Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 8

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.

One of the odd things about this series is how it references its premise several times while also being completely uninterested in doing anything with it. Yuna was, as we saw in the first volume, a very disaffected Japanese teenager, someone who literally paid her parents to go away. This is crucial for seeing how she deals with people in this fantasy world as well, and also in figuring out how much of her narration is simply pretending that she can’t see the obvious problem. And yet, after Yuna’s original transport into the game, we’ve never really dwelt on who put her there and why it happened at all – it reads as “I needed an excuse for an isekai”. It feels awkward to have it both ways, but I suspect that’s what we’re going to have to deal with, because the series in Japan is up to the 18th volume and I don’t think has devoted one iota of its time to “why did Yuna end up here?”.

The bulk of this book has Yuna, Fina, Cliff and Noa going to attend the birthday party of Misa, the noble they’d met in an earlier book. Unfortunately, Misa’s family is currently on the bad side of a power grab by the other noble family in the town, and her party – as well as a party for adults held by her grandfather – is desperately required for them to survive. Also unfortunately, the other noble family knows how these sort of fantasy isekais work – Yuna even says they’re like she imagined nobles to be like. Their grandson is sneering and bullying, they employ thugs to break the arms of head chefs, etc. Fortunately, Misa and company have Yuna, who solves things by just popping over to the palace and asking the King if she can borrow the palace chef. That said, Yuna also faces the biggest crisis she’s had to deal with so far… attending a party in a dress, instead of her bear onesie.

As always, the main reason to read this series is to watch everyone’s reactions to Yuna, and her reaction to everyone. They’re in a new town this volume, so there’s even more “it’s a bear!” than usual. Yuna knows this is a normal reaction to someone like her, but still gets irritated by it. She is a very nice, overpowered person to have in your corner… provided that you do whatever she says, something that I suspect I am thinking about more than the author would like me to. Unfortunately, she does not seem to have learned anything from Fina’s blowing up at her last time. That said, part of the problem may be that she had less to do than usual here – this is a second volume in a row with little conflict, aside from the political power struggles. In fact, we’re due for something to happen soon. Yuna works best when she’s hitting things, I think.

Fans of the series should definitely enjoy this one, though it’s pretty clear that there’s no overarching plot beyond “whatever the author wants to do next”. If you don’t mind that, hang out with the bear some more.

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.