I didn’t enjoy Yuri Kuma Arashi all that much on first watch. I enjoyed dissecting it and writing about it, but it didn’t fill me with the same exuberance of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s other works (Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum). The ending was phenomenal but the series itself felt too dense. The characters were too distant and cold. And the series felt like it had more than its 12 episodes allowed it to say.
I’ve not-so-coincidentally mentioned this regarding Sarazanmai‘s placement in my personal top ten of the decade as well, and expect that I’ll feel differently after watching it a few times as well, but I don’t think it will ever top Yurikuma for me due to personal reasons. With every rewatch, Yurikuma remains dense but admirably concise in its storytelling. Like any Ikuhara series, there is more to discover with every rewatch, but only with Yurikuma have I loved the series exponentially more with each viewing.
Yurikuma‘s primary failing for first-time watchers — and something that Ikuhara did course-correct somewhat with the main trio in his next work, Sarazanmai — is that the characters are difficult to connect with. Kureha Tsubaki and Ginko Yurishiro are, by design, frustratingly obtuse and cold. This aids their respective roles in the story — especially that of Ginko, who is revealed as someone who actually cares very deeply about the people she loves — but doesn’t make them initially appealing as characters. Only Lulu Yurigasaki, who is assigned a warmer, comedic relief role at first, is immediately likable.
Not-so-coincidentally it was Lulu’s story that really hooked me and made me emotionally invested in the rest of the series. Her realization at the world’s societal unfairness and how it drives a wedge between her and her younger brother is painfully relatable (and hilarious, especially when she kicks him into an antlion pit).
Yurikuma is a series with a lot to say about societal infrastructure and systemic pressure on queer women and does so surprisingly neatly. Of all of Ikuhara’s series, I also find it the most bittersweet because Yurikuma says, in no uncertain terms, that the system is still firmly in place, even though Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu have broken their own cycles. The Wall of Severance is continuously being built, but also continuously being dismantled by those brave enough to not only recognize but overcome those same pressures to pursue the love they want.