’s encouragement, Kureha at last opens and reads Sumika’s letter, only to discover that it really IS a break-up letter, as it simply says “The girl standing in front of you is your new friend.” Which, at the moment, happens to be Kaoru. “But I won’t be your friend,” Kaoru says, “so SUCK IT, LOSER!”
Then she and the rest of the girls light the birthday garden.
I confess to finding this whole scene a little over-the-top, and Kaoru’s villainous vamping comes across as more cartoonish than threatening, but I can’t deny that it’s effective in terms of reminding us of the incredible destructive power of a hateful mob. And I also can’t deny that what happens next is huge for the story and characters, as Kaoru throws Sumika’s last letter into the fire—and who should come soaring out of the trees to save it?
Burning girls are a little too real for the rest of the class and they retreat, leaving Ginko to stumble out of the fire, Lulu to catch her, and Kureha to do what she does best: Stand around bewildered. Lulu begs Kureha not to ignore Ginko’s “love” and returns the letter. Kureha looks at it again—only this time, the girl standing in front of her isn’t The Worst Jr., but the two LilyBears. And Kureha wonders if there might not be something to this “friend” thing after all.
20-Minute Mark Theory Time! Okay, technically 22-minute, but I didn’t want to interrupt the EXTREME DRAMA so I waited a bit. I’ve been thinking about Sumika’s decisions this week, and how they change our reading of both her character and her supposed fate. If she really is dead (a big “if” that nevertheless gets smaller each week), then this letter does a lot to change her story, and puts a unique spin on the “Tragic Gay Character” trope, because instead of being “punished” for being homosexual, Sumika’s punished for doing the opposite: Going back on her promise and giving up on love. Yes, she says it’s to protect Kureha, but she still succumbs to the storm, and as such becomes a ghost (a different kind of invisible, you could say), haunting the story without actually partaking in it.
And speaking of Sumika’s ghost, I hope you stuck around to the end, ‘cause we’ve got a post-credits scene this time, and it’s a bear-shocker. Remember how Sumika went to the garden early on That Fateful Morning (History), and Mitsuko showed up and supposedly ate her? Well, it looks like that may have actually happened, but more to the point: Ginko watched it happen.
I’m still stubbornly refusing to theorize about Reia’s picture book (it’s just that on the one hand smashing the mirror could be seen as a kind of self-destruction or codependent action, but on the other it could be more positive, shattering selfishness and egotism and the “walls” around the “self” in order to reach out to another and truly AH WUT NO BRAIN STAHP IT), so instead, let’s talk songs and feminist fairy tales! ‘Cause it’s my recap and I’ll digress if I want to.
I mentioned the OP in-recap but I didn’t get to talk about the ending theme, “Territory,” performed by Kureha and the LilyBears (which should really be the name of an all-lady ska bad). I almost forgot to read the translated lyrics because I enjoy watching that little bear dance so darn much, but for such an upbeat song, it’s surprisingly violent: “I turned away from the flock of shadows and howled my bloodthirsty ego”; “I want to rend silk with my fangs”; “The savage beast inside me tore out the throat of innocence.”
All of which plays into some of our earlier discussions about the bears behaving solely based on idor instinct and Yurikuma itself functioning as a rather dark coming-of-age story, but also reads like a rebellion against not just modern cute-girls Japanese fiction, but classic (and particularly western) fairy tales as a whole. I’ve been reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (1979), a short story collection of reimagined fairy tales and myths, and it and Yurikuma have been playing off each other something fierce this week, especially in regards to her Beauty and the Beast retelling, “The Tiger’s Bride” (note that I have no idea if Ikuhara has ever read this story, but bells went off in my head when I got to the line “the land of bears and shooting stars,” so I wouldn’t put it past him).
Carter’s stories challenge and subvert the way women are portrayed in the classic tales, turning them into active, clever, and often fiercely sexual protagonists, and this is especially true of “The Tiger’s Bride.” It’s all about public masks and hidden selves and social “otherness,” and there’s an awful lot going on in very few pages, so your homework this week is to find a copy and read it, ‘cause it’s good stuff. But there are a couple specific parts I want to bring up in relation toYurikuma:
First, the connections the narrator (Beauty) draws between how her society views women and animals: “I was a young girl, a virgin, and therefore men denied me rationality just as they denied it to all those who were not exactly like themselves, in all their unreason… the six of us—mounts and riders, both—could boast not one soul amongst us… [for neither] beasts nor women were equipped with [them].” And second, the ending, where rather than having Beauty “civilize” the Beast, she chooses to leave the world of man and the “sheep” skin she was forced to wear and instead become one of the “wolves,” as The Beast licks off “all the skins of a life in the world” until she is left with “beautiful fur.”
So all of these pieces have been bouncing around in my head the past few days, and then I read those ending credit lyrics and a few of them clicked together. Point being, there’s a decent chanceYurikuma has been exploring some of these reverse Beauty and the Beast concepts as well.
…Or maybe not. As fun as it is to talk about this series, I confess that I have NO idea where we’re headed or what the story’s overall “message” is going to be. Which is refreshing, to be honest, although it pretty much guarantees I’m going to be hilariously wrong a fair amount of the time. Oh, well. To make up for it, I’ll leave you with my favorite YuriTweet of the week:
And turn it over to you guys in the comments section. Yurikumaaaaa!!… Yurikuma Repartee!
Credits Due: I actually have no idea who made that “hello, this is bear” pic—it’s been floating around the Interwebs for a couple days—but feel free to pipe up in the comments with an original link and I’ll cite it appropriately.