Polar Bear Cafe vs. Aria

Polar Bear Cafe vs. Aria

Polar Bear Cafe VS. Aria the Animation

Watched via Crunchyroll and DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Polar Bear Cafe is an anime adaptation of a manga series focusing on the daily interactions of Polar Bear, Panda, and Penguin. Polar Bear owns and runs a small little cafe where many people and animals like to gather, eat, and talk. This anime series is comprised of non-linear half episodes which focus on word play and cuteness. There are several themes that run throughout the series, but for the most part, each episode focuses on a whole new plot featuring the characters. Typically each story starts with Panda heading off towards the cafe, then the trio ends up talking about something and going on a trip of some sort. Other episodes focus on introducing other animals and at times will segue into a story focused entirely on secondary characters.

I don’t typically like episodic series, but the laid back atmosphere of Polar Bear Cafe is akin to reading the funnies in the Sunday paper. You have some witty puns and jokes and banal topics that are broad and simple enough to be relatable to anyone. As an example, one of the adventures the three end up going on is seeing how the coffee is made for the cafe. We also get to see other shenanigans which demonstrate the personalities of all the protagonists, and develop them through background information or moving the plot “forward”.

PLOT: In the future, Mars is renamed Aqua after being covered in water as the result of terraforming. On Aqua, there’s a city named Neo-Venezia, and this series follows the lives of three girls who are pursuing an important occupation in Neo-Venezia: being gondoliers.

Now, this premise seems a little silly, and the sci-fi aspect is mostly disposable. What Aria really focuses on is the act of sculling a gondola and learning about the sights and people of Neo-Venezia. The series’ main characters work for three different gondola companies, with the focus being on three gondoliers-in-training and the women who mentor them.

And that’s the series. Aria the Animation starts a “healing anime” franchise that has three main series and an OVA, all of which focus on the same main characters and the progress of the girls towards becoming full gondoliers. The girls’ progress isn’t the main point of the series, though—Aria is more concerned with slice-of-life storylines about the various people and places that exist in Neo-Venezia. The franchise’s third season provides the most character development, but by and large Aria is a refuge for your soul when it needs a calm place to recharge. The characters are all pleasant and the conflicts small, all of which add to its relaxing atmosphere.

SETTING: Most of the stories take place in Polar Bear’s cafe. Penguin and Panda are two regulars who visit on a daily basis. The rest of the time the series generally follows the life of Panda while he sleeps away his time at home, or goes to work at the zoo, which also involves sleeping for the majority of time.

By all means the setting isn’t revolutionary at all, but it serves as the glue that binds all of the characters together. Many of Panda’s co-workers spend their time off visiting the cafe. The mere existence of the cafe ends up being rather unbelievable as each episode it ends up growing larger and larger in scale. Not only is there the restaurant, but it turns out there is a coffee bean mill, vegetable garden, and an impressively large yard, all mysteriously laid out in the middle of town. Through the accumulation of stories the world of the cafe and Polar Bear all begin to become illuminated to the viewer through the eyes of Panda.

I suppose I should also point out how strange it is that a bunch of animals go around acting like humans while also acting like animals. Polar Bear Cafe has a couple of nice meta moments like when Polar Bear sees another polar bear at the zoo. There are also a couple of jokes put in about how the other animals can trade off shifts for each other at the zoo. Rather than addressing any of this, the show just flows along without worrying about logic.

I like the idea of how this show eschews logic for its jokes. It seems like Polar Bear Cafe knows its premise is silly and unrealistic, so it pokes fun at it and moves on.

SETTING: Being set on a terraformed planet seems pretty cool, but Aria doesn’t focus on that aspect of its setting. Yes, there are some mentions of Aqua being separate from Manhome (Earth), especially relating to the main character immigrating to Aqua for the purpose of being a gondolier, and one minor characters visits Neo-Venezia periodically from elsewhere. By and large, however, Aria ignores its sci-fi setting and spends its time exploring Neo-Venezia.

