Series Review – Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear

Kuma miko review lead

So how did this one end?

Well sometimes things just don’t turn out like you expect them to, and this slice of life was one of them. But before I get to the review, I got something under that first spoiler tag. That’s the stuff I originally put under Re: Zero + It’s all been edited/revised and now put under this post. Sorry for any confusion, but as I forge ahead with that show, I wanted to clean it up a bit, and a series review for this show made it all fall into place. You can skip ahead to my thoughts on the series if you wish, or revisit with Episodes 03-5 if you like…

Post Meets Edit

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Episode 06-2

I’ll not beat around the bush. The ending of this show left me disappointed. It was largely made up of the bits that I started to see in some rather small negative lights around episode six – which might explain, in hindsight, one of the reasons why I didn’t continue to do the show as an extra feature for RE: Zero. Now before I go further, I do want to say that I didn’t outright hate the show. In all honesty, I don’t enjoy wasting my time, or your time, on lambasting from some imaginary elitist high and just plain anger-reviewing a show. If I really hate something in entertainment, I just ignore it, as it does go away. Otherwise, it’s just tedious butt-hurt. But let’s see if I can’t describe some of that negative light that I found in the show…

Episode 06-1

But first let’s get positive (sorry!).  I really think that Kinema Citrus knocked it out of the park on a technical standpoint. The art direction is this show was breathtaking and beautiful, with background art and color, scoring very high marks. The character design and animation was terrific, and they really know how to shift from softer designs to more kinetic designs to emphasis emotion and situation. I’m struggling to recall any moments where a kawaii show such as this even used any chibi forms to exaggeration as is typically done. This one keeps things as natural as possible to suit it’s mountain environment. In terms of series composition and writing, it was very crisp. Relaxed when it needs to be, excitable when it needed to be, and had a darn good flow to it. Almost better than Barakamon in some respects, so the crew behind both programs have shown they can improve on the time honored formula.

Episode 07-1

But, the kawaii aspect is the one under my microscope. I found it hard to ignore as the show moved on. It’s one thing to be cute and endearing as a 14 year old female character. But here it felt like the writing either took it into unfortunate connotations, or outright pointed observation and a sort of  take that modern life aspect. In a word, the character of Machi was infantilized.  I don’t think she got anything of a respectable character arc. Now in some cases, it felt like that was part of the humor, and that’s a fair point, and I’ll say the show played a few of those aspects well. But, she never grew much, never shifted out of those situations. Also, some of her “underwear” scenes felt like they were trying to deliberately make you feel uncomfortable for her and attracted to her; which is never as good an idea as a writer thinks it is…call it fan disservice.

It felt very uni-directed, as if the production wanted to make a very arch-conservative point about the place of young women in society. It left me feeling very uncomfortable by the end. Yohio’s character made me feel very awkward watching his very stilted and misguided reproaches of Machi, Hibiki, and indeed many other female characters around him . But, lots of female characters in other shows are really put on the cute pedestal, don’t get me wrong. But here I don’t feel like she had any agency, even by the finale it felt like it was very much saying to girls and women that to be happy she had to accept that her goals were not attainable, and to find any happiness she had to stay where she was and how she was when we found her. I may be missing something here, but that doesn’t sit well with me. I felt that there would have been more meat had she been able to see beyond this situation. That she could bring a fresh perspective to the community if she could leave and come back with that change in latitude…

Episode 08-2

But all in all there was much to love and enjoy about the program, such as when it concentrated on light-hearted goofy comedy, but these aspects of her character and the supporting cast really left me with an off taste. But just look at all the artwork I’ve posted, it’s pretty obvious that I’m OK with at least some aspects. Just confusing, really when you get down to it. Which brings me to this. I really cannot outright condemn a show just based on that.

There very well could be a cultural point being made to it’s Japanese audience, about the rural depopulation and the place that local culture has in resisting it. There could be some reference cuts I’m not getting as a non-Japanese. There could be an angle to the on and off Ainu aspect the show only briefly touched upon. Even with all that, I felt there were to many “take that” accusations placed on the city life that didn’t quite fit, and far to much redundant celebrations of rural life to make it all fit. But then again…

…I have to readily plead ignorance in so many cases. This may be a subtle form of satire? There could be more to the story; the distaste I have has lead me to de-prioritize reading the manga now that the show is over. No matter what benefit of the doubt I give it, it still leaves me shaking my head with more disdain than anything.  So with all that I will say this: one of the reasons I blog is to share these experiences and ask questions about what I’ve seen. So, if you’ve the inclination, the experience, and the knowledge, please share, I’ll be happy to receive it in good tidings…Just wish it could have been better in many many respects, more respectful to it’s main character. But as always, for good or not so good or bad….

