“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me. I thought by simplifying half of the symbolism from Yurikuma Arashi discussions, the other half would thrive, but you’ve shown me that’s impossible. As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those that are unable to accept what can be. They will resist.”
“Yep. We’re all kinds of stubborn.”
“I’m thankful, because now, I know what I must do. I will shred Yurikuma Arashi down to its last pixel, and then, with the symbols you’ve collected for me, create a new discussion teeming with value that knows not what it has lost, but only what it has been given. A meaningful discussion.”
“Born out of lies.”
“They’ll never know it, because you won’t be alive to tell them.”
–Thanos, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, Avengers: Endgame
When bears turned against humanity following the destruction of a far-off planet, humanity constructed a massive wall to defend themselves. However, Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki infiltrate this wall and masquerade as people, registering as students of Arashigaoka High, with the aim of getting closer to one Kureha Tsubaki, who’d lost her memories long ago after befriending Ginko and made the ultimate sacrifice to turn her into a human after seeing her suffering in the realm of bears. As Kureha and Ginko remember their shared past, those around them begin to oppose their friendship, regarding it with hostility. Fighting against the norms of society, Kureha and Ginko end up demonstrating the strength of their love for one another. The deities recognise the two’s love as authentic and whisks them away to an unknown location where they spend the remainder of their days in happiness, while society continues forwards. This is Yurikuma Arashi, a rather curious title directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, known for his distinct approach in his anime. Airing in 2015, Yurikuma Arashi is ultimately about the costs of love, what potentially can be if one stays true to their conviction in one another and also the absurdity of a society accustomed to maintaining normalcy. Using vivid imagery in the form of bears, and a long-standing conflict to show how individuals on opposite ends of the spectrum still share commonality, Ikuhara illustrates that true love can manifest between most anyone regardless of station, background or appearance, being something that is both fragile and resilient like a flower. By comparison, the students of Arashigaoka High, members of the Invisible Storm, are presented as an unaccepting, closed-minded group whose xenophobic attitudes and devotion to their search of evil are ludicrous; the series is an open criticism of the inherent irrationality of intolerance and hate. While presented with a highly turbulent structure, Yurikuma Arashi ultimately shows the outcome of tolerance, acceptance and open-mindedness in society, suggesting that relationships between anyone are to be celebrated and not feared even if they are not conventional. From a technical perspective, with consistent animation, a curious setting making use of construction implements and walls to show the absurdity of keeping out the unknown, and a soundtrack that captures the tenour of Yurikuma Arashi exceedingly well, the series does manage to deliver its messages despite being riddled with idiosyncrasies and repetition that impede the narrative’s flow. At least, this is what my assessment of Yurikuma Arashi would be in a sane world – there was nothing sane about the discussion and reception in the anime community concerning Yurikuma Arashi that subsequently followed.
In a vacuum, Yurikuma Arashi tells a rather heartfelt story, albeit one that is a bit turbulent in places and a little too forwards at times, but existing discussions promoted the series as being an “intellectual fantasy” whose journey demands an uncommon knowledge of the symbols that Ikuhara uses and where the message is supposed to be obfuscated by Ikuhara’s style to the point where one should consult a friendly neighbourhood analysis to follow along. The symbolism in Yurikuma Arashi, not the characters and their interactions, are supposed to tell the story, and these obscure elements are argued to be essential to the experience. An old nemesis from my Glasslip days, Helene “Soulelle” Kolpakova, argues that the key themes in the series are about the gap between sexual and platonic romance, and how the wall is supposed to represent a separation of the two, dividing one so that it falls into the natural order and excluding the other from consideration. Through the events of Yurikuma Arashi, Kolpakova claims that the bears themselves are “beneficial to humanity”. To this end, yin-yang is argued to be critical in the series, speaking of the divide that separates chaos from order, and moreover, that Sigmund Freud’s Ego and Id are relevant to discussion. This, Kolpakova states, is essential to understand why the wall becomes a major symbol and why the Lily Court exists, to sort out whether or not one’s feelings are legitimate. Striking a balance between the Id of desire and the more rational Ego, the Super Ego is allegedly equivalent to Abraxas, a being independent of good and evil in Hermann Hesse’s Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth. This novel deals with duality and how both sides of a spectrum are necessary: Abraxas rules over the good as well as evil in the world, hence the necessity of accepting both. From Kolpakova’s perspective, the absence of this knowledge renders Yurikuma Arashi without its meaning, and so, even ahead of messages of determination in love and the absurdity of exclusion, Yurikuma Arashi is to be about duality. For the folks who have not studied the Bildungsroman literary genre, then, Yurikuma Arashi remains inaccessible, out of reach and meaningful only to a limited few. This particular brand of thinking is not unique to Kolpakova, and others have since followed suit in composing obtuse, pedantic discussions of the supposedly complex and obscure symbols of Yurikuma Arashi, with the most gratuitous being a seventeen-part talk that ends up being about nothing useful. While the sheer number of analysis pieces out there imply that Yurikuma Arashi is indeed an intellectual’s journey that remains out of the scope of what common folk must understand, this is evidently not the case. Yurikuma Arashi‘s native story, and Ikuhara’s heavy-handed use of repetition actually does the opposite, making the thematic elements quite plain even if it does interfere with the series’ delivery of said themes.
