“A family is the purest form of love and acceptance.” –Gabrielle Applebury
Yuna is an ardent fan of VMMORPGs, and has played World Fantasy Online religiously for the past three years. Upon signing in one day, she is given a random item to pick, and is awarded a bear gear set. After being returned to the game world, Yuna realises that she’s been reset to level one and is told to enjoy her life in this new environment. Over time, Yuna begins gearing up her new bear gear set and meets Fina, a little girl who is uncommonly mature for her age. As Yuna completes quests, acquires new skills and develops a reputation as a highly powerful adventurer, she also starts learning more about the world she now inhabits, becoming friendly with Lord Foschurose and coming to discover what family is like by spending more time with Fina, her younger sister Shuri, their mother Telmina and Gentz. This is Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear (くまクマ熊ベアー, literally “Bear Bear Bear Bear”, with “Bear” rendered once in Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and English), which has its origins as a light novel and began airing as a part of the fall anime season. Unconventional in all regards, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear blurs the boundaries between being a slice-of-life anime about gaming, akin to Bofuri, and a full-on isekai series; its gentle pacing and amusing adventures have been captivating, but until the halfway point, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear had not given any indication of where precisely the series had intended to go: is the anime about discovery and the inherent dangers of jumping to conclusions, or is it more similar to Bofuri where the goal simply had been to have fun and make friends along the way? After three episodes, I remained uncertain as to where Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear was headed; while I have enjoyed anime that do not have an obvious direction or end goal, I decided to continue watching before I wrote about it, since I could still be pleasantly surprised. Here at the halfway point of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, the series has settled into a pattern, yielding insights into what viewers can take away from the series.
Yuna’s remarks about preferring the game world to the real world speaks volumes to her mindset entering Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear: having long preferred her games to real life, Yuna has become very isolated and withdrawn, to the point of seeing no value in real-world activities. Yuna lives away from her parents, and plays the stock market to keep the lights on, but beyond this, does not appear to have friends or family to spend time with. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear thus starts out as the antithesis to the anime that I typically watch, where camaraderie and family are priceless and things to be treasured. Yuna’s fateful meeting with Fina thus marks the starting point of the journey proper; since Yuna is unable to break down slain monsters for materials, she befriends Fina, who cannot fight but is skilled with materials. A functional relationship soon turns into a personal one; as Yuna spends more time with Fina, she sees how Fina’s family is structured, and how they interact with one another. From terror to joy, families share experiences together, and this is something that Yuna had been lacking up until now. She therefore finds herself drawn to Fina and her family’s well-being, doing whatever she can to help them. After healing Telmina from an illness, Fina and Shuri view Yuna as a member of the family, as well: during a sleepover the three share at the conclusion of the sixth episode, Yuna wonders if this is what it must be like to have younger siblings. At Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear‘s halfway point, then, it would appear that Yuna’s transfer into this world was a deliberate choice, a decision from some higher power to have her learn and appreciate what family is about. The changes that being with Fina and Shuri creates a visible change in Yuna: while she starts her journey content to simply blast monsters for experience points, as Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear continues, the series begins to place a greater emphasis on how Yuna interacts with others.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear opens with Yuna taking on a black viper, a massive venomous snake that has terrorised a town and so far, has not been dealt with because of a lack of high-level adventurers. Using her unusual abilities, Yuna manages to defeat it. Every single character in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear that isn’t Yuna is very life-like, leading to the question of what sort of world Yuna is in, precisely. The first episode yields very little answers, dropping viewers into the middle of things, and simply sets the tone for the sorts of adventures Yuna can embark on without trouble.