TL:DR Lovely animation, sweet character design, unfortunate thematic reach, very wayward plot.

Thanks for Watching!

Episode 12-2

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All around nerd that enjoys just about any anime genre. I love history, politics, public policy, the sciences, literature, arts...pretty much anything can make me geeky...except sports. Follow me @theskylion
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15 Responses to “Series Review – Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear”

  1. Highway says:

    I don’t think that the show was being that clever and subversive. I think it was exactly like it looked: very conservative, very poor in its depictions of females, and very traditional in the way it thought society should be. And as you say, Machi was infantilized. I was watching from the beginning hoping that her character would make progress as an adult, that she’d learn to overcome her fears and do what she wanted: go to school in the city. Instead, she regressed from a 14-year old to something like an 8-year old by the end, all thoughts of becoming an adult wiped away by her imagination. An imagination which wasn’t even grounded in any sort of reality. It’s not like she took the words that the other people were saying and misinterpreted them. She completely ignored what the other people were saying, replacing their words with what was in her head.

    Not only was Machi’s depiction pretty bad, all the female characterizations were bad. There were only 4 female characters in the whole show, Machi, old women (like their mom), the Office Lady who worked with Yoshio and whose lines consisted almost solely of “Sexual Harrassment!” like a some Republican’s caricature of a feminist, and Hibiki, whose image as an independent girl (and a bit of a tough) was constantly undermined by the depiction of her crush on Yoshio. If you’re looking for a show that checks all the boxes of patronizing females, this was it.

    I had a little hope near the beginning, when they were doing the new miko outfits, and Machi wanted to incorporate some of the Ainu symbology in. Her character could have been someone who wanted to bring her heritage into her role as a miko, and still wanted to become a grown up woman. But it didn’t go anywhere near that. And even at the end, there was the chance for Machi to finally make that step, to come around on the city. And instead, nope, it went to rushing to Natsu for comfort and safety and imagining the worst of the city people. No progress for you, get back in your little cabin in the woods like a “good girl”.

    And on top of that, it piled on the other message I hate: Machi has to do things Yoshio wants to revitalize the town because *the other people* want her to. I am completely unswayed by arguments that people have responsibilities to other people that they don’t agree to. And I know it’s a Japanese thing, but that doesn’t make it either right, or acceptable. If they want to revitalize the town, they should think of something THEY can do, not something to make Machi do.

    All in all, very disappointed, and I hope we don’t see much more with messages like this.

    • skylion says:

      You know, I’m almost concerned. I mentioned Barackamon being from the same studio, but different director and producer. Both share a series compositionist, but not the same script writer. But I recall that being a send up of both city and country, as there is enough goofiness to between both.

      This production is not really a peg up then, is it?

  2. Wanderer says:

    I stopped watching this a couple episodes ago as the situations grew more and more distasteful. But what I have heard about this final episode makes me wonder if the anime’s writers somehow lost the plot as they went along. Leaving aside Yoshio (I wish the show had left him aside… completely…) I can accept that the basis for the series’ humor is that Machi wants to go to the city but is utterly clueless about practically all facets of modern life. If the ending had involved her trying something yet again, messing up, things setting us up for a bit of a laugh again about how clueless she is, and then returning to the status quo, I would have accepted that. It feels mean-spirited that they never let her succeed, but at least that would have been fitting with their humor.

    If they’d had her actually accomplish something, and maybe learn more about modern life and start to show signs that she actually could live outside the village some time in the future, I think that would have gotten them the best response. People’s emotions would have been caught up with Machi’s and when things finally go her way we’ll feel happy with her.

    What I understand they gave us runs waaay down into the BAD END side of the spectrum. Machi’s social-anxiety triggered so hard that she hallucinated people being cruel to her at one of her most emotionally vulnerable moments, causing her to basically suffer a complete psychological breakdown and regress to childhood. This is far worse than just a return to the status-quo: they have mentally destroyed this poor girl. And the show apparently tries to tell us we’re supposed to be happy about this! “See, it’s good, Machi can stay home where the bear can make all her decisions for her, and Yoshio can rape her to his heart’s content, and she’ll never have to see any scary outside people ever again, because her village has a total population of, like, a dozen. Be happy! We’ll play the happy music now to show you how happy this ending is!”

