Kureha Tsubaki and flower language in Yuri Kuma Arashi

The white lily (shirayuri/白百合) is the third image to appear in Yuri Kuma Arashi. First the anime opens with what we learn later is a bear alarm — resembling a tornado or earthquake siren — next, an outside shot of Arashigaoka Academy, complete with a title. Kunihiko Ikuhara loves stagecraft and with less time to work with, Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s episodes are packed with images, often accompanied by specific titles, to set the stage.

Then a white lily appears.

White lilies frame Kureha Tsubaki’s introduction and title card, which reads “ユリ” underneath in katakana. From these opening scenes through to the latest Exclusion Ceremony in Episode 12, lilies are everywhere.

A visual shortcut for the genre of yuri, white lilies are iconic. They’re frequently used in anime to represent lesbian or girls-love relationships and stories. This has been traced back to Bungaku Itou’s Barazoku/薔薇族 magazine for gay men, which used the term yurizoku/百合族 to refer to women who read a letter column yurizoku no heya/百合族の部屋 for women. For both men and women, these floral terms have stuck with their respective genres in some fashion — bara (rose), manga or media about gay men, and yuri (lily), manga or media about gay women.

Interestingly enough, both have developed opposite figurative meanings over the years. Bara is usually a shortcut for more masculine-styled men (interesting aside, they’re often also related to bears or kuma/熊 within gay culture) and has a harder, more realistic context as a subsection of yaoi as a whole. Meanwhile yuri is an umbrella term for media about relationships between women*, but also frequently used as a shortcut for the Class S genre, which is generally softer in nature, less harsh, and less permanent.

Class S features female/female relationships that are bound to a specific time period of adolescence — often within the isolation of an all-girls school — before both young women “grow up” and graduate to pursue heterosexual relationships. These relationships are framed as a phase, not true homosexual tendencies. This Class S boundary is what Yuri Kuma Arashi aims to push past.

Due to the lily’s association with Class S relationships, which are in Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s sights from the moment the series opens, it’s an emblem for Arashigaoka Academy: an all-girls high school, the perfect Class S setting. Lilies appear in the red wallpaper of the school, on the wall behind the podium in their auditorium, and in the school’s crest.

The fleur-de-lis (lily flowers) crest appears as another symbol of Arashigaoka and also the Severance Court, where Lulu Yurigasaki and Ginko Yurishiro make their appeal week after week to have their yuri “approved” by the three male bears of the court. During their judgment, they are surrounded by falling white lilies. A fleur-de-lis crest carries a similar meaning to a white lily — representing purity and chastity, it grew to become a symbol of the Virgin Mary in Christian art, as well as a symbol for the French monarchy. Here, the lily flower and crest represent the boundaries of Class S relationships, which either require a specific setting (the school) or approval from men who have high social standing (the court) to occur.

However, lilies aren’t only symbols of the Class S establishment. They also frame Kureha in her first appearance with then-girlfriend Sumika Izumino and appear while Kureha affirms that her love is true. When Sumika returns as Lady Kumaria (“Maria” tying into the Virgin Mary association) she appears in a white lily dress. White lilies fall from the sky when Kureha realizes that her decision to ask for Ginko to become a human was selfish, and accompany Kureha’s requested transformation into a bear. Lily (百合) appears in the names of bears at the school who work within their given societal framework — Mitsuko Yurizono and Konomi Yurikawa — and also those who are at least making an attempt to move past it in Lulu Yurigasaki and Ginko Yurishiro.

Black lilies — which are symbols of death in a more ominous way than white lilies are used for funeral flowers in addition to representing deceit/lies — also appear in Yuri Kuma Arashi at three specific times when the purity of the white lily/yuri is threatened. The first is when Mitsuko manipulates Eriko Oniyama into selecting Kureha by the Invisible Storm. The second is when Arashigaoka teacher Yurika Hakonaka gives up her “bearness” to become a human in service of exacting further revenge against Kureha’s mother, Reia Tsubaki. And the third is when Mitsuko appears again as an embodiment of Ginko’s lust and jealousy. All are acts of purposeful deceit, especially the case of Yurika, who gives up who she is to pursue revenge against Reia’s daughter due to a misunderstanding.

Yet Yuri Kuma Arashi doesn’t focus on just the lily. Another flower motif peppers the landscape: Kureha Tsubaki’s red camellia. Tsubaki/椿 is Kureha’s family name, meaning camellia flower, and Kureha’s emblem is a red camellia. It appears everywhere around her — the outside of her house, decorating every surface in her room including the lighting fixtures, wallpaper, pillows, and carpets, even in her shower drain and at the bottom of her teacup. The red camellia is Kureha.

This is reinforced by Kureha’s appearance later on. As “the moon girl” in her mother’s book, she wears a large red camellia flower on her head. When she makes the decision to become a bear and be with Ginko, her final crowing touch in the transformation is a red camellia, once again on her head.

Red camellias can symbolize divinity or nobility, but are more commonly seen as flowers of deep love. Kureha’s love for Ginko has been true this entire time — even when her memories were lost — and her emblem of the red camellia flower is a constant reminder of this.

*This is referring to yuri in a Japanese media context. In the west, yuri was initially used as a term for girls-love hentai. It has since slowly evolved to become something more in line with the Japanese meaning.

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