‘Yuri Kuma Arashi’ anime drama has an eye for truth and beauty

“Yuri Kuma Arashi,” which is most appropriately translated as “Lesbian Bear Storm,” is an animated romantic drama. Viewers follow the life of Tsubaki Kureha, whose mother and girlfriend Sumiko have fallen prey to bear attacks, leading Kureha to take up arms in revenge.

When two bears, Ginko and Lulu, cross a titanic defensive wall and infiltrate Kureha’s school in human disguises, this surreal story begins to unfold. Meanwhile, a group called The Invisible Storm plots to exclude any person who transgresses social rules.

Though it is only through half of its run, “Yuri Kuma Arashi” has already proven itself a unique platform for abstract symbolism, erotic romance and psychological horror.

Directed by famed anime creator Kunihiko Ikuhara (“Revolutionary Girl Utena” and “Sailor Moon”), the show has a visual language familiar only to those who have seen his work before.

Because of the constrained budgets of Japanese animation production, Ikuhara and production studio Silver Link have created a world that is rich in detail and striking while static. The formal aspect of the show combines a decorative obsession with floral imagery borrowed from horror films.

For instance, the carpet pattern from “The Shining” makes an appearance along with distinct references to Dario Argento’s classic shock movie “Suspiria.” These paradoxical aesthetic influences tell much about the tone of the show as well, varying wildly from mournful to goofy to disturbing, often within a single episode.

The high school where most of the story takes place is far from the sterile, monotonous location often depicted in anime. Instead, it is a strangely foreboding triangular structure concealing numerous hiding spots for various conspiracies to unfold.

Like his earlier efforts, this show communicates its story in an elliptical way. Comprehending characters’ actions and motivations requires an attention to the symbolic detail inhabiting the frame.

Unlike most animation which conveys drama in concrete and literal ways, “Yuri Kuma Arashi” takes mundane images like cooking, or surreal ones like a girl kicking her brother into a volcano in a cardboard box, and imbues each with a greater significance.

Motifs and set phrases repeat in each episode, ensuring that the viewer will notice these recurrences and begin to draw connections. Over time, these ritualistic phrases take on a different meaning and the symbolic system of the show becomes richer and more provocative.

Also provocative is the romantic content of the show which has a completely female cast, other than a few anthropomorphic bears called the Judgements. From the opening title song, the show delights in same-gender sensuality, with copious non-explicit nudity and tightly-wound eroticism.

Much of the symbolism suits this theme, focusing on lilies blooming from characters’ chests, honey-sealing promises between characters and various allegorical fairy tales spelling out backstories.

All the relationships between the women of the show, whether platonic or not, are almost byzantine. For every truthful love, there is a deceitful offer of friendship, and for every indulgence there is a painful denial, especially when death destroys treasured relationships.

Despite its fanciful airs, “Yuri Kuma Arashi” is able to use visuals and music to convey often painful realities about love and its potentially destructive pretenders.

Though there are some questionably exploitative images of the characters, the eroticism of the show is rarely fetishistic. Rather, genuine intimacy emerges from the closeness of the characters, which gives the show a unique charge to it, distinct from the shallow titillation of fan-service shows.

For those interested in anime or a romantic drama with an eye for truth and beauty, “Yuri Kuma Arashi” is an excellent choice. It is currently available streaming online through Funimation.