- In real life, Yuna is a prodigy of sorts whose knowledge of the stock market is sufficient for her to make ends meet and spend her time exclusively in a VR game, which is shown as a very sedentary activity. At present, some VR games are very active, requiring a great deal of movement – Superhot VR for Oculus Quest, for instance, requires players throw, duck, weave and strafe in order to be successful, and playing them is actually a nice form of light exercise. Conversely, the full-dive technology in fiction requires one rest on a bed, and playing for extended periods of time is extremely detrimental to one’s health: I spend eight hours a day staring at Swift code, and a fair bit of time blowing stuff up or blogging, so to offset this, I exercise regularly. In light of current events, I’ve had to get creative, and while I doubt I can bench what I used to, I’m still keeping active as best as I can.
- The second episode shows where things begin for Yuna: after reaching the level cap in World Fantasy Online, her favourite VRMMORPG, the admins contact her with a special reward. When Yuna opens it, she is shocked to find a complete classified gear set that takes the form of a fluffy bear suit. She finds herself being forcibly made to equip the suit, and what’s more, she’s been sent back to level one. This reminds me somewhat of Ragnarok Online‘s transcendence system, where players who hit the level cap are sent back to the beginning to level up again, but this time, gain access to powerful new bonuses and perks. Yuna is initially shocked, but after wondering if she should lodge a complaint, decides to try her gear set out.
- She immediately blows some wolves away and meets Fina, a little girl who was in a bit of a pinch. Yuna quickly realises that for some reason, she’s unable to loot from what she defeats, but serendipitously, Fina is able to break down the wolves for materials. Together, the two make a great team, and soon, Yuna has enough stuff collected to go into down, get her character set up and begin adventuring properly. A lot of folks count Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear as an isekai, and there certainly are many elements of this series that fit the definition. The only thing stopping me from saying this is the case is that we know Yuna is playing a VRMMORPG, and much of the current world’s mechanics are left ambiguous.
- I imagine that what happened with Yuna was that she was invited to beta test an all-new game, and given the equivalent of World of Warcraft‘s heirloom items, whose attributes scale with the player’s level. This is a clever mechanic that allows players to retain gear pieces as they level up, although in loot-driven games, the whole enjoyment does come from collecting increasingly powerful gear. Yuna’s bear gear set is probably most similar to a classified gear set in The Division; in The Division, these were gear set items with even stronger rolls and set bonuses. My favourite was the Classified Striker’s Battlegear, which, when all six pieces were equipped, would allow me to deal more damage the more shots I hit, and also healed me as I dealt damage.
- Yuna’s bear gear set is even more powerful than any classified gear set available in The Division, or the end-game item sets from World of Warcraft – by imagining it, Yuna is able to wield magic that rivals the sort of power conferred by the Infinity Gems. The reasoning for having overpowered characters is simple enough: this is to allow characters a chance to explore the game world without the PvE elements interfering with them, changing the focus to the characters instead. There are exceptions: when characters are powerful by default, such as Bofuri‘s Maple and here in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, having Yuna be overpowered from a game perspective is to leave her vulnerable in different areas.
- In this case, it became apparent that Yuna’s journey in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear lies not with her coming to understand the mechanics of her new world, but rather, journeying inwards to understand herself. One of the longstanding problems I find in isekai series is when characters are ported over to a new world, but the other world’s setting is a high fantasy RPG. The most egregious examples come complete with experience points, skill trees and mechanics lifted out of a video game. I’m not sure why isekai necessarily must draw from a European fantasy setting where there are so many other different kinds of worlds to explore, from a science fiction type environment like Mass Effect, or alternate histories (e.g. Saga of Tanya the Evil).
- In the space of a few short episodes, I became very fond of Yuna’s character: nothing seems to surprise her, and she deals with every challenge with a very blunt, matter-of-fact approach. Further to this, Yuna is described as being fairly attractive, with a slender build that is shown for the viewers’ benefit while Yuna changes out of her bear suit early on, that enhances her charm. It appears that Yuna can indeed change out of her bear suit, but otherwise, the gear is bound to her, preventing her from equipping anything else. On closer consideration, when Yuna discovers she can’t unequip it, and she’s been stripped of her ability to loot, this seems like an attempt to force Yuna to count on others for looting.
