It can’t really be any surprise that an episode featuring the double-bill of Grizzly-kun and Llama-san would be a winner. In a show full of hilarious and totally endearing supporting characters, these two may just be the best. And they represent pretty much the polar (pun intended) opposites of the character spectrum as well, filling a somewhat similar role to Makoto and Hosaka on Minami-ke in that their appearances provide an opportunity to take the show in completely different comedic directions (of course they also have Ono Daisuke in common). Of course, the sad part is that they’re getting a somewhat exalted place in this episode because the series is clearly wrapping up by focusing on the most important and beloved members of the cast.
What do I love about Grizzly-kun? I hardly know where to start, except with “everything”. He’s one of the better takes on the foul-tempered dude with the heart of gold in recent memory. He’s perfect in that he takes the metaphorical grouchy old bear into quite literal territory, and he never ceases to fail in his attempts to convince others that he’s the badass he claims to me (the way the little penguin chicks adore him should be all the proof you need). Add a guy’s mother (Inoue Kikuko) to the mix and all hope to uphold the eminence front is pretty much gone, especially when she calls you “Gri-chan” – never mind in public. She mixes a mean Shandygaff and whips up an awesome miso shiro too, not to mention melting Gri-chan’s resistance with today’s fresh-from-the-tree maple syrup and wild salmon.
There may have been more esoteric jokes peppered through this episode than any in a series that’s quite well-known for them – not least of which Sasako-san’s self-referential “It’s just useless knowledge, Panda-kun” when he expressed confusion at Shirokuma-san’s name dropping of “Itoi-san and Mizuno-san” when talking about Tokugawa’s buried treasure in the second chapter (I have no idea what that refers to, sorry). You had Gri-chan remarking that his mother had moved overseas to pursue a “LOHAS lifestyle” (Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability). You had the hilarious whiskey list at The Bar Grizzly, with names like “Tom Beam”, “Wild Turn”, “Quickly Times” and “Maharaja Craig”. In the Grizzly sketch you also had (possibly for the first time) an allusion to the difference between animal and human lifespans, with Grizzly-Mama noting that she was 17, and Panda-Mama expressing that she hoped she looked so good when she reached that age. Mostly, though, it was just a story about a grizzly bear who’s really a teddy bear and how, quite unsurprisingly, he loves his Mama.
The second act focused on the Yang to Grizzly-kun’s Yin, the redoubtable Llama-san. Llama-san is the opposite of Grizzly-kun in that he has no bluster at all, even when he tries to. He’s just your basic, salt-of-the-Earth mensch who can’t help but blending into the background – someone who’s confined to the universal equivalent of the friendzone all the time. Llama-san has apparently buried a time capsule somewhere in his old neighborhood that he’d completely forgotten about until a letter he sent himself just arrived (just why it took years to arrive, I have no idea). This gives Shirokuma Cafe a chance to revisit the sites referenced in the wonderful flashback scene between Llama-san and Sasako-san, this time live and with Panda-kun, Penguin-san and Shirokuma-san in tow. Poor old Llama-san just can’t catch a break – the grouchy old raccoon caretaker at the park recognizes Sasako immediately but has completely forgotten Llama, until reminded that he was the troublemaker who always ended up helping him clean the park – and then Raccoon-san can only comment about how “boring” Llama-san seems now that he’s settled down.
I sort of see the reaction of Llama-san when Sasako-san asks him how he used to sit on the slide – a blush, a look away, an “I’ll leave that to your imagination” – as both classic Llama-san and classic Shirokuma Cafe. This show has a way of acknowledging its own absurdity while ignoring it at the same time. Turns out that Llama-san’s time capsule was a cassette tape (Panda-kun doesn’t even know what one of those is) with a recording featuring a presumably teenaged Llama belting out a heartfelt but typically inept version of “Llamambo” (knockout comic work here as usual by Ono Daisuke). It’s very random, very silly and very Shirokuma – and I’m really going to miss that complete lack of self-consciousness that defines the humor of this series, the winning combination of the smart and the dumb that’s the secret recipe of so many great comedies. It’s going to be really hard to say goodbye to these characters, who all seem so expressly human in their mannerisms and interactions – there’s absolutely nothing else quite like it.