Neo-Venezia is very closely based on Venice, meaning familiar architectural landmarks pop up throughout the series. I found these primarily entertaining, though sometimes the series can get a little muddled with setting, like when Shintoism randomly shows up. Since Aria is set in the future, though, it can get away with that mix of various settings, which works out for its laid-back atmosphere, anyway. When Aria replicates aspects of Venice, it takes great pains to recreate the setting accurately, including the act of sculling a gondola. The animators visited Venice for location research, and this is clearly evident in the show by how detailed and lovingly animated everything is.

Alright, so the gondola thing doesn’t quite interest me, but I wouldn’t mind watching a series that has some hardcore ties to Venice, especially if they are well researched.

CHARACTERS: I have mixed feelings about the characters.

Shirokuma Cafe - 26 - Large 10

Sure they may be super adorable and funny to watch, but they can also be very one-dimensional and annoying. For example, I LOVE pandas, and watching Panda act lazy, selfish, and single-minded is super entertaining.

polar-bear-cafe-may02

In fact, this is most likely what I look like while watching the show… However, there is little in the way of character development for Panda. He hardly ever listens to his friends and is probably the worst kind of friend to ever have as he doesn’t give a crap about you at all, unless you can give him bamboo.

Then there is Penguin, who is very loud and whiney. I love watching him turn into a tsundere and get all choked up about dating girls, but he never seems to act like much of a grown up either. To that extent, it’s great to see these “adults” flounder around so I don’t feel so bad about my own mishaps in adulthood, but I’d like to see them accomplish something right.

I’d have to say the best character is Polar Bear himself. He’s mature, confident, and has a great sense of humor. Not only that but we are treated to some background story with him and Grizzly Bear, who has been his friend since childhood. I love watching these two as they make quite the dynamic duo.

The secondary characters are a blast as well and have all of their own little quirky qualities, like Sloth who always ends up late to events, or Llama who is so boring no one pays him any attention.

CHARACTERS: Aria’s main characters come in three groups. There are the gondoliers-in-training from each company, their mentors, and then the mascot cats for each company.

Akari’s the main character of the show, an easily-excitable, pink-haired girl who moved to Aqua just to be a gondolier. Akari’s the emotional center of the show, always finding something beautiful or exciting in everyday life. Akari’s best friend, Aika, is more of a tsundere, while the third main girl, Alice, is quiet and shy, partially due to being younger than the other two girls. These three girls interact well, and their friendship is a delight to watch. They’re developed a little over the course of the show, but mostly the series focuses on their day-to-day interactions.

Naturally, the girls’ mentors come from various character types, as well. Akari’s mentor, Alicia, is an unflappable and charming woman, whom everyone seems to love. Akira mentors Aika, and Akira matches Aika by coming on strong and being intimidating, though she definitely cares for Aika at heart. And, finally, Alice’s mentor, Athena, is an airhead who still manages to be a good gondolier, somehow. The pairs at each company seem to match up their personality types so that the various groups of females all balance out similarly.

The mascot cats round out this show, and they really are one of the best parts. Each company has a cat (called their “President”), and several of them are named after their cats. The main cat of the series, Aria Pokoteng, belongs to Alicia, and he’s a big, round cat who’s hopelessly in love with President Hime M. Granzchesta, the cat of Akira’s company, who doesn’t reciprocate those feelings. The final cat, Maa, is found during the series and loves to bite President Aria’s stomach. This leads to shenanigans every time the cats meet, which are cute most of the time.

Most of the rest of the series’ characters show up once or twice, which is to be expected from this sort of seres. Fortunately, the main characters are all plenty interesting by themselves and carry the series well on their own.

Is there a reason everyone has an A-name? It sounds a bit ridiculous. Also, why on earth are there mascot cats for gondola companies? Just going off of the description, this all sounds too hard to take seriously.

Both are probably just to be cute. Just go with it and don’t think too hard. It’s a healing anime, after all!

