Shirokuma Café is one of those shows that every season needs a couple of, something so easy to enjoy you could watch it if your hair was on fire. You occasionally get your bursts of brilliance, but mostly it’s just amusing and likable, smart without requiring too much work on the part of the audience. This was one of those episodes that was right in the show’s sweet spot, with a breezy and low-key first half followed by a full-blows theatre of the absurd in the second – an episode from a series that knows exactly what it’s trying to be and doesn’t care to be anything else.
First off we have Panda-kun deciding he wants to be an apprentice, after Masaki-san comes into the café with the Zen master of coffee, Tree Kangaroo-san. This is your usual Panda-kun going off on a random tangent setup, but there’s a lot of amusement mined from it – Shirokuma-san’s breathless eagerness to have himself be the model, the dissing of Penguin-san, the “Next person who walks through the door” gag, especially with Mr. Handa. The payoff comes when Shirokuma suggests Sloth-san as a master – on the surface, a brilliant suggestion. Alas, though, Panda-san is also capable of boredom in addition to laziness, and he’s rather put off by the idea of hanging from a tree branch all the time – especially by the notion of only going to the bathroom once a week. Meanwhile, it appears Sasako-san is actually an apprentice to Shirokuma-san.
The next chapter is a classic example of the genius of this series at finding scenarios that really show off the absurdity of the premise – this time it’s a neighborhood sports festival. Shirokuma-san gets Sasako to host because he doesn’t like talking in front of groups (really?) and Handa-san quite rightly wonders WTF he’s doing there, as the only human. This is comedy gold – I love pretty much every scene with Red Panda-kun (the fact that he’s voiced by the same seiyuu as Kogitsune from Natsume Yuujinchou doesn’t hurt) and the rivalry between Sloth and Tortoise-san in the “footrace” is low-hanging comedic fruit, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be plucked. We also get a seal-eating event (cancelled – thank goodness – as Shirokuma is the only entrant) a scavenger hunt where the ever-unlucky Penguin-san draws an envelope with “Penjolina” inside, and a hilariously mismatched three-legged race which proves compatibility triumphs over brute force, as Red Panda-kun and Badger-san pip the Grizzly/Panda and Shirokuma/Penguin “teams” at the post.