Have you seen that opening? It has a car that turns into a flying polar bear. Also dancing penguins. And autotuned dreadful boyband pop music. Like, holy shit, they’ve basically made my dream anime opening.
This may sound like an awfully strange statement, but I believe the moon is a giant hologram created by the government that compels us to eat grilled cheese. Another strange statement would be that I was a little bit let down by Polar Bear Cafe. It’s a bit unheard of to go into something about animals running a cafe with Expectations, but there’s a rather big problem with the series. It’s about humans that run a cafe that just so happen to look like animals. Nobody comments on it, they just happen to be animals walking around, who occasionally do animal like things, such as eat bamboo and be lazy. Good for a quick giggle, which is what I got from that opening song.
But that’s all Polar Bear Cafe seemed to have. That’s just a gimmick. What’s the set up, the premise, the concept from which the jokes will arise. You can’t run an entire series on the hopes that we will continue to find animals acting like humans amusing for that long. I mean fair enough, occasionally you remember that it’s a penguin that is ordering a mocha and a grin sweeps across your face, but that holds limited appeal. Beyond that, Polar Bear Cafe hasn’t really got very many jokes. It has a poor sense of timing, the waits being just too long to hit that sweet funny spot for a punchline. Sure, a bunch of the jokes are dumb puns that us foreigners won’t get, but even the trans-language jokes tend to just fall flat. It even does that cartoony whooouup noise when a joke happens, which has the same effect on me as canned laughter does. That is, it makes me feel embarrassed for the show when I’m not laughing at the jokes.
Thankfully, Polar Bear Cafe does have something beyond the concept of animals running a cafe. The main character, Panda, while looking for a part-time job, ends up working at a zoo as a panda. What I love about this joke is that it feels like this idea is what the entire concept of the show was formed around. What if the animals in the zoo didn’t actually live there, but were just employees. They come in, act about a bit to amuse children children, then collect their payslip before slipping off to the local cafe for some post-work drinks. As someone who has always liked zoos, it’s an amusing idea. The smaller panda that just came in is a part-time worker, or on work experience learning from this experienced panda here.
To sum up, making animals act like humans has very little scope for humour beyond the central strangeness of the idea. Animals you see at the zoo are employees though? That’s a concept that has a much larger scope for comedic potential.