If I was to try and sum up Shirokuma Café (Polar Bear’s Café) in only a few words, I’d probably pick ‘fun’, ‘easy’, and ‘pointless’. That last one’s not an insult – if anything, Shirokuma Café just goes to show that simple doesn’t necessarily equal stupid, and that an anime doesn’t need to have any particular message or deeper meaning in order to be good.
Shirokuma Café is a slice-of-life anime in the truest sense of the word; it showcases nothing more than its various characters going about their daily routines exactly as usual. A couple of things set this title apart from other slice-of-life shows of the same general ilk, however. First off, most of the characters seem to be working adults rather than teenagers or even university-age students. And secondly, nearly all the main characters are animals. I don’t mean animals in any kind of symbolic or metaphysical sense, either – I mean that Polar Bear is an actual polar bear, Panda really is a panda, and Penguin is a genuine penguin. Shirokuma Café depicts a world that’s just like the one we live in today, with the single exception of wild animals interacting freely with humans and with each other – and it does so in a way that comes across as not only utterly charming but also oddly natural.
Most of the appeal of Shirokuma Café lies in its slapstick, but usually straight-faced, brand of comedy. It’s not the type that’s designed to have viewers rolling around on the floor laughing hysterically, and neither is it the kind of bawdy, frat boy-style comedy that’s sometimes synonymous with ‘slapstick’. Filled with comfortably slow banter, ridiculous puns, and the kind of absurdist humour that comes from seeing a panda applying for a job at the local zoo as a part-time panda, Shirokuma Café acts as though everything about its premise is totally normal. Playful but relaxed, its jokes take their time to unfold and leave the audience with plenty of breathing room; something you don’t see too often when it comes to sitcoms these days.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that a lot of what goes on in Shirokuma Café is pretty funny in and of itself, without any need for further embellishment. Panda is a self-centered (but undeniably cute) man-child who still lives with his mother and would rather laze around at home snacking on bamboo than drag himself to work twice a week. Penguin is a much smarter and more mature character who nonetheless spends nearly all his time sitting around drinking mocaccinos and obsessing over a female penguin who works at the nearby bakery. Polar Bear, who runs the café with seemingly little effort, is an epic and shameless troll. These three characters are the mainstays of the series, although there’s a colourful array of others who make regular appearances: a fierce but secretly soft-hearted grizzly bear who runs a bar, an easygoing llama who dreams of becoming as popular at the zoo as Panda is, and a zookeeper who would rather stay at home cleaning his apartment than find a girlfriend.
And that’s basically all there is to Shirokuma Café. It really doesn’t get any simpler in either story or execution than this, but for me, that’s the beauty of the series. Its deadpan, self-referential jokes don’t hide any real point or significance beyond what’s onscreen – making it the ideal anime to watch when you’re in the mood for something light-hearted but inoffensive, or else are too tired to think. Of course, the downside to this is that the audience is essentially watching a show where nothing ever happens – it’s like an even more meandering version of K-On! minus the moe factor or Gin no Saji without the heartfelt drama. Not every joke in Shirokuma Café manages to fully land, either; a few outstay their welcome, while others occasionally fall a little flat. Needless to say, viewers who are out for fast-paced or razor-sharp wit, fanservice, or any kind of action whatsoever will probably find this anime nothing but ponderously dull.
There’s also nothing here that especially stands out in the production values department. The artwork fits the tone of the series perfectly – it’s very consistent but not showy, with lots of solid block colouring and a calmly relaxed feel. Likewise, the animation is decent enough but nothing to write home about. Most of the time, Shirokuma Café looks and sounds like a high-quality children’s show – fun but straightforward, attractive where it counts but largely uncomplicated and unremarkable. I personally quite like it, but as there’s nothing exceptional or innovative to be had here, the art style and musical choices serve chiefly to reinforce the show’s other attributes. However, I will say that I found the first OP to be not only adorable but also pretty damn catchy.
Entirely episodic in nature, and with each episode usually broken down further into two main comedy sketches, watching even just the first few minutes of Shirokuma Café should immediately tell you everything you need to know about the series. Whether or not people find it delightfully endearing or inanely tedious will depend greatly on their level of tolerance for rambling vignettes and silly wordplay. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, I’d suggest giving Shirokuma Café a miss. If it does, then you’re in for a treat because it honestly doesn’t get much better than this.
Question of the post: For those that have seen it, what do you think of Shirokuma Café? And more generally speaking, do you think an anime (or any form of fictional media for that matter) necessarily needs to have a point in order to not only be entertaining but also ‘good’?