Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear
Yuna has made the shut-in life profitable ever since she learned to play the stock market and bought off her parents, so now she's free to just enjoy her favorite VRMMO, World Fantasy Online. She's poured time and money into maxing everything out, and she's eagerly ready to jump in after the latest update when she gets a strange questionnaire from someone claiming to be God. Since she can't play until she's done, she answers all of the increasingly weird questions before being overwhelmed by a white light – and the next thing she knows, she's in the game world and back at level 1! And she also seems to be wearing a weird, OP bear onesie…?
Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, one in an increasingly long line of light novels culled from the Let's Be Novelists website that falls under the isekai heading, has exactly one gimmick: bears. Given that the title translates to “Bear Bear Bear Bear,” that's not really surprising – protagonist Yuna, a fifteen-year-old girl, is transported to the world of her favorite VRMMO and given a special, high-powered bear onesie complete with bear gloves (that look like bear puppets rather than paws), bear shoes (that do look like paws), and bear underwear. And after that bit of information, things are basically business as usual.
In all fairness to author Kumanano, the excessive use of bears is clearly intended to be funny. Yuna is first moderately horrified by her outfit and then completely aghast when she realizes that the bear-print underwear is also high-spec (it never needs to be washed, which I'd guess is the author's way of not having to think about some of the issues associated with being female in a pseudo-Medieval fantasy world) and that it's the only underclothing she has. She's embarrassed by the way people talk about her and exasperated that all of her skills have bear-shaped results – bear-shaped fireballs, for example, and if she uses earth magic to build a house, it's got a bear-shaped roof…as far as Yuna's concerned, this God person has definitely taken things way too far. And that it's clearly meant to be silly does help to a degree, if only because it cuts down on Yuna's inherent “specialness” as the transported character. She has great power, yes, but as far as her dignity goes, it's got a hefty price tag.
It's also a good detail that she can in fact take off the bear suit. That means that Yuna essentially has a choice: she can learn to live with the embarrassment and use the skills the suit gives her, or she can pull herself together, ditch the bear, and live as a denizen of the world, building her power and skills from the ground up. That Yuna opts for the bear in itself says a lot about her; she's much more concerned with taking it easy than having to work at something, and she's not a shut-in because she was bullied or mistreated by others; she's a genuine misanthrope. She'll help people if she needs to, and is much more likely to do so if the people in question aren't jerks (or are children), but left to herself, she'd rather avoid most others and just do her own thing. Since the bear outfit lets her do just that, she's sticking with it.
The only person who really becomes an exception for her in this book is Fina, a little girl she meets soon after arriving. Fina's a ten-year-old trying to support her sick mother and younger sister, mostly by butchering monsters for the Adventurers' Guild, and she's the one individual Yuna actively takes an interest in. Largely this seems to be due to the fact that Fina is younger – the only expectations she has of Yuna are that she's powerful, and since that's true, helping her isn't a chore. It even allows her to move out of an inn and avoid going by the Guild to sell monsters once she sets up her house and a storage area/butchering space, further permitting her to avoid other people. That a ten-year-old girl is an accomplished butcher is also a nice deviation from what we might expect; it's a labor-intensive profession (or it can be, depending on the size of the animal) and one that repels Yuna as someone who only ever saw meat in the grocery store or on a plate. Just as Yuna's decision to stick with the bear gear says a lot about her, Fina being a butcher gives us a good idea of the ways that this fantasy world subverts a few of the genre's gendered tropes, which is in the novel's favor.
Unfortunately, these details can't entirely save the book from mediocrity. Kumanano falls into plenty of isekai pit traps, with the foremost being the barrage of game-stat-style updates whenever Yuna checks her status screen, one of the few remaining pieces of the old game. While small changes are made each time she looks, for the most part these updates are identical, requiring closer reading than such a thing merits to spot the infinitesimal changes, which are usually a new skill and sometimes her level number. (No one else appears to have such screens or level numbers, although Yuna doesn't ask.) Fight scenes are full of labored description that doesn't always give a clear picture of what's going on, and chapters written from Fina's point-of-view add exactly nothing, being basically a word-for-word repeat of the same events Yuna narrated but in a style that's intended to sound child-like but instead just sounds like Kumanano has never interacted with a child.
If you can't get enough of “person transported to a game world and given super powers” stories…I'm still not sure this one is worth it. It isn't terrible and reads quickly, but it also largely fails to do anything with its genre and storyline to make it stand out. The bear gimmick can only take it so far, and by about half-way through, it begins to wear very thin. It may fare better in its manga or upcoming (as of this writing) anime adaptations because the cute factor can be dramatically increased, but as it stands as a novel, this is barely scraping “okay.”
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B
+ Cute illustrations, some good elements that really give us an idea of the characters and the world.
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