“In all my years of discussion, reviews, reflection, it was never personal. But I’ll tell you now, what I’m about to do to your stubborn, annoying little analysis, I’m gonna enjoy it: very, very much.” – Thanos, Avengers: Endgame
While it may seem that a Herculean tasks lies ahead for refuting the analysis pieces, there is actually no need for such an endeavour: each of these makes the flawed assumption that literary allusions in a given work are meant to represent, one-to-one, the the themes and ideas of the works being alluded to. Allusions are employed to encapsulate complex themes and symbols from another work with the aim of drawing a comparison and further the author’s own work. Allusions may take different forms, but are primarily done either to apply a particular context to a new situation or else is used as an opposition to a particular idea. However, allusions are never meant to be viewed as a sign that a work has completely adopted an idea from another source whole-sale. For example, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelly alludes to Prometheus, a Greek Titan who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humanity, his creation. He was sentenced to have his liver consumed by an eagle for his troubles, and is intended to be viewed as a symbol of intelligence. Subsequent Western Classical works viewed Prometheus to be a representation of the price of scientific progress, and Frankenstein’s monster in particular was intended to illustrate this notion. However, Frankenstein and Prometheus differ wildly: whereas Prometheus sought to help his creations, Frankenstein condemned his out of guilt and horror. This contrast is merely one instance where an author uses an allusion to rapidly establish a particular idea, but then subsequently goes on to use their own characters and setting to convey their intended message. It is then ludicrous to suppose that simply because an allusion to Freudian or Hesse’s duality might be vaguely present, the concept of Id and Ego, or themes of Demian, must necessarily be mirrored in Yurikuma Arashi. Ikuhara may use imagery from these works to establish a certain idea, but the trials that Ginko and Kureha experience tell a very different story about themes of persistence in love and resistance society offers where forbidden romances are involved. Duality is only used to motivate the theme (rather than forming the entire theme as Kolpakova suggests), and Freudian notions are far removed from what Yurikuma Arashi portrays. The premises that Kolpakova and others utilise is therefore incomplete or false, and one cannot soundly establish that the premise results in the conclusions seen; while the conclusion may or may not be true, it does nothing to prove the premise. The outcome is similar to making use of a flawed methodology in a scientific experiment that results in data that may or may not be trustworthy, invalidating the outcomes.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Because this post is a bit on the wordy side, I’ll provide an elevator summary of things – existing analysis can be misleading or incomplete because they presuppose that the symbols here match up 1:1 with usage in their original context, and contrary to expectations, Yurikuma Arashi does have merits of its own independent of the “intellectual” piece. There are multiple ways of approaching Yurikima Arashi beyond a strict academic mindset, and I do not suggest drawing on any one discussion as being more or less valid than another. However, starting an argument with a false premise results in a conclusion whose truthfulness is unknowable, and in this post, I aim to show that Yurikuma Arashi is both enjoyable in the absence of an academic mindset and that most academically-styled discussions out there invariably end up committing a fallacy of incomplete evidence.
- With that out of the way, this talk on Yurikuma Arashi is categorised as a “Terrible Anime Challenge” post, meaning I need to provide a verdict on whether or not the show met expectations or not. If I were to approach it purely as an anime, then the answer is yes, Yurikuma Arashi provided a coherent theme and story worth watching, that matches reception set by parts of the community I consider reliable. From this perspective, I would score Yurikuma Arashi a C grade (2.0 of 4.0, corresponding roughly to a 6 of 10) – not great, but not terrible, either. Conversely, if I were made to regard Yurikuma Arashi as the “intellectual fantasy”, I would not have fun because I would be unable to reach the same conclusions as those reached by the analysis in the community, and this score would drop down to an F grade.