- Because of her prior experiences, Yuna takes a very hostile attitude towards anyone who dares to challenge her: when a member from another guild, Deborane, picks a fight with her, she immediately mops the floor with him after delivering a verbal beat-down. Yuna is quick to assume the worst of everyone and doesn’t hesitate to badmouth them. In the aftermath of the fight, it turns out that Deborane had been a powerful member of their guild, and they’re now down a tank. Upon hearing the pickle she’s put them into, Yuna reluctantly accepts a quest to help them out.
- Because Yuna is accustomed to playing games solo, she has the other guild’s magician, Lurina, sit back while she singlehandedly neutralises the entire goblin colony with a brutal bit of magic. Yuna even defeats a goblin king in the process, and in the aftermath, leaves a pile of corpses for Lurina to deal with while she sleeps. Yuna’s attitude is very carefree, and she often acts as though she’s quite separate from the world. However, Fina appears to begin instigating change in Yuna.
- Yuna ends up with the ability to summon two mounts, Kumakyū and Kumayuru, which allows Yuna to travel around much more efficiently than on foot. These mounts have a bit of a magic behind them as to prevent riders from falling off, and are also kind, sensitive beings; whenever Yuna relies on one bear too much, the other will pout until being promised more opportunity to help out.
- After spending more time with Fina, Yuna’s world-view slowly begins changing for the better: Fina’s innocence brings out the best in Yuna, and once this became apparent, the themes in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear became more palatable. Discussions on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear have not been particularly extensive: early on, the series’ objectives were not particularly clear, and consequently, it was very tricky for me to write about the series after three episodes. Typically, anime make their intentions clear within three episodes if they’re a one-cour series, and in longer series, this tolerance increases, as there is more time to explore.
- As it stands, patience is a virtue, and having chosen to stick Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear out, I’m met with a much clearer idea of what the series aims to be doing. Anime such as Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are why I don’t write about all the series I watch in an episodic manner: I only do so if I am confident that a series has something unique for me to look at each and every episode, and some anime are simply better considered from a big picture perspective. After completing the latest quest and ensuring that the other guild isn’t screwed as a result of Yuna’s actions, Yuna herself receives a reward from the guild and is able to purchase a sizeable plot of land. She uses this space to build a bear-themed house, complete with onsen and a dedicated workroom for Fina.
- When the guild gives Yuna her latest assignment, she vehemently declines, leading to a rather hilarious moment in which one of the guild’s staff tries clinging to Yuna’s bear suit in an attempt to get her to turn around. When the guild master shows up, Yuna is reduced to a blathering blob, griping about how in every other game she’s played, high ranking folk like lords are always causing trouble for players. Yuna’s assumption about this world are largely based on her experiences from previous games, and so, she can come across as a bit closed-minded in these situations.
- The guild master, however, manages to convince Yuna to take the task by suggesting that should she decline, her reputation will fall to “hated” and she’ll need to move elsewhere. Her mind immediately goes to Fina, and she relents, agreeing to at least meet the lord. Yuna is surprised to learn that as the guild master describes, Lord Foschurose is actually an honest, honourable and kind lord. His daughter, Noire, takes an immediate liking to Yuna.
- A key part of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is how Yuna’s expectations continue to be defied as she opens her mind and accepts new experiences, however reluctantly. Thus, after meeting Lord Foschurose and spending time with his youngest daughter, Yuna realises that this new world is probably just as intricate and complex as her old world. Game or not, Yuna begins to believe that there is little point in antagonising everyone, even with her bear suit’s powers.
- Telmina, Fina and Shuri’s mother, is shown to be ill from an unknown disease. Fina had first met Yuna while out gathering plants to craft medicine for her mother, but Telmina’s condition has not improved since then. When Yuna returns home, she finds Fina at her door; Fina had run out of options and turned to Yuna for help. Initially, Yuna’s healing magic is ineffectual, but once she realises that the bear suit’s power works by her willing something into being, she is able to fully heal Telmina, to Fina, Shuri and Gentz’s joy.
