OP: 「ボクにインビテーション」 (An Invitation to Me) by JP
「しろくまカフェへようこそ/パンダくんの就職」 (Shirokuma Kafe e Youkoso/Panda-kun no Shuushoku)
“Welcome to the Polar Bear Café!” & “Panda-kun’s Employment”
Enter the show that tastes like no other. No, it’s not the taste of bamboo. No, we don’t serve bamboo here.
This taste is more like the taste of iced coffee. You’ll either get used to it and find enjoyment in its mellowness, or really dislike it and think it doesn’t bring much to the table. This is Shirokuma Cafe, Higa Aloha’s first and only work, a show that definitely is a different breath of air.
For those of you who don’t already know, the hooks of Shirokuma Café breaks down as follows:
One, it’s a show starring animals. Not just that, it’s a show starring animals voiced by experienced VAs. Think Suzaku (Sakurai Takahiro) as a polar bear, Araragi-kun (Kamiya Hiroshi) as a penguin, Lelouch (Fukuyama Jun) as a panda, and last but not least, Ono Daisuke as a llama. For anyone familiar with VAs, this cast provides excellent potential for a comedy, but their potentials are limited to how good the writing stands. However, this unique premise does open up comedic potential that can’t always be achieved within the human realm. Hopefully the anime capitalizes on this potential and use its VAs to its highest ability.
Two, it’s a concept from a women’s comedy magazine, something you don’t often see. For those of you curious, the magazine is Monthly Flowers, the same magazine that just finished the manga for Sakamichi no Apollon. Those looking for a novel and less-tried approach to anime should look here. The writing and tone definitely reflects the different audience Shirokuma Cafe caters towards. The cute animal designs, the bright color pallette, the light music, all of these donate themselves to the mellow atmosphere that this show brings to the table.
However, once the hooks have drawn you in, does the substance hold up? Is the humor of Shirokuma up your alley?
Those are questions you’ll unfortunately have to answer yourself…and questions that will probably not be fully answered in the first episode. Since Shirokuma Cafe really does deviate from the norm, those not familiar with the material may not be prepared for what this show offers.
I myself did not have many predispositions going into this show. I was unaware of the material, unaware of the jokes, unaware of well…a majority of the plot. All I knew was that this premise gave off a “lolwut” atmosphere and it would be voiced by respectable VAs.
What I was greeted with…was of a different tone than expected. With a premise like this, you’d expect some high-energy slapstick with overt humor, right? Bzzzzzt! Instead, I was greeted with some of the subtlest and slowest humor and character interactions that I’d seen in any anime, much less a comedy. Take for instance Shirokuma himself. His “I totally can screw around with him” atmosphere is oh so subtle, the joke can be completely lost on the first run. He definitely has a sense of humor, but it’s mixed with Shirokuma’s calm and deadpan persona enough that we fail to realize he’s actually quite the light-hearted individual. Also, puns. PUNS EVERYWHERE.
Admittedly, some of the slow pace is due to some hit-and-miss jokes, but overall that’s just this show’s nature. Cute elements balance out with the humor from quirky characters, and the story progresses at a lazy pace. There is slapstick, there is high energy, but they’re subdued and sporadic enough to not be over-the-top. Although I personally would’ve appreciated a quicker style of humor, this is a show that’s laid-back and doesn’t try to force much upon you.
If you found that this episode wasn’t your cup of tea, I still have hopes that this show will get better. If Studio Pierrot can manage to draw out the true essence of these characters, the VAs will enhance those quirks ten fold. I can imagine a scene where Penguin freaks out, Shirokuma keeps making deadpan jokes, and Llama is off to the side, doing his own thing. If such scenes where their personalities are exaggerated appear, Shirokuma Cafe can reach its full potential. However, that is something we will have to see in episodes to come. I would give it a chance for at least the third episode, to at least see if the mood grows on you and to see if the characters begin to burst from their shells.
As always, alt-text provides additional lighter commentary.
* Full-length image: 27
ED: 「Bamboo☆Scramble.」by 福山 潤 (Fukuyama Jun)