The following was originally posted on Dee Hogan’s blog The Josei Next Door and has been republished with permission.
I may never be able to listen to “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” the same way again.
We begin this episode with a Short Flashback of Reia reading the last page of the The Moon Girl and the Forest Girl. This means that (a) there actually was a finished version at one point, and (b) SOMEONE didn’t teach Reia that she’s supposed to say “Spoiler Alert” first (GAWD, no WONDER that bear ate her). The good news is that the storybook has a happy ending; the bad news is that when Reia tells her daughter that this tale is about her and “the girl who taught us about Kumalia,” Little Kureha has no idea who this girl is. And here you promised you wouldn’t forget your love. Tsk, tsk.
In The Present, Kaoru is once again hanging out at the Seduction Emporium, feeling very pleased with herself. She confesses her love to Mystery Lady and expresses her gratitude because now she’s “not a weak girl at the mercy of the Invisible Storm,” but rather someone “important who won’t be excluded.” And this is true, because she will be eaten long before anyone has the chance to exclude her.
(Also just wanna mention that we get a quick shot of the windows behind the curtains and they look a whole heckuva lot like the ones in Yuriika’s office. JUST SAYIN’.)
Meanwhile, Kureha has officially allowed Ginko and Lulu to stay at her place. They even get to put their adorable coffee mugs in the kitchen cabinet! Progress! While Lulu makes porridge downstairs, Kureha keeps watch over the feverish Ginko (who’s recovering from last week’s burning ring of fire), and tries to figure out why she’d risk her life to save Sumika’s letter. Then Ginko wakes up, pins Kureha to the bed, and the two of them go on a magical galactic love quest together, complete with strategically placed censorship ribbons.
…Okay, not really. I mean, there were strategically placed censorship ribbons, but none of that actually happened—Kureha just nodded off and had herself a little sexy dream, where Ginko encouraged them to share a Promise Kiss so that “everything will awaken, and everything will change.” But, alas, Kureha herself awakens before everything else can, and they don’t quite get that kiss of theirs.
5-Minute Mark Theory Time! So! Remember in the early few episodes when we’d get those kinda creepy flower scenes with Kureha and the LilyBears? At the time I’d thrown out a theory that both Ginko and Lulu weren’t actually real, and that those scenes were more like erotic dreams on Kureha’s part. I’ve since more-or-less retracted that stuff about the LilyBears not actually existing, but the way this scene in many ways mimics those early ones (both in the dialog and movements) leads me to think that those flower scenes really were happening in Kureha’s head, same as this one. Maybe encountering the bears at school awoke the long-buried memories of her time with Ginko, and her subconscious has been slowly trying to recover those memories via unsubtle lily imagery and strategically placed ribbons. Because the subconscious is nothing if not a trolling bastard.
Lulu pops upstairs with the honey porridge and the hot-n-bothered Kureha hurriedly excuses herself. Back in her room, she remembers talking to her mom about her “special friend” to whom she taught “the love song”—but Kureha still can’t remember who that “friend” was.
Later at school, the faceless students gossip about Kaoru’s demise and all the Bad News Bears in town, and Kureha speaks with Super Trustworthy Teacher Hakonaka Yuriika about how there’s another bear on campus. Yuriika reminds Kureha that the bear who stole Reia’s life also stole her pendant, so if they find the pendant, they’ll find the damn dirty bear, too. And then?
But Kureha actually came here to see if Yuriika knows anything about Kureha’s “old friend.” And while Yuriika didn’t know the friend personally, she does remember that, shortly before Reia died, she mentioned that Kureha had “suddenly forgotten” her friend and that the picture book was about the two of them.
10-Minute Mark Theory Time! Actually for this one, let’s backtrack slightly to the Faceless Girls outside, and to Kaoru’s little bedroom speech. While I don’t feel a speck of sadness about Kaoru’s demise, I confess that I’m starting to sympathize a bit with her and the other invisible girls, because they really are in a bad position. They’ve been raised to fear the outside world (bears) and been told that sticking together is the only way to stay safe. People who break away from the group threaten it, partly by lowering the overall numbers and partly by drawing the attention of the bears.
