i just finished watching a 2015 anime series, and now i Have Thoughts.
none of this will make much sense to anyone who hasn’t watched Yurikuma Arashi – Love Bullet [“Lesbianbear Storm”], which i’m not going to try to explain because it would take about as long as watching it (~4 hours). yes, really: kunihiko ikuhara doesn’t really direct things that summarize properly (and the wikipedia page will hand you a ton of spoilers without really helping you make sense of what happens in the show – just like this little essay!).
the main one is that Love Bullet is a show full of lesbians, but the one thing it is not about is lesbianism. it’s easy to focus on the lez side, because it’s everywhere, but that’s also how you can tell that it’s not the subject! when almost everyone is a lesbian (heroes, villains, friends, fascists, collaborators, students, principal, children, parent, bears, humans) and none of the violence or harassment is based on going after people because they’re lesbians, lesbianism is just Life in Yurikumaland. the homeopathic presence of men, and of apparently het people, seems to exist only to underline this: lesbianism apparently isn’t the only option in this world, but we don’t see any indication that it’s unusual or disparaged.
which makes the ways that the show is so ostentatiously an allegory about actually-existing state-supported social violence and the unhumaning of people to make them its targets even more interesting to unpack!
to my eye, the most obvious reading is as a show about the complete overlap of the current wave of anti-trans organizing (the “anti-gender” / “gender critical” movement) and the fascist far right.
the fascist part is clear: the Invisible Storm has all the most familiar fash hallmarks, beefed up with an app-based forced-unanimity process for choosing targets. notably, the Stormtroopers’ rhetoric, with “friendship” at its center, directly echos the way current fascist rhetoric is all about “love” (of the nation, of the ‘white race’, of the ‘western tradition’, of family & children – sara ahmed has written eloquently about this), blending it with the eugenic tone common to fascists and liberals. and of course they are deeply embedded in the state’s military/police structure, like fascist groups everywhere. (parenthetically: it’s also telling that the state’s big project, the Severance Wall, is pretty transparently named after the “Separation Barrier” euphemism for israel’s apartheid [literally, “apart-ness”] wall in the west bank – you can’t separate fascism from colonialism!)
the other side of the equation is less direct – but not by much.
the Invisible Storm and the state are united in their hatred of bears. in particular, they are concerned about the ways that bears – hairy, ravenous, intrinsically violent – can pass as humans and prey on girls and women. these self-transforming enemies are the reason why the Wall is being built, and provide the excuse for an array of forms of surveillance and self-surveillance.
the parallels to the contemporary anti-trans panic are pretty obvious. glaring, even. the only thing missing is a bathroom scene.
note: i’m mainly going to be talking about trans women here, though i’ll write “trans people” wherever it seems appropriate. that’s partly because that’s how the anti-trans movement operates – even when it’s specifically targeting a trans man, its rhetoric remains centered on trans women. and it’s partly because there are almost no men in Yurikuma, and the only bears we see in any detail who isn’t a woman are milne and the Severance Court officials, so we know nothing about how the human world treats bears who aren’t presenting themselves as women.
note note: it’s totally plausible that the bear world doesn’t have gender, or that if it does, it works very differently from the currently hegemonic christian/roman gender binary. in which case bears only get categorized as women or men if they cross the Wall.
but/and the allegory even gets to some of the subtler elements of the anti-trans panic’s rhetoric and practice, in interesting ways.
we see one person who enacts the fears of abuse and violation that are folded into the bear panic: the man who is yurika’s adoptive parent and abuser – a grown human whose harm is directed at a bear child. this is a precise representation of the facts behind the child-abuse stranger-danger rhetoric used to target trans women. almost all abuse happens within families, typically (though not invariably) by cis men, disproportionately targeting both kids who show signs of gender dissent and adoptive/foster children, and almost always without a meaningful response from the surrounding community, institutions, or the state. it’s rare for a targeted child to be able to exact revenge as yurika does; sadly, it’s hardly rare for the lessons taught through abuse to be internalized in ways that continue to harm those who survive it and sometimes those around them, as is the case with yurika.
