First Impressions – Yuri Kuma Arashi

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The Russian Roulette of writer/directors is back – strap in and hang on.

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.

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  1. g

    What a cluster f*ck. Man.

    I am a big fan of penguindrum, and enjoyed Utena, but this is clearly the product of a director given too much credit and control.

    Do you think the shift toward more fan service and lowbrow otaku pandering is a reflection of the director's taste, or an attempt to cash in on the current anime climate?

  2. G

    I'm with you. I liked Penguindrum but hated and I mean HATED this 1st episode. I won't waste 24 minutes of my life watching a 2nd episode. Damn and I thought Kantai Collection was weird. That's anime of the year material compared to this shit.

  3. Z

    Do you think the shift toward more fan service and lowbrow otaku pandering is a reflection of the director's taste, or an attempt to cash in on the current anime climate?

    1. Wrong
    2. Matter of cicumstances

    P.S: series has evolved quite a bit since then. 😉

  4. G

    Is this going to be the F/SN of the season?
    And by that I mean the show where you spend 90% of your post talking about how another show related to it was better.

  5. w

    Since I've been harping on and on about this series for the last while, it might surprise you to find out I actually agree with most of this! This is absolutely Ikuni catering to his own personal fetishes, which I suspected it might be going in. I'm pretty cool with that, since Ikuhara is always at least interesting, though some of the choices here felt pretty jarring and well, forced.

    To me the episode falls down on a much more fundamental level; it mostly failed to get me interested in whatever is happening here. Whether or not there is a purpose to this series (or a justification), there wasn't really anything compelling me to find out. The characters were especially uninteresting, the best ones were the three judges and that one REALLY lesbian bear, just because they were much more entertaining and funny. I also have feeling you'll agree with me when I say that Ogura Yui (blonde girls girlfriend) gave extremely grating performance. I hope she was eaten, then I won't have to listen to her.

    Of course that's not to say I hated it. It was entertaining, and I couldn't help but laugh at some of the more ludicrous moments. I'm just pretty underwhelmed

  6. Yes, it was Ogura who I felt was the worst example of the gratingly precious and self-important comment. She really should face criminal charges.

  7. g

    I haven't watch it yet but an overall controversy and buzzing of the Internet make me curious. I'm very far from an applause of calling other people pretentious and hipsters by some but devoted fans haven't been better calling others, who didn't like it first episode, stupid and "that they don't understand anything".
    From my understanding, while I've red some reviews, some things are not clear just from not knowing a plot and in which direction it will go (it means it's quite natural not knowing) and so-called symbolism was anything but subtlety and actually hit you on face.

    Your review reminds me about an one talk with my friend about Stephen King. He red that time a book Cell. He said he liked some of his books, especially older ones. He wasn't a devoted fan but from time to time liked reading his stuff but from some time he had a feeling his newer books aren't so good, comparing to earlier ones. And this book which he was reading then, , gave him an impulse to formulate a hypothesis Stephen King has looped himself of being Stephen King too much and wanted to try his devoted fans how much he can strain a trust between him, as a writer, and his readers, how much shit they can take. So the book went to the toilet and was red only when he had to make longer visits. He said the best review of the book was a fact he didn't have any constipation, while reading it on the toilet.

  8. G

    The first episode was definitely not as strong as Mawaru Penguin's. Then again that was one of the best anime episodes ever. Generally I agree that the pilot could have given us a bit more to chew on so that the mystery would be more engaging and also the characters don't have that Ikuhara stamp yet, where even if they are mysterious symbols in a hyper reality they are instantly interesting and distinct. Having said that (it's impossible to use this phrase without thinking of Curb), I liked it. And the more I think of what I saw the more it feels that there is a strong long game in mind. What might have been dismissed as mindless masturbation in the hands of a lesser creator, here you can't help but question everything, spin crazy theories and try to fit the pieces in a way that makes sense. So i would urge those still on the fence, to not give up trying to engage with it because then even it they continue watching they won't be watching, not really.I fully understand how patronizing that sounds but I can't put it any other way. Again I would feel more confident writing that if the pilot was better, and maybe I'm willing to trust where trust was earned (having been burned doing exactly that with kyoani's recent ''efforts''') but there IS stuff here and I want to see more. I think that the main theme here is the ancient battle of animal instincts vs civilized humanity. The bears (primal sexuality and violence) need to be contained behind walls (notice the construction machines in the background) and at the same time ''pure love'' (flowers) is tested and found lacking. The judge seems to be responsible for maintaining such a balance with the prosecutor as the superego and the lawyer as the Id. Of course that's pure speculation and a lot of things don't make sense yet (the bears came from the sky!??) but again, trust has been earned.

  9. Not enough from me. Ikuhara's misses are more frequent than his hits IMHO.

  10. G

    You said you liked Mawaru so what misses (as in plural) are you talking about? You didn't like Utena (which is also great) and huuh some Sailor Moon season arcs?

  11. I'm not that nuts about his take on Sailor Moon, to be honest. And I think Utena is overrated, though it's certainly not without considerable merit. I just think Ikuhara is so self-indulgent and pretentious that he's always walking a very, very thin line. And even when he mostly connects, as with MPD, it's still very much a mixed bag for me.

  12. Z

    The lack of creative freedom with Sailor Moon is why Ikuhara left Toei. Only a few of the episodes really had his stamp.

