Yurikuma Arashi – What’s Up with the Bee in Episode 04?

Wow, what an episode! Because the previous three episodes had established so many of the ideas, concepts, themes, metaphors, and symbols, this episode was able to take all of those things and, by presenting many of them in a very different way and in a very different context, shed some light on where the show is going with all of this in a broader sense. I’m sure it will still be about lesbians, sexuality, and how those things are treated and viewed in society, but this episode brought to the fore some of the more subtle ideas about how we view each other and how society affects those views that have popped up here and there in the previous episodes.

Even though I have to cover many of the more general ideas and themes in the episode in order for the more specific ones to be fully coherent and understandable, since this piece is only about those things, I’m not going to talk much at all about the other parts of the episode. There are some excellent rundowns of the episode as a whole (and of the previous episodes) that you can find on Wrong Every Time (much thanks to Bobduh for prompting me to write this!; there’s also some great stuff in the comments on his articles) and on Gabriella Ekens’s review for Anime News Network.

As this is an analysis, it will not be spoiler-free.

To give a very brief overview, this episode is about Lulu’s past and how she met Ginko and traveled with her to the human side of the Severance Barrier. Thematically, it contains many of the same ideas that were present in previous episodes, namely those about society and sex and gender roles, how they’re reinforced and continued over time from generation to generation, and what effects such roles and expectations have on both the people they’re about and the people who hold those views.

Now, down to beesiness. (Sorry! I won’t make many of these, I promise! I just couldn’t resist!) Before we can discuss the bee, we need to cover a few related ideas: society, love and kisses, and honey. Let’s start with the big (cluster of an) idea, which is that of society, the roles it says we should have and be, its expectations of and beliefs about those roles, and how those expectations and beliefs affect how we view others. As director Ikuhara is wont to do, this is played out through a fairy tale setting, where roles of princes and princesses embody society’s gender expectations. Lulu is a princess, with a mother and father. As their only child, she’s given everything. And she seems quite happy about it. Even so, there are already hints that, at least unconsciously, she’s not fully on board with what her kingdom (society) has in store for her, that she, simply by being herself, ultimately won’t fit the princess mold. Alternatively (or possibly additionally), because she’s so pleased with her current life and how she’s in the limelight, when people praise her based on their expectations about who she is and what she’s like without actually seeing her for themselves, she gets huffy. If she’s in the limelight because of her status and people are adoring and idolizing her left and right as a result, she wants to be seen in the limelight, not just assumed to be in it.

To add to these gradually burgeoning troubles, along comes a bouncing baby brother for Lulu who, as a princess, is immediately pushed aside in favor of the new prince, even though she’s the firstborn. Even her completely valid and understandable reaction to the whole affair is brushed aside. She’s jealous of her new brother, Mirun, and hates him intensely because everything she ever had and ever knew was taken away and given to him solely because he’s a boy, solely because society’s norms dictate that he be treated a certain way. Lulu is basing her hatred and jealousy of Mirun on society’s expectations about who he should be. Even though the minority, the “other”, are spurned by society, they’re not immune to its influence. No one is, because we are society. Of course, being an infant (and then a toddler), none of this is Mirun’s fault, and this tragedy-in-the-making plays out over the course of the episode. Tellingly, despite being a prince, all the servants still look at Mirun with their veils on, only seeing him as his role.

This brings us to love and kisses. Mirun himself (who is the most adorable thing—human, humanoid, or otherwise—that I’ve ever seen in anything anywhere real or fictional) has no conscious or intentional part in how society views and treats him, and loves his big sister completely and unconditionally for who she is. Even so, because no one is immune to society’s influence, he’s being taught traditional notions about love. These notions state that true love becomes a star, which eventually falls to Earth as a promised kiss.

Well, what the heck does that mean? If you look up at the stars on a clear night, they appear wondrous, mystical, magical, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring (all of these things are positive). They’re also very far away, very difficult to get to. When we obtain such a thing, such a love, when it falls to Earth, it becomes a promised kiss, the expression of love. This sounds very predetermined, like the expression of love has to be a certain way. This is the notion of love that Mirun is being taught by his parents via children’s books.

Even though she’s had it hammered into her head so much she can recite it by memory, as a result of being completely slighted by society’s traditional notions of how things are and should be, in addition to not fitting society’s notions of love and sex/gender roles simply because she doesn’t swing that way, and feeling stifled and unable to ever express her love her way as a result of all of this, Lulu scoffs at Mirun’s idea of love. Innocent and undeterred, Mirun who, being a toddler, doesn’t fully understand the concept of love he’s being taught, says that a falling star he and Lulu just saw is his love for her, and declares that he’ll go get it and give it to her. He’s determined to express his love to her and to get her to return that love.

