Me too, Ginko. Me, too.
Picking up nowhere near where we left off (it wouldn’t be Yurikuma otherwise), Ginko treats us to an internal monologue where she apologizes to Lulu for lying to her and pretending not to know how she felt, all of which occurs over images of broken honey pots and torn picture books, and… but no. No way Lulu’s gonna bite the love bullet this week. I mean, if they were gonna do that, they would have done it last week, right? That’s how these stories go, right?
Ginko decides to tell Lulu the story of why she gave up Kureha’s love “before it’s too late” (gulp?), and so we Flashback to 11 Years Ago (History), when Kureha found Ginko and took her home. They both nearly died in the snow, but Kumaria’s blooming lily (read: love) gave Ginko the strength to drag Kureha back to the Door of Friendship, where Reia was waiting for them.
And then everything was ursa-major adorable for a while, as the two planted lilies and ate pancakes and were really… hap…py?… together. (Sorry, it’s not a word use to describe the characters in YKA very often, so I wasn’t sure if it was the right one or not.)
Which is, of course, when the damn Invisible Toddlers showed up and ruined everything.
While Kureha and Ginko were out playing, the other girls approached Kureha (she hid Ginko in the fountain) and accused her of being a “traitor” because she was friends with a bear. When Kureha defended the bears, the girls decided that SHE must be evil as well. And thus began the first Exclusion Ceremony, which basically amounts to an impromptu beating of poor, isolated Kureha.
5-Minute Mark Theory Chatter Time! I’m converting my Theory Times into Chatter Times, because we’re entering the home stretch and the story is so coherent and cohesive (surprisingly so, given how this runaway love bullet train began) that there really isn’t much for me to “theorize” about anymore. So let’s do away with speculation and just talk a bit about what the story’s doing.
So for this one, I wanted to touch on this first Exclusion Ceremony, which reflects well on the girls’ ages: It’s unorganized, direct, and impulsive, more like elementary school bullying than the methodical selection process we’ve seen from the high school girls. It is also, quite possibly, the most upsetting scene of the series, intense in its use of shadowy, grasping mobs, bloody red backgrounds, and repetitive, gleeful chanting and clapping. Don’t get me wrong—it’s extremely well done, but it’s the closest I’ve come to needing to take a break and gather myself before continuing. YKA captures the feel of being on the receiving end of a mob, and it’s viscerally affecting.
After the Storm left, Ginko emerged from the fountain to lick Kureha’s wounds (a nice callback to early episodes, when the licks seemed so much more threatening) and blame herself for Kureha getting hurt in the first place.
Ginko decided that she needed to become a human girl in order to be happy with Kureha—and as soon as she made her wish to Kumaria, she was sent to the Severance Court. Kumaria herself was “lost” when she “became meteors that scattered across our planet,” Life Sexy tells us, but Ginko can still make a contract with the CourtBears. Hooray?
They’ll grant her wish to become a human girl, but only on the condition that she give up Kureha’s love and keeps the terms of the contract a secret from her. If you want to cross a bridge, my sweet, you’ve got to pay the toll, and all that.
Ginko agreed, and the rest is history. Sent away from the human world and rejected by the bear world (the Mama Bear Superior does not approve of her love, either, claiming that it defies Kumaria’s will), Ginko bided her time, waiting for the right moment to cross the wall again and share a Promise Kiss with Kureha, which the CourtBears claim will turn her into a human girl for really real.
10-Minute Mark Chatter Time! I may not get another chance to talk about this, so let’s take a moment to appreciate how YKA has used perspective and its own story structure to turn its audience members into active participants. In the first three episodes, the bears were presented as dangerous predators because that’s what Kureha (and, by extension, the audience) had been led to believe. Then Kureha/the audience spent the next eight episodes learning more about the bears (Ginko and Lulu especially, but even Yuriika was much more than just a one-dimensional monster) and realizing that our initial perceptions were wildly incorrect; opinions formed out of ignorance and fragmentary knowledge rather than a complete understanding of our bearacters (ah-hem. Sorry).
And this is a fantastic way to discuss prejudice and bigotry in a piece of fiction, as it makes the audience a member of the story, complicit in the crime as they too realize they were trying to judge a thing (the plot, themes, characters, what have you) based on a part instead of a whole. Which, one hopes, would make that audience reevaluate its real-world interactions with others (and especially the feared or hated “other,” whoever that may be) as well. After all, if cartoon bears can be this complex, just think what an actual person might be like.
And so the years passed, until the CourtBears called Ginko with a challenge and she answered it, crossing the Wall of Severance with her BFF (Bear Friend Forever) at her side.
Now normally characters who say things like that die before the episode’s over, but… ehhh, I’m probably just being paranoid. This isn’t freaking Game of Thrones, after all, and Lulu already escaped back over the wall, so she’s safe now, right?
