Shirokuma Café – 50 (End) and Series Review

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In all of my blogging career, there may be no other show with so great a gap between how much I love it and how much I can write about it as there is with this one.

For the second time today, I’m blogging a series with a truly enormous amount of heart.  Unlike with Ginga e Kickoff, though, this Shirokuma Café ‘s episode is the last one – the end of a memorable one-year run for a show that’s melded smart comedy and genuine emotion as well as any we’ve seen for a long time.  Simply put, Shirokuma Café is a wonderful series, and it ended on a wonderful note – though I had not the slightest worry that it would end any other way.  Shirokuma is a sort of series that was custom-made to deliver beautiful farewells.

I held it together pretty well, better than I expected to be honest – but then Full-time Panda-san had to go and show up.  Before that, though, we got a healthy share of straight-up comedy.  True to itself right to the end, Shirokuma stuck to the script that’s served it so well for the past year – delivering laughs in the first chapter and going for the heart after the break.  The big tease was whether we were finally going to get to see how Penguin-san gets onto his stool, thanks to a video camera borrowed from Rin-Rin (Panda-kun must have really wanted to know if he was willing to ask the creeper florist for help).  Alas, Llama-san and his considerable bulk deprived us of that satisfaction, but we did at least get to see the rather artful way he gets onto a chair as a consolation prize.

Penguin-san has really been the mystery man all along I suppose – I don’t blame Panda and Shirokuma-san for being curious about just how Penguin manages to afford his rather leisurely lifestyle.  Most of the good tidbits from Panda-kun’s detective work were about the supporting cast though (well, we did see Penguin-san go to a karaoke booth to take a crack at one of the old series OPs).  My favorite among these was the fact that Sloth-san talks at normal speed when he’s drunk, but we also learned that Anteater-san eats anything when he’s drunk.

I’ll say this much – Shirokuma Café definitely went the low-key route with the second chapter.  It was certainly heartfelt, but there was absolutely no way this of all shows wasn’t going for a heartfelt final episode.  But given all the credibility that’s been built up this is a series that could have gone for the full-bore tearjerker ending and made it work.  Rather, they went for a quiet restatement of the core message of the series, which is really all about friendship and community.  It wasn’t without comedy – Polar Bear’s sweetfish candy version of the Ryoguko Kokugikan (the national sumo stadium in Tokyo, from which I wrote a post a few months back) was agreeably random in that Shirokuma way.  And we got an appearance from not just all the Miss Penkos, but their seven little sisters – Penguin-san’s worst nightmare, though Llama-san has no trouble telling any of them apart (of course).

I think the most powerful emotional moments of Shirokuma Café are when we see the characters for whom the deeper emotions seem out of character – namely snarky Shirokuma-san and frivolous and self-absorbed Panda-kun – display them.  And it’s at those moments that we realize that those emotions aren’t out of character at all, and that they’re always just underneath the surface.  Shirokuma-san is quietly saddened at the notion that Penguin-san might move away – no histrionics or waterworks, but for him, silence is the ultimate sign that he’s off his game.  He even writes out the caffe mocha recipe for his old friend, though fortunately Penguin-san decides to stik around in his old apartment.  And rather than a sloppy display of relief, Shirokuma simply closes the Café and decides it’s time to have an O-Hanami.

It’s certainly sakura time here in Tokyo (very early this year, fittingly) and it’s only right that a series which so expertly portrayed all the holidays on the Japanese calendar should close with a delightful one-year symmetry, finishing as it began with the cherry blossoms.  Naturally all the gang shows up to join, Gri-chan bringing the booze, Tree Kangaraoo-san and Masaki the coffee, and Full-time Panda-san his family – back from Singapore for a week’s visit.  Panda-kun never expresses himself so openly as where Full-time is concerned, and he throws himself into a bear hug (well, it was) at the sight of him.  It’s a huge party and everyone’s invited – Rin-Rin is in heaven surrounded by pandas, Mei-Mei in heaven surrounded by Han-sama, and Handa-san a bit worried that Kirino-kun is getting so friendly with Sasako-san.  No, you’re not going to get any real development on any of those major plot threads – just a wink.  But that’s the sort of show this is.  It closes with one last visit with the origami cast, but this time we see their seiyuu behind them – a fitting way to bring Shirokuma Café to a funny and touching close.

It may be wishful thinking, but I take some hope in the final words of the cast – “See you again!”.  No one really knows how the Blu-rays are selling as they’ve been an Animate! exclusive since the beginning, but I do know that there’s quite a bit of Shirokuma Café merchandise available and that the manga seems to be quite popular.  There was a report at the time the ending of the anime was announced that “another project based on the manga” is being planned – though just what that is I have no idea.  I also don’t know how much of the manga is left unadapted, but it’s certainly nice to think that there might be more anime ahead for this delightful series.  It’s the sort of show that would in no way feel cheapened by a sequel – indeed, its absence is going to leave a gaping hole in my week no matter how many new series I end up covering this season.