- What Yurikuma Arashi does well is that it sets the initial precedence that bears are supposed to be the antagonists, and that humanity are the protagonists, but then these boundaries are quickly shattered. Ginko’s forwardness with Kureha immediately shows that these initial assumptions do not hold true: if it were the simple case that bears consume humans, then Ginko would have already destroyed Kureha. The narrative in Yurikuma Arashi is linear but filled with flashbacks and recollections, which the anime helpfully makes clear is the case.
- The exclusion rituals carried out are done so with a mindless synchronisation, and the animation itself speaks volumes about how exclusion is absurd in a society where acceptance ought to be the norm. One element that is seen frequently are prints evocative of Maurits Cornelis Escher’s prints, which are known for their repetitive mathematical patterns. Kolpakova argues that the seagull motifs (yurikamome, specifically, Chroicocephalus ridibundus) are supposed to represent the dark side of yuri, when in fact, seagulls are commonly used to signify resourcefulness. In this case, the mathematical patterns imply the determination and lengths that the Invisible Storm members will go to exclude others.
- How did I end up having fun watching what was supposed to be a test of the limits of my powers of reasoning? I ended up watching Yurikuma Arashi with my mind on the bigger picture, with also an appreciation for the art style, use of familiar anime facial expressions and more conventional comedic approaches. Despite its highly distinct setting, unlike Puella Magi Madoka Magica, some visual traits from more light-hearted series do appear in Yurikuma Arashi, relaxing the atmosphere. Kureha ended up being a character I could get behind and learn more about, along with Ginko and Lulu – Yurikuma Arashi provides no shortage of exposition so everyone’s goals and stories are out in the open.
- Escher’s famous work does suggest duality, but this is not a theme in and of itself as Kolpakova suggests. Instead, the transformation from fish to seabirds foreshadows Yurika Hakonaka’s hidden nature. Despite being a teacher at Arashigaoka, she’s actually a bear who knew Kureha’s mother and ate her out of jealousy. Similarly, the filing cabinets do not represent a cage, but instead, Yurika’s own desire to preserve that which is good. Symbols in a literary work are meant to be used to succinctly indicate a particular concept or idea, and so, while they are useful for foreshadowing or augmenting a theme, they are by no means the single element that must be examined to understand a work. It is for this reason I am not inclined to say that Kolpakova’s conclusions, or the seventeen-part analysis out there, are particularly valuable for anyone seeking an explanation of Yurikuma Arashi.
- The main issue that I do have with Kolpakova’s psychoanalysis of Yurikuma Arashi is that the Court of Severance’ judges are supposed to represent Freudian principles of Id, Ego and Super-Ego. Sigmund Freud proposed that the human psyche had three interacting pieces that governed one’s actions, and while radical for his time, Freud’s speculations remain little more than pseudoscience on the virtue that there is no testable (and therefore, refutable) hypothesis, or any vigourous application of the scientific method, for that matter. Introductory psychology classes open with arguments refuting Freud, and his claims are regarded with the same respect as the theory of spontaneous generation, which supposed that living matter could arise from non-living matter (it is now accepted as fact that micro-organisms produce the observations).
- Knowing that Freud’s propositions are largely incorrect and incomplete should be sufficient in discouraging folks from using them in an argument: anyone arguing for spontaneous generation would be swiftly destroyed in argument with overwhelming evidence for microorganisms and their properties. However, especially amongst the anime community, Freud remains popular for conducting any sort of “intellectual” discussion because behind the jargon, Freud’s concepts are actually very rudimentary and quick to pick up, while simultaneously being obscure enough to give the impression of being well-read. For this reason, some light novel authors (such as Nagaru Tanigawa, who wrote The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi) use fundamentals from Freud to quickly reference something.
- While it is not the Tanigawa’s (or any author’s) intent to suggest Freud is correct, mere suggestion of an older philosophical concept, regardless of merit, causes some to gravitate towards using it in their own discussion. Kolpakova is one example, and while the Court of Severance might initially appear to be personifications of the Super-Ego, Ego and Id, the fact they reach the same conclusion every time illustrates how where love is concerned, the results are deterministic because love is irrational, and therefore, cannot properly demonstrate the interactions between the concepts Freud postulated to be true. With a false premise, claims that Freud is relevant and applicable to Yurikuma Arashi are incorrect, and I’ve long felt that folks who fall back on Freud end up accomplishing little more than indicating that they wish to appear smarter than they are.
