Let’s talk construction – snazzy hard hats, ubiquitous cranes, winches, and the existing status quo. That is sexy. Shabadadu.
Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s skyline is constantly under construction. Unfinished edifices and gigantic cranes loom in the distance of nearly every scene, putting the town in a state of perpetual building. These cranes, unfinished walls, and occasional drilling or shifting sounds tower over what otherwise looks to be a relatively normal municipality. It isn’t even a large city, aside from the rising structures that are endlessly erected.
What is a thing so important to these people that its construction engulfs an entire town?
Marked by a distinct honeycomb pattern of pink bear paw prints, what is being constructed is the “Wall of Severance” separating humans from bears. Its pervasive presence marks a constant reminder of the severed relationship between bear and human. Aside from a few key locations, the Wall of Severance is always visible, so an average townsperson cannot go about their daily life without running into it or seeing the wall and cranes from a distance.
So, if Yuri Kuma Arashi was so focused on separating humans and bears for the purpose of its narrative, why didn’t the series simply feature a large wall down the center of the town? The answer is important and crucial to the subject matter of the series as a whole.
Yuri Kuma Arashi takes an in-depth look at the complexity, hardships, and barriers present in homosexual relationships between women. As such, the constant construction in the distance from almost every vantage point is a physical manifestation of preexisting societal structures and mores. In their attempts to pursue same-sex partnership, the young women of Yuri Kuma Arashi find themselves stymied by these looming construction sites – complete with cranes, winches, and beams – that make up Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s Wall of Severance.
The characters’ personal respective Walls of Severance vary, as do the cranes in their background – including their definition, proximity, and atmospheric perspective.
For example, when the Wall is shown from the bears’ perspective in Episode 9, there’s first a snowy shot where the Wall is seen in multiple pieces from a distance. However, to Ginko Yurishiro, the Wall is directly in front of her at the “Door of Friendship,” because her ties with her love, Kureha Tsubaki, have recently been severed.
When Kureha reaffirms her relationship with Sumika Izumino – prior to the latter’s death in Episode 1 – on the school rooftop, the cranes and wall are still inescapable. Even in a place where the two appear alone, and have stolen away to eat lunch together, the threat of severance is still present, even though it gradually fades out of focus with the girls in the forefront.
Another scene in Episode 8 shows a flashback of teacher Yuriika Hakonaka both distancing herself from Kureha’s mother, Reia, out of jealousy, and forced to hide her love for Reia regardless following the Wall of Severence’s construction. Cranes appear well-defined and in the forefront here, showcasing Yuriika’s inability to overcome her emotionally-abusive past, crippling envy, and lust.
Each woman’s narrative is affected and framed by different situations; however, they all have one thing in common – save for the very end of the series where Ginko and Kureha escape the cycle. In order to pursue each other romantically, or cross the Wall of Severance, they must consult and be approved by the three Judgmens: Life Sexy, Life Cool, and Life Beauty.
These three arbiters of severance are three of five – if one includes Kureha’s father, who exists only as a concept and is never shown – total male characters throughout Yuri Kuma Arashi, and play the all-important role of patriarchal influences. Even in a world nearly vacant of men physically, their influence permeates the Wall of Severance, and any movement from one world to the other requires appealing to their Severance Court.
While in court, defendants are frequently asked to prove that “their love is true.” In fact, Severance Court is initiated by a call from Life Sexy from a restricted number, and the pink pattern of the wall appears in the background. Court itself takes place in a magical dreamworld; however, the Judgmens are shown living among the cranes within the incomplete pieces of the Wall, thoroughly binding them not only to the wall’s existence, but it’s continuing construction.
Additionally, the use of “severance” itself for both the barrier and the Judgmens’ court implies the actual severing of an existing relationship. Meaning that, regardless of whatever societal structures were, and are, in place, women will have relationships with each other regardless and it’s the prevailing atmosphere of society that will build walls to “sever” them. The construction sites indicate that these walls are continuously built. There’s no one thing that can wholly tear them down, yet there will never be a complete wall as long as people fight the system.
In Yuri Kuma Arashi, the Judgmens aren’t the only ones upholding the status quo and supporting severance. Arashigaoka Academy, where the protagonists attend school, harbors the Invisible Storm: a representation of the immense pressure these young women feel to conform and become invisible. It goes without saying that doing anything to stand out from the Invisible Storm includes homosexuality, and Kureha becomes an easy target.
Official meetings of the Invisible Storm are presided over by a chosen student and begin with the declaration that invisibility is necessary, people who cannot read the atmosphere of invisibility are evil, and the iconic line, “Let’s search evil!” This is followed by a cell phone vote where the Wall of Severance construction cranes appear ominously in the background as the girls choose their next target.
Interestingly enough, all of the young women who lead the Invisible Storm at one time or another either blatantly lie about their much-touted “invisibility,” or meet an unfortunate demise thanks to the bears. Both Student Council President Mitsuko Yurizono and Konomi Yurikawa are bears themselves. Katyusha Akae and Eriko Oniyama are eaten by lead bears Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, while Yuriika – another bear – eats Kaoru Harishima. These self-appointed judges of invisibility are the most visible in terms of character design and appearance as well.
It’s important to note that the Judgmens are end all, be all judges, where members of the Invisible Storm are shown to be playing the game without any control over the rules. The construction cranes still tower over the young women of Arashigaoka, but the Judgmens live in the same Wall of Severance that those cranes are building, deciding which relationships are to be tested and the rules for their survival.
At the end of the series, the Judgmens are finally rendered ineffective as Kureha and Ginko discover a way to break the cycle. As the closing credits roll, the two are shown happily together in a world that’s above the wall and it’s seemingly ceaseless development. While they have found a way out, others aren’t so lucky. More than either of his two previous series – Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum – director Kunihiko Ikuhara stresses that this is ongoing and the events of the series have only momentarily weakened the existing system. The cranes are still building walls, even in the series’ hopeful, waning moments where former Invisible Storm member Uchiko Ai finds the discarded Konomi Yurikawa. Inspired by Ginko and Kureha’s love, Uchiko seeks out her own, all while the construction sites of the Wall of Severance remain visible in the distance.