Yuri Kuma Arashi – 12 (Fin)

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Chouko and her bear extermination squad arrange an elaborate ceremony for a bound Kureha to exclude the evil by killing her friend Ginko. Ginko does the only thing she can do in her present situation to try to protect Kureha: try to reject her as a friend, saying she’s only there to eat her.

But Kureha knows that’s a lie; they are friends. And this week we find out how far their love really goes.

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When Kureha wakes up after being beaten for consorting with a bear, she decides the only thing to do in a world of severance between humans and bears is to make the bear she loves a human; that way it will be easier for everyone. So just as Ginko went to Severance Court to offer to give up Kureha’s love for her to make her human, we see Kureha also went to Court, offering to give up Ginko’s love for her.

Now, with Ginko’s death by the Invisible Storm imminent, and her own not far beyond, Kureha finally remembers how things went down, and what she needs to do to be with Ginko forever.

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She places the star pendant around Ginko’s neck, then tells Lady Kumaria she has a wish. The Judgemens fly off and join her growing light, their work apparently done.

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Kumaria comes down…and it’s Sumika. To borrow the vernacular of Kureha’s classmates, that’s way weird, but also way apropos. Could it be that while Ginko was out of Kureha’s life, Lady Kumaria herself took human form to befriend Kureha and teach her about the true love that awaited her across the wall? Is this an Ursus Desu Ex Machina?

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Whatever the case, Kureha asks Kumaria to make her a bear, and she does…and an adorable bear she is! Ginko became a human for Kureha, and now Kureha becoming a bear for Ginko; it’s the very symmetry symbolized by the girls in the story facing their reflections in the mirror—and destroying themselves to make a new being; that of tow joined hearts.

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Chouko still orders the other invisible girls to open fire, and then we cut to the world and the school back to normal, with no active bear alerts and Chouko giving a speech congratulating the exclusion of one evil, and opening the voting on who will be their next target.

But one girl, the one who operated the Konomi cannon, remembers that day on the rooftop, when she saw GInko and Kureha hand in hand, about to ascend a ladder into the heavens. Whether she was witnessing their death, or something more miraculous, I’m going to have to think on that for longer than I have!

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What’s clear to me, though, is that this girl was moved by that scene; so much so that she’s turned a deaf ear to Chouko’s bile, and seeks out the discarded “defective” Konomi. When she finds her, takes her paw in her hand, joyfully announcing she’s found her.

Even if Kureha and Ginko are no longer of this world, they inspired someone else to find their true love and not give up on it, and a new cycle begins, resisting the invisible storm in which they live.

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In an interesting framing device, the storybook tale of Kureha and Ginko is being read by Lulu to her brother Prince Milne, who may or may not be in some kind of afterlife. Milne’s take on the whole story is that considering Lulu ended back together with him )(because she’s dead?) he could have given her his promise kiss all along. Lulu says they’ll be together forever; Milne says he loves her, and oh no, that hornet thing comes back, circling both of them!

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The closing message of Yuri Kuma Arashi is: Change and awaken the world with your own love. It’s a lesson each of our characters learned through the course of the show, after much time and hardship.

It’s also a lesson absorbed by the girl who found Konomi, and even if she and Konomi face are threatened by ostracization or exclusion, if they don’t give up on love, someone will learn from them as well. Perhaps in that way, brick by brick, one day the Wall of Severance will come down.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 11

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With only one episode after it (that I know of), not a lot of big mysteries or unturned stones remain, but we never really got any details from Ginko about what happened in between Kureha finding her on the battlefield, and Reia sending her back to the bear world.

This episode corrects that, and while we don’t gain a ton of new insight on Ginko’s motivations, the details help paint Ginko in a more sympathetic light, and we also learn that she regrets giving into desire.

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Kureha may have found Ginko on that battlefield, but it ends up being Ginko dragging an exhausted Kureha back to the human world (not known: what Kureha was doing there in the first place, and whether Reia knew). Kureha’s words saved Ginko, Ginko’s actions saved Kureha, and a fast friendship was formed.

Life was so fun and happy living with Kureha and Reia, Ginko wrongly assumed the human world had accepted her, when in reality only two humans had. The others are quick to pounce on Kureha and exclude her based on mere rumors she’s friends with a bear. There’s no grey area to these vicious young girls, and that makes their fanatical, tribal exclusion of Kureha that much more chilling.

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Realizing she won’t be able to live with Kureha as long as she’s a bear, Ginko goes to Severance Court to ask to become a human girl, and we know the rest from Lulu: they grant her wish in return for the utmost secrecy and the loss of Kureha’s love for her.

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As a result, we see that once Kureha wakes up, she has indeed forgotten she and Ginko are friends, and without the memory of them saving each other, reverts to the same instincts as the girls who beat her: with fear and revulsion.

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It surely wasn’t easy for Ginko, but she effectively blew up her beautiful life with Kureha and Reia to protect Reia from the other girls, and by extension, from the wrath of the world she lived in which, contrary to Reia’s storybook, wasn’t ready for bears.

Of course, whatever selfless effects her actions had, they were still in service of herself: so that one day, after waiting for years on the other side of the wall, she could come back, in human form, and re-spark what she’d had with Kureha; totally irrespective of Kureha’s life in the interim, which included falling for Sumika.

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Back then, Ginko was also so focused on Kureha that she failed to see that someone who loved her there and then was right there in front of her in Lulu. She merely accepted Lulu’s offer of support and treated her like a sidekick. Lulu never complained, because Lulu was and is awesome; giving Ginko all her love without asking for anything in return or even ever bringing up the inequity of their relationship.