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Polar Bear Cafe is rather refreshing solely for the fact that the characters are all animals. While they are a bit simplified, they still look rather realistic and aren’t too stylized. While they look flattened because of shading, they move realistically. This ends up adding to the humor in the series, especially with moments like when Penguin tries to do something human like, for example, getting a shoulder rub.The humans on the other hand took some getting used to. Their designs are a little wacky looking, and not your typical manga design. However I like that the zookeeper isn’t super handsome and looks a bit like a panda himself.

This is pretty much straight up slice-of-life comedy so the scenes aren’t too dramatic and don’t require much in the way of special effects, therefore the majority of the budget just went to making the animals look and move believably. I’m glad the studio didn’t resort to super deforming the characters in an attempt to make it more humorous.

Part of why I’m drawn to this series is the realistic character designs. The animals just look so cuddly and real and silly that I can’t help but want to watch it. Oh, Panda~~~~

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Aria is pretty standard animation-wise for the time it came out. It doesn’t stand out for having particularly excellent animation, but it pays attention where it matters, especially to various settings (including new ones every episode) and the details of how to scull a gondola. The careful attention to important detail definitely supports the overall comforting feel of the series, and the lack of over-the-top animation fits in with the laid-back feel, as well. Instead of having a set opening scene, the series puts the opening credits against new scenes of the girls in their gondolas each episode, which helps ease the viewer into each episode while keeping things new and exciting.

The character designs are also standard for the time, with each character being identifiable largely because of their hair style and hair color, as well as their company uniforms. Each characters’ design fits with their stock personality, with little room for innovation or surprise. For this kind of show, though, this isn’t a bad thing, as the series is more worried about providing a comforting, predictable atmosphere than anything else.

OVERALL: I love watching Polar Bear Cafe, it isn’t the best series in the world, and isn’t moving the genre forward, but it’s helping me defuse after the week and that’s good enough for me. There are times when the puns and long drawn out conversations start to annoy me, but these episodes are so short that it’ll soon move onto something else.

I’d recommend giving it a shot. You can watch it with friends, or marathon it on your own. What I like most is that generally speaking you can just pick up at any episode and you won’t miss out on anything. There are a couple inside jokes, but once you get the characters down it doesn’t really matter what you miss.

Also, I should mention you can watch it on Crunchyroll and the opening is super awesome. There’s nothing better than watching the trio groove out in a car and drive through a field of butterflies.

polar bear cafe car

Really, I haven’t watched this show because I just don’t have the time, not because I’m averse to the idea of it. I really, really want to watch all of these animals be cute together, I just don’t have the time for a short anime these days, let alone something this long.

OVERALL: If you want an anime series that will make you feel better about life, Aria is a great place to start. It’s especially helpful to watch before bed, as it’ll wind you down with the soothing music and stories of girls who just want to scull gondolas. I can’t think of any real moments of conflict in the series, and any tension is pretty quickly dispelled. It’s, frankly, an excellent example of the “healing anime” genre because it does such a good job of being inoffensive and relaxing. Aria just wants to wrap you in its embrace and give you a hug.

If you want any other kind of anime, then you should check this out, but it might not be your thing. Aria’s relative lack of plot and character development could be off-putting, especially since the series isn’t focused on gags like Azumanga Daioh or Lucky Star. Aria’s all straight-faced comfort food, which some people can handle, but others will just find strange. If you are in the mood for a healing anime, though, this one’s a great one.

Honestly this sounds like it would be my sort of thing, but I can’t promise I could make it through all of the seasons. I highly enjoy series with girls talking and story-telling, so I think I could at least make my way through half a season at the least. Aria just isn’t that high on my priority list considering there is nothing really about it that makes it seem worth getting over with quickly. So for now I’ll just keep it on the bottom of my pile and hope I get to it.

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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One thought on “Polar Bear Cafe vs. Aria

  1. I actually enjoyed Polar Bear Cafe. It’s something to pop into the player for something to just unwind with. Easy going and very often fun to go with the flow. While there is a bit of a continuity throughout the overall series, you can just watch any episode at any time. Makes it quite a refreshing break from the other usual shows.

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