we also see the ways that anti-trans organizers target people – women in particular – who have relationships with trans people (trans women in particular). from the proto-Stormtroopers’ attack on kureha at the start of the Severance period to the demand that kureha be the one to murder ginko, we’re shown the ways that violence and social pressure are used to force cis women into line with a trans-hating state and society.
there’s also an interestingly complex anti-trans resonance in the Invisible Storm’s rhetoric. its targets (presumed to be human, but treated as bear-aligned) are chosen for their non-conformity (again, because it bears repeating: lesbianism, in this world, is not marked as nonconformist), but the phrase that comes up again and again is that they “don’t follow social cues”. this strikes me as partly about resisting unstated gender expectations, but also as a typical description of neurodivergent people. this is on the one hand a classic eugenicist pairing of two kinds of supposedly inherited ‘degeneracy’ targeted for extermination, and on the other hand a very contemporary association made by both trans folks (as we observe how much overlap there is between the two groups, especially in the online spaces where both build community) and by the far right (building on earlier eugenic visions).
what i find most fascinating, though, is the way that the finale of Love Bullet plays out, placing itself in a very specific location within contemporary trans politics – one that’s at odds with the trans liberalism that has come into broad visibility over the last decade. Yurikuma Arashi explicitly rejects the idea that it is a positive thing for bears – for trans women – to become cis women. that is presented as an act of self-destruction that mainly serves to feed cis women’s undeserved pride in their privileged social position (and, here implicitly, leaves that position unchallenged). instead, the liberatory action is for a cis woman to join the bears – to destroy her self-image as part of that privileged class, and take on the living conditions and exposure to threats and violence that her trans siblings have been constrained by.
this is not the assimilationist vision that current self-appointed trans spokespeople sell. they embrace the idea that becoming indistinguishable from cis people is the goal, and that the only thing about being trans that is worth retaining is the label – which must be rigorously policed to defend it from dilution.
but it is the trans liberation vision that radical trans women (mainly poor & workingclass, largely sex workers, often racialized) have consistently put forward (take a look at the mid-1990s zine gendertrash, or the early-1970s manifestos of Radicalqueens or STAR). it is the idea that we can make our lives on our own terms, and that there is room under the trans umbrella for anyone who rejects the idea that the christian/roman gender binary should continue to structure societies – as long as they actually live their everyday lives that way.
the other part of the finale – konomi’s survival, uchiko’s decision to abandon the Invisible Storm, and their apparent romance or partnership – underlines this as the vision of liberation. even a onetime Stormtrooper can be transformed and work for justice; even a bear who collaborated with the fascists in life and became their tool in death (imagine a trans roy cohn, or fill in the ex-olympian of your choice) can be transformed and work for freedom. gau gau!
i think the Severance Court trio also fit into this reading. increasingly, the typical gatekeepers in nominally trans-affirmative social service institutions are trans men. social workers, patient navigators, therapists, program managers, what have you – all jobs much more available to trans men (especially if they’re white & raised with money) than trans women (even if they’re white & raised with money).
some concretely support the anti-trans movement in their off hours (i’m thinking of bryn kelly’s classic piece on one of the many trans guys in those jobs in the early 2010s who insisted on their status as men for 51 weeks of the year, and spent the 52nd at the trans-women-excluding Michigan Women’s Music Festival). others are among the most vocal in policing the borders between the True Trans and the rest of us who are Doing It Wrong in one way or another – usually by not aspiring to look and act cis, or by being insufficiently enthusiastic about the meagre and often just plain bad options for medical transition that are currently available (especially meagre & especially bad for trans men, i should say).
some, of course, are lovely and devoted to expanding access, no questions asked. but even those ones are seeking out and taking jobs where what they are paid to do is deny trans people access to healthcare and other lifesaving services. that’s the Severance Court in a nutshell: bears policing bears (and the humans that love them) in the name of a holy mission that’s indistinguishable from the desires of a bear-hating state and society.