- If everything in Yurikuma Arashi is a symbol, then do the bullets and rifles mean anything? The answer is probably not, beyond illustrating the extent of the prejudice that the humans have against the bears. The Remington 750 Woodsmaster that Kureha and the other members of the Invisible Storm use is a semi-automatic rifle that was produced between 2006 and 2015. I expect that the Invisible Storm version of the rifle, which is outfitted with a ten-round magazine and 4x optics, is chambered for the .30-06 Springfield round, which has reliable stopping power against bears at medium ranges.
- Contrary to the initial expectation that a profound understanding of German literature and Freudian psychology was integral to an enjoyable Yurikuma Arashi experience, I ended up finding aspects of the series enjoyable for completely different reasons. The character design and exposition gives viewers reason to back Kureha, Ginko and Lulu, while the distinct architectural elements create the same sense of distance that Puella Magi Madoka Magica was able to create. Like the isolation that Madoka, Homura and Sayaka experience from their world, Kureha is noticeably isolated from her surroundings. This allows for her interactions with Ginko and Lulu to be emphasised, while simultaneously reminding viewers that she’s very much excluded from other humans.
- The music of Yurikuma Arashi is particularly strong: the incidental music bears some similarity with Yuki Kajirua’s compositions for Madoka Magica, and Bonjour Suzuki’s haunting, ethereal performance of the opening theme, Ano Mori de Matteru, brings a ecclesiastical quality to what’s happening in Yurikuma Arashi. This is accentuated by the church bells and prayer-like delivery of the first few lines, after which Suzuki delivers the line zutto (absolutely or always) with a seductive, sexy voice before delving into a higher-paced stanza. The music in Yurikuma Arashi is exceptionally strong, contributing to the story as well as the visuals do.
- Ultimately, Yurikuma Arashi is an anime whose reputation precedes it – because it is described as an “intellectual fantasy”, the series drew viewers with a particular mindset to it, and their resulting response to Yurikuma Arashi gave the impression that anyone reaching a conclusion that deviated from what was established by these individuals were lacking. Ergo, the intent of this post was partly to look at some discussions out there and illustrate that they are not as airtight as their tone and style might otherwise suggest; viewers should trust their own judgement over those presented elsewhere – everyone has their own interpretation of a given work, and to suppose otherwise is counted a form of gatekeeping.
- The so-called Wall of Severance is always seen to be under construction. As a physical barrier between humanity and bears, the wall itself is presented as being perpetually ineffectual thanks to the special portal; that it is constantly being expanded shows the ineffectiveness of intolerance. Yurikuma Arashi‘s setting design and in particular, use of the school rooftop as a significant setting, is similar to how Madoka Magica‘s similarly set Mami, Sayaka and Madoka’s conversations on the school rooftop, creating a sense of distance and isolation that forces viewers to focus on the characters.
- While Kureha spends the first section of Yurikuma Arashi stating her hate for bears and declaring her intent to “ruin” bears (破壊, hakai, literally “destroy”), Kureha’s feelings are actually locked behind removal of her memories. Once the extent of her old friendship with Ginko is recalled, she does everything in her power to realise her feelings, even if it means pushing Ginko and Lulu away for their own safety once the Invisible Storm begin ramping up their extermination efforts – they somehow procure a particle beam weapon that is absolutely lethal against the bears.
- The white lily is supposed to represent purity and innocence in both Western and Japanese culture, but became used as a term referring to girls love fiction in the 1970s. The contrast between the purity these flowers signify, and the decidedly more lewd aspects of love form a jarring comparison, reminding viewers that love is simultaneously pure and not pure. The flowers themselves can be eaten and in Chinese cuisine, are said to have medicinal properties: the Cantonese, for instance, add 百合 (jyutping baak3 hap6) to 木瓜糖水 (jyutping muk6 gwaa1 tong4 seoi2, a kind of papaya sweet soup), although personally, this is definitely not to my liking.