After the eye catch, we’re brought back to the present, where the high school Storm is setting a trap for the remaining bear (Ginko). The Stormtroopers “Search Sacrifice” to decide on a girl to use as bait, and naturally settle on Kureha, who they already tied up, knocked out, and probably stuffed salmon down her shirt just for good measure.
With that decided, the Stormtroopers track down Ginko and attack her, goading her into following them (and leaving a trail of dead girls in her wake) across the campus and up to the roof, where Kureha is waiting for her.
Along the way, Ginko chats with Mitsuko, the world’s worst imaginary friend. Ginko’s not quite as chummy as she was last time we saw them together, but she allows Mitsuko (a.k.a. Desire) to possess her long enough to tear a path through the Stormtroopers.
InvisibLeader Chouko oversees the assault from the rooftop, where she’s got Kureha trussed up and awaiting Ginko’s arrival. A few texts come in from below—the team keeps missing Ginko with their beam cannon, the door in the lily garden is open again (but that would mean that… nahhh, no way!)—and then Chouko decides to pass the time by tormenting Kureha for a while. And look what she found while she was rooting through Kureha’s stuff!
But it’s fine. She’ll probably just offer a scathing critique of the story structure or mock her mother’s artistic style. I’m sure she’d never actually DO anything to Kureha most prized possession like TEAR THE BEAUTIFUL PICTURE BOOK INTO A HUNDRED PIECES AND THROW IT OFF THE ROOF?!
15-Minute Mark Chatter Time! During this scene, Chouko denies the concept of Kumaria, saying there “are no gods in this world” and “the only thing ruling us is the invisible atmosphere.” I bring this up mostly because I think it’s yet one more example of YKA being very smart with its story, as the Storm serve as both contrast and reflection of the overtly religious bear society. They are two groups of zealots who believe in very different things while still ultimately believing in the same thing: That anyone different is evil and worthy of exclusion.
By showing us so many different individuals and so many different kinds of exclusion (from the Storm to the Church and all the way down to Lulu’s treatment of her brother), YKA avoids condemning a specific group and instead condemns a kind of behavior—it’s not “this group is wrong,” but “anyone who acts this way is wrong,” regardless of belief system or background.
At this point I’m ‘bout ready for Ginko to come in claws blazing and teach this punk a lesson, but she still has to climb the staircase to the rooftop first (fortunately Zombie Android Battery Bear has exhausted herself, so the beam cannon isn’t a threat anymore). Mitsuko won’t shut up about how “the desire to monopolize someone is stronger than anything,” but Ginko knows there’s something stronger: Real love, which doesn’t break in a storm but instead “makes me leap into the storm.” And besides, she can hear Kureha calling to her, just like she did when they were cubs. (Kids? Eh, both.)
In a lovely, triumphant moment of understanding, Ginko shakes off Mitsuko’s influence (despite Mitsuko’s insistence that “beasts who lose their desire die”) and scales both the school steps as well as the storybook’s staircase to the Door of Friendship.
Ginko shatters her reflection, breaking through her own egotistical walls and destructive/possessive instincts, and at last reaches Kureha on the roof.
In a desperate attempt to keep Ginko safe, Kureha tries to reject her the same way she did Lulu last episode (“bears and humans can’t be friends,” etc.), but Ginko won’t be deterred.
20-Minute Mark Chatter Time! As much as I’m adoring this episode and even this scene, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the one thing that did bother me: Ginko’s declaration that “I’m going to become your friend again, no matter how much you resist.” (Now, part of this is a translation choice, as the original is more passive/vague, literally something like “no matter how many times I am refused/rejected,” but it still carries the same general meaning.)
Ginko’s definitely been moving more towards the idea of love as a creative rather than destructive force, something given instead of grabbed (hence why she shook off her urge to mindlessly “devour” and why she keeps risking her life to help Kureha), but she (like everyone else) still has a hard time asking Kureha what she wants. Granted, this hasn’t prevented me from finding their relationship compelling and this whole sequence moving, but it is still a pain point, so I’d be very happy if it somehow managed to get addressed in the final episode.
As Ginko slowly approaches, she repeats what Kureha told her long ago about love and again renews her vow to “not back down” on love. Remembering Sumika’s same promise, Kureha admits the real reason she’s pushing Ginko away: She doesn’t want to lose anyone else. But it’s too late—Ginko has already reached her, and Chouko’s rifle is already pointed right at Ginko.
And then, just as the gun goes off, there’s a flash of running brown(!?) paws, and—
Ohhhh no. No no no no no.
Lulu knew Kureha was lying about not being her friend, so she came back to help her two friends make amends. As Ginko holds her in her arms, Lulu assures her that Kureha has forgiven her, and the two of them really can be together and share their Promise Kiss, just like they wanted when they were small.
Then she presents Ginko with her “future”—the salvaged, shredded pages of The Moon Girl and the Forest Girl—and… and…