Two chapters today, as different as day and night (or the white and black in a panda’s fur). I enjoyed the first, chronicling Penguin-san’s broken heart at the hands of Penko-san, though it doesn’t rank among the best Shirokuma has had on offer. Basically, the skit is built around one pun – and it’s a pretty good one, “Kame…ra”. Heh – to thine own self be true, and bad puns are certainly the essence of a lot of the comedy here. Penguin had been slightly less prominent in the last few episodes, so it was good to see him back in the spotlight, especially with Kamiya Hiroshi doing his impression of Kondou Takayuki’s giant tortoise. Hearing seiyuu have fun is a big part of the enjoyment of this series, generally speaking. We also got our first real chance to hear from photo buff Penko-san (Yahagi Sayuri), though there was no real progress on the romance front (something I don’t expect to change).
Much the more interesting sketch, to me, was “Panda-kun’s Night Out”. I’ve enjoyed pretty much all Grizzly-san’s appearances, but this chapter was pretty much unique so far among all the ones animated. Why? Well, if was by far the least ironic – in fact, I’d say it was played almost straight in emotional terms. Sure, Grizzly got trolled repeatedly by Polar Bear (that’s a constant) but it was actually quite a warm piece – Grizzly and Polar Bear taking on Aniki roles with Panda-kun, who actually stayed awake for almost the whole night. And all three of them seemed to enjoy the evening, even Grizzly-san. I especially liked the sequence at the sento, where Panda-kun saw the boy washing his father’s back and offered to do the same for Grizzly-san. Sure he got it all wrong, but it was still as close to an earnest moment as this series has given us.
Some folks dislike any earnestness in what’s fundamentally a snarky comedy, but if the writing is good (as it was here) I think it adds some nice depth. Shinryaku! Ika Musume is the modern apex of this balance, and while Shirokuma certainly isn’t as good, it still benefits from a little infusion of genuine warmth once in a while. And there was plenty of good comedy here, too – Panda eating the skewers (literally) at the yakatori-ya, the sauna (endurance in a sauna is indeed a test of your GAR reserves) and the “Bear Bamboo Leaf” shampoo. All in all this was on of my favorite chapters so far.