(Note: This post contains major plot spoilers for Yurikuma Arashi up to and including episode two.)
Let’s talk about words.
We’ll start off with the title for Yurikuma Arashi episode two:
Let us skip the usual talk of the dichotomy of “literal” vs. “liberal” translations for now, and say that 「このみが尽きても許さない」 (Konomiga tsukitemo yurusanai), without any further illuminating context, would normally be read to mean, “I will never forgive you,” as is translated in-show.
But there are other ways to read it. This is largely due to the ambiguity of 「このみ」 (konomi) being written here in hiragana. To get the translation above, we would read konomi as 「この身」. However, by the end of the episode, as the title card shows up once more, the word konomi most immediately suggests the character Konomi (written as 「このみ」), whom we just saw get shot in the head. We also now know that her shooter, Mitsuko, has set her sights on Kureha.
With this information, now the title suggests an alternate reading: “Konomi is gone, but I won’t let you go”.
We’re not done yet; the same title, if you read konomi a third way (「好み」, as in “like” or “love”), becomes, “I can’t give up on my love for you.” This isn’t just in episode two; the title for episode one similarly encourages the viewer to look for multiple interpretations: there it’s the word 「スキ」 (suki) that is intentionally written so as to be vague.
Other possible readings of a phrase become apparent only at the end: we’ve all seen that before, even in the narrow scope of anime (cf. the Japanese title for Evangelion episode 26). In Yurikuma, it pushes the viewer to seek and question instances of unclear language throughout the rest of the text.
Perhaps the most familiar example here is yuri, which is right in the title. Yuri (百合) means “lily” in Japanese, as in the flower, and can also be used to describe relationships between girls―but you probably knew that already. When talking about the flowers, as Yurikuma does with the flower garden, translating it is simple. In the second context, however, it’s a bit more contentious to translate yuri as, say, “lesbian”: the word is used largely for fictional depictions, and not widely used to refer to real-life lesbian relationships.
All this, coupled with the fact that no character in Yurikuma ever explicitly uses the word yuri to talk about Kureha’s relationship with Kureha complicates matters. Yurikuma also labels all human-presenting characters as “yuri” and sprinkles the word into both surnames and given names. Finally, there are the migratory birds that show up often as motifs, the yurikagome (“black-headed gull”); here the “yuri” probably comes from an old Japanese reading for 「後」 (“after”), another abstraction of visual symbolism in the show.
That’s not the only part of the title which could be interpreted in different ways. In fact, yuri, kuma, and arashi all seem to hold tantalizing possibilities for multiple interpretations, as elaborated on in 8thSin’s observations for Yurikuma episode one. But it doesn’t end there, and everything from danzetsu (断絶, translated in-show as “severance”) to “deliciousmell” is ripe for analysis.
So what is the point of all this?
Well, let’s talk about poststructuralism. In an anime-related context, the best primer is probably this old Super Fanicom post. The person we’re concerned with here is none other than Jacques Derrida, whose writings have served to frustrate and anger everybody from students to academics. Despite (because of) this, Derrida has had a lasting impact on the way we consume popular culture, most infamously with the idea of “
Derrida’s writing style is perhaps best described as playful, making heavy use of devices like phonetic wordplay (e.g. différance), inherent contradictions in the text itself, and typographical oddities (sous rature). But this is a necessity: the difficulties and subtleties of language can be conveyed only through language which is itself difficult and subtle, or so the argument goes. Writing that challenges writing should be challenging.
Which brings us back to Yurikuma Arashi, a show that’s been mired in abstract theatrics, lacking what one might call the human element. Returning to the episode titles, the ambiguities in understanding them are a matter of multiplicity in translation. However, “translation” here does not refer only to the process of going from Japanese to English; even in one language (idiom) such as Japanese, the process of going from text to meaning is a process of translation. So where does a reading of Yurikuma as performance leave us?
In the vocabulary of early Derrida, what we should expect to find are apparent binaries of unequal opposites. In just the first two episodes, we are met with several. There are humans and bears, separated by an impenetrable wall. Kureha, symbolized by a red camellia (playing off the characters in her name), is set off against the “Invisible Storm” of yurikamome gulls. And in “Severance Court”, the defendants are met with the choice of eating humans—remaining true to their nature as bears—or becoming invisible.
In the spirit of
deconstruction, however, these systems are not what they seem; they are often reversed and taken apart in and outside the text. The expectation would be that the human perspective be privileged over that of the bears, but it is them and not Kureha who narrate the introduction, and get top billing in the voice cast. In the show itself, the wall separating humans is shown to be ineffective, and the hierarchy of humans and bears becomes less and less well-defined as Yurikuma progresses.
Of course, there’s only so much I can say after only two episodes. I leave the rest as an exercise to you, the reader, in the upcoming weeks. Yurikuma Arashi, I’m sure, has yet to reveal its hand. So be on the lookout: what you find just may be... beary shocking!