First Impressions – Polar Bear Cafe
by John Howe Marshall on April 09, 2012
There was a moment in Polar Bear Cafe, where an emperor Penguin, seated on a bar stool asks nonchalantly for a second iced mocha. I think this was the exact moment when I knew I was in for a weird show. Welcome to Polar Bear Cafe, the slice of life sitcom that looks to be up for an early nomination for the strangest new series of the spring season.
Panda needs a part time job. Spending his afternoons eating bamboo grass and lying on his back zoning out, his mother has begun to grow weary of his laziness and tells him to look for work before assaulting him with a vacuum cleaner. What follows is a series of awkward telephone interviews and a musical sequence in which Panda follows a butterfly down a sun lit garden path and…..ok, it was about this point I genuinely gave up trying to comprehend the plot, and just let the preceding twenty or so minutes wash over me. And what a weird twenty minutes it was. The Polar Bear Cafe in question is a somewhat bizarrely glamorous bistro type business whereby Customers visiting the establishment seemed somewhat unfazed by a full grown polar bear running a business. This leads me to believe that perhaps his cooking skills won them over. After confiding in the aforementioned Emperor Penguin that the business desperately needs extra staffs, Panda is introduced, and what follows is probably one of the most bizarre interview montages I’ve ever witnessed.
Panda is a cheerfully vacant young chap where as the Polar Bear seems somewhat more mature and worldly. The ages of the characters was not addressed. I suppose their comes a certain point when reviewing a show like Polar Bear Cafe whereby it’s sometimes better to not over analyse such things. The fact that these talking characters are never commented upon by the humans, is one of the weirder aspects of the show; further compounded by Panda’s eventual begins part time job at a zoo. Quite why people would throw money at seeing animals in captivity when scenes earlier they are seen on public transport hurts my head to even think about.
Ultimately your mileage may vary with a show of this type. It’s somewhat pun heavy humour failed to translate well to the dry translation, and for every skit that causes a confused laughter several follow where you feel dumbfounded. Perhaps a limit has been reached with Polar Bear Cafe’s cross culture appeal, this feels like a show very much ingrained within its own cultural heritage. Then again it might just simply be not funny.
The art style is somewhat jarring utilising an almost hyper realistic design of characters that feels equal parts absurd and disorientating. Sadly when compared to the original Manga on which this show was based a certain charm seems to of been lost. Polar Bear Cafe is a show that requires further investigation before completely writing off. All comedies need time to find their feet (or paws) and an intriguing premise such as this certainly warrants a place in the “one to watch” pile of this new line up.