Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 13

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.

Generally speaking, long-running light novels tend to come in two different varieties of some sort. The first is “there is a definite end goal in mind, but we can drag this on forever if it stays popular”. This applies to most romantic comedies where the end point is “he chooses girl X”, or to fantasy books which have a save the world sort of goal, where the world getting saved is the endpoint. The others are the ones where we create a world or a situation and then just write infinite variations on the situation, with no expected end beyond “and the adventure continues…” Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is definitely the second kind of book. No one expects Yuna’s past in Japan to ever be relevant again beyond going to this fantasy world’s Japan analogue. Likewise, this isn’t the kind of book where it’s going to pair Yuna romantically with anyone – not seriously, anyway. Unfortunately, this does mean that after a while it’s hard to find a real reason to carry on. Yuna’s not going to change.

The ten-year-old girl showing off her legs on the front cover (sigh…) is Karina, the daughter of the local lord of Dezelt, where Yuna has been sent. The water gem that stops their land becoming a sand-infested monster home has cracked and needs to be replaced, and fortunately Yuna’s water gem she got from killing the Kraken is just what they need. Unfortunately, for magic reasons, only the lord’s wife (who is pregnant) or Karina can guide folks through the labyrinthine pyramid to get to where the gem needs to go… and Karina dropped the magic map in the labyrinth. Karina, wracked with guilt, has been trying to find a group of adventurers who will help her find the map again, but you’d need someone super powerful who has a soft spot for ten-year-old girls, and where in this series can we find anyone like that?

Forgive me for saying things I have said about ten times over the course of this series, but Yuna seems to have a tremendous issue with accepting praise. To the point where even casual people who have just met her see that it’s a problem. It’s pathological by this point, and even when she’s forced to accept rewards for saving the entire town, she still finds a way to quietly only take half of it. It’s frustrating to me because, as I hinted above, I don’t think this is going anywhere. The author has mostly dropped the darker aspects of the series as they’ve gone along, so we’re unlikely to hear more about Yuna’s past. And I don’t think we’re reaching any sort of crisis point where Yuna has a breakdown or admits that she has to change herself. The only way I can see that happening would be if it comes from Fina, but Fina’s not in this book. Instead we have a Finalike, who is nice enough but frankly is another earnest ten-year-old girl with a crush on Yuna to stack onto the pile of earnest ten-year-old girls with a crush on Yuna.

I am aware that I’m not the audience for this series, and that it’s squarely in the “Cute Girls Doing OP Things” genre. But man, don’t use psychological trauma as your heroine’s one character trait.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 12

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

As you can probably tell by the cover art, the entire first half of the book sees Yuna outside of the bear suit, dressed in a school uniform so as not to attract the attention she did as a bear last time. (She still has the bear paws and feet, just in case.) And what ends up happening is one of the more fascinating psychological examinations of a character I’ve seen in some time. Yuna, throughout the series, has complained about having to wear the bear outfit all the time, as well as the fact that people can’t recognize her if she’s not dressed like that. In fact, that’s a running gag here. But as she walks around the festival looking like a cute and pretty 15-year-old girl, and more and more people stare at her, the reader starts to realize how much the bear suit is a shield she uses to avoid attention. Yes, she’s the most conspicuous thing ever, but she’s conspicuous as a bear. Yuna as a real girl is still “one step away from a NEET”.

Yuna and her group are ready for the second day of the festival, this time walking around it with Princess Teilia, who has been shooed away from her class’s booth for attracting TOO much attention. She realizes that Yuna has the same problem, so forces her to remove her bear suit and attend the festival that day as a regular girl. They watch plays, concerts, and sword dances. And they also watch a sexist knight captain trying to destroy the women attempting to be knights, which requires Yuna, bear suit or no, to fight back and teach him a lesson. After the festival ends and they all go back home, Yuna is asked by the King to take the mana crystal she got from slaying the Kraken to a desert oasis that desperately needs it, and so she moves south, fighting hornets and running into old friends along the way.

I joked on Twitter that you should take a shot every time Yuna deflects or denies when anyone calls her cute, or pretty, or is obviously staring at her in astonishment. The series rarely looks back at Yuna’s past in Japan, and I don’ really expect this to ever be anything but a character tic of sorts for her, but it really shows off how little socialization she has before meeting Fina. We’ve seen her being blase about her astonishing OP skills and deeds before, and calling acts of kindness and heroism “common sense”, but here we see how viscerally uncomfortable she is with being the center of attention, or having the idea that anyone could be attracted to her. Even when we get the “comedy” scene where she has to have her measurements taken for a swimsuit, which is filled with “lol I have small breasts and hate it” patter, there’s a sense that Yuna’s bear suit is a mask that she can use to hide from everything when she wears it. (I don’t think it’s quite at the level of “Yuna hates herself” per se. But Yuna doesn’t like herself all that much either.

Again, for the most part this series is “cute girls doing cute things”, and fans of that will be quite happy. But I do admire the jagged undercurrents in these waters, and though I don’t expect any emotional payoff, it serves to make me more interested than I might otherwise be.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 11.5

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.

As Kuma Bear has gone on, and gotten more attention, and particularly when it got the anime, the author has been slowly but subtly erasing its past a bit. I had remarked in my reviews of the first few books that one of the more interesting things about the series was the way that it would balance “cute girls doing bear things” plotlines with some very dark storylines. This short story volume features stories that were bonuses with in-store purchases and also some new stories, and also summarizes the events of Books 1-9. The dark storylines are not even mentioned in the summaries, and have zero stories featuring them. The author realizes that this world being terrible and needing Yuna to save it is not really why people want to read this series, and honestly that decision may be for the best. The undercurrent of “and that evil guy has also been raping those women” was always uncomfortable, and as for Yuna’s parents, well, I don’t think we’ll ever return to Japan, so we don’t need to care. In the meantime, there is bear.

As noted, these are stories that were originally either exclusives you got when you bought the books at a specific store, online short stories, or short stories from the original webnovel. There’s also ten or so new stories exclusive to this volume. One or two of them have Yuna’s POV, but for the most part they’re exactly what the short stories at the end of the main volumes are: a chance to see the same events from the perspective of different characters. There’s Fina’s stress about meeting nobles and royalty, Cliff’s stress about the fact that everything Yuna does changes the world, everyone’s stress at not being able to get the ever-so-popular bear books or bear plushies. There are no real revelations in this book except the most obvious one, which is that Yuna is less of a teen in a bear suit and more of an Act of God.

It really gets hammered home in this book how strange and inexplicable Yuna is to everyone who encounters her. Her desire to not attract attention to herself, discussed in previous books, is laughable here – any time she appears, she immediately does something that makes sure no one will ever forget about her. She’s not even an adventurer here: she’s a savior, changing everyone’s lives for the better (except perhaps the aggrieved Cliff, who ends up having to clean up after her when she nonchalantly does things like digging a tunnel through the mountain). We also get a bit more depth to minor characters like the guild masters, etc, though again, it’s only a tiny bit more. The problem with short stories that are exclusives and not part of the main work is that they can’t actually impact the main work – they have to be entirely optional.

So yes, you can probably skip this, but at the same time, if you’re already enjoying Kuma Bear, you’re probably the sort of person who’d enjoy this anyway. Also, it’s pretty long – there’s 50 short stories here, and the book itself is almost 400 pages. Inoffensive fun.