Holy crap – they actually got Sakurai Takahiro to sing!
Or rap, anyway. Wow – I don’t want to blow right past the first chapter, because “The New Panda” was quite good, but that second number was absolutely one of the highlights of Shirokuma Café for me. Pure genius – and yet another display of what a bunch of great seiyuu can do when you get them together and let them really have fun.
As for the first chapter, we had a temp panda show up – and at the worst possible time for Full-time Panda-san too, as he’d just had cub #3 and was actually moonlighting stuffing ads into tissue packs for extra bamboo money. Of course you can’t have zoo animals doing odd jobs while “performing” – but the best part for me was when Kirino-san called Handa-san out for being a pushover when he let Full-time Panda convince him it was OK to stuff tissue packs as long as he was hidden. Hidden pandas are going to be bad for business, dumbass! The comedic highlight came when Full-time Panda managed to come in 4th in the 3-way “panda election” – because three people voted for Handa-san when they saw him cleaning the enclosure.
As for the second chapter, it was spot-on perfect from start to finish. First off you get actors like Sugita Tomokazu as Wolf and the peerless Inoue Kazuhiko (joining the cast for the first time) as Lion-san. The conceit of zoo animals dealing with everyday problems is a really liberating one both for the writer and the cast, and I loved the notion of three predators approaching middle-age getting together for a reunion at the Grizzly Bar. They talk about their jobs and their kids, they bemoan the loss of their “fierce beast” identity (a brilliant metaphor for teenaged male rage) and they reminisce about their misspent youth. Tiger has six cubs and runs his family’s Japanese sweets shop, Wolf-san is adrift, working at a bakery, and Lion-san is a fast-rising salaryman who travels the world, and tries to beg off hitting another bar because he has to have brunch with a client in the morning. You have to see this to understand why it works so well – and if it doesn’t, this probably isn’t the series for you.
The capper for the ep, though, is definitely when Shirokuma-san – innocently nursing a drink – reveals himself to be the legendary MC469MA, the rapper the three predators idolized in their youth (I hadn’t even considered the “469” aspect of Shirokuma’s name), then proceeds to lay down some rhymes about global warming and being a badass predator. Infused with a rediscovered adolescent energy, Lion, Wolf and Tiger go off to karaoke (“You better not howl into the mic!”) as Shirokuma reverts back to his mild-mannered self. Brilliant, brilliant stuff – for me, as good as anything this series has done so far.