When a show that’s been running for an entire year comes to an end, there probably isn’t a whole lot I can say in a “Series Review” post that I haven’t already said.  All you really need to now is that I love this show, even if it wasn’t always the easiest show to blog – it has a kind of “you had to be there” quality to it.  The humor works because of the brilliant voice cast and the brilliant use of context for the most part, and that’s a hard thing to communicate in an episode post.  Shirokuma also has the quality many of the greatest classics of TV comedy – especially British TV comedy – possess, in that it’s funny both being very smart and delightfully dumb.  We get incredibly lame puns (the Japanese love their puns above all other nations) right alongside LOHAS jokes and incredibly obscure references like the “flatus patsy”.

More even than the hilarious comedy, though, what I’m going to miss most is simply spending time with these characters. Shirokuma Café masters the art of making the cast feel like old friends as well as any anime ever has.  The absurdity of the scenario is never forgotten and indeed, often mined for inspired comedy, but it also gives the series the opportunity to be incredibly insightful about the human condition using that premise as a cover.  Most of these characters may be zoo animals but they’re as recognizably human as any cast in any anime currently airing.  All of the supporting cast seems to embody a certain segment of the character spectrum perfectly – Red Panda-kun, Sloth-san, all of them – and especially my favorites among the supporting players, Llama-san and Grizzly-kun.  The mains are as good a core group as you’ll find, wonderfully mismatched yet a perfect fit with each other.  What really comes across is how much comfort they all take simply in knowing the others are always going to be around – even when they needle each other (Shirokuma-san rarely stops needling and Penguin-san rarely stops being needled) the affection is always obvious.

“See you again!” is definitely the feeling I want to walk away from this series with – “Sayonara” is simply too painful to think about.  It really does feel like a group of friends I’ve been meeting every Thursday is going away, and the older we get the more we realize just how great a treasure friendships are.  We’ve been treated to something even better than caffe mochas and bamboo grass every Thursday, and if “see you again” is the message these friends are parting with, I can think of no better reply than to quote directly from Shirokuma-san’s (and Sakurai Takahiro’s) sublime final ED for the series – “Itsumo arigatou.”

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“Ja mata!”

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  1. e

    Well, what's left to say out of quoting what you have written above. This was quite the comprehensive and affectionately thankful blog post.
    On my part I was still reeling a bit from GeK, but even without it I think I would have spent the whole episode going from :,) to X,D. And I actually did. Grinning like a fool, going awww and fighting back some pesky tears from my left eye (they wouldn't stop!!!!) . Then came Panda from Singapore and his family… and RinRin holding the Panda babies (someone think of the Panda children. AAAAGH!) And then they topped it with MeiMei spazzing and landing the Handa Over Flowers (Yoko 'Hana Yori Dango' Kamio would be proud 😉 ) .
    And then everyone gathered in one place including Red panda and Otter-san plus the whole Coffee Squad and goodness gracious if we had some pitiful hints of sun and a blooming tree in sight I'd be hopping outside for an impromptu hanami with self-made SC paper cutouts NAO while crooning My Dear My Baby. Booohoo. I'll have to go for insta coffee while listening to the rain instead :,). What a lovely, worms-its-way-in-your-heart show this have been.
    Again, thak you once more Enzo for constantly – and affectionately could we say? – blogging a worthy show and giving it some much needed – and even more deserved – exposure in the blogosphere :,) *fanning paper sakura petals in your general direction* .


  2. A

    I think you'd need to be made out of cold heartless stone NOT to have a tear in your eye when Full Time Panda and his family show up.

    Pretty much as perfect a finale as we could ask for.

  3. G

    "a show that's melded smart comedy and genuine emotion as well as any we've seen for a long time"

    Probably since Nichijou, though that was a better series. Still Shirokuma was great to have every week.

  4. m

    Once again polar bear cafe knew exactly what the audience wants – from full- time panda's reappearance to the personal touch by the seiyuu in the ED – and delivered it with flying colours…

    …well apart from it ending…Oh the great gaping hole in my heart.

    A standing ovation to everyone involved in the show and GE for blogging this through its whole run. Visiting your blog post every week is like reliving the episode :-).

    See you again~

  5. l


    I've got around 25 eps of this left to watch while you're all done.

    That's right, I backlogged this series intentionally to enjoy it in massive doses.


