Shirokuma Cafe – the ultimate slice of life

Alternative title Polar Bear Cafe
Studio Studio Pierrot
Genres Comedy, Slice of Life
Source Manga
Episodes 50
Season Spring 2012 – Winter 2013
Director Mitsuyuki Masuhara
Music Kenji Kondou
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    The world seems to be going faster and faster and it’s become not the rarest sight to observe people complaining about enormous piles of new anime that need to be watched. At this point even the 3-episode-rule looks to consume far more time than an average laid-back person has at his disposal. And that’s to say not even taking into account how many great anime have been made before. If you try to keep up with every single more prominent airing anime you must rule out shortening your backlog by the tiniest bit. Another aspect of watching anime nowadays is the shortening of its length. 2-cour shows seem to be getting pretty uncommon as the market is dominated by 12-episode anime. It’s even getting shorter if you take into account recaps that find their way even in 1-cour shows. In all this light it seems very impractical to talk about some older and lengthier anime. Who has enough time and commitment for Legend of the Galactic Heroes? If we are talking about less prominent shows that aren’t considered milestones or anything, it becomes treading the territory of total obscurity. And it turns out there are some little gems here and there. If you have time and commitment that is.

    Chances are on the Internet you have probably seen some weird images of llamas or belly-dancing bears that look like they could have come from an anime. Rejoice – it really is and that anime is Shirokuma Cafe. The show brings the viewer to its weird world where humanized animals live among humans and nobody finds that unnatural or weird. It’s just the way it is. As one of the main characters Panda (yep, that’s both his name and species. Convenient, isn’t it?) is introduced, it becomes more than clear that such a lazy being can mean only the slowest kind of slice of life series, and 50 episodes of that, to be exact. As usual, such a show takes various real life scenarios and puts them into use, so the only difference from many other slice of life anime is that there characters are mainly animals.

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Excerpt from the OST: Odekake by Kenji Kondou

So what would animals visiting a café run by a polar bear (Shirokuma) would do? As expected, all kinds of more or less inconsequential stuff – talking about smartphones, talking about jobs, talking about childhood memories, going on various trips – you name it. There isn’t any overarcing story but from time to time it’s clear that the world isn’t static and among some episodes that can be watched in whatever order there are little stories that provide a clear sense of progression of lives of the characters – for example the misadventures of the love life of Penguin. Still these glimpses are too far apart no to call the show episodic and in the end not everything is concluded the way it could’ve been. There are some patterns in the episodic stories that may look too overused – I can’t even remember how many times Panda had some odd idea fixed in his head and tried to pursue it in his own way (that usually defeats the purpose) before eventually bailing out to start something similar the next episode. Unexpectedly, the show also has an educational side to it – a rare segments tell some details about the making of coffee and somehow I feel weirdly proud to have learned to distinguish some species of Antarctic penguins, so it’s not that everything’s just usual slice of life material.

    Shirokuma Cafe is mainly centered on Shirokuma, the titular owner of the café, and two of his customers/friends – Panda (an embodiment of laziness) and Penguin (pretty much a straight man… ehm… bird). Due to the shows length there of course are many more animals with their own little and quite entertaining stories, but the main trio is never forgotten for long. The animals themselves in Shirokuma Cafe are very similar to ordinary humans – with their own problems, hopes and wishes – the only difference is having tails, flippers, claws and the like. The animality is never forgotten though – a running gag that no one can see how Penguin or Llama gets on a chair in the café may be an example. Such quirks strengthen the immersion and make you believe that if there ever could be a cafe for talking animals, they would behave exactly that.

Perfect excuse

Other quite funny personal characteristics that depend on the physicality of the animals include Llama using a smartphone with his tongue, Sloth being carried on a tree branch in order to go shopping, Grizzly looking for a part-timer for his bar since his winter hibernation awaits. Through all the 50 episodes many animals appear, some of them clichéd like the same Sloth or Turtle who speak unbearably slow. Other may lead unexpected lives like a bunch of porcupines that formed an idol group, but each and every one of the animals gracefully and organically become parts of a bigger picture. The show isn’t completely devoid of humans but they seem to contrast the liveliness of the animals – the two most frequent personae are a waitress Sasako and a zookeeper Handa. Sasako from time to time lets out a funny remark while Handa is best known for having hobbies of keeping everything clean and collecting pebbles. If it sounds dull, it is but for every gag comedy you need some straight characters and these two serve that purpose more often than not. Still, it’s primarily a show about animal interactions so don’t expect anything significant from our humans.