- Generally speaking, the visuals in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are of a consistent quality, being neither standout or poor. There is a deliberate flatness in the background art that pushes the viewer’s focus towards the characters, which pop more. In anime, art styles often reflect on the series’ messages, and I’ve always found that anime with simpler backgrounds place a greater emphasis on the characters’ interactions with one another (character-character), while anime with richer background work tend to also deal with character-environment matters.
- After encountering an orphanage where funds had dried up, Yuna decides to take revenge on Lord Foschurose by organising a means for them to become self-funded, having them sell chicken eggs to everyone save him. However, when Lord Foschurose learns of this, the truth is discovered; one of his subordinates had been embezzling funds, and had he been aware of it sooner, he would’ve acted. In the aftermath, Foschurose personally apologises to the orphanage and promises to look after things, as well as reconciling with Yuna. This episode, surprisingly, was the subject of no small discussion: when some folks suggested that Yuna’s long term actions were justified, and that her initial efforts to help out were a only temporary measure, a minor flame war erupted.
- The discussion hadn’t even been particularly heated: the other participants had been rational, reasonable and polite. As it was, I saw no reason for things to have gone in that direction: having just come from the Controversed programme, this is not a way to learn about different perspectives, although I’ve found that their usual contributions to anime discussions, in taking the form of bullet point summaries, are not particularly meaningful anyways. The point of the fifth episode in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear had been to demonstrate that Yuna’s kind intentions notwithstanding, she sees problems at a surface level, and her initial actions, while saving the orphanage, do not address the root issue of the problem, which Yuna only was able to learn of through discussion.
- While the problem is adequately solved, Yuna finds herself embarrassed beyond words at the end of the episode, having learnt that charging headfirst into a problem may not always be effective. This is a vital life lesson that Yuna picks up here, and in general, I’ve found that this is how experts solve problems; when confronted with an issue, the first step is to make an assessment of the situation, before determining a set of potential solutions, evaluating which solution is the most appropriate and then implementing the solution. In Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, had Yuna simply asked Foschurose about what happened to the orphanage, she would’ve saved herself quite a bit of trouble. This tendency in Yuna is not necessarily a bad thing and serves to show that there are things that she must learn; the power conferred by her bear suit wouldn’t have offered any long term solutions here.
- The first few episodes hinted at the fact that Gentz had feelings for Telmina, and so, when Gentz asks for Telmina’s hand in marriage, and Telmina accepts, Fina and Shuri are overjoyed; they’ve long seen Gentz as a father figure of sorts, and feel that it would be nice to have him in the family. However, one morning, after Telmina comments on Gentz’s eating habits, Fina and Shuri wonder if things will really work out. They set off to find Yuna, who suggests not interfering here. Despite a lack of social experience herself, Yuna’s choice here is a wise one; disagreements in a relationship are inevitable, and letting the couple talk it out is usually the best course of action.
- Instead, Yuna agrees to entertain the solution that Shuri and Fina have: they imagine that finding a special flower will remind Telmina and Gentz of the happiness they’d once shared together as a party with Shuri and Fina’s father. By taking the two girls out on an adventure for the day, Yuna is able to spend more time with them and take their mind off things. Having spent an indeterminate amount of time in this world, Yuna is growing more perceptive to what those around her are feeling.
- Whereas Fina is a bit more cautious, Shuri is a riot and fearlessly pushes forwards. Snakes, sour berries and rickety rope bridges do nothing to dissuade her. There is always a joy about these adventures and their discoveries – Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is plainly not a serious, grim-dark anime, and I imagine that the choice of Shuri and Fina’s characters, in conjunction with a family, is intended to give Yuna an idea of what she’s been missing ever since she’d decided that games beat the real world hands down.
