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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