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In the present, though she’s more overcome by desire than ever before, Ginko still admits in her narration thatshe took Lulu for granted. At the same time we know that Lulu wanted Ginko and Kureha to exchange promise kisses. To fail in that would make all of Lulu’s support and devotion be for nothing.

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Ginko’s desire fuels a rampage that claims several Yuri hunters, and Ginko seems poised to fulfill her desire’s wish to monopolize and devour Kureha. It’s the same destination that led Yuriika to her doom, just a slightly different route.

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On the roof of the school (where all the big stuff seems to happen on this show!) Chouko Oki tears Reia’s book to shreds. Oki considers the book, which reflects Reia’s philosophy of coexistence, is what got her killed…a la Grizzly Man

She also insists that There Is No God (like the Lady Kumaria the bears worship), only the “invisible atmosphere” that rules them. (For what it’s worth, Life Sexy does say Lady Kumaria was “lost” when she broke up in orbit in the form of a meteor.)

In this regard, the Yuri civilization is ironically painted in the cold, unforgiving light of untamed nature, driven only by the natural processes and instincts its participants possess, rather than any higher power.

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As Ginko nurses her anti-bear beam wound, she puts up a fight against her primal desire to possess and eat Kureha, because that isn’t true love. True love was demonstrated to her by the selfless Lulu, who gave up on love so she could make it happen for Ginko.

Kureha did something similar when she found Ginko, only to collapse from exhaustion and the cold. Both Lulu and Kureha put their lives on the line for Ginko’s sake. Ginko decides she’ll do the same thing, and break through her mirror, because that mirror only shows her herself, and her desire. Kureha’s on the other side.

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As she did with Lulu, Kureha uses harsh words to try to keep Ginko away, but like with Lulu, she’s lying when she says they’re not friends, because she doesn’t want to lose them. If she truly hated Ginko and won’t forgive her, she’d let Chouko take her shot without a fuss.

But just when Ginko has finally decided she must follow Lulu’s example of putting everything she has on the line for the sake of another, not oneself, Lulu performs one last selfless act by literally taking a bullet for Ginko—A LOVE BULLET.

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As Lulu dies a happy bear in Ginko’s arms, her final words are of gratitude for being able to help her, and her belief that Kureha has forgiven Ginko, and they can now be friends, not merely a quarry being sought by a hunter. It’s sad to see the purest soul in the show go, especially when we thought she’d be safe back in the bear world last week. But that’s how the cookie crumbles.

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The question that remains is, can they really be friends, or more? We close in the same place we did last week: with Kureha in Severance Court, about to have her crimes read. Do all of Lulu’s efforts end up going to waste? Can Kureha truly never forgive bears? Why is she alone in court; where’s Ginko? 

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 10

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An opening flashback depicts Reia sending Ginko across the wall through the Door of Friendship to save the bear from exclusion (i.e. death), giving her her pendant as a love charm and telling her the day will come when bears and people can be bears forever.

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Eleven years later, that day Reia dreamt of has never felt more far off. After the Yuriika Incident, the girls have fully militarized, forming the “KMTG” and procuring a truck armed with an anti-bear beam cannon powered by a cyborgified Yurikawa Konomi of all things.

Even though Yuriika is dead, the insidious threat she represented is having far-reaching consequences. Intolerance, paranoia, and vigilance are at all-time highs. Thankfully, even their leader Chouko Oki doesn’t suspect Lulu, or at least lets on that she doesn’t suspect her, simply warning her to watch out.

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Meanwhile, Kureha joins her mother’s incomplete story with the ending she found in one of Yuriika’s boxes, and so she and we find out what happened to the moon and forest girls, hoping to find some insight as to her and Ginko’s future. Staring at their reflections and warned that breaking through could cost their lives, they both decide break through anyway with barely a moment’s hesitation.

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The shattered mirror of their reflections give way to…each other, and they also waste no time embracing and exchanging promise kisses (i.e. confessions of love), and Live Happily Ever After. It’s a hopeful ending consistent with Reia’s words to Ginko about “one day” people and bears being able to coexist and love one another. But it’s also a bit…naive, not to mention contrary to the real-life story of Reia herself and Yuriika.

Kureha’s reaction to this is rightfully muted. She feels a bit of a fool for hoping she’d get all the answers from what amounts to a fairy tale. After all, there’s nothing in it about an anti-bear SWAT team on the hunt, nor the moon girl’s love for another moon girl (Sumika) whom her forest girl (Ginko) insists she killed, or the fact she simply doesn’t remember her love for Ginko.

There’s simply a lot more complication in Kureha’s world that her mother’s optimistic story doesn’t even bother touching on, so it loses a lot of its power.

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When Lulu arrives on Kureha’s doorstep, it’s with amends in mind. She knows what she did (sell out Ginko) was selfish and wrong and not much better than what Ginko herself did, not to mention it was done for the same reason (jealousy). She offers Kureha Ginko’s (formerly Reia’s) pendant, which she uses to unlock the picture frame, revealing Ginko in the folded photo, proving they were friends as Ginko claimed.

When Kureha offers her bath to Lulu (who is filthy from searching for the pendant in the dirt), Lulu tells her why Ginko said, and believes, she killed Sumika. Like Lulu’s transgression, she did it out of an unwillingness to back down on love. But when Lulu asks if Kureha will forgive Ginko, she says she can’t. This isn’t a fairy tale, and there’s no denying the fact she lives in a world of severance.

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That fact is made abundantly and rudely clear when, after a phone call in which Chouko ascertains a bear is at Kureha’s house, she has the KMTG storm it. Rather than give up Lulu, Kureha runs to the door of friendship, they make a run for it.

