15 October 2016 | Crid
A fun comedy anime that deserves more recognition
Polar Bear's Cafe (Shirokuma Cafe) is a slice-of-life comedy anime with humans and talking animals. But unlike many shows or films with talking animals, here the animals are drawn in a fairly realistic way rather than in a cartoony way. It is pretty family-friendly and about the most "mature" thing you'll encounter are a handful of instances of characters (often the animals) getting drunk.
As the name suggests, one of the main characters is Polar Bear who owns a cafe. Many of the customers are human, but most of the characters that we see here are animals. The other two main characters are Penguin and Panda. There are also recurring side characters such as Polar Bear's friend since childhood, Grizzly, who runs a bar, and Llama, who just wants to be noticed as much as the other animals in the zoo.
Did I say zoo? Many of the animals work at the zoo. But those are only daytime jobs and they go home to their regular houses of a night. It's a scenario that perhaps shouldn't be thought about too deeply, but it sums up the logical disconnect that can lead to some funny moments in the show.
Being a slice-of-life show, there isn't a big overarching story to the whole show. But somehow that doesn't really matter. There is a bit of progression of some characters though. The humour can range from the gentle to the completely unexpected. Sometimes running jokes are set up, only for them to take an unexpected twist in a later episode. A couple of episodes missed the mark for me, but in a show that's 50 episodes long (24 minutes each), that's a good average. Most of the time I was watching with a stupid grin on my face.
One thing the show does very well is the portrayal of friendships. This isn't a show about conflict (although Polar Bear does enjoy trolling people from time to time - especially Grizzly). It's about friends doing things for one another, but also sometimes teasing each other. My wife and I came to really like these characters and their interactions, and we were sorry to get to the end of the final episode.
There is no English dub for the show, so we watched it in Japanese with subtitles. Some of the verbal humour would make it pretty impossible to dub - for instance, Polar Bear is fond of puns involving similar- sounding words. The subtitles told us the relevant words in brackets, which was a reasonable trade-off.
The Japanese voice cast were pretty much perfect and it's hard to imagine the characters with other voices after watching the show. I particularly liked the voices of Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear.
This is one of those shows that I wish more people knew about because it was pretty consistently enjoyable across the entire run. Perhaps the lack of (and problems of doing) an English dub are part of the reason for this.