Anthropomorphism - that is, the attribution of human characteristics and behaviour onto members of the animal kingdom - is by no means a new thing in the world of anime or literature. It is not uncommon to see talking cats, dogs dressed as musketeers or animals transformed into a pseudo-human form through some realm of magic. In these examples, the anthropomorphism is either attributed to an artistic or storytelling style or comes as a consequence of some event. What Polar Bear’s Cafe has done however is truly unique and it presents situations which I personally have never seen before.
In a world where animals are fully intelligent and able to communicate freely, Polar Bear’s Cafe gives equal rights to animals. An animal can own a business, get a job, run a family and make sarcastic comments, completely in parallel to other animals and within the human world. What’s more, it’s treated as being perfectly normal - to those on the outside looking in, it is also absolutely fascinating, and humorous, to watch. I don’t know what it is about watching a sloth go to the convenience store for some beer, but it cracks me up... every time.
Polar Bear’s Cafe revolves around three main characters. Mr Polar Bear is what I believe to be a well educated independent business-bear who happens to own the White Bear cafe which caters to all species, including humans. In addition to offering a wide range of specialist menu items he also provides intelligent banter mostly focused around Japanese puns and wordplay, frequently while donning a traditional woollen flat cap. Second is Penguin. Penguin is a bit of an odd chap, obsessed with both a potentially fictional female penguin who works at the local bakery and meat stew. Penguin is perhaps the closest Polar Bear has to a “bro”. Lastly is Panda, who is just a little bit special. Panda is a former NEET, forced to go to work at the zoo, where he gets to act “naturally” in front of the little human children for their enjoyment, all to avoid being vacuumed by his mother.
Polar Bear’s Cafe is a slice of life series whose story revolves around these three main characters as well as the other minor characters such as Sloth who is a sloth, Llama who is a llama and Sasako, who is the rather pretty waitress who works at the White Bear Cafe. From here, they discuss romance, relative animalistic cuteness, the joys of employment, food and the antics of their species at the local zoo. It’s the kind of series that you come home to after a long arduous day of work, crack open something mildly alcoholic and enjoy.
However, the true delight for Polar Bear’s Cafe lies with the cast, which is exquisite to say the least. Fans of the Japanese dubs for either Code Geass or Macross Frontier will instantly recognise the voices behind the main cast as they have all worked together on these projects in the past. Of note are Takahiro Sakurai who voices Polar Bear and previously voiced Suzaku in Code Geass; Jun Fukuyama who voices Panda and previously voiced Lelouch in Code Geass and Luca in Macross Frontier; and Hiroshi Kamiya who voices Penguin and previously voiced Araragi in Bakemonogatari/Nisemonogatari and Mikhail in Macross Frontier. I could keep naming names and roles, but to summate, the banter between the characters feels completely natural and it is this natural feeling which frankly makes everything so much more entertaining and enjoyable. As for the overall animation quality, I think it would be fair saying that it is the Llama’s eyelashes...
Polar Bear’s Cafe is the kind of series which is best enjoyed following a long stressful day at work, and given my own personal situation this is why Polar Bear’s Cafe is my personal favourite series of the spring 2012 season so far.
You can currently watch Polar Bear's Cafe in streaming form via Crunchyroll.