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As they run, Lulu figures out why Kureha forgot about her love for Ginko, but nothing else form that time: Kureha’s love is what Ginko gave up in order to become a girl. But Lulu thinks she can get that love back, because she didn’t give up on love, her memories were taken as a consequence of the Judgemens’ Yuri Approval.

Telling Kureha all this has immediate consequences for Lulu: her Yuri Approval is revoked and she reverts to her bear form. In that moment, Chouko targets her with a scope, but that turns out to be another bear on the run.

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Kureha won’t let Lulu, a friend, get excluded, so she takes her to the same place her mother took Ginko: the Door of Friendship at the flowerbed. But unlike Reia, Kureha doesn’t express her desire or hope of bears and people ever being able to coexist. Instead, she tells Lulu to leave “this stupid world,” and warns her that she’ll be shot if she ever returns. The optimism of the flashback is replaced by the despair of the present.

I hope this isn’t the last we see of Lulu, because of the three girls at the center of this show, she’s been the most flexible and caring of the others, and is the one most likely to reconcile the other two. Maybe she’ll get RE-approved?

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Kureha is conflicted between refusing to call bears her friends and knowing in her mind that they were and are. Sending Lulu off saves the bear’s life, but it could have also been a crucial step to Kureha fitting back in with her peers. Could have, that is, if Chouko didn’t catch her in the act, which she does.

With a spotlight on Kureha, Chouko creates her narrative of Kureha’s crimes on the spot: accusing her of consorting with bears and killing their friends. Kureha denies these charges, but she’s at gunpoint and in no position to defend herself against a group that has already made their judgement. All that remains is the sentencing.

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To make matters worse, Ginko is lurking in the bushes, her eyes red with the desire not merely to love Kureha, but to eat her. She’s in a very similar position Yuriika was in; a possessive, conquering love devoid of regard for the object of that love. In other words, right now Kureha is no safer by Ginko’s side than she is in KMPG custody.

Interestingly, after the credits roll, Kureha finds herself not in front of the barrels of their guns, but before the three Judgemens. Did they intervene? Is this happening in Kureha’s head? Either way, Yuriika and Ginko and Lulu have been through their Yuri Trials, and now it’s time for Kureha’s, which means no more standing on the fence.

Even if she wants to reject all bears forever, the yuri world is rejecting her as we speak.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 09

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The cutting-out of the dialogue (not to mention taking a week off!) was certainly irritating in a “Goddamn It I Wanna Know What Happens!” kind of way. But I was confident when Yurikuma  returned, much would be revealed, including the contents of the conversation that led to Kureha shooting Ginko off the roof, to the delight of Yuriika, who’d manipulated both Kureha and Lulu against Ginko.

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What is revealed is not entirely surprising, which is to say it makes sense based on everything that’s come before…which is good! Kureha shoots Ginko, but doesn’t kill her. Ginko ends up in “the center of the sky that divides the worlds of the moon and forest,” in other words, limbo.

Her wounds are tended to by someone that appears to be the late Yurizono Mitsuko, but is really(/also) the manifestation of Desire, the surrender to which has governed the actions of many a girl and bear alike on this show.

With Desire’s help, we explore the particulars of grave crime Ginko committed, which as suspected was not the direct killing or eating of Sumika, but the act of doing nothing to stop it despite having the power to do so.

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Ironically, Ginko had the perfect opportunity to stop Sumika’s demise when she found her hairpin on the ground. The last time Sumika lost that pin, it was Kureha who found it, which led to their friendship and eventually far more. For Ginko to have come so far to reunite with Kureha, only to find she had given her love to another while she was away, created a crack in Ginko’s heart, more than large enough for Desire to slip in. Her desire for Kureha at any cost kept her from warning Sumika, and led to her murder.

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Getting shot was punishment not just for letting Sumika get eaten, but abandoning Lulu, whom Ginko knew loved her but abandoned her anyway, at a crucial moment. That allowed Yuriika to create a wedge between them. Lulu’s revelation that Ginko was an accomplice in Sumika’s death, along with a very guilty Ginko’s admission that she killed Sumika, period, caused Kureha to fire.

As Ginko heals, Desire isn’t quite done with her, nor she with Desire, who disrobes and “becomes one” with her. The red spark in Ginko’s eye suggests Kureha’s bullet (whether it’s a love bullet or not more on that later), has only heightened Ginko’s desire for her. Being deprived of that which one desires can twist a person, as we clearly see with “Bride-in-a-Box” Yuriika.

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As Kureha’s class, now led by Chouko Oki, prepares to vote on whom they believe to be the bear residing among them, flouting social cues and eating them, we find that Kureha’s exclusion seems to have been commuted for the time being.

As Life Sexy creepily spies on two girls going at it in the nurse’s office, he states that the girls’ exclusion of what they deem to be “evils”—be they bears or girls—is a ritual that bands them together and gives them a sense of connection. Desire is not merely an individual vice, nor a collective vice; but also a potentially destructive yet effective means of forming communities and societies.

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Recognized as a victim of the bears they believe she’s already been too friendly with, Kureha’s peers offer Kureha a chance to re-enter the fold, by voting Ginko the bear among them, which will undoubtedly lead to a concerted hunt. But now that she’s had time to cool off, Kureha isn’t so sure Ginko deserves to be “ruined.”

Despite Yuriika’s warning about the wearer of the pendant and Lulu’s snitching, Kureha knows it was Yurizono, not Ginko, who killed Sumika. Far from being ready to deliver a guilty verdict, she’s desperate to learn the whole truth. Up on that roof, flanked by Yuriika and Lulu, there was neither physical nor emotional room for elucidation. Heck, even Ginko didn’t give Kureha the chance to forgive her, preferring to take the bullet as punishment for her sins.

