I’ll get it out of the way up-front – I really, really disliked the premiere of Yuri Kuma Arashi. In fact, as far as I’m concerned it was a trainwreck. I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of the hugely idiosyncratic Ikuhara Kunihiko – though I certainly don’t deny his talent. The problem for me is that talent has rarely translated into anime that I find really compelling, and even when it does – as it did with Mawaru Penguin Drum, a show that made my year-end Top 10 list – it annoys the hell out of me almost as much as it entrances me.
A lot of people are comparing this show to Binan, but to me they’re as different as can be. Binan is a series that takes itself extremely lightly, while no one can match Ikuhara when it comes to being self-serious about silliness. Everything he directs (and generally also writes, when he does direct) is a kind of creative masturbation. This is a man who’s clearly convinced of his own genius, and only too anxious to let us know how he feels. Pretentiousness and absurdity is generally not a good combination (MPD was a very rare exception) – and here I found it distinctly unpleasant.
Because Ikuhara is who he is, there’s no compulsion on his part to justify anything he does on-screen. If he wants to tell a self-indulgent story about madly yuri high-schoolers (no goggles needed here, Kids) and meteor-zapped bears who feast on hyper-kawaii girls while lusting after them, he will. Folks will defend all this nonsense as allegory and symbolism – and in MPD Ikuhara certainly showed he can still pull that off – but in YKA, it just comes off as arrogance. There’s no sense of an actual story being set up here as there was in Penguindrum, no feeling that all of this has a purpose apart from Ikuhara scratching his own itches. And the acting is pitched to the material – gratingly precious and self-important. In short, for me at least this just doesn’t remotely work.
Ikuhara is sufficiently weird and capable of sufficient levels of genius that it’s only prudent to give Yuri Kuma Arashi a little more time to see if it comes together. And the show certainly isn’t a bore visually – it’s overflowing with his signature brand of shoujo fabulousness and brightly-colored surrealism. But my sense after the first episode was that this is mostly a colossal mistake, and Ikuhara’s track record suggests he’s capable of some whoppers.