    Utena isn't really that overrated. Most of it's fans were from 90s anime fandom, and plenty of people found it is too wierd and incomprehible for their liking.

  13. i

    Despite the fact that I definitely enjoyed the premiere more than you did, it's really refreshing to read someone's opinion that isn't either, "I didn't get mind blown!" or "Fabulousness!" or "Not great, BUT it'll get better!"

    We'll see where they go from here, but I'm honestly more worried than I am hopeful.

  14. j

    I liked the first episode. With that said, here's how I saw it play out:
    "Here's a bunch of symbolism! You connect the dots!"
    It's not to say that this is the "wrong" way to tell a story, but I would definitely enjoy it a LOT more if Ikuhara adhered just a tad bit closer to a more orthodox method of telling a story. For the time being, I'm not going to bring down judgement yet.

  15. R

    I know I needed to be a bit more patient with Ikuhara-sensei, and I have no problem with a yurt-themed story — provided that I can feel a connection with the characters. Somehow I find symbolism a bit overrated. To me, this is just another tool to tell a story or express an opinion only when it is used well and appropriately to get the message across. Otherwise, this is just another meaningless gimmick. As for this show, I will still wait and see if it will blow my mind. For now, this show is probably one of the few that will garner the most controversies.

  16. r

    So … I am a big Ikuhara fan – Utena is likely my all-time favorite series. But I must confess, the premiere gave me pause as well. Yuri Kuma Arashi, as of this first episode, is just much more in-your-face than any of his previous works. Ikuhara has always leaned heavily on innuendo in the past. But the lilies, the honey, it's all so blatant … it's not really innuendo anymore. And yeah, definitely kicked the fan service up a notch or three.

    I don't have anything against yuri per se, but I'm also admittedly not a fan of the exploitative way femalexfemale relationships are usually depicted in anime. Utena had always seemed somewhat of an exception in this respect to me, so color me kind of disappointed that it seems it's this path that we're going to go down in YKA.

  17. Z

    Yuri Kuma Arashi is a challenging watch, I'll be the first to admit I'm not a fan of the character aesthetics (Utena and MPD are better matches to Ikuhara's flamboyant theatrical style) and likely never will be (personal taste), but it's rather premature to be throwing overtly pejorative descriptors over a single episode.

  18. J

    Personally I can't stand Kuniko Ikuhara and this sort of premiere doesn't help at all. I find Enzo spot on with the impression that the guy is basically madly in love with himself and his own fetishes and totally cool with parading them in front of us. Sadly in this day and age of Twitter and youtube celebrities like Pewdiepie this sort of personality is in high demand so this sort of behavior, approach to directly and general egocentric attitude has basically made him a hot topic again after a couple decades off and resulted in him being credited as a mad genius because he makes it LOOK like he's being all symbolic and people cling to this belief that everything he does including simulated fellatio and just about anything that happened in this episode MUST have a deep meaningful reason behind it beyond just the eccentricities and self-impressed visual and mental masturbation of the direction.

    There's an increasing encroachment of people like this in the anime industry and it's chief among things I expect to creatively bury it before long. Between your NisioIsins and Akiyuki Shinbo's (the latter of which credits Ikuhara as a major inspiration to little surprise) as well as your Oonuma Shin's (creative head at Silver Link where this was animated and which is also a major outlet for anime featuring Yuri themes) who work the same angle of being symbolic and deep when really just peddling crass fanservice at the masses the kinds of creative leaders that are being celebrated and held up as a gold standard of today's top industry people reveal an encroaching cynicism in both the industry and the fandom and what appears to be the belief that the best anime can have to offer in terms of creative types is loud self-indulgent assholes peddling their pseudo-pornographic ideas at us. It's really fucking sad, particularly with the retirement of guys like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata this year who had so much more to offer than these turkeys while in the latter's case being several orders of magnitude more humble about it.

  19. Z

    So what should the anime industry be doing?

  20. M

    Wow, needless vitriol cramming the scene here.

    Ikuhara is not a cynical cash-grab and never has been. He simply deals in surrealism and densely littered metaphor to effectively (and oftentimes efficiently) spin a much, much larger message. That is usually at the cost of conventional storytelling. If that approach still doesn't work for you, fine, but don't arrogantly springboard off one episode to throw potshots like "pretentiousness". Ikuni has considerably less time to work with here than he did with Utena and MPD, so I can appreciate something like this overwhelming the unaccustomed eye. But if you are really familiar with the nature of Ikuhara's work as you may claim to be, knee-jerking all over the show just makes you look amateurish. I'm not saying the show is without faults; the characters have yet to shine, the sexual tone a bit heavy-handed and the narrative is (unsurprisingly) oblique. But take a breather and consider what's really going on beneath the surface instead of blowing it all off. Plenty of reasonable interpretations, discussion AND critique you can read up on out there.

    Here is a tidy breakdown of the episode.

  21. S

    I think…. I'm gonna have to agree with you on this one, Enzo. I think you're right about Ikuhara- I don't hate him, but I feel like he just floats away on his own creative whims and never comes back down. I did react to the episode bit more positively than you did, probably because I was texting my friends every stupid thing that happened while watching it, making gratuitous bear puns whenever I felt the need. It was great. I'm not sure speaks any to the show's quality, but it was great.

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