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But Desire isn’t wrong when she says everyone in the world sins at some point in their life to achieve or gain something they desire. Everything is up for grabs; it takes desire to identify what you want and take it, which means others will go without. It’s what Reia did when she gave her love to Kureha instead of Yuriika. It’s what Kureha did when she gave her love to Sumika instead of Ginko. And it’s what Ginko did when she gave her love to Kureha instead of Lulu, and let Yurizono eat Sumika. (Whew…Still with us?)

Interestingly, the Judgemens, perched dramatically upon girders overlooking the city, observe everyone below them with a distinct neutrality and their own desire to see how things shake out. They approved Ginko and Lulu’s plans of action, but before them they also approved Yuriika’s. All, as they say, shall be as Kumaria wills it.

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When Kureha rushes to the lily bed, lured by a call from Yuriika posing as Life Sexy (a nice inclusion of specific modern technology in an otherwise very elemental story), she can’t find Ginko, I got the distinct feeling that anything could happen, not knowing Kumaria’s particular will any more than the Judgemens.

Yuriika comes so very close to putting Kureha “in the box that is her,” but it would seem her own Desire betrayed her. Eating Reia didn’t fill the emptiness inside her, because at that point Reia had already given her love to Kureha.

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So for years, Yuriika kept her true nature secret from everyone and waited as Kureha, the box that contained Reia’s love grew up. But in her hour of victory, Yuriika suddenly becomes incredibly reckess, and falls victim to her own food source: Kureha’s classmates, on Full Bear Alert ever since Kureha shot Ginko.

I have to say, to have so much go right for Yuriika by the end of previous episode, only to snatch it all away due to what amounts to overzealousness, actually ends up making Yuriika a tragic figure; as much an unfortunate victim of Desire as Ginko risks becoming.

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That tragedy is driven home in Yuriika’s final moments, as she apologizes to her beloved Reia, and confesses that she stole and locked away the ending to her book, which contains the rightful future for Kureha and Ginko. As Yuriika passes away, Reia assures her they’ll be friends forever…even if that friendship only goes so far.

Interestingly, while Reia is portrayed as an almost angelic if not Virgin Mary-esque figure throughout Yuriika’s end; the very Kumaria who determines the future of others, one could also interpret Reia as a mere hallucination, as it’s actually Kureha she’s talking to. Thus, Kureha is able to find the rest of her mother’s story, but like last week, Yurikuma only reveals so much in one episode.

The “impossible future” Kureha has uncovered, and the consequences of Ginko absorbing Desire, will have to wait until at least next week.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 08

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Is it just me, or are we getting our money’s worth? I can’t remember the last time Yuri Kuma Arashi wasted a spare moment; probably because it essentially hasn’t. Eight episodes in, and while things are hardly ideal for Ginko, Kureha, and Lulu, most of the big mysteries have been revealed. That’s the efficiency of a one-cour, 12-episode run: pleasantly brisk storytelling that engages and excites without feeling rushed.

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One mystery that wasn’t was whether Yuriika was a bear baddie; what remained to be known was just how bad of a baddie, and why; the latter of which would determine her quality as a baddie. In her flashback, it’s revealed she was an abandoned orphan bear cub picked up by a man in high heels he likes to click (like Dorothy), who regards the school as his “box.”

Box, hive, whatever you want to call it, it’s where Yuriika had instilled in her the idea that only unsullied things kept in boxes had value. Somewhere down the road, her father lost interest in her and tried to leave, so Yuriika killed him.

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Abandoned a second time in her life, a very beautiful Yuriika fell in love with Reia, who didn’t care whether Yuriika was a bear and urged her not to keep everything locked inside, for that’s pretty much the same as not having those things at all. But whereas Yuriika’s love for Reia went beyond friendship, even past their school years, Reia grew up and had a baby. To Yuriika, Kureha becomes a squirming, cooing symbol of Reia’s betrayal.

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That’s the third time Yuriika is abandoned, and it’s the last straw, as she decides to give up on love, and return to being a box. It is Yuriika who eats Reia, trying to fill the box that is her by force. She ate her just moments after Reia gave a departing Ginko her pendant, in hopes she and Kureha will one day reunite. And getting back to the idea that putting something in a box forever is the same as not having that thing, eating Reia only left Yuriika empty, still starving and yearning.

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Enter Kureha, herself a box containing Reia’s love. Yuriika considers that love rightfully hers, stolen by Kureha, and proceeds to formulate an intricate and devastating life-long con on her; a scheme that makes Kaoru’s bullying seem like child’s play, which it was. Kureha is her titular “bride in a box;” hers to do with what she pleases at her own pace.

Only Ginko and Lulu can interrupt those plans, but she has Kureha believing Ginko is her mother’s killer, restoring the blind rage with which Kureha dispatched Yurizono. Lulu takes this opportunity to suggest she and Ginko run back to the other side of the wall; that Kureha is a lost cause; that Ginko at least has Lulu, and she her. Ginko isn’t ready to throw in the towel. She’s so determined to win Kureha back, she abandons Lulu in an important moment, ignoring her pleas not to leave her.

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The court orchestrates a confrontation on the school rooftop, and it’s interesting how they’re perceived as ageless, having delivered a very similar verdict to Yuriika years ago that they delivered to Ginko and Lulu, only with different stipulations. Yuriika gave up on love, Lulu on kisses, but Ginko gave up on neither.

Things don’t go as smoothly as Yuriika hopes, as even though Kureha is in Full Bear-Ruining Mode thanks to the incorrect information on her mother’s killer, Kureha hesitates to shoot Ginko, because Ginko isn’t backing down. It’s dawned on Ginko that perhaps the only way to get a kiss from Kureha is through a bullet…a LOVE Bullet…which explains that part of the title.

