Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 7

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda.

Last time I talked about how one of the most interesting aspects of the Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear series for me was the fact that it kept getting dark, despite being about cute girls doing cute things. Naturally, this new volume therefore has none of that, with no dark moments and very little real conflict at all. It is almost pure fluff. Fortunately, I am at a point right now where I need pure fluff, so this book was like a nice balm to my soul. If there’s any conflict in the volume it comes from Fina, who is still terrified whenever she has to be around nobility, and here is passed off the Ellelaura and the actual King. She’s convinced that she’ll do something to screw up and get herself executed, and spends the entire time in a froth. Yuna, of course, does not understand this at all, not even when Fina spells it out for her later in the volume. Yuna has no issues interacting with anyone, of course.

We start off with Yuna going into the mines to deal with the pesky respawning golems. She’s joined by the friendly adventurer party we’ve seen before, and also opposed by a rival adventurer party, whose leader is quite a jerk. (Yuna, amusingly, compares the rival party to the Power Rangers.) Unfortunately, most of the things Yuna does to defeat enemies would also cause a cave-in, so trying to get to the golem that’s the cause of all of this is going to need a bit more strategy. After this, Yuna manages to score mithril knives for Fina and her sister (who is seven, but it’s never too early to give a child a knife) and some mithril weapons for herself. The rest of the book is made up ,mostly of cooking, as Yuna finds one of Morin’s relatives in the capital who wants to be a baker and sends her to Cremonia to meet up, and then invents strawberry shortcake.

In general, the funniest parts of this series involve either a) Yuna getting belittled for wearing the bear onesie, or b) Yuna having no concept of social customs, mores, or ethics. We get both of those here, with the highlight being when Yuna gives Fina the mithril knife – for free – and then tries to give her another one for her sister, and Fina simply loses it, berating Yuna in the middle of the street about how much mithril costs normally, and that Yuna cannot simply live her life not giving a crap about the economy, giving away all this and expecting nothing in return. This is especially true of Fina, a very serious girl who is unfortunately saddled with Yuna for a best friend. Other highlights include Yuna visiting the royal family with her bears in cub form, and finding it very hard to get Flora and the Queen herself from letting go of them.

So yeah, nothing much happens, but it’s cute. This is what folks think every volume in the series is like. That’s not really true, but this is fine too.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 6

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by M.B. Hare.

Towards the start of the Bakemonogatari series, when the protagonist, Koyomi Araragi, meets Tsubasa Hanekawa for the first time he talks about how he doesn’t have any friends as they would “lower my integrity as a human”. This is, of course, the sort of self-assuring bullshit that a lot of lonely teenagers go through, trying to reframe their social ineptness as cool reserve. Eventually, Araragi grows past this sort of attitude. That said, our bear girl Yuna may have a large number of acquaintances from all over the kingdom, but at heart she seems to think much the same thing about having friends, holding herself at a remove from everyone else and telling herself that she’s really a cool, somewhat selfish teenage girl who is not remotely a great hero. Mostly, I think, as she does not want to deal with potentially tragic consequences if she does end up getting closer to others. That said, I don’t think she can keep this up forever. Sometimes you just want to buy your best friend/protege a really cool knife.

As with a lot of books in this series, there are basically two main plotlines. The first has Yuna reluctantly agree to be a bodyguard for Shia and three of her classmates as they go into the woods as part of their classwork. Yuna is only to help them in a dire emergency. That said, once again we are reminded that, to folks who haven’t met her and seen her in action, Yuna is a small girl in a bear costume. (Later in the book, Yuna angrily reminds the other students that she’s the same age as they are – they thought she was much younger.) Needless to say, by the end Yuan wins over the other students AND defeats a hideous tiger monster. Then in the second half of the book Yuna helps Anz, the girl from the seaside city who wants to start her own restaurant, as well as the four young widows who Yuna rescued from the bandits who want to start over in a place with fewer memories.

I mentioned Yuna’s social ineptness above, and it’s never been quite as visible as it is towards the end of the book. The reader may recall that the four assistants Anz has were all raped by bandits and had their families brutally murdered a couple of months earlier. (Remember, cute bear girl series, really. It’s just like K-On!.) They’re there to help Anz with the restaurant, but Yuna decides to also have them help at her orphanage, which she feels is understaffed. One of the young women is CLEARLY distraught over being around children who are presumably the same age as her own children she saw murdered not long ago, but the story is still from Yuna’s POV, and the most we get out of her is a “huh, maybe I should not have done that”. Fortunately, it all works out well, but there is a reason why I keep highlighting the dark bits in this otherwise fluffy light novel series – they’re the most interesting, character-wise.

As the book ends, Yuna is off to battle a cave of endless golems, and we are briefly reminded that this is supposed to be based on a video game. I assume Yuna will win, but… the jagged edges that surround the big pluffy bear girl are why I really enjoy reading this series.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 5

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda.

Apologies for the slang here, but as I was reading this volume of Kuma Bear, I kept thinking about recent discussion of ‘gap moe’. Sure, I’m certain there are some people who read this series for the cute girls doing cute things, or for Yuna being stupidly overpowered, or even for the food descriptions. But I think the best reason to read it is for those moments where Yuna’s deadpan, staid character is forced to actually react to things – usually embarrassment, but not always. As I’ve said before, her desire to not take credit for anything she does is starting to feel like a complex, and people are beginning to notice – even kids like Fina. That’s not to say it works all the time, as her Bear Tunnel shows us. What’s more, Yuna gets as uncomfortable with the rough, spiky parts of this world as the reader does, and would much rather try not to think about the whole thing – though she does help out in the end. She hopes by thinking of herself as dull and normal, it will rewrite reality.

Most of this book is devoted to the seaport Mileela, and the aftermath of Yuna wiping out the bandits and boiling the kraken. Returning to normal is not something that can happen as fast as the anime implied it. The town is still pretty much devastated by the last few months, the foreign ships don’t know that they can start sailing there again, and while they would like to ally themselves with Cliff’s city Crimonia, but there’s still that huge mountain in the way. Fortunately, they have Yuna, who once met common sense in passing but promptly went somewhere else. Now there’s a huge tunnel connecting the two areas. Problem solved! Well, except it needs lights. And air. And monster cleanouts. And guards. Yuna may be an overpowered bear girl, but cleaning up after her remains a very exhausting job.

Not sure this counts as ‘gap moe’, but the scene that intrigued me the most, as I implied above, is when Yuna is asking the innkeeper’s daughter Anz to run her new shop. Anz asks if she can have some help in the form of the young women Yuna rescued from the bandits last book – that is to say, the ones whose families were killed and were raped by said bandits. Unsurprisingly, they find still living in the town incredibly uncomfortable. It’s these sort of scenes that you really would not see in this cutesy bear and girls sort of book – indeed, the anime tries to gloss over this – and the fact that it comes up over and over again, ever since Book 1 (where, you’ll recall, Yuna in Japan paid her parents off to go away and leave her alone) just won’t let me go. That said… the majority of this book *is* Bear does OP things” “Bear hangs out with cute kids”, “Bear comments sarcastically on events”, etc.

We get setup for what I assume is the next book near the end, where Yuna is asked to guard a bunch of pampered royals as they journey to the forest to hunt some low-level monsters. It is implied that Yuna’s sharp tongue may be more devastating than any monsters, but we shall see. Till then, this remains a cute, if sometimes more disturbing than expected, book. (Oh yes, and LOL at Yuna accidentally walking around in the white bear outfit one day, which she compares to walking outside in her pajamas.)