Despite being moved by Mirun’s gesture, because she’s become so resentful and jaded, Lulu manipulates his feelings to get rid of him and reclaim her place in the limelight by promising to kiss him if he can bring her a promised kiss. She never intends to keep this promise, and thinks she’ll never see her brother again. However, Mirun survives and returns with a jar of honey (which shines like a star) in hand as an expression of his love for his sister, and happily asks for the kiss she promised him. Despite being moved by the gift and what it represents, Lulu is heavily averse to the idea of kissing Mirun because it’s not the way she feels about love and how she wants to express her love (she likes girls, even if the way she feels it at the time is that she doesn’t like boys), despite him being her little brother and having no romantic intentions whatsoever, and not a suitor who would clearly have romantic intentions. Again, because he’s a toddler, Mirun doesn’t understand this and keeps pressuring Lulu who, in desperation, throws the jar of honey out the window, rejecting his love.

Lulu continues to manipulate Mirun’s feelings, sending him off again and again to bring her a promised kiss, each time with the false promise that she’ll kiss him if he brings it to her. Each time, she throws the jar of honey he brings her out the window, rejecting his love. Interestingly, every time after the first time, Lulu no longer lets Mirun pressure her the way he did the first time, throwing away his love almost immediately. It’s become a pattern of behavior, a knee-jerk reaction. Even so, again and again, Mirun returns with a big, innocent, loving smile on his face and a jar of honey in his hands, hoping to get a kiss from her in return as an expression of her love for him, until one day…

Upon approaching a beehive, he was stung by a bee and died. The symbols of bees, honey, and kisses are heavily intertwined in this episode. I read something online that said that bees are a “symbol of fertility and sexuality” and that the honeycomb “is the symbol of the heart and represents the sweetness of life found within our own heart”. By extension, you could say that honey is the expression of that “sweetness of life”. It’s also common knowledge that bees protect their honey. Putting all of this in the context of the episode and the show as a whole, generally speaking, the symbols of the bee and honey deal with our love and our desire to live our lives in ways that are joyous and fulfilling to us (joie de vivre), and how we want to express those things and share them with other people.

The symbol of honey is more obvious, and I’ve covered it here and there in this analysis, but just briefly, for the sake of clarity, let me say that honey is a symbol of the expression of love and joie de vivre, and who that honey is shared with is a symbol of how we want to share and experience those things. Kisses also symbolize the expression of love and joie de vivre, though often less intensely and in a more chaste manner than honey does. The bee is trickier to explain because it represents a more complex, interconnected construct of ideas, and is heavily tied into the other ideas and themes of the episode. Generally speaking, the bee represents a barrier of personal space—in this case, Lulu’s barrier of personal space—and how that space is guarded. Keeping in mind that bees protect their honey, and that honey (along with kisses) is a symbol of the expression of love and joie de vivre, the bee guards Lulu’s personal spaced based on how she feels about these things (both consciously and unconsciously) and on how she wants to be able to express them (she doesn’t want to share her honey and kisses with just anybody, or to only be able to share them in certain, “approved” ways). In turn, those things are influenced by how she feels about the way society views her based on its expectations of her role as a princess.

More concretely and specifically, every time the bee comes out and intimidates or pushes away others, those people are people who look at Lulu as her role of “princess”. She doesn’t like being looked at like that, and the bee acts on those feelings. She doesn’t like being seen as a role. She doesn’t like the fact that being looked at in such a way inhibits her from feeling comfortable and free to share and express her love and joie de vivre with who she wants, how she wants. The bee keeps away people who, because of how they view Lulu, if let in, would inhibit her from being herself.

Notably, there are only two people who the bee lets inside Lulu’s personal bubble. The first is Ginko who, long after Mirun’s death, comes to return one of the jars of honey he’d brought to Lulu that she’d thrown away. Ginko doesn’t judge Lulu, doesn’t see her as a role, and even gives her some poignant advice. She treats Lulu entirely as an individual, as herself. Lulu is instantly drawn to this, and the bee immediately encircles both of them. The second person who the bee lets inside is Mirun. Despite all the hatred and jealousy she felt towards him, Lulu still loved her brother, and on some level understood that he saw her as herself and loved her for it. This can be seen in the times when Lulu is genuinely moved by Mirun’s declarations of love for her. Unfortunately, she didn’t consciously, fully, realize this until it was too late because it was completely eclipsed by her jealousy and hatred at having lost everything to him. Society’s norms about gender roles and love are to blame for what Lulu lost, not Mirun. But because Lulu tied those views to him from such an early age (e.g., every time she kicks Mirun off the cliff in the box labelled “love”, she’s essentially giving a big middle finger to the patriarchy, even though there’s no way that Mirun is part of it at this point in his life), she never realized the distinction.