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Ginko awaits that bullet as the only way Kureha’s love for her, lost when they parted ways, will reawaken, which is obviously the absolute last thing Yuriika wants in her moment of triumph over the one who stole Reia’s love from her. It’s as if someone is opening all the boxes and dumping the contents on the dirty ground, sullying them all. But there’s also a distinct pathos to Yuriika on that roof, egging Kureha on; whether those boxes are full or not, she’s empty, and this is all she has left, and no matter the outcome, it won’t fulfill her either. She’s as tragic a figure as everyone else on that roof.

But then, suddenly, Yuriika gets a surprise assist—from Lulu. Obviously hurt from Ginko flat-out abandoning her, she hurts her right back by relaying to Kureha the what she learned from the anonymous note (which was written by Yuriika, making Lulu her trump card), which is the particulars of Ginko’s “grave crime”, which we had thought to this point was doing nothing as Yurizono ate Sumika.

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The sound of the rain drowns out everyone’s voices (a little heavy-handed, but effective), but we do hear Lulu say that Ginko “is Sumika’s…” and it’s clear from Kureha’s reaction (re-training her gun on Ginko, her rage renewed, and firing) that Lulu’s next word was something like “killer.” That could be another of Yuriika’s lies, but like so many of she’s told Kureha, this lie got her the desired effect.

At the same time, Ginko wanted Kureha to shoot her, and she did. But I doubt Kureha killed her. She may have even missed. But whatever happened when that shot was fired, Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu have never been further apart, through a combination of their own choices and Yuriika’s conniving. With three quarters of the show complete, it’s tempting to believe these girls have reached their nadir, but one shouldn’t underestimate Ikuni’s capacity for plumbing new depths.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 07

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Ginko’s selfless act has earned her and Lulu Kureha’s permission to crash at her house, but that’s still a very long way from Kureha acknowledging her true love for Ginko. Progress is slow on this front, especially with Ginko suffering from a bad fever most of the episode.

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Meanwhile, Kaoru, who has done everything she’s done in hopes of being protected from becoming invisible, didn’t prevent Kureha and Ginko from coming together, and so she didn’t complete the intended “breaking” of Kureha. For that, she is deemed no longer of any use and disposed of by the mastermind. Since we catch a glimpse of the drawers in her office when she attacks Kaoru in bear form, it’s pretty clear at this point Yuriika is that mastermind.

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Kureha spends a lot of time staring at the feverish Ginko, contemplating why Ginko would protect Sumiko’s letter, and why Ginko says she loves her when they’ve practically just met. Kureha daydreams about her and Ginko getting a lot closer, but they only serve to frustrate her more: if there was such a person she loved so dearly, how or why did she forget?

That’s something I’d like to know too. Kureha’s been through a lot of traumatic stuff, but what could possibly create such a huge gap in her memory?

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Kureha goes to Yuriika seeking info on the “forest girl”, and unlike Kaoru (who’s in one of those drawers…yikes!), Yuriika continues to don the mask of someone Kureha can trust and confide in, while continuing to manipulate her. She says whoever has her mother’s star pendant is the enemy, and Kureha vows to kill whoever it is. But that vow doesn’t seem any more confident than her daydream with Ginko.

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This week, as she lies in Kureha’s attic with a fever that won’t break, we get her backstory; how she was an orphan left on the steps of a church, and raised along with dozens of other bears (most of whom derided her as “Lone Wolfsbane” by that church to believe that “only One needs you and gives you approval”: Lady Kumalia.

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This church made holy warriors of its orphans, who fought human girls on those snow-covered battlefields, and all the while, Ginko was fighting for the approval of Lady Kumalia. When she fell in battle, she was abandoned by her surviving peers, because they’re bears, and nature is inherently harsh.

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Ginko was resigned to that death until a young Kureha showed up and offered her hand, her love, her approval. Chewed up and spit out by the system that raised her, Ginko held true to the basic ideas instilled in her when those ideas aligned with the events in her life.

From that day onward, as far as Ginko was concerned, Kureha was, and is, Lady Kumalia, her savior. When her fever finally breaks in the present, and Kureha is once again watching over her, that’s what she calls her. This surprises Kureha, as only someone familiar with her mother’s story would know such details.

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The deal is all but sealed when Kureha finds Lulu making the same honey ginger milk, which is “the flavor of Ginko’s love”; the very same flavor as Kureha and her mysterious friend’s love back in the day, and then Kureha finds Ginko singing her mother’s love song on the porch in a hauntingly beautiful scene. The switch is finally flipped; Ginko was, and is, that girl Kureha loved.

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But not so fast! Ginko still bears the sin of having witnessed Sumika’s death and done nothing, and Yuriika is still very much invested in continuing to screw around with Kureha’s life. To that end, she is most likely the one who slips a letter through the back door that Lulu receives and reads, finally learning of Ginko’s sin.

Lulu, who has been devoted to helping bring Ginko and Kureha together, now holds in her hands the bomb that could blow all of that up. It’s a secret I see Lulu keeping out of loyalty to Ginko, but one way or another Kureha will learn that truth. Yuriika’s actions suggest wants Kureha for herself, as she had Reia before.

She’s already dealt with Sumika; now Ginko is in her crosshairs, and she’s not above trying to turn both Lulu and Kureha against her.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 06

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This rich, immersive episode took many a skip back and forth through time, and was a little disorienting at times, but it slowly, steadily built something revelatory from all the myriad pieces scattered about the past five weeks, all centering around the letter Sumiko wrote to Kureha, to have her open on her birthday. We learn why she wrote it, what its contents mean for the future of the characters who are still alive, and just how wide Koaru’s web of deception extends.