So how do you keep people from breaking away? By viciously excluding one perceived “outcast,” allowing them to serve as an example to the group as a whole. Which, in turn, makes it that much harder for anyone to voice a dissenting opinion because there’s the constant threat of the Invisible Storm choosing you as the next “evil.” And so the group becomes even more homogenous and less tolerant of those who are different, and on and on in an increasingly tighter circle. Kaoru’s relief is palpable when she believes she’s been given a power that keeps her safe from exclusion (and given the way she dresses so differently from the rest of the class, there’s the distinct sense that she might have been on the outskirts herself), and a strong reminder that social forces like The Storm hurt everyone, even those who appear to be protected by it.
And back in the story itself, Lulu is using Kureha’s Life Sexy-shaped shaved ice machine to keep Ginko’s fever down. She’s so clever!
In her feverish state, Ginko—or I guess Life Sexy, since he’s once again serving as the Bear Narrator (the Bearrator?)—Flashes Back to her childhood, when she was abandoned as a cub outside a church.
Bullied by the other cubs, she earned the nickname “Ginko the Lone Wolfsbane” and came to believe that it was a “dog-eat-dog, bear-eat-salmon” world where only the strong survived. Yet despite being the toughest cub on the playground, she’s still the only one left alone when the others are called home, and I’m not sure what hurts me more: Ginko standing all by herself in the sunset, or the damn name puns.
Pretty soon the Day of Severance arrives, and the war between humans and bears begins. The local church (covered in yet more Escher-esque tesselations, although this time it’s of bears transforming into angels) takes in all the orphans and raises them on a healthy diet of social exclusion and religious zealotry, promising them that they will receive Lady Kumalia’s approval and love if they guard the boundary between bears and humans.
Ginko and her fellow waifs eventually become the Bear Shock Troops (sorry) for the great war of exclusion against the humans, a sequence of battles so grizzly (sorry!) they can only be shown in profile.
15-Minute Mark Theory(ish) Time! This all pretty much speaks for itself, succinctly and (IMO) powerfully demonstrating how callous authority figures use fear and loneliness to twist benevolent, positive emotions (faith, hope, and love, in essence) into destructive forces, so I won’t waste your time by going over the painfully obvious in painful detail. But heyyyy! Remember way back in Episode 3 when they told us The Crusades would be on the test? WELP.
Ikuhara gives my emotions a quick breather by jumping back to The Present as Kureha rereads her mother’s picture book and tries to jog her memory. Lulu plunks down, asking if she can read it, but Kureha warns her there’s no ending because her mom was killed by a bear before she could finish it. Awk-ward.
While Kureha watches over Ginko and (judging by her flushed cheeks) tries rull hard to think about baseball and cold showers, we Flashback again to the snowy battlefield. A true believer, Ginko had fought hard for Kumalia’s love, but was eventually shot by an enemy soldier. The rest of the Yuri Bear Stormtroopers (…not sorry) acknowledge that she’s still alive, but because she’d only slow them down, they choose to exclude her as well.
“The animal world is merciless,” Life Sexy tells us (as if we haven’t seen the same damn thing in the human world for the last half-season). “The weak, those who can’t do the same thing as the group, are summarily excluded.” And then the camera slowly zooms in on Ginko and a lovely, haunting vocal BGM plays as Ginko laments that she won’t “be found” or “approved” by anyone because she failed in her mission, and… and…
Through the snow comes a young Kureha, who teaches Ginko her love song and promises that she’s not alone anymore, because Kureha is here and she loves her.
Aaaand now if you’ll excuse me:
Once again saving my feels from additional bludgeoning, we return to The Present as Ginko at last awakens. She takes Kureha’s hand, which brings back the Strategic Ribbon dream and Kureha hurriedly excuses herself.
When she goes downstairs to tell Lulu that Ginko’s awake, she sees the honey ginger milk simmering on the stove and it awakens a memory of sharing the drink with her mother and her childhood friend. Lulu says honey-ginger milk is Ginko’s “love flavor: The flavor that tells her she’s not all alone in the world.” And Kureha retreats to her room once again, desperately trying to jog her memory (and seriously, why can’t she remember? WHO DID THIS TO YOUR MEMORY, KUREHA?!).
