“There are a lot of risks in going into an unknown cafe in an unknown town.”
As anime watchers, we’re quick to accept plots, concepts, themes and narratives exposed to us each season, no matter how implausible or weird they may initially seem. Much like cartoons and animation produced anywhere else, it is a medium (usually adapted from manga) that thrives on exploring the far reaches of one’s imagination and putting it on screen. Shows about a cockblocking ghost or a fortune-sucking god may not be your thing, but we know that these are just very small examples of the types of stories that freely (and thankfully) exist in anime, and they have been for a very long time.
Take Shirokuma Cafe, for example. We’ve quickly forgotten how surreal it initially felt watching talking animals, drawn with an extreme likeness, peacefully coexisting with humans. And we shrugged off the absurd concept of animals and humans frequenting a cafe owned by a pun-firing polar bear. We understood that that’s just the way things are, and we either found an appreciation for it and kept watching (like me), or rolled our eyes and moved on.
The second half of episode 16 seemingly puts a random, nameless character in our place and throws them in the same world we were thrown in 15 episodes prior. The result? One of the best segments of the season.
A traveling businessman — whose real name was never revealed — is visiting the town Shirokuma Cafe is based in. After a bad experience at a local Chinese restaurant, he needs a refresher, and he happens to discover Polar Bear’s Cafe. Now this is a man who has never met a talking animal in his life (hard to believe a person like that exists in this world), so imagine his surprise when he experiences all of the oddities the cafe has to offer.
Instead of recapping events that’s happened thus far in the season, Shirokuma Cafe takes a filler episode and turns it into a nostalgia episode, essentially recapturing the feeling the viewer had when we ourselves first “step foot” inside the cafe. We watched a nameless character (nicknamed as Mr. Necktie by Panda), who was a representation of all of us from episode 1, reacting to encounters with the three main animals (and others) for the first time. He was confused and amazed, and, just like most of us, pondered many questions. I’m sure there were a few who wondered how a polar bear can do normal things like cook food or pour coffee with relative ease considering that it’s packing giant paws, or how a penguin is able to sit on a stool much taller than it is. It was refreshing and hilarious; truly ingenius stuff.
I don’t want to discount the first half of the episode, where Grizzly mistakenly believes that Shirokuma was eaten by Otter and his friends and rides away to mourn. It was perhaps Grizzly’s best segment thus far, and that’s saying a lot because he’s never been in a bad segment. It just goes to show the beauty of this episode, where a very good segment by Grizzly is overshadowed by a segment from a no-name character we’ll never see again.
In the end, the businessman probably left the cafe thinking what a lot of us who have kept up with the series probably thought: “I could get used to talking pandas.”
GO Rating: 4.5/5
Grizzly had himself quite the episode, too.