- Given what has been shown of Yuna’s life in reality, one can suppose that she’s never had a particularly strong connection to family or any friends; assuming this to hold true, then, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is certainly going to be about showing Yuna these merits, and there is always the possibility that Yuna’s forcible transfer into this world with the bear suit, more than being a beta test, was a deliberate action, putting her in touch with other players to give her a sense of family and friendship in an environment that she is comfortable with.
- In the end, while Fina and Shuri are unable to find the flower their parents had, Shuri and Fina save a bird who was entangled in some vines. For their troubles, the bird leaves them with a beautiful feather of the exact sort that Fina and Shuri’s father once wore as a good luck charm. Seeing the children’s hopes for their futures prompt Telmina and Gentz to sit down and explain to them how relationships work, and I imagine that this was also for Yuna’s benefit as much as it was for Shuri and Fina.
- The Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear soundtrack released just five days ago, and with this, all of the music to the series, including the opening and ending themes, are now in the books. The incidental music in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is fitting for the different moments of the anime, and I’m particularly fond of the ending song, which is sung by Maki Kawase, who plays Yuna: it’s got a very uplifting melody with a hint of melancholy that mirrors her feelings.
- The final half of the sixth episode is simply a sleepover, where Yuna looks after Fina and Shuri after they spend the day making puddings together. During these peaceful moments, Yuna wonders if this is what it’d be like to have younger siblings: this one question helped me to ascertain that Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear had been going for, and so, at the halfway point, I have enough to form a more complete set of impressions of this admittedly unusual series. Insofar, these impressions are positive.
- As a child, I was instructed not to eat anything with a high energy density within an hour before sleeping, since it messes with digestion; specifically, the increased metabolism from the body digesting food also increases brain activity, which corresponds with more vivid and intense dreams. The actual effects on weight gain and digestive efficiency are still a matter of debate, and most experts agree that a small snack prior to turning in, such as a small cup of pudding that Yuna treats Shuri and Fina to, are fine. For me, since I brush my teeth and shower upwards of an hour before turning in for the night, this has never been a problem for me.
- I have deliberately put the brakes on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear so I could write about the series at the halfway point, and with this post in the books, it’s time to open the throttle and catch up fully with this series. I am two episodes behind at the time of writing, and had been holding back so I could do a proper set of impressions for this series without being influenced by knowledge from later episodes. Consequently, I had been a little behind on this series until now. This post also is my nineteenth of the month: thanks to Controversed and the episodic posting, I’ve not written this much in a month in over seven years.
Since we are halfway through Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, it stands to reason that there is a point behind this unusually-named and unconventionally-structured series, well beyond enjoyable adventures that Yuna and Fina go on in each episode. Anime has the power to surprise, and stories that unfold one way during their beginnings often conceal twists and turns that greatly augment the experience. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear does appear to be shaping up as such a story: while the idea of an overpowered bear gear set in the hands of a girl who prefers games over all else in life seems ludicrous, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear has proven to be surprisingly effective in telling its tales insofar, and like Bofuri, manages to be fun because it embraces its set-up to accommodate a very distinct type of storytelling. On top of this, Yuna is a very likeable character: having been there and done that in most gaming scenarios, very little fazes her, and it was fun to watch her casually handle whatever challenges thrown her way. Yuna’s deadpan, stoic attitude means that when things do get serious, viewers have a chance to see more of her personality, indicating that through Fina and Shuri in particular, Yuna is undergoing changes that impact how she views her current world, and likely, her previous world as well. The fifth episode also indicates that in this world, the greatest danger to Yuna lies not in monsters and quests, but dishonest and scheming individuals that can create misunderstandings, as well: as Yuna experiences more of the world with her bear gear set, it is likely that she will learn a great deal about the comings and goings of any society, and therefore, come to appreciate what the people in the real world mean to her, as well.