Two flat-out winners this week, with both chapters completely succeeding as comedy and offering just enough sincerity. First off we had a classic situation comedy starring Grizzly-san. I’ve personally never heard of this shaved-ice specialty called the polar bear – maybe it’s a Japanese thing – so I was as confused as Grizzly was when Otter-san (Sugita Tomokazu) relayed his story of how delicious polar bears were in the summer, and he and his friends had just eaten one.
Pretty much everything about this number worked for me, though there were several highlights. First off we had Grizzly-san’s outrage and then horror as he contemplated the loss of his best friend – although every childhood memory seems to be of Polar Bear doing something stupid, with Grizzly paying the price. Everything poor Grizzly-san sees reminds him of Shirokuma, even bad puns. Meanwhile Shirokuma-san concocts a ridiculous tale of Grizzly-san heading north, becoming a bouncer and becoming “Uncle Grizzly” to a family of fox pups – a story which turns out to have actually happened. Finally, Grizzly shows up with the intention of taking over Shirokuma Café, even expressing a willingness to take up the mantle of puns – and when he sees Polar Bear alive his astonished “Why the hell are you alive?” is met with “Because my mother gave birth to me.”
It’s rare that both chapters in the anime have succeeded this unreservedly, but the second this week was every bit the equal of the first. The story centers around Necktie-san (Suzumura Kenichi), a hilariously intense salaryman who’s new in town and, coming off a harrowing experience at the station café, comes to Shirokuma Café looking for something to cleanse his palate and soul. The genius in this sketch is very simple, but no less genius for that – finally, we have a character who arrives in the absurd world of Shirokuma Café and asks “WTF is going on here?” Necktie-san warily scans the menu, relieved to see it’s normal until he notices the bamboo. He orders it as an experiment, then forces himself to try and eat it, thinking there must be something about bamboo humans have never appreciated before (there isn’t). When Panda-kun shows up Necktie-san is still further astonished, all the more so when Panda practically begs Necktie-san to give him his extra larger serving of bamboo.
As all this is happening, of course, Necktie-san’s face is engaging in more and more strenuous contortions and his internal monologue growing increasingly desperate. It’s all perfectly suited to the ironic tone of the series, right down to his agonizing over missing out on Penguin-san getting onto his stool, and internal battle over whether to solve Shirokuma-san’s “Hustler” riddle. In the end he sees, for all the oddity of it, Shirokuma Café is actually a warm and welcoming place – and heads off back to work, newly refreshed and optimistic about his new home. And after work, he decides to stop for a drink at an interesting local bar…