I’ve said it before, but Shirokuma can be a confounding series to blog sometimes. How do I go about trying to convey why I enjoyed these two chapters so much? We had a very silly Setsubun (continuing PBC’s cavalcade of Japanese – and international – holiday episodes) sketch featuring most of the dobutsu cast, and a very slow and charming chapter dedicated almost solely to Sasaki-san and Llama-san. As I said last week, I can’t imagine another series trying an episode like this, never mind pulling it off.
It’s almost Mamemaki time in Tokyo again (February 3rd), and that beans tossing beans at some poor sap in an ogre mask to drive out the bad fortune and bring in the good. Aside from being a riot for grade-schoolers (we get the two grade-schooler penguins sitting in on this event) it’s a big deal at Shirokuma Café, where Polar Bear never misses a chance to have fun with a ritual. Basically, this is a chain of humor based upon just how ill-suited everyone (except Mandrill-san, of course, but he hates being type-cast) is at being the oni. The build-up here is to Grizzly-san (as I expected) being called in to do the deed – a little too well at first, judging by the reaction. For all his bluster, it strikes me that Grizzly-kun is an astonishingly good sport, considering just how much Shirokuma-kun puts him through. I think my favorite part of this sketch was the finale, which featured Tortoise-san eating the requisite 80 roasted soybeans (one for each year of life, plus one for good luck) and letting out a quietly hilarious belch.
Shirokuma Café seems to be following a pattern that’s common to anime comedy that rely on the mini-episode – closing with the sentimental chapter. The focus here is on the reunion at Sasako-san’s old elementary school. She’s minding the café as Shirokuma-san has conscripted Penguin-san and Panda-kun to help collect dues for the neighborhood association, so it’s only she and Llama-san in the place. He happens to have lived close to the school as a child, and notices her invitation on the counter. I tend the really like the skits that involve Llama-san, because he’s such an irresistibly likable fellow – the perpetually ignored but unfailingly kind old soul who you can always count on.
The absurdity of a Llama and a young waitress having this conversation (especially when he reassures her that she looks much younger than he does) is always the elephant in the room, but their shared reminiscences about their old neighborhood – the bakery, the sento, the matsuri, the park with grouchy old Raccoon-san as the caretaker – are so genuine and so real that it’s easy to forget that one of them is a llama in the first place. That’s the magic of this series, as it is with many in anime – by using absurdity in the premise, they’re able to more observant about life and human nature than most so-called “realistic” series. Most of the characters in Shirokuma may be zoo animals, but they’re far more human than the cast of the vast majority of anime out there. This was probably my favorite Sasako-san chapter of the series, and one of my favorites for Llama-san as well. Another emotional bulls-eye for Shirokuma Café.