Lesbian Bear Storm (Yurikuma Arashi). Let that title sink in for a bit because as titles go, it’s particularly on the nose. Especially so for director and writer Kunihiko Ikuhara whose previous directorial works - Utena and Penguindrum - relied on a slightly less blatant approach to themes and tone.
represents only the visible part of this Ikuhara iceberg
Blunt force is the order of the day here though because from the repeated character refrains through to the imagery and structure of each episode, this is a series that will bludgeon you with its message rather than hide it subtext and inference. What it lacks in subtlety then, as has become a trait of the director’s anime series, it makes up for in layers and symbolism.
It’s right there in the first few lines of the opening: “Kiss kiss kiss, I can’t take my eyes off you”. That’s the entirety of Sakura Trick, the length and breadth of its offering. The initial gambit is much bolder: a fluffy but uninhibited romance between two young women; the reality though lacks a lot of what could have made that worthwhile. Wait, rewind. Sakura Trick isn’t for me. As a modern, self-effacing male, it’s probably prudent to start with that. It’s also not as though I have a whole lot of context for what the twelve episode series brings to the shoujo ai genre (although Wikipedia insists it’s targeted at young adult males). Certainly I have touchstone shows to fall back on like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena as well as the briefest of exposures to Maria-sama ga Miteru and Strawberry Panic but in terms of it embodying or enhancing its genre? Very little.
wreathed in pastel shades and inundated with an endless source of cherry blossom
It’s refreshing at first to see an intimate relationship between two characters in an anime that doesn’t cleave closely to the harem or chase-the-girl setups. The series is bookended by what feels like a natural progression for the two protagonists: starting with them advancing to more than just friends and finishing with them questioning what love is. The naturalness presents the initial allure because it normalises a same-sex relationship that is elsewhere presented as coy and unspoken with series like My-HiME or even Stellvia of the Universe. It becomes a given that Haruka and Yuu are together and that either their friends are oblivious to it or blithely accept it.
Trying to encapsulate what Shinsekai Yori (From The New World) is "about" is tricky task. It's no more about a future where everyone has psychic powers than it is about human relationships with those weaker than themselves. That it is about so many big concepts is its greatest strength; its greatest weakness however is implementation. The three-volume source work is carved up and thrown together with the best of intentions, but the sheer scale and boldness of its ideas, story and direction means that the end result demands a lot of faith from the viewer.
a very private catastrophe
That faith is rewarded though with a superb atmosphere, heartfelt character-led drama and, most of all, a supreme amount of imagination. That the series succeeds overall despite of its numerous flaws is testament to how far a good story and a great cast can make up for scrappy animation and haphazard delivery.
Sasameki Koto takes place in a land of almost perpetual sunsets, golden skies and scenery aflame with oranges, all the while impressionable young girls stand in front of illuminated classrooms blushing with possibility. The series lays in thick and fast and doesn't ever prevaricate as to what the majority of it will be about: unfettered romance. Dainty piano melodies and smooth words flow from the opening leaving no doubt as to the position the series takes on its subject matter.
they feel like characters rather than porcelain dolls butting heads
Sumika Murasame loves her best friend Ushio Kazama who is infatuated with cute girls, unfortunately for Sumika she is tall, athletic and bookish preferring to dress in muted polo necks than frilly skirts. While she pines for Ushio a male from her class, Masaki Akemiya, has fallen in love with her and expresses this by cross dressing and posing for a fashion magazine. Things take a turn for the complex when Sumika and Ushio catch two other girls kissing, and from the hints dropped in the first three episodes, it's safe to assume that other potential love interests will be introduced in short order. The story is typical romance fare with the added twist of same-sex relationships but the plights of the cast produces a level of empathy that is wholly unusual.