Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, the genius behind Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and several episodes of Sailor Moon, the series showed great promise from the start, despite the initial premise sounding somewhat strange.
In a world split between humans and bears, torn apart by the Wall of Severance, the plot revolves around Kureha Tsubaki, a girl with a vendetta against bears, and two new transfer students with a secret. When Kureha’s “special friend” Sumika gets eaten by a bear, she vows to find the beast that killed her, having already lost her mother to a similar attack years ago.
Cue Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki.
These two start at Kureha’s school on a mission and shock (kuma shock), they are revealed to be bears disguised as teenage girls. Will they find the Promise Kiss they’re looking for, or will they be discovered?
As stated before, the plotline sounds ridiculous to the uninitiated. But in just 12 episodes, the creators pull off a beautiful story arc that allows us to empathise with bear and human alike.
This series, colloquially known as “that lesbian bear anime”, is firmly in the yuri category, and is intended as a sort of social commentary on how Japanese society perceives homosexual relationships between women. The bears represent the lesbians, hungry and predatory, while the humans create “The Invisible Storm”, a club which seeks to exclude anyone who associates with them. The Wall of Severance acts as the boundary between the two, put in place to segregate bear-kind and ‘restore peace’.
Much like it’s kuma protagonists, Yuri Kuma Arashi is hiding behind a disguise. A modern parable masquerading as yuri fanservice, this show takes some getting used to, but it is worth it. Covering death, homophobia and bullying, all wrapped up in a fluffy bear suit, it’s a lighter take on dealing with such serious topics. It has its comic relief, in the form of three flamboyant bear judges who control everything behind the scenes. This series shows that our choices can have serious consequences, as decisions made in the Severance Court can often have negative effects.
The sexual scenes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in true yuri style, they’re left more to the imagination rather than showing explicit details. However, they are still quite mature, heavily reliant on honey metaphors or allegories about ‘giving in’ to desire.
Ikuhara worked with the original artist, Akiko Morishima, a specialised yuri and shoujo mangaka, and because of this, the series doesn’t fall victim to the male gaze as much as many other shows with lesbian content. It is more a series created by a woman for women, as Morishima likes to write stories that she would want to read herself (source). However, it did cross the line on at least one occasion.
Overall, this series balances drama and comedy, with rich symbolism underlying the plot. It can become confusing at times because the main character, Kureha, can’t remember large chunks of her childhood, but all becomes apparent towards the end. There are conflicting opinions on the sexual content, but the majority of the plot compensates for it, as expected from creators that are established in the magical girl, yuri and shoujo genres. It successfully portrays women confident in their sexuality, regardless of any legal or societal pressure, and transcending the boundaries between them.