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Sumiko never forgot a single detail of the day she met Kureha at the opening ceremony, or the night they protected the flowerbed from a literal storm, and the night they spent together afterwards, reading Kureha’s mother’s unfinished story of the moon girl and forest girl, which is a dead ringer for the Kureha/Ginko arc.

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Sumiko treasures those memories. They’re good memories, happy and loving, and to her, it was enough. With the invisible storm imminent, Sumiko does what she feels she has to and sacrifices herself to it, placing her faith in Harishima Kaoru that Kureha will be spared. It’s the ultimate expression of the love Sumiko is so fond of saying she’ll never back down on.

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Sumiko won’t let the storm destroy Kureha, even if it means she’ll be the one destroyed. Nor does she let Kureha in on her plan, because she knows Kureha will try to stop her. Her only accomplice in this plan is Kaoru, who assures Sumiko she will be Kureha’s new friend…and seems to be in quite the hurry to get that letter.

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But since we know Harishima Kaoru to be one who cannot be trusted from the start of this episode, it really comes down to how exactly she’s going to screw Sumiko and Kureha over, not if. I also appreciate the fact that Kaoru doesn’t play by her own rules of abiding by social norms, as it’s revealed she’s sleeping with a woman (probably Yuriika) which opens a whole other can of worms with regard to whether Kaoru herself is being used or deceived. It’s a dangerous game.

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Ginko certainly learned that when she got caught in the trap. Oh yeah, about that cliffhanger: Lulu has a “Bear Flash” bomb that allows her them to escape, and then she treats Ginko’s wounds through the night. This is Lulu at her loving best: playing the only role she feels she deserves in keeping supporting Ginko and keeping Ginko’s dream alive.

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When the Yuri Court Judges show up in town and call a ‘bearly’-healed Ginko, telling her to go the flowerbed “if her love is the real thing”, I got the feeling that they might just be more invested in Ginko’s quest than their aloof attitudes in court suggested.

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The flowerbed is the site of a creepy nighttime birthday celebration just teeming with dread, even though Kureha doesn’t sense it until it’s too late and Kaoru shows her true colors. Sumiko trusted her to be Kureha’s friend, but Kaoru has no intention of befriending the “Evil” Kureha. Kaoru explains Sumiko’s letter as a break-up letter, which she hopes will destroy the love Kureha is clinging to that’s keeping her visible.

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With that, Kaoru and her minions set the flowerbed ablaze, just to facilitate Kureha’s psychological ruin. Kaoru is pretty damn villainous here, but what’s even scarier is that she has the look and tone of a true believer, who believes “love” is nothing but a weakness, with the outwitted and defeated Sumiko and Kureha as proof.

At the same time, knowing Kaoru herself is a lesbian lends a certain degree of self-preservation to the sadism on display; by feeding these two lovers to the storm, she detracts attention from herself.

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But Kaoru’s triumph is short-lived and incomplete, as Ginko arrives in time to save Sumiko’s letter from the flames. By diving in, she is demonstrating the same potentially fatal gesture as the Forest and Moon Girls in Kureha’s mom’s book having to break through the mirror, break through themselves to get to the one they love.

After reading the story, Kureha told Sumiko she’d break the mirror. Sumiko did break it, by sacrificing herself. And now Ginko has proven her love by risking incineration to protect the letter Kureha’s beloved Sumiko wrote to her. It was a “false start” of sorts when Kureha read it in front of Kaoru, suggesting Kaoru would be her new friend. Now she reads it before a bruised and singed Ginko, and it’s almost as if fate and Sumiko won out over Kaoru…at least for now.

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But of course, that’s not the only layer to this Lady Baltimore Cake. We also learn what Ginko’s grave crime was, that even Lulu doesn’t know about. Sumiko outright dying wasn’t part of Kaoru’s original plan, you see; she and her unknown accomplice (again, probably Yuriika) merely used that occurrence to their advantage.

Yurizono was the one who killed and ate Sumiko…but it was Ginko who arranged for it to happen, so she could have Kureha all to herself. She killed for the sake of her love, but then risked her own life for that same love. The latter will certainly ingratiate her with Kureha (who was going to apologize for being so mean before anyway), but the former will haunt her. The full truth may be the best option; no point in proceeding if she’s convinced Kureha would never forgive her.

This was another brisk, gorgeous, rewarding Yurikuma that was at turns both glowing with warmth and crackling with menace. That the story has gotten more straightforward hasn’t taken away at all from the show’s inherent appeal. On the contrary, it’s only becoming stronger as symbols and specifics converge and complement each other.

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Oigakkosan’s Take:

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Zane and I only diverge on two points this week. First, I took Kureha’s mother’s unfinished story as an autobiographical tale of how she met Yuriika and second, that Ginko’s crime was witnessing-but-not-stopping Sumika’s murder, rather than outright planning it.

In the picture book’s case, I’d placed more emphasis on the Sky Goddess’ warning that to ‘break the glass for love risks death’ and less on the fact that the star pendant is said to belong to the moon-girl’s mother. In hindsight, Zane probably has the truth of it but I wouldn’t be surprised of Reia’s story blends her own experiences with what she witnessed or gleaned from her daughter’s own adventure.

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In the case of Ginko’s crime, I don’t feel like we have enough context to assume either way. Sure, I agree she’s guilty of not stopping the murder/eating for her own selfish love but Ginko wasn’t around long enough or connected enough with Yurizono or Sumika to be able to put them in the same spot at the same time and seal the deed.

I’m not even sure Ginko knew Yurizono was a bear at that point, which would make the death-scenario impossible to have plotted.