- In the end, Kureha and Ginko’s love win out over the opposition from society: Kureha transforms into a bear and delivers unto Ginko the “promised kiss”. Yurikuma Arashi is very insistent with its terminology, which is beaten into viewers at every turn. Similarly, idiosyncrasies such as kuma shock and yuri dark appear far more often than is necessary – viewers get that something is going down, and it’s obvious even without the extra help. Enduring past these eccentricities, however, is rewarding for being able to see the outcome of Ginko and Kureha fulfilling a longstanding promise.
- The Invisible Storm are shocked that such a phenomena could manifest, and in its aftermath, the leader hastily declares a mission success. Of the Invisible Storm, Uchiko Ai stood out to me: after the events of the finale, she begins to question the Invisible Storm and finds Konomi in a box marked “defective”, befriending her. Even more so than Kureha and Ginko’s love, the newfound friendship between Uchiko and Konomi moved me greatly. Overall, while themes of duality are present in Yurikuma Arashi as Kolpakova suggests, duality is meaningless in and of itself: Yurikuma Arashi shows that the for superficial differences, seemingly different sides of a coin are actually more similar than we realise and cannot exist without the other.
- Because I come so late to the party, I doubt that my recommendations here, namely, to always use one’s own judgement towards a work and to be skeptical of opinions on the internet, will be regarded as being useful by anyone looking to make heads and or tails of Yurikuma Arashi at present. Shortly after Yurikuma Arashi‘s airing, the sheer volume of discussion claiming to “explain” Yurikuma Arashi that developed was unreal: anime convention panalists even hosted discussions on the series’ contributions to academia and society. It took me considerable effort to push through this series, and I only gained momentum to finish once I was halfway through, although once things picked up, I’m glad to have stuck the course this time around (I’d dropped the series three times before).
- Because this was not a conventional post, I meandered and wandered quite a bit. Bringing things back together as we draw to the end, I personally found that in the absence of any sort of intellectual expectation, Yurikuma Arashi exceeded my initial expectations – while the repetition dulled my enjoyment somewhat, the honesty of the story, together with the sound and visual elements made it rather more fun to watch. However, I stand by my beliefs that Yurikuma Arashi does not represent a significant contribution to contemporary understanding of society or philosophy, nor does the series require an extensive appreciation of classical literature and psychology to appreciate. Watching Yurikuma Arashi demonstrates that for the most part, I can find positivity in the things that I do. The next post I have lined up for the Terrible Anime Challenge series will deal with Blend S, which I’m told is a deep psychoanalysis on work culture and is supposed to be superior to GochiUsa; those there are fighting words, and I look forwards to seeing if these lofty assertions hold true.
With this in mind, it is not the objective of this post to refute everything Kolpakova and others have stated: from a certain mindset, there could be merit in their conclusions. Instead, the goal is to note that their conclusions are not made with sound methods or a full appreciation of literary analysis, and that there is actually more to Yurikuma Arashi than just analysing the symbols and themes from older works. In fact, true literary analysis is a very broad field, and any analysis can be conducted from a variety of angles, all of which are equally valid. I typically look at a work based on its ability to speak to matters of personal growth or the implications an author has made about science and technology using their work because that is my background, while others might choose to approach from a social perspective. Others may view a work as being insightful into the political or economic state the author strives to convey, while some individuals may choose to discard the author’s intentions outright and view it from their own perspectives. This is why my own conclusions about Yurikuma Arashi should not be regarded as being the only one available, and similarly, the conclusions Kolpakova and others reach are not necessarily the only way to approach this anime (or others, for that matter). The premise that Yurikuma Arashi is an “intellectual fantasy” ultimately comes across as being more than a gimmick to sell the fact that Yurikuma Arashi is very fanciful in its use of imagery, and for the numerous flaws the series possesses, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that underneath all of the obscure symbols, sometimes-inane repetition and unsteady fæirytale-like presentation, there is a rather touching story about the strength of love and how it can prevail over prejudice. In short, one does not need an extensive understanding of philosophy or classical literature to enjoy Yurikuma Arashi. While I would not recommend this anime to readers who are accustomed to my usual realm of interests, folks who greatly enjoy the yuri genre or enjoy series with a great deal of imagery may find Yurikuma Arashi worthwhile. Finally, as to whether or not Yurikuma Arashi lives up to the question posed by this post, the answer is going to be either a relief or disappointing – P.A. Works’ Glasslip and R.D.G. Red Data Girl remain in the unfortunate throne of being the second worst and worst anime I’ve seen to date.