    Eeeeek. *shudders*

    • Highway says:

      Man, I wouldn’t say that about Yoshio. That’s not something that was ever even hinted at, and goes way beyond anything that was done in the show. As distasteful as the messages in the show were, that goes far past what they did.

      • skylion says:

        I agree, you’ve taken that far past the point. He was an over-focused, insensitive jerk, but not a rapist.

        But like you say, the whole show might have been improved without his presence in the first place. I recall him fitting in alright in the manga, but did he ever eff up the flow in the show.

  3. zztop says:

    Kumamiko’s ending was anime-original, the source manga’s still ongoing.

    The mangaka, Yoshimoto Masume, has subtly expressed their displeasure with the ending via Twitter, saying “…I rejected requests to do script checks and left the script to the scriptwriters’ discretion, because they are professional(s)…(But) as a fan of the manga, I think what Yoshio said (in the final ep) was f***ed up.”

    Coincidentally, the anime’s scriptwriter has deleted their twitter account, likely fearing massive backlash from angry Japanese fans (which I’ve heard has already happened).

    • Highway says:

      A lot of my problem is not what Yoshio said. It’s how Machi was characterized. If that was also anime original, which was entirely possible, then it doesn’t make it ‘better’, it just puts the blame for it on the scriptwriter and director.

      And that translation just shows how much I don’t know about Japanese, when I read it, I got “I didn’t check what what they were doing, they wouldn’t let me, saying they were the professionals. I didn’t really care for what Yoshio said.” I’m also not particularly good at reading nuance into formal language, which it was…

      • skylion says:

        Yes. Yoshio could have been an even bigger dick if that’s the argument. It’s coupling that with Machi’s utterly impossible to believe characterization. The mangaka has stated (and I’ve not read the manga part yet) that the ending where she over-reacted to the crowd was actually a nightmare Machi experienced rather than reality. Also, she is claiming that Natsu never prayed to get Machi back, just to succeed, and they added too much to his character that wasn’t there.

        • Highway says:

          I checked yesterday and there are only 15 chapters of the manga I could find translated, up through the story where Natsu implores Machi to read the atmosphere between Hibiki and Yoshio.

          I don’t know that extending the nightmare to what actually happened is much better. Did the mangaka intend for Machi to completely ignore the reality of the situation? It was made obvious in the show that the crowd wasn’t saying that, that it was in Machi’s head. If the argument is that “She had that nightmare another time, and didn’t want to go to the contest because of it, but it would have been alright then” then that’s not as bad. If it’s more exactly what was shown, that she had that nightmare or hallucination or whatever at the time it happened, then that’s still not good.

    • skylion says:

      Yes, I’m starting to see this as well. I’m gonna try to make some time to catch up to the manga to see how it shapes up.

      But damn, deleting a twitter account is becoming all the rage these days.

  4. Namaewoinai says:

    I Watch this show from start to finish and I would say… Man that was one pitiful girl there, (Machi Amayadori, Correct?), i think she either:

    1. She is suffers from Urbano-phobia
    2. She has been “Cursed” for…Stick around with the bear and

    and with that, she’ll never going to high school, or worse she never going to be grown up to be a fine lady, she forever stuck in a rural village with the bear cuz yeah you know the point, and yet her cousin wants to make favors for revitalized the village (in a pervasive way, but the people of the village is so darn few), and he ended up get punched by her, Still, it wasn’t really distasteful at all, but yet, it’s kinda shame!

    Just One thing, not a single episode of this show knows about The Girl’s Mom and Dad, i wonder…why they don’t show up…or maybe there is…

    UGH! i can’t get on for this actually…

    • skylion says:

      You are correct with the name.

      I think all you need to know about her was there at the beginning; isolated up that mountain, little company, no real chance to interact with peers, and older folks that were either busy, or just didn’t have what it takes to help her mature. Natsu could have been that, but it looks like they wanted him there to only set up jokes.

      Missing Mom’s and Dad’s are a foundation of stories based around younger people. Parent’s solve problems, so you need them gone so the young person can solve it themselves. That’s drama…

      • Highway says:

        Didn’t we see Machi and Yoshio’s mom (or at least hear her) in the 2nd episode? When she was getting Yoshio’s bike to try to go to Uniqlo?

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