Q&A: Seeing Myself in Yurikuma Arashi

I’ve often thought about putting some of my ask.fm answers on my blog, either compiling related ones I’ve already answered, or turning longer ones into a single post here. I liked the way Bobduh has done this on his blog, and figured it would help me create more frequent content. But for whatever reason, I never got around to it–until now. Because one of you asked me a really good question, but my answer went over ask.fm’s word limit. And by God if I was gonna let that stop me from giving this the thorough answer it deserved.

Here’s the question: Are there parts of Yurikuma [Arashi] which resonate with you as a bi woman? I am a cis homosexual woman myself and find the characters too “moe-infantalised” to find attractive, but I do identify with their experiences. I am just interested in your opinion. yurikuma for blog 2 And my answer:

One thing that resonates with me a lot about Yurikuma is the way social exclusion is used to enforce the heterosexist status quo, since “being made fun of even more by the other kids” was a big reason why I suppressed my attraction to girls as a teenager. My parents were perfectly accepting and I didn’t give a shit about religion; it’s because I was already weird, already being teased and I didn’t want more of that. yurikuma for blog 5 Another thing is the way that it blurs the line between friendship and romance. I’ve seen a lot of criticism for that but I think it’s absolutely intentional and ties in with the show’s themes, and it’s also something particular to the queer female experience (as in, it’s less true for gay and bisexual men, since the line between “platonic” and “romantic” affection with guys more strictly enforced). Even here, where we don’t have the weird Class S baggage per se that Japanese culture has about lesbians, female friendships can be very affectionate and it’s often hard to know if your interest in another girl crosses that line–and easily to deny it if it does. I had an inkling even at 13 that how I felt about certain other girls–being unable to stop looking at them in class, fantasizing about being close to them, feeling this powerful yearning to be around them all the time–was not that different from my crushes on boys. But because I didn’t want to believe it, it was easy to pretend it was just a “strong friendship” feeling. Which I think Yurikuma captures well with the way that all these girls who are clearly in love with each other keep referring to their girlfriends as “my special friend” or “best friend” or whatever.

(Two things that make this worse that also don’t apply to men: Girls spend a lot of time looking at each other to compare and compete (that part in the movie But I’m A Cheerleader where Megan realizes she’s looking at other girls for different reasons than everyone else also resonated with me). Also, while boys are implicitly encouraged to do things like look at porn and otherwise try to explore and understand their sexualities, girls are not or even actively discouraged from doing so. That stuff can confuse even straight girls, so of course it compounds the problem further when you have a minority sexuality. In parentheses because that’s getting off-topic from Yurikuma specifically, but I thought was worth noting anyway.) yurikuma for blog 3 I also found some of the sexy parts titillating in spite of the girls’ “moe” appearance, and in a way that kind of illuminated for me why a lot of anime doesn’t do that for me. There’s a noticeable difference between portrayal of lesbian sexuality for actual lesbians (or bi women, in my case), and for straight men where you don’t want to disrupt their entitlement to watch or otherwise be a part of it. Something about Yurikuma’s sexuality is very “NO BOYS ALLOWED” and a lot closer to the ways that lesbians actually have sex (that probably seem kinda gross to the straight guys who fetishize us). That might just be my impression, but the fact that the Sakura Trick fanboys seem really uncomfortable with Yurikuma would appear to back it up. (And man, does their rage warm my heart.)

I don’t know how Ikuhara does it, what pact he’s made with the Lesbian Goddesses or whatever. But he’s consistently the best at depicting the lesbian experience in film, in spite of not living it himself. Certainly way better than Actual Lesbian Ilene Chaiken, anyway.

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Twelve Days of Anime #8: Ikuhara’s Kitty-Cats In Love

For one of my earlier 12 Days posts, I talked about Sailor Moon, my issues with Crystal and why I think the franchise has diminishing returns in 2014. So as a fan of the franchise who’s spent a lot of time with it this year, I wanted to dedicate another post to something I really loved about it. Namely, one of the highlights of my re-watch of the original series this year, made possible by Viz’s re-licensing of the series and streaming all the episodes on Hulu.

rhett butler cat

The “Rainbow Crystals” arc, starring Zoisite as main villain and featuring the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask squaring off with him to find the mysterious Silver Crystal, is one of the highlights of the first season of Sailor Moon. Each of the “rainbow crystals” that, when combined, makes up the Silver Crystal, is hidden in a normal person who has obtained special powers from it. Each of these people gets their own backstory that resonates with the Senshi and their story (one is a love interest for Ami, one for Makoto—but they’re not all boyfriend material, I swear!) It was entirely anime-original, and it provided ample room for the talented creators on its staff to play around and show off their original voices, so it’s one of the places I go to when extolling the virtues of the Sailor Moon anime to newbies. And one of its best episodes was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Penguindrum fame.

In this episode, “Loved and Chased: Luna’s Worst Day Ever,” the Crystal-bearer isn’t actually a person, but a huge fat cat named Rhett Butler. He’s in love with Luna, and rescues her when she’s chased by a horde of alley cats. It’s kind of fitting that this would be an Ikuhara-directed episode, since his original work likes to blur the lines between humans and animals/objects, and their roles (see: Nanami as a cow). I’m not sure if it was his creative choice to put a cat in a human role, but it definitely fits. A good chunk of the episode is the characters taking forever to realize this, as they chase after his owner, thinking she’s the Crystal bearer. When they figure out it’s her cat, she completely disappears from the story, Rhett Butler taking center stage.

There are a lot of weird, surreal set pieces in here, another Ikuhara staple. The original Sailor Moon anime gets trippy on the visuals a lot of the time, but there’s a noticeable uptick in episodes with Ikuhara at the helm. Here’s an example:

trippy kitties

One of my favorite sequences is this episode is when Zoisite chases Luna and Rhett Butler through the sewers under Tokyo. After complaining repeatedly about how dirty he’s getting (Zoisite, you fop, I love you), he founds out the fuzzy things he’s pressing against are (really cute) sewer rats, and he shrieks as they surround him. It’s not just because I adore Zoisite that I love that scene. It’s the sort of silly physical comedy that Utena used so well with Nanami in the curry episode, so another great shape of things to come.

sewer rats zoisite

The trouble with tribbles…

I could go on talking about how it relates to some of Ikuhara’s later work, as that’s a lot of the fun of dissecting his early Sailor Moon episodes. (Ikuhara would go on to oversee the second half of Sailor Moon’s R season and the whole of the S season, where the comparisons become more palpable.) Yet this episode is such a wild ride on its own. The episodic nature of a lot of Sailor Moon’s “filler” arcs gave the creators room to flesh out characters by focusing on one each and putting her in a new situation. And “Luna’s Worst Day Ever” tells us a lot about its title character, how as sage of a mentor to Usagi as she is, she’s kind of defenseless and fearful on her own. How she’s stoic and poised but easily-flattered. It also has a lot of fun with Rei, who gets mad at the other Senshi for attacking the transformed Rhett Butler because of how they’re interrupting his and Luna’s “moment.” As brusque as she can be, Rei has a big heart deep down, one that BELIEVES IN KITTY-CAT LOVE.

Really, that’s the Ikuhara sensibility best personified by this and other of his early Sailor Moon episodes: Over-the-top theatrics and humor combined with strong character moments and symbolism. It’s what made his future works masterpieces, and what makes Sailor Moon so much fun.

rei how could you ruin