I beg your pardon?

     Apart from the usual slice of life stuff, Shirokuma Cafe also employs comedy (as you probably already guessed), and does that quite a lot. Right in the first episode Panda is forced by his mother to get a part time job. Well, he does that, finding employment in a local zoo as… a panda. Yup, it’s silly, but at least for me it did work brilliantly. The comedy of course doesn’t end here. Shirokuma himself is probably best characterized by his unending puns – purposefully mishearing some words and presenting them visually. As with pretty much all the setting it needed some time to get comfortable with, but once that is achieved, you may find some mild fun. At least a person more or less fluent in Japanese should.  As I mentioned before, many comedic segments come from the animals trying to do human things, and even after completing all the show I can say I’m definitely not tired of the endless inventiveness of the creators in this respect.

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A rare sakuga excerpt from the anime; animation by Yoshihiro Kanno

  Keeping a show running for a longer time usually prevents the animation from anything spectacular and Shirokuma Cafe isn’t an exception. Despite the quality and cuteness  of the character designs the visuals look rather dull, although still serviceable. Sakuga is pretty much nonexistent (apart from one or two special occasions) and you have to be happy not to get anyone off model. Still, there’s some movement and in the end the purpose of the story is not to outshine each and every high-budget production but to simply provide some soothing entertainment and essentially it is accomplished. And I just can‘t get Sasako-san from my head. She‘s just one of the most adorable anime girls ever.

 Best girl

    Knowing that Shirokuma Cafe is a very low-key anime you have to wonder how it came to pass that its voice actor cast is nothing short of spectacular. You don’t need to be well versed in such matters to have heard about Takahiro Sakurai, Daisuke Ono, Hiroshi Kamiya, Jun Fukuyama, Rie Kugimiya, Mamiko Noto or Yuuichi Nakamura. Even Mamoru Miyano, Akira Ishida and Tomokazu Sugita make their appearances. From the top of my head I can’t remember any show that could boast of such a cast, and it’s very puzzling. The class of the VAs clearly shows – each of the characters becomes even more distinctive – so much that you could probably easily distinguish, say, Penguin’s voice from any other‘s or from many other anime characters’ in general. The only minor disappointment was Kana Hanazawa’s performance as Panda’s sister Mei-mei. KanaHana is nothing but typecasted for cute little girls but I think such an energetic performance was at odds with the general lazy-ish image of pandas. The soundtrack although quite varied, naturally mostly caters the same palate as the whole show – rarely picking up tempo and relying mostly on simply melodies and few instruments, one of which usually provides the base and the other – the melody. There are enough quirks here and there (an unexpected rap piece for example) but keeping everything simple takes the priority any time. Especially if you have seen the show and remember the themes, listening repeatedly might bring back the nostalgic laid-back feeling so even if it probably won’t be your first choice, there are countless times worse things to listen when you’re stressed.

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Excerpt from the OST: Oyasumi, Arigatou by Kenji Kondou

    The EDs and previews of Shirokuma Cafe definitely need to be mentioned. In the previews there are paper cutouts of the main characters placed in some real life locations while the VAs provide voice overs. The EDs move even further – the music in them is basically character songs, but the animation goes overboard – live action, various mosaics, stop-motion technique and other methods are used to create if not the most memorable but definitely particularly unique EDs in anime. Even if you have no wish to watch the anime, do yourself a favor and take a peak at the EDs. Please.

    When you synchronize with the rhythm of the show it becomes absolutely unimportant what exactly happens, though to be frank usually nothing happens at all. You just want to immerse and see more of enjoyable characters bantering around, maybe doing some stuff together and then going back to doing nothing. Eventually you start caring because there are lots of endearing moments scattered here and there – the message of optimism and friendship is definitely there. Shirocuma Cafe may be predictable and incredibly silly at times but at least for me it was just what I needed – a little dose of soothing and mood-enhancing medicine from time to time with fond memories for long.

    I believe, this anime is

 1

Decent

     A slice of life for 50 episodes? It’s either madness or a paradise depending on your viewpoint. Anyone looking for upbeat action or impressive story will have to look elsewhere but someone with a simple wish to relax and let all the real life problems disappear for half an hour each time may find the show very appealing. Please try and enjoy!

     Have you perchance seen Shirokuma Cafe? Are you able to tolerate slice of life shows in general? If yes, what are your favorites?

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