In many ways it feels as if this episode of Shirokuma Cafe was made just for me, and it doesn’t even have anything to do with the content of the main storyline (which was very funny in its own right). It’s been a long wait for the Shirokuma ED to arrive, the level of coffee geekery in the series continues to astound me, and there was even a little something in the preview that has a personal connection. All in all it was quite a bonanza.
First things first, and that’s the return of “Penguinger”. Worlds are colliding, and the super sentai South Pole Squad has somehow come to the attention of Yama Arashi. Any time you have a sketch featuring Miyano Mamoru as the leader of a porcupine idol group you’re off to a pretty good start, but throw in the antics of Penguinger – now featuring the Emperor and Penguin chicks as part of the team – and Panda Mama and you’re getting pretty close to comedy redlining. Not only that but we get Penguin-san the super-villain determined to inflict his Rakugo on the world. As the final cherry on top, we get Llama-san (poor Llama-san – my heart breaks for that mammal, he’s just such a good soul) making his own pathetically awful super-sentai “Herbivore Hentai” bootleg and sending it to “TV Tokio”.
I’ve mentioned before that the sheer geek-level of the coffee segments on Shirokuma Cafe amazes me, but they’ve really topped themselves this time. As regular readers of this blog know I was in the coffee business for years, and I can vouch for the accuracy of everything PBC throws at us – but today we saw a master class in coffee tasting. In fact, it uses the very same content I used in my coffee tasting classes – having my students taste the same coffee brewed by those three methods. You’d be amazed how much of a difference that really makes, and French press coffee really is the richest (though my preference is actually for vacuum pot or siphon coffee, very popular in Japan). Not only that, but Shirokuma-san is 100% right – you should be able to munch on a coffee bean, and it should be delicious in its own right. It’s pretty wild seeing something that was such a huge part of my professional life – and something so specialized I never thought in a million years I’d see it in an anime – show up in this one. I mus also make mention of the cheer the red squirrel ladies let out when Tree Kangaroo-sensei announced that Masaki was going to be allowed to roast, which for whatever reason was ridiculously funny.
That was the build-up, of course, to the grand moment – Sakurai Takahiro’s Shirokuma ED has finally arrived. It makes sense of course that they’d save it for last, but I was still worried right up until the last moment that we wouldn’t see one. Sakurai-san has sung a couple of times in his career but it’s pretty rare, and he doesn’t have a conventional anime singing voice by any means. Still, the fact that he’s obviously not a slick professional singer makes his performance here all the more winning – to me he has a bit of a Warren Zevon quality – and I love the song. It’s a kind of folk-rock classic, surprisingly straightforward and earnest considering the character, and it fits perfectly.
Incidentally, the backdrop for the preview scenes is a place called Magome, in the Kiso Valley in the Japanese Alps. I visited there in 2011, and while it isn’t easy to get to it’s well worth it. The Kiso Valley is the longest remaining portion of the old Nakasendo Highway that connected Edo and Kyoto, and the best stretch to hike is between the villages of Magome and Tsumago, both of which are remarkably well-preserved and look much as they did in the 19th-Century. It’s not exactly on the front page of many Japan guidebooks, so again, to see it here is quite a startling thing – all the more proof that Shirokuma Cafe is an anime with an exquisite sense of taste (and sense of humor). I’m really, really going to miss this show when it’s gone.
ED10: “My Dear” By Sakurai Takahiro (!)