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.
At Arashigaoka Academy, blending in is not only a way of live, it’s introduced as the only way to survive. While the body count rises in Yuri Kuma Arashi, so do the cries from various young women in the series to uphold the status quo at all costs. Sumika Izumino is announced as the first casualty within the scope of the series and all her classmates can say about her rumored death is that it was her fault for going out alone. Friends are necessary for survival. The Wall of Severance is constantly being rebuilt to keep the bears, the others, out. The Invisible Storm consumes those who don’t follow the status quo and stay within the lines.
Blend in completely. Be invisible. Those who cannot read the atmosphere are evils inevitably sought after, found, and obliterated by the Invisible Storm.
For people who are supposed to make a homogeneous background pattern, thereby becoming invisible, these young women — lily and bear alike — are oddly conspicuous individuals.
One day, while listening to a friend speak about music, he remarked that he often dislikes listening to strings only. He was quick to add that this was a personal preference, but expanded on the statement by saying that he prefers a mixture of piano and strings. In his mind, the presence of a piano keeps the strings grounded.
Similarly, I can say the same thing for an anime series directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, where the grounded narrative serves to enhance any symbolism or subtext that arises and relate to the viewer immediately. In the first episode of Mawaru Penguindrum, one can find a simple story of two brothers treating their terminally-ill sister to a day of her own at the aquarium. The penguins, survival strategies, and monologues regarding fate are placed strategically around this setup. Utena Tenjou’s scenario is arranged as a fairytale in Revolutionary Girl Utena. She searches for the prince of her childhood while that prince serves as inspiration for saving a classmate from perceived abuse. This tale comes with setpieces, a Greek chorus, and daily after school duels with the student council.
With its more airy trappings, Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s first episode lacks a similar foothold to ground the production as a whole. Kureha Tsubaki’s search for her missing classmate – and lover – Sumika Izumino, is intrinsically tied to the supernatural elements of the story.