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Ultimately our differences are unimportant and I appreciate that Yuri Kuma can generate different reads in the first place. Water cooler arguments about twists and turns are part of what make a mystery show fun to follow. A big part, really.

Still, my favorite parts of this week were how much it made me suspicious of Yuriika without actually showing her. We see her office and a tall seductress who is probably her, but no face and she isn’t involved in any scene. (except to talk vaguely while looking at Reia’s photo) Maybe that conspicuous lack of presence was the hook?

Who knows and really I don’t even care what the answers are. The trip — and it is trippy — is the best part. YURI APPROVED!

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 05

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When Lulu decided to join Ginko on her grand journey to the other side of the wall, it seemed like the most noble thing in the world. And indeed, the episode opens with Ginko waking Kureha up with a gentle lick to the face…and Kureha shockingly licks back.

But we’re only seeing what Ginko wants to see. In reality, progress is slower than frozen honey: far from thinking of them as anything resembling friends or lovers, Kureha sees them as nothing but intruders and pests.

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Of course, this isn’t just because GInko and Lulu are bears. Kureha doesn’t want any friends anymore, ever. Sumiko was The One, The Only, friend she ever needed or will need. To befriend anyone else is to dishonor her memory and “give up on love”; not to mention it would be super-scary.

So when her teacher tells her to face reality—that Sumiko is gone, and must be replaced by new friends in order for Kureha to fit in—Kureha outright refuses, and in doing so may well be sealing her fate. But Kureha doesn’t seem to care anymore.

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This week we delve a little deeper into Ginko’s past with Kureha and her mom; the photo already shows us that a young Ginko in bear form was adopted by the two at some point. We learn how that happened, in one of the series’ most striking images—a flashback eleven years to  snow-covered battlefield littered with dead bear soldiers, and Ginko close to joining them.

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Suddenly, the warm hands of a five-year-old Kureha are upon her, telling her they’re friends and she loves her—and that’s pretty much it. From that point on, Ginko has loved her back with everything she’s got, and no matter what happened between that day and the present one, it wasn’t enough to destroy that love, or Ginko’s determination.

However, through the loss of her mom and Sumiko, Kureha has forgotten that fateful encounter. It’s up to Ginko to try to get her to remember, but she can’t just out and say it, or she and Lulu will lose their human forms.

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And all Kureha wants to remember is Sumiko. Making friends will only create memories that will cause her memories of Sumiko to fade with time. When her classmate Harishima Kaoru tearfully apologizes on behalf of the rest of the class for excluding her, and begs her forgiveness, she has none to give. Kureha’s a stick-to-it kind of gal; if the class is going to start something, they’d sure as hell finish it.

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Back home, Ginko and Lulu continue to flail about Kureha’s house against her desire for them to be there. Revealing aprons and a smorgasbord don’t interest her in the least.

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Yet Ginko continues to see and hear what she wants to, at least until the fantasy fades away and she sees and hears what really is: Kureha wants nothing to do with her, and if an approach exists that will make her remember, Ginko and Lulu haven’t cracked it yet.

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While the bears pull out all the stops for Kureha in vain, Kaoru and the class does the same in helping her replant the garden in preparation for her birthday. And where the bears fail, Kureha’s class get her to lower her defenses a little by killing her with kindness.

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Then the pretty, laid-back flutes and harps are replaced by a harsher electronic theme as Kaoru and the class reveals it’s all an act. Of course it is. And Kureha’s instincts were correct. They’re still fully committed to making her invisible by naming her the Number One Evil. Kureha’s teacher may have been willing to exercise some patience with her, but her peers aren’t so understanding.

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Ginko and Lulu catch on to all of this, and go to Yuri Court to argue their case. The defense attorney is all for them protecting the girl they love, but the prosecutor believes they’re only using Kureha as an excuse to eat girl after invisible girl. When Life Sexy asks Ginko what her true goal is, she confesses: she wants Kureha, all to herself.

It’s something Lulu must have suspected, but that doesn’t make it hurt less to hear it out loud. Ginko also brings up a “serious crime” (killing Kureha’s mother, perhaps, which is why she has that star pendant?”) from which there’s no going back. Life Sexy approves their Yuri, and off they go.

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Ginko and Lulu confront and threaten Kaoru late at night at the garden, believing they’re in control. But that, too, proves a fantasy, as at the end of the day, the surge of passion that overcomes a charging bear at its seemingly terrified prey will make that bear blind to the trap set before it. Ginko gets snapped up in that trap, and Kaoru bears a predatory grin of her own.

In obviously immense pain (and immense trouble), Ginko calls out, not for Lulu, who’s right there, but for Kureha, who last time we checked wanted nothing to do with her. With that brutal SNAP of the trap, her grand mission is in tatters. Sure, it’s a cliffhanger, but one I’m fully invested in.

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Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Third Round)

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The current crop is pretty good and, despite rough patches, actually turning into something memorable. That may not sound like much but, as my fellow reviewers will testify, memorable is a high bar to reach in my book.

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Binan Koukou (8+7+8/10) vs Yatterman Nights (8+6+8/10)

By far the hardest pair to resolve, Yatterman’s stronger third episode and greater potential for an interesting story ultimately won out. I know! I know! This isn’t super surprising in the grand scheme of things. Binan is just a gender-swap twist on the Sailor Scouts genre but it delivers really really really good dialog each week.

Add Yatterman’s difficult-to-understand-without-significant-background second episode, drab color pallete, and slow pace and I truly considered siding with the simpler of the two shows.

If you enjoyed Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun and other tightly written school comedies, you owe it to yourself to give Binan at least three episodes. So far it’s shown no intention of becoming a BL show, nor has it stuck strictly to the safety of it’s formula.

