“Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, English.”
At first glance, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear appears to be a mix of two staple anime sub-genres: the “trapped in a fantasy world” sub-genre and the ever-so-popular “cute girls doing cute things” sub-genre. At second glance... yeah, it's exactly that.
Yuna, our heroine, is a 15-year-old girl—and apparently a genius when it comes to playing the stock market. She's quit school and moved out of her parents' home (while also sending them on a $30,000 vacation), all so she can be left alone to play the world's first VRMMORPG, World Fantasy Online.
One day, she logs in, gets a super-cute bear outfit as a present, and, after answering a survey, finds herself transported to a real fantasy world—and learns that she has no choice but to wear the bear outfit if she wants to survive.
The first episode begins in medias res with a giant snake attacking a town and Yuna the only adventurer in the area capable of taking it down. This episode is all about introducing us to Yuna, the world, and her place in it.
The world is your typical western fantasy fare with guilds, adventurers, and monsters. However, it's clear that Yuna, with her bear outfit that seems more like pajamas than anything else, looks like a joke to the average citizen. What makes Yuna so entertaining as a character is how indifferent she is to the whole situation. People, even children, talk down to her and question her ability. She doesn't get mad or annoyed, instead accepting them as normal reactions to someone wearing a bear costume. Her nonchalance, in turn, throws others for a loop and adds a bit of humor to the overall situation. But more importantly, it shows us that Yuna isn't the type to sweat the small stuff.
As expected for a series like this, before the episode ends, Yuna goes off, trounces the giant snake with “bear magic” and then returns triumphantly to the guild—where they are surprised (though not too surprised) to hear of her victory. It's here that we run headlong into a directorial choice that negatively affects both this and the following episode. After all the magic-filled fantasy, the episode cuts directly to Yuna taking off her VR goggles, checking her stocks, and chatting with her grandfather in the real world, implying that all that we've seen so far has been Yuna playing a VRMMORPG. However, as the second episode shows, this is almost certainly not the case; rather, the jump cut to her taking off her goggles seems to be a flashback to before Yuna even got the bear costume to begin with.
That this scene—and the entire following episode—are set before the adventure we see in the first episode is not an issue. The problem is that there is nothing visually to let us know that a jump in time—especially one into the past—has occurred. The first episode presents everything we've seen as an MMO; the second presents it as a parallel world. Until you figure out that a time jump in the storytelling has occurred, it feels like the series is giving you conflicting information—and for no real purpose. This directorial choice isn't a hint at some mystery to be solved, nor is it some kind of last-minute twist to get you hooked on the series. It's just a poorly-integrated scene transition that makes a simple concept—she was playing an MMO and later got transported to a fantasy world—needlessly confusing.
Said confusion aside, episode two takes us to the beginning of Yuna's adventures in the bear costume—back when she was a bit less accepting of all that had happened to her. The episode is basically a way of setting up the status quo by explaining how her bear powers work and showing how she became an established adventurer capable of living in a strange new world.
It also presents an odd contradiction of Yuna's character. Yuna appears to be socially isolated when it comes to the real world. We hear nothing of her having any friends and she has so little connection to her parents and grandfather that she's not even slightly upset at being trapped in a world not her own. Yet, at the same time, she's instantly drawn to Fina and they become fast friends.
As for Fina herself, she appears to be competent when it comes to the back end of being an adventurer but not so much on the front end. This, of course, makes her the perfect pair for Yuna who is the exact opposite. What's worrying about Fina, though, is that she has little in the way of a preservation instinct, and is either too brave or too foolhardy for her own good. Hopefully her relationship with Yuna will help her grow beyond that.
All in all, the first two episodes form a bit of an anime trope checklist. VRMMORPG player? Check. Gamer transported to another world? Check. Stereotypical game-like western fantasy world? Check. Main character overpowered? Check. Cute girls doing cute things? Check.
But just because it isn't something terribly original doesn't mean the show isn't packing its own charm. The silliness of “bear magic” is always good for a laugh and Yuna's blunt-yet-carefree personality steals every scene she is in. Whether or not this alone will be able to carry the show, however, we'll just have to see.
• Alternate interpretation of the end of episode one: It isn't a time jump. She eventually finds a way to travel between the fantasy world and the real world using her VR headset.
• Assuming it is a flashback, then Yuna's grandfather came over to her place right after she switched worlds. Best case, she simply disappears; worst case, he finds his granddaughter's dead/comatose body. Either way... poor grandpa.
• In what way is Yuna an “equal” to the guy she took out with a single punch?
• I enjoy Yuna's lack of common sense—like starting to open her pocket with the giant snake corpse indoors.
• While we only see it for a second, Yuna's pajamas are also a bear outfit—just a white one.
• “Give it to me straight: Is it a wolf or a tiger?” — Yuna asking the tough questions.
Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is currently streaming on Funimation.