Mirun being the only one to be stung by the bee, and dying from it, then, is incredibly tragic. The incident symbolizes his eventual realization that his sister would never love him back, no matter how hard he tried to express his love to her. As he tried to approach the beehive (his sister), in yet another attempt to get her to give him a kiss (express her love for him), he finally realized it would never happen. She completely rejected his love based on her misconceptions about him and what he represented. The realization that she would never return his love no matter how hard he tried broke his heart, and he died from it, still loving her as much as he ever did.

God, this image is so sad, I’m honestly about to start crying.

This image pretty much symbolizes the whole thing. The barren tree is Lulu, devoid of the expression of love, unwilling to show any to Mirun due to her misconceptions (she’s “barren”, while all the land around her is lush and green, clearly showing that she didn’t have to be that way, that she could have blossomed beautifully). The bee is…the bee. And then we have Mirun, smiling and sitting patiently under the tree with his jar of honey to give to Lulu, hoping that this time she’ll return his love and give him a kiss.

Everything in this fairy-tale story comes full circle when we’re told it’s an accident, despite one of the servants seeing it with her own two eyes (impossible, since they’re covered by the veil). It’s just assumed that Lulu wouldn’t have been involved, since “a princess would never do such a thing”.

The use of the bee and how it represents relationships and connection between people is surprisingly nuanced. Being let inside Lulu’s personal bubble doesn’t automatically mean she’ll open up to you or share her kisses or honey with you. It’s like a first-level, foundational, barrier of entry. She recognizes either consciously or unconsciously that the people who she lets near her see her for who she is, rather than as a role. Because she wants to be around people like that, she lets them in. But the kind of closeness that has to be established for her to want to share her kisses or honey takes time. And even if she’s open to it on some level, if she’s opposed or resistant to it on another, because you’re already in so close, depending on what your own feelings are, depending on how much  you’ve opened yourself up and become vulnerable, you can be “stung” unexpectedly. And if you are stung it’s all the more painful because you’ve willingly made yourself vulnerable.

I love the idea of the bee here. I think it allows for some wonderfully insightful and well-thought-out observations and commentary on interpersonal relationships. I’m very curious to see if it’ll come back in subsequent episodes and how it’ll be used if it does.

To summarize and attempt to get the symbols across in a less wordy way:

  • The servants, the Judgmens-turned-princes, and the kingdom in general represent society and its norms.
  • Honey represents an expression of love and joie de vivre. Who we choose to share that honey with represents how we want to express and experience those things.
  • A kiss also represents an expression of love and joie de vivre, though it’s often less intense and more chaste than honey.
  • The bee represents a person’s (in this case Lulu’s) personal space. It protects that space, only letting inside those who view Lulu as herself and not as a role, those who she is open to the possibility of sharing her kisses and/or honey with. Because it’s Lulu’s bee, it acts based on how she feels about these things, which isn’t immune to being influenced by society’s norms.
  • Mirun being stung by the bee and dying symbolizes his eventual realization that Lulu would never return his love. This realization broke his heart and he died from it, a tragic casualty of the effect that oppressive societal norms can have on even those who would normally benefit from them.

It’s interesting that even without all of this analysis and effort to pin down what everything means, even if you don’t understand it intellectually, it still comes across viscerally in a very poignant way (though I do think that understanding the symbolism makes it so much more powerful).

Rest in peace, Mirun.


Posted on January 29, 2015, in Analysis and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A bit late, but I just found this post today. I mostly thought I had the right interpretation of what was happening in Lulu’s backstory, but had completely missed the idea of how the patriarchy/society’s imposed roles were affecting Mirun and Lulu (I had just chalked her “hatred” of him up to not knowing how to respond to his sincere affection, given her own seemingly disdainful feelings of love prior to his death). But some of the bits and pieces I felt were a bit weak in my own interpretation really start to make sense after taking your analysis into account. Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the analysis!