Still, there’s a formula at its core and there’s not much at stake. Certainly, not much that I can see writing about each week?

Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Second Round)

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Winter’s second week was obviously less busy than the first. However, due to World Break – 02’s late arrival in my stream, the decision took longer to make than anticipated.

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Seiken World Break (6+6/10) vs Junketsu no Maria (7+8/10)

Junketsu no Maria is a deeply sincere show, with rich characters and setting, and a quality art style. So it’s hardly a surprise that World Break won a lot less of my interest with it’s typical super protagonist enters magic school and wins all the harems formula.

That said, you may still enjoy World Break because it takes its deeply flawed scenario to heart. The magic system, which sometimes involves lengthy poetry narration and in-air finger writing is so dumb and impractical you just have to laugh at it all.

If nothing else, it’s well meaning but dumb characters are likable and, even though it’s only used to justify “protagonist wins” and the ecchi love triangle, the concept that students have multiple lives with multiple family and romantic partners around and knowing each other even though they’ve never met has tons of potential.

Sadly, just not enough for me to write about each week.

Yuri Kuma Arashi – 04

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Framed as a day in which Yuri Court is not in session and narrated by Shaba-da-doo chief Judge Life Sexy (bear) himself, Yurikuma Arashi 04 is a past-tense heavy, backstory building, infodump.

In spite of that, it’s a wonderful episode full of tight storytelling and some fall on the floor giggling moments that I urge everyone who likes feeling happy to check out.

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Summing it up: Lulu was once a princess, who got all the attention from her bear kingdom. One day, on the day of shooting stars, an adorable little brother was born and her world came apart. No longer the heir, no longer doted on by her maids, Lulu became deeply jealous.

Unfortunately, her little brother loved her very much and, for the promise of a kiss, would go on ‘adventures’ to find her a falling star. I air-quote adventures here because Lulu convinces him to get into a box marked ‘love’ and kicks him off a cliff at the beginning of each.

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The little prince always returns, beaten up a bit, but holding a wonderful pot of honey in exchange for a Lulu kiss — and every time Lulu freaks out and throws his pot of honey out the window and kicks him off the cliff again.

Until one day, the prince dies and Lulu gets what she wants. Years later, surrounded by wonderful things and chased by endless suitors, she is empty inside and, only after meeting Ginko (who’s retrieved one of the lost honey pots) does Lulu find purpose again. Her kisses are gone, her happiness too, but she will be a criminal bear and help Ginko find happiness and cross the wall into Human lands.

The episode closes with Lulu and Ginko under their mushroom-hat tree. Lulu holds her dead brother’s honey pot and Ginko a golden star on a ribbon… which matches the one worn by Kureha’s late mother!

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What earned it a 9: the card-style storybook flashbacks were charming, the backgrounds beautiful, and the added context for the male court-bears in Lulu’s past and the reasons for Lulu being devoted to Ginko were all deftly handled and well integrated.

And Judge Life Sexy’s “Shaba-do-doo’ing along with the background music almost earned it a ten on it’s own.

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Why it didn’t a 10: it’s an infodump episode. Pure and simple. All the elements were integrated very well but the info dumping wasn’t integrated with the current events in any way.

Most importantly, this means nothing really happened in ‘current events’ part of the narrative.

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I’m on the fence over the castle, the bear-infused decorations and architectural elements being a good break from the hard edge, pattern heavy ‘current events’ style or if its general lack of action and ‘otherness’ was distracting.

The art style was beautiful regardless and I especially liked the bonnet-wearing bear maids in waiting.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 03

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Verdict: Action, drama, sharp brightly colored art with a strong sense of personal style, and a rocking trancey-pop sound track catapulted Yurikuma to the top of its game, and all anime’s game this week and I don’t see any sign of it slowing down any time soon.

If you haven’t started watching it, stop what you are doing and go watch it. Then watch it again because, I promise you, the lovely details are layered on thick here and something new will hop out of you each chance you give it!

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What didn’t work: is entirely dependent on your sense of taste. If the absurd, pure love of yuri-love message this show presents doesn’t mesh with your personal view, I can see why you may want to run for the hills.

Otherwise, this is a technical masterpiece and an emotionally touching piece of psycho-storytelling.

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What pushed it up to a 10: was the superior integration of visuals and sound track. Also, the pattern making, which has been strong in weeks past, finally hit its groove. The Escher bird-to-mountain design appears everywhere, fading in when the emotional need to achieve conformity is brought up by the story, and fading away when the personal view is the center.

I don’t even know what all the symbolism stands for, but it is very strong and it feels legitimate, regardless of what I can bring to the table.

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Summing up the story: Yurizono really did eat Sumika, and she quickly positions Kureha to follow. Using easily manipulated girls of the classes, she makes Kureha the next target of the invisible and sends the storm, which appears to be some sort of cyber-bullying over the phone, or text or something.

However, Ginko has decided she wants to save Kureha (or just wants her to eat herself) and, with Lulu’s loving help, gets the yuri-court to approve her love, her love for Kureha, and thus bolstered, Kureha is able to shoot Yurizono in their final show down.

Then Ginko and Lulu eat another girl, this time the one who organized Kureha’s invisible… storming.

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Lesbearian Storm bashed my skull in this week and it was awesome. I can hardly make sense of what it all meant but, between the crazy, trippy visuals and the throbbing, Emiliani Torini style sound track, man was I hooked.

Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket – Semifinalist Poll

Some of you have expressed a desire for the semi-finalists to get more chances to prove their worth and, now that I’ve cut my review list down to 6 shows, I’m not against this.