Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 18

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by Lorin Christie.

Well, I got my wish. Sort of. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, like My Next Life As a Villainess, has a problem. It has cultivated a large yuri audience it absolutely does not want, but it cannot afford to piss that audience off too much as they’re one of the big reasons that it’s a success. It doesn’t help that Yuna has accumulated a “harem” of underage girls, which yes is the main draw of the series (the moe aesthetic, I mean), but also makes the yuri a bit creepy. Still, here at least we do have Yuna straight up saying that she isn’t interested in men. Unfortunately, she says it to a girl her own age who has expressed attraction to her, and Yuna’s response is “just because I’m not interested in men doesn’t mean I’m interested in you”. Honestly, as with many other series of this type, Yuna seems to be fairly asexual in general. But hey, a bone thrown to the fans. Now back to beating people up with magic bear powers.

As everyone predicted, Yuna’s discovery from the cliffhanger to 17 ends up being the Land of Wa that the author has threatened us with for so long. She heads over there on her bears, and finds it pretty much is just Japan in a vaguely fantasy setting. And I do mean vaguely. She can buy tatami mats, stay at a hotel with futons and a hot spring, and get artisanal candy shaped like animals (the bears have sold out, for some reason). Then she goes to the adventurer’s guild, there’s a quest to take out a dangerous predator that no one wants to take except her… and a very suspicious ninja girl named (try to contain your shock) Shinobu, who insists on accompanying her. Is there some secret plot going on? And does it involve trying desperately to break Yuna out of her shell of “whatever, I don’t care, I’m headed back”?

I was reminded the other day of a series I dropped .like a hot potato a while back, Wandering Witch. It has quite a bit in common with Kuma Bear, in that it stars talented people who try not to get involved in things but end up doing so anyway, and who have a large element of selfishness to their personality. For Yuna, though, this is mostly a front. When she finds out what’s happening to the country, and that it’s been predicted by the country’s prophet, she’s still fairly apathetic. But when she finds the prophet is a 10-year-old girl whose parents have died… naturally, she decides to help. Yuna rarely thinks about her parents much anymore, but there is a definite subtext of “kids need to be allowed to be kids, even when they are orphans and have to grow up fast, no one deserves the childhood I had”. She is a surrogate big sister to every girl she meets, and she will move heaven and earth for them. And then deny she did anything special.

This is a multi-part arc, so I assume next time will have lots of fighting. Till then, enjoy another review where I overanalyze a title that really doesn’t deserve it.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 17

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by Lorin Christie.

We all have things we’d like to read in our favorite series. Usually they’re things that aren’t going to happen until near the end, such as a romantic couple getting together. It could also be the climax of a series of subplots that is building far too slowly and meticulously. And I have these desires about Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, only I suspect that I’m never going to get what I want. I want to meet Yuna’s parents. I want to flash back to her life in Japan before this one. I know that her parents are going to be absolutely the worst – they are, after all, the ones who, after Yuna offered them a ton of money to get out of her life, took the money and got out of her life. But they’ve still clearly affected Yuna deeply, and I think a lot of her current attitude towards almost everyone in Crimonia and other areas is due to this. It can’t all be “LOL, she’s a NEET”, after all. Parental neglect is important too.

Still in the dwarf village, Yuna decides to go watch the trials and (naturally) ends up taking the trial herself, as she accidentally arrived about 8-9 hours too early. Unfortunately for the dwarves, the trials basically are designed to match the level of the person taking them, which means Yuna’s is insanely difficult – and also mentally wearing, as she’s forced into combat situations that are poor matches for her, then forced to face herself (see the cover art), and finally forced to rescue Fina from a deathtrap, something which causes her to flip out a bit. After doing this and getting the pots and pans she came there for, she returns to Crimonia – with Lilyka, who’s basically being told to stop being tsundere and go get her man, something she finds easier said than done. The rest of the book is basically “Yuna does cute things”, at least till the end, when she’s on the floating island and sees a remote ship. Are we finally getting to fantasy Japan?

As always, the most interesting scenes in the book are the ones where Yuna is thrown off her game. Facing a version of herself is less interesting, though I was amused at her realization that it’s annoying to fight someone who does this. More interesting was the last battle. I suspected that it wasn’t the real Fina (somethng which is later confirmed), but Yuna doesn’t know that, and seeing her caught in the old “water slowly filling a tank” trap causes her to completely panic – which is, of course, the point of the trials, which remind the person taking them that remaining cool in battle is what you need to do, even if your loved ones are in danger. Yuna here basically admits she sees Fina as her younger sister, which is fine by me, as Fina’s still ten. I do wish Yuna would stop insisting she’s not gay every volume, but that’s a separate issue, and it’s not unique to this author.

If you enjoy picking through “cute bears doing overpowered things” series to find the nugget or two of depth, this sure is that.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 16

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 Lorin Christie.

Every few volumes, the series needs to have Yuna go somewhere she’s never been before, partly because otherwise the series would get even more boring than it already tends to be (sorry, Yuna, I really don’t care about you making omelettes from giant eggs), but also so that the audience can remember that a girl walking around in a bear onesie is not normal and does, in fact, make people think Yuna is either a child or deeply weird. They’re not wrong on the second part, but the bear suit is, of course, absolutely essential for Yuna – and she can’t actually explain why. Some folks have seen obliquely that when Yuna is not in the suit (such as the beach scenes two books ago) she’s super weak, but I don’t think they’ve connected it to “the bear stuff gives her all her power”. Honestly, if this series ever ends, that may be the final boss. Someone who steals her bear suit/gear and forces her to rely on others.

After a few introductory chapters like “let’s make pressed flowers” or “let’s make ice cream”, Yuna decides to do something she’d been meaning to do for a while: go visit the dwarves’ village. She takes Fina, because shed get lonely otherwise, and ends up picking up Luimin from the elves’ village as well. (Elves and dwarves get along fine here, confusing Yuna, who is used to fantasy cliches.) While there, they also meet Jade’s party, who are there because Toya is finally going to get his mithril sword… or at least, he would be if the blacksmith didn’t reject him for not being good enough. As for Yuna, she’s busy buying pots and pans for everyone she knows, as well as talking with the mentor of the dwarf blacksmiths she knows, who is currently refusing to make swords.

It is interesting sometimes to imagine the audience for this series. It’s filled with cute girls, so you’d think that “guys who like to see cute girls” would be the #1. That said, the book really does like to hammer home how useless the guys in it are. Yuna sometimes forgets that Fina also has a stepdad in addition to her mom. Toya is basically a punching bag for everyone else in the cast until right at the end of the volume, and his story is still going to have to wait for the next book to get resolved. Is the book for yuri fans? The author is definitely writing in more yuri tease, with both Shia and Fina indicating they’d be very happy being Yuna’s bride. Unfortunately, like a lot of yuri tease series, Yuna is always there to say things like “but I don’t like girls that way” or “that’s not happening”. Is the book fans fans of grumpy 15-year-old girls in a bear suit who constantly worry about her flat chest? That seems most likely.

This book ends in the middle of the dwarf plot, so I’d expect the next book to resolve it. Till then, this sure was a volume of Kuma Bear.