    • Thank you, and you’re welcome! I’m glad you were able to get something useful out of my wordiness! 😛

      Actually, I think your idea that Lulu reacts to Mirun the way she does simply because she’s just not familiar with that kind of affection, in addition to her own disdain towards the notion of love that she was brought up on makes a lot of sense, and I definitely agree that it’s a big part of the reason she reacts to him the way she does. I’ll say upfront that I don’t think my analysis is airtight or anything, and in hindsight I probably put too much emphasis on the lesbianism aspect as part of the reason for Lulu’s disdain toward Mirun. The main thing I think I was able to suss out that I hadn’t seen explored in-depth elsewhere is the bee, which is why I focused on that so heavily. And even then, I completely overlooked the fact that, when zoomed out, it looks like a star, which ties it in to that symbol. I only realized it when I saw someone else point it out on a different blog.

      One of the things I really enjoy about a show like Yurikuma is that it’s very open to multiple interpretations, and that there’s not necessarily one “right” way to interpret it. So, different people may think the same scene or metaphor means something different, but neither one has to be wrong, and in fact both may be right.

  2. “Lulu is heavily averse to the idea of kissing Mirun because it’s not the way she feels about love and how she wants to express her love (she likes girls, even if the way she feels it at the time is that she doesn’t like boys)”

    You’re jumping to conclusions. Lulu rejects Mirun’s love because she hates him (she doesn’t realize that she loves him until much later). It has nothing to do with her sexual preferences, which the series hasn’t strictly defined yet. I mean, she likes to fool around with Ginko, but that doesn’t mean she’s homosexual. She could be bisexual, or she could be heterosexual but like to mess around with Ginko in particular. The truth is that we don’t know yet.

    In trying to fit your interpretation of the story into your preconception of Lulu’s sexuality, you’re missing the main point. More than sexuality and lesbians, this is a story about love, love in general. Ikuhara isn’t that concerned in making distinctions between different kinds of love. It’s all the same thing to him. The only distinction he does is whether your love is real or not. This is what Kureha is always asked over the phone: “Is your love real?” And in this episode Mirun says that “real love” becomes stars, not just love but “real love.” The question of whether your love is real is always at the center of it all in this series, and what makes love real is self sacrifice. Just like in Penguindrum, “real love” takes the form of a selfless act of sacrifice. Mirun risked his life for Lulu, his love was real. Sumika risked her life for Kureha, her love was real. It doesn’t matter if their love was romantic and sexual or just platonic. Ikuhara doesn’t care about that. He cares about how far a person is willing to go for their loved ones.

    Lulu rejected Mirum’s love because she couldn’t separate the role assigned to him by society and the person itself, not because of her yet undefined sexual preferences. But at the end she did realize that she loved him all along, and that he indeed was her “promised kiss.” Like she told the judgments, she’s not really giving up on the kiss, because she lost it forever already. With Mirum’s death, her “promised kiss” is no more. That’s why she’s helping Ginko instead. [BTW, the judgments say “kiss,” not “kisses.” The plural is a mistranslation in the subtitles.]

    Saying that she gave up on the kiss but not on love itself, means that she gave on her own love but not love in general. Her true love is dead, but she still believes in love itself, so she has decided to help Ginko realize her love instead.

    • Hey! Thank you very much for your comment! I’m really sorry it took me so long to respond. I’ve been ridiculously busy with schoolwork since the day after I wrote this analysis, so even though I read your comment and have been mulling it over and letting it sink in, ‘til now I didn’t have time to actually sit down and write a response.

      Though I did talk about Lulu’s sexuality, I wasn’t 100% confident in my theory. It was just what seemed to connect the dots best and make everything most coherent. From reading your comment and continuing to think about it since then, I am leaning more and more towards a love-based interpretation, rather than a sexuality-based one. But due to all the sexually charged stuff in the previous episodes, and the continuing use of honey in this one, I still can’t shake the feeling that at least some part of this is sexuality-based.

      I’m not really sure where you got the idea that I was ignoring the importance of love in favor of sexuality, as I mentioned love a lot. I can’t say that I agree with the idea of real love only being selfless, though. I haven’t seen Penguindrum, but with how the fairy tale setup was used to dig into and tear down traditional notions of gender roles in Utena, and the understanding that Ikuhara likes to repeat himself, the facts that this episode is happening within a fairy tale setting (narrated by the main Judgman, no less), that Mirun’s notion of love is learned through a fairy tale (within the fairy tale), and that Lulu clearly scoffs at that notion of love, I have a hard time believing that that’s what this is going for, that it’s saying that only selfless love can be real and that we can only ever have one “true” love. To me, it seems like those statements shouldn’t be taken at face value.

      If you think about real life, these notions of love are really narrow and are proven wrong daily. Love can be very selfish, and it’s just as real, just as true, as selfless love (and there’s a whole range in between the two extremes of this spectrum). People who have had love and lost that love can and do find love again with another person. The love experienced and shared with one is just as real as the love experienced and shared with another.

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