20-Minute Mark Theory Cinematography Time! I’m far too invested in the story right now to bother analyzing much of anything, but there’s a fabulous use of doorways and windows throughout this episode, framing characters in their respective spaces both socially and emotionally. It simultaneously acknowledges that walls of severance that exist both literally (the buildings) and figuratively (the “walls” of understanding and trust between individuals), as well as highlighting the places where those barriers (bearriers?) disappear, allowing people to cross into one another’s worlds.
If this episode has a weakness, it’s that there are a few too many flashbacks to events we’ve already recently seen, but it mostly works because it serves to hammer home those little fragments and connections, which all finally culminate in the last scene of the episode: As Lulu reads The Moon Girl and the Forest Girl, and Kureha chases the sound of her mother’s love song to find Ginko singing it on the porch. And then, at last, Kureha crosses the threshold between herself and Ginko, stepping outside and verbally acknowledging what she’s known all episode.
But because that would be FAR too simple, we’ve got one last post-credits twist, as Lulu finds a letter addressed to Ginko under the back door, accusing her of a serious crime. And that crime is… something we’ll have to wait until next week to learn?! Ikuhara, you jerk.
This was the last thing I tweeted while watching Yurikuma on Monday:
It’s official: I’ve gone from being all scholarly-pipe-and-monocle about #Yurikuma to just straight-up loving it. You win again, Ikuhara.
— The Josei Next Door (@joseinextdoor) February 17, 2015
Which I think gives you a good idea of where I am now. True, I’ve been inching this direction since Episode 4, but it wasn’t until I found myself blinking back tears during Ginko’s Fall that I realized how tangled up I’d gotten in this series, not just intellectually but emotionally as well. So if my Theory Times seemed a little sparse this week, it was because I was too busy Feeling the Feels to Think the Thinks. And I’m honestly super okay with that.
But this Afterthought just wouldn’t be complete without a little cross-textual take-home assignment, so: This morning, my good friend and former roommate (who is stubbornly silent on social media so I can’t properly plug her awesomeness here) shot me a link to a recent NY Times article about public shaming and Twitter attacks. I recommend reading the whole thing if you get the chance, but I’m bringing it up in conversation here because she specifically tagged the article with: “The Invisible Storm at work?”
It wasn’t a connection I likely would have drawn on my own because I’m used to thinking of The Storm as those in traditionally powerful positions attacking traditionally marginalized groups, but the article was a good reminder that flock mentality (my friend even pointed out the similar bird imagery between Arashigaoka Academy and Twitter), zealotry, and the desire to exclude someone or make them suffer for perceived evils are all powerful impulses regardless of one’s position in society—and in fact often occur in situations where both “sides” have relatively little power, as we see in Yurikuma with Kaoru/Kureha and the human/bear troops. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, of course, but there’s a huge difference between social accountability and social exclusion or group tyranny, and it’s important that we remember that difference and focus on finding ways to cross walls rather than erect more of them.
Aaand since that got a little preachy (blame it on the head cold), I’ll make it up to you by giving you the gift of music: The Yurikuma single includes a cover of the traditional Boy/Girl Scout song, “I Met a Bear” sung by Kureha and the LilyBears, and it has no business being this charming and catchy.
Now if we can just get a LilyBear cover of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” I’ll be about ready to declare this the perfect anime.
Enjoy humming along to that ditty, avoid any spooky sheet rooms, and I’ll see you again for more bear-shocks next week!
Dee (@JoseiNextDoor) is a writer, a translator, a book worm, and a basketball fan. She has bachelor’s degrees in English and East Asian studies and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. To pay the bills, she works as a technical writer. To not pay the bills, she writes young adult novels, watches far too much anime, and cheers very loudly for the Kansas Jayhawks. You can find her at The Josei Next Door, a friendly neighborhood anime blog for long-time fans and newbies alike.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]