  6. e

    *insert Evil Penguin Emperor overdub here*

  7. A

    The scene where Shirokuma walked was almost tearful for me right after Sasako said seasons change and people move on.

    I didn't want to say goodbye either. Though I know this is the final episode, it kinda dawned on me that it has been a year since we saw the cherry blossom episode.

    The happy mood it ended suited everything, Full time Panda really went out of his way to meet Panda-kun. Lots of wonderful moments.

    I guess we may not know how Penguin actually sits and what he does, but the consolation prize was nice too, the under appreciated and talented Llama-san!

    When they said :Mata nee! It was a joyful expression, I really hope it does come back whenever that will be.

    Arigatou Enzo for yet again delivering your usual.

  8. W

    I kinda wish the secret project was a game. I don't know why, I feel like the series would translate well to some kind of game. Maybe a visual novel, RPG or maybe even a restaurant management game? Anything that fills the void the anime left would we welcome.

  9. w

    You know what would be a fun game? A pun game with Shirokuma lol.

  10. w

    This show was the only anime series I've been watching for the past couple of months now and it was rather sad to see it ending, although like you mentioned, it ended just like the way it started out.

    While it's sad that the show has now ended, there's still the bonus "Penguin Cafe" drama CDs for me to listen to that comes with each of the Animate exclusive blu-rays :D, the stories are set in a parallel universe where as the title suggests, Penguin tries to run his own cafe. I've only listened to the first two CDs and the latest one (volume 9) and they contain some pretty funny stories about Penguin trying to come up with strange and wacky ideas to get customers in.

    I've been importing the Animate LE exclusive BDs for this show and there's still 4 more volumes to be released (the last one won't be out until July). A special Animate exclusive DVD release of the cast seiyuu event held back in November last year will also be coming out in late May and I plan to import that as well. This event DVD was the special invitation one where people who bought the first 3 Animate exclusive blu-ray volumes of the show were given the chance to obtain tickets for it. According to a few bloggers who attended the event, they claimed that there was up to 4,000 attendees, so we can speculate that at least 4,000 copies were sold for the first 3 Animate exclusive blu-ray volumes.

    The show is also now being released on blu-ray widely available on international retailers like Amazon Japan and CDJapan, although it's just a repackaged bare-bones edition using just the blu-ray disc from Animate's exclusive release. Only four volumes have been solicited so far but I'm sure the rest will be coming out soon once Animate's exclusive blu-rays have been completely released.

  11. Thanks, very informative. It's a little frustrating not knowing how this show is doing because of the unusual distribution system for the BDs, but I suspect we wouldn't see the amount of merchandise and promotion if it wasn't doing at least decently.

    Any idea how much of the manga is left unadapted?

  12. w

    Not exactly sure since I haven't read the manga but from what I've read on the net, the majority of the stories from the anime were original ones so it could be possible that they have quite a lot of material from the manga they've yet to adapt. Some of the readers also mentioned that Penguin isn't featured much in the manga as he is in the anime.

    The anime is also a big hit with females in Japan and although the sales of the DVD (and speculated numbers of the blu-rays) aren't that high, there is quite a large amount of merchandise and cafe promotional campaigns being done to promote the series (such as the Shirokuma Cafe themed run cafes in Takadanobaba) since many female otakus prefer to buy lots of merchandise than the home video releases. I suspect much of the revenue may come from that than the DVD and blu-ray sales.

  13. S

    Do you know if they'll be doing a Region 1/English subbed version? I want to buy the entire series disc set!

  14. A

    My God I've only watched 20 episodes and you make me feel empty… Still, it's a great show that is far from over in my heart. Great review.

    Btw, how is living in Tokyo? Must be so cool 😀 I hope to move to Japan one day 🙂

  15. Tokyo's great, but getting hot and humid already.

  16. A

    Sounds good 🙂 how long have you been living there? How are you with the language?

  17. j

    Hi Enzo. I just wanted to thank you for the blogs you've made on Shirokuma Cafe. I only discovered the show recently (December), and did a binge runthrough of most of the show in the past week over at Crunchyroll. I feel you were able to capture just what makes this show so special, so I appreciate the time you took to write about it and your own experience watching it.

    Though not new to anime I was new to Crunchyroll and tried this show out for a lark, and ended up being pleasantly surprised by just how much I liked it. A few of the later episodes seemed a bit thin to me, but overall the show struck a very good balance between the lightness of its own unique humor and a sincere, emotional depth which–as you pointed out–actually worked very well. Like others have mentioned, I would be very happy to see an English-subbed physical release, as well as further anime adaptations in the future.

    Thanks again for your blog; it was fun reading through your comments on the show!

  18. You're welcome. This one is indeed an underrated gem – I have some hopes we might see more of the manga adapted in the future.

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