Ave Kumaria: The World of Bears and Kunihiko Ikuhara

WARNING: The following deals with sensitive/controversial subject matter. Please read at your own discretion.
 
Ave Maria, gratia plena.
Maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Ave, ave dominus,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus
Et benedictus fructus ventris,
Ventris tui, Jesus.
Ave Maria.

Ave Maria, Mater Dei,
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Ora, ora pro nobis;
Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc et in hora mortis,
In hora mortis nostrae.
In hora, mortis, mortis nostrae,
In hora mortis nostrae.
Ave Maria.”



Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not Christian. As a practicing Jew, the thought of converting to Christianity sickens me. And yet, I respect and sympathize with many of the frustrations and reverberations the Christian world is feeling as it reconciles its belief system with the sensitivities of the 21st Century. It’s hard, and nowhere is it more apparent than in accepting that two people of the same gender can have a loving relationship akin to those of opposite genders. Because that’s something that I, as said Jew, have to reconcile too.

I also sympathize with gay rights activists. I sympathize with them like I sympathize with feminists, minority rights activists and activists of any kind tackling discrimination. If all people are equal in the eyes of God, then why do so many of us not behave that way? If Japanese mastermind Kunihiko Ikuhara is indication, then shouldn’t there be a natural harmony of love and religion? This is the argument of Yuri Bear Storm, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it despite both never having seen an Ikuhara show prior and my disdain toward extremist, anti-discrimination policies (i.e., being forceful about tolerance.)

I’m not writing this based on anyone else’s views…in excess. I recognize that information travels fast online, so I’ve no doubt been coloured by some of the discussions and think pieces that’ve already circulated. Still, I want to be as truthful as possible, which means ignoring much of the “IT REALLY MEANS THIS!” nonsense. If some of what I ask, say or think doesn’t match what you’re familiar with… roll with it. Besides, you might even gain perspective.

FYI, spoilers.

First, the premise. The story takes place in a world where bears and humans are divided by The Wall of Severance. This is because bears are human eaters, and humans need to defend themselves from that. Amidst this conflict, 17 year-old Kureha Tsubaki falls in-love with fellow classmate Sumika Izumino. But Sumika is eaten by a bear, and the only suspects are two transfer students, Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, who have a disturbing obsession with her. As Kureha begins investigating, she discovers a long-lost connection between her and Ginko.

Not to mention, I began to see why Ikuhara’s work is so frequently butchered when dubbed: because he’s weird. He’s weird, and he’s unapologetic about it. He's blunt about everything, and I’m certain his ideas are never rejected by a committee during planning. Because of this, it’s easy to make fun of or misunderstand him, which is shame because there’s a lot of sincerity to his “are you high?” projects. Also, symbolism. Lots of symbolism.

Anyway, one of the key plot threads is Severance Court, aka three bears, Life Sexy, Life Cool and Life Beauty, duking it out over the fate of all bears. Bears, and sometimes people, go to this court to make a deal, trading certain elements to become “Yuri Approved”. They also go there as penance for crimes…which are never dealt with. I get that Severance Court is a parallel to heterosexuals judging the gay world, but it’s problematic to neglect to judge a real crime. Eating people is part of this show, and not addressing the severity of that is bad writing.

But whatever, I guess bears are allowed to be murderers in the name of love.

Another key plot thread is when the high school girls “search evil”. This involves scrolling through their phones, voting on names of students and picking a person to exclude. As someone who spent most of his youth being singled out and bullied by his peers, it hits home the hardest. All I ever wanted was to be liked by people, and not having that acceptance was hurtful. I don’t care as much now, and I even pity those who behave that way, but that cattiness still annoys me. It irks me when brought up and makes me wish horrible stuff would happen to those who engage in it (use your imagination, I’m afraid of sharing what that means.)

There are also some side-threads of equal relevance. The most-prominent is Kureha’s relationship with Yurika Hakonaka, who was also a close friend of her mother’s. Except that she ate her mother out of jealousy, then blamed it on Ginko to avoid the consequences. I’ve heard this sort of revenge plot was also in Mawaru Penguindrum, meaning you can argue ripped motifs, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t judge. And besides, the plot thread is both fitting and tragic, so I don’t care.

That said, there are parts of this show that bother me, and most centre around its sexual politics. For one, there’s that whole “murdering bears” point. I don’t care what the bears represent, you can’t justify or condone senseless murder. Besides, going by this show’s religious themes, “thou shalt not murder” is clearly written in Scripture, so it’s criminal to not address the long-term consequences.

Secondly, the show loves its lesbian romance to a creepy extreme. As in, the show revels in pervy sex scenes. As in, the show could pass-off as an Akuyuki Shinbo work due to all the semi-nude shots in its 12 episodes. As in, Life Sexy stalks a lesbian couple at one point. As in, the show’s opening is even hitting on me with its lyrics and imagery. All the while, it hammers in its themes of love several times in each episode. I wasn’t aware I was watching a porno shoot, but okay!

Speaking of which, the whole “girl on girl” sex is over-romanticized. Ikuhara has openly stated that he considers lesbian romance the purest form of love, yet I respectfully disagree. Love has no limits or boundaries, and I believe that heterosexual romance can be pure too; after all, God blessed Adam and Eve’s union after they were rejected from The Garden of Eden, no?

But the biggest bone I have with this show is its insistence that gay romance is spiritual in of itself, and that religious institutions are automatically wrong for condemning it. While I can’t judge that merit, since I’m not gay, I will say that it, and its target audience, doesn’t really understand that the original prohibition was against anal sex between two men, since that was usually a sign of degradation, nothing more or less. Sure, it’s repeated several times under the explanation that it’s “unfit” (not “abominable”, that’s a mistranslation), but there’s nothing in Scripture against actually being gay; in fact, discriminating against your fellow man is an even bigger sin than being gay. Also, the word “unfit” is used in other contexts, so it’s not exclusive to anal sex.

Believe me, I have close friends who are gay, and it hurts to see them discriminated against by people who’ve misinterpreted their holy texts. Even non-practicing/atheistic heterosexuals are guilty of this, so it’s not exclusive to the religious sphere. But that doesn’t automatically negate a law that most people don’t understand. Religion doesn’t become irrelevant because you don’t agree with it, that’s not how the system works. Otherwise, life would have easy answers.

Finally, Yuri Bear Storm is guilty of “Clark Kent Syndrome”. This is when a character is in an obvious disguise, and yet no one sees through it. All of the bears are guilty of this crime: their names contain the word “Yuri”. They’re openly attracted to other girls. They constantly say “growl”. They even have noticeable fangs and eat people, for crying out loud! How is anyone dense enough to not see this?

I’m being overly-critical. For all its faults, I can’t call Yuri Bear Storm “insincere”. It reminds me of two mediocre films I’ve seen in the last year or so, Birdman and Mad Max: Fury Road, that critiqued something through their insanity and bizarre premises as well. However, where as I found Birdman to be an exercise in vapid pretentiousness and Mad Max: Fury Road an exercise in vapid stupidity, Yuri Bear Storm is too honest and clever to be either. Are there parts that annoyed me to no end? Sure, but there were parts that also endeared. If that’s not enough to make me a fan, I don’t know what is.

Also, its dub is awesome! If only Ikuhara’s other shows were like that…

Comments

Popular Posts