Yurikuma Arashi
Episode 4

by Gabriella Ekens,

This week's episode begins with a fairy tale, told by a princely embodiment of male sexuality, about a princess who wanted something beyond her station as a woman. Sound familiar? Ikuni went deep into his fixations here and came out with a great story that stands out for its focus, humor, and pathos.

Yurikuma Arashi has two compelling characters now, with hintings at a third. This was the “let's explain Lulu” episode, beginning with a flashback to her life before she met Ginko. We're introduced to her as the only princess of a kingdom of bears. There, Lulu was the favorite child until her brother Mirun was born, at which point all of her family's efforts were rerouted into training him to be a suitable heir. This made her hate him. She wished that he were dead, and continuously rebuffed his affections throughout childhood. One day, however, her hatred overcame him and he died. Although her exalted position within the family was restored, Lulu remained unhappy. She realized that rejecting Mirun had been a mistake, that she had loved him, so she feels that in losing him, she has lost her one chance at love. Eventually, she finds solace with Ginko, a “criminal bear,” and vows to help her find her own lost love across the Wall of Severance. This leads us to where the show is now – with Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu all together, but separate, pining after different people.

The symbolism is getting pretty blunt. Unlike Revolutionary Girl Utena or Mawaru Penguindrum, there isn't much chaff in Yurikuma Arashi. It's surrealist, but there isn't any big piece of the puzzle that nobody's deciphered yet. To the uninitiated, the experience can still be disorienting, but it's strikingly pared down compared to the dozen or so dangling threads present at this point in Penguindrum. Here, the blueprints were laid out early, so all of the symbolism ties together into a cohesive theme about hatred breeding hatred and love breaking down barriers. At least, that's what we have so far. I'll try not to underestimate this show's ability to surprise me. This episode in particular was unexpected, both for its quality and its subject matter, which expands the show's focus beyond just romantic relationships and into familial ones.

Let's start with the symbolism rundown: the royal setting represents the patriarchal family structure at its most overt. Honey is this show's version of Penguindrum's apples – symbols of love that two people share in order to nurture and sustain each other, since love is linked to physical and emotional sustenance. The bee is hatred. It circles around Lulu as a defense mechanism and only lets other people in when she feels love towards them. Kumalia's meteor shower coincides with Mirun's birth, which represents the moment when Lulu learns that the world discounts her value due to her sex. That's when her “Wall of Severance” (awareness of hatred) was built.

Lulu and her brother were torn apart by the patriarchal family structure, in which female children are neglected in favor of male ones. Mirun himself was innocent. While he's not to blame for the situation of his birth, Lulu's anger at being overlooked is also justified. She just couldn't overcome her own personal Wall of Severance (the resentment she feels for her brother's position of privilege over her) to accept his love and recognize that the system was at fault, and not him. Hatred won out over love this time, but that doesn't mean that Lulu doesn't deserve to love again. Poor Lulu! Don't give up on life! You deserve “kisses” (direct fulfillment), not what you call “love” (punishment: one-sided martyrdom for her "bearloved"). I hope that this story allows her to find happiness.

I'll be honest – this one really got me. I kept watching those last few minutes over and over again, starting from when Mirun appears in his bear form next to the tree to the very end. My biggest worry about Yurikuma Arashi up to this point was that it would leave me colder than Utena or Penguindrum. As a straight lady, I have less of a connection with Yurikuma's thematic source material than either Utena's or Penguindrum's. I was worried that this would be “my Penguindrum,” in the sense that a lot of people had trouble relating to that show because they hadn't experienced the specific, complicated emotions it dealt with – namely, severe familial dysfunction. I'm glad to have averted this with Yurikuma.

Something that this fable does hinge on is the idea that only one love in a person's life is “true.” While I don't read the love between Lulu and Mirun as romantic (“kisses” here mean broader assurances of love, plus Ikuhara's works have a strong history of championing platonic familial relationships while presenting incestuous ones as unhealthy), the idea that she missed out on her one special connection seems like a heavy burden to bear. There might be some jealousy coming up between Lulu and Kureha. It's becoming more apparent that Kureha is probably Ginko's “special person,” and while Lulu seems to have accepted her perceived role as Ginko's second fiddle, it might become too much for her to handle with her competition finally present in the flesh. I hope (and expect) for the show to address this.

It was also just a damn funny ride. The sequence where Lulu repeatedly tries to murder her brother, first by kicking him off of a cliff, then down an anti-lion's jaws, and then into a volcano, is true excellence in animated fratricide. Unfortunately for her, he returns – not unscathed, but chipper – each time, clamoring for her love. The Judgemens also appeared frequently in this episode, and it's rapidly become apparent that everything they do is solid gold, from Life Sexy turning his catchphrase into a shocking musical sting to the constant bullying of Life Cool.

I'm seriously analyzing something where “Bears follow bear instincts – that is the sexy way! Shaba da doo!” is not only a recurring line but an important one. The fact that I saw this image and sincerely responded with the thought, “ah yes, this is the patriarchy's fault” is a good summation of what it's like to watch an Ikuhara show as an Ikuhara fan. You process the emotions behind what you're seeing first, and then you take a step back and realize what the heck is literally happening onscreen. That's part of the pleasure – Ikuhara has a talent for being lighthearted about the dourest material without losing his audience. For as fun as this episode was, it's still a story about a young woman giving up on love. It doesn't get much sadder than that.

Grade: A+

Yurikuma Arashi is currently streaming on Funimation.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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