I still find it hard to believe that we’ve had a whole year of Polar Bear Café. I think it’s fair to say that it was a sleeper hit, rewarding those who were willing to forgive a somewhat repetitive beginning to the show. What I never expected was for Polar Bear Café such a heart. Perhaps it’s simply a case that after a few dozen episodes of anything it’s near-impossible to not become emotionally invested in the characters? Or maybe I was genuinely shocked when Full-Time Panda, a relatively minor character in the grand scheme of things, was transferred to a zoo in Singapore? Maybe I shed actual tears when the show re-used his character-specific ending song as a tribute to him?
My personal highlight came very near the end of the show’s run – episode 48. I remarked at the time that it felt like a present to all those who stuck with the show to that point. My favourite character for a long time had been Sloth, so any episode with a story devoted to him is a plus point. But the story of his (and Polar Bear’s, Penguin’s, Panda’s) days-long trip to a hot springs resort was just wonderful. From the gang following Sloth in single file, taking a single step at a time, to the ruminative observations at journey’s end, it was a treat to watch. In a surprise middle segment, the paper dolls of the main cast that deliver the next episode previews get their chance to shine, and the final story sees a culmination of sorts for Handa’s long-running crush on Sasako (who, as we have previously discovered, is definitely, 100% a robot).
The problem with recommending Polar Bear Café to others is that the jokes – for it is ostensibly a comedy s’life show – sound utterly mundane. Llama can’t catch the baseball because he’s busy eating left field. Grizzly Bear can’t get any sleep during hibernation because Polar Bear keeps disturbing him. The gang try to outdo Polar Bear at making puns. You kinda just have to go with it, but if you do you will eventually reap the rewards. So yeah, go watch Polar Bear Café because it is a Good Thing, and frankly you’ve not lived until you’ve heard Daisuke Ono’s Llama singing a mambo called… Llamambo.