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Polar Bear Cafe Collector's Edition Manga Volume 1 Review

Polar Bear Cafe Collector's Edition Manga Volume 1 Review

-Written by: Will | February 2023

It's finally here! Though under the radar, Polar Bear Café has been on my want list for a while. The anime adaptation is a funny watch and always makes my day brighter. Polar Bear, Penguin, and Panda were a great trio and I want more adventures. After the anime, that only leaves the manga, which wasn't available. Now, the collector's edition is in my hands. If you're a fan of iyashikei, or "healing" anime and manga, you'll get that feeling in the manga's small-sized servings.

While more and more manga titles use a hundred words to convey their premise, this manga only needs three. None other than Polar Bear runs the Polar Bear Café. In this world, humans and animals live together in society. Polar Bear is always serving an eclectic set of patrons. The most frequent are Panda and Penguin. Panda is an ever-lazy, self-absorbed dude who barely manages his part-time job at the local zoo. It takes the straight-man Penguin to smack some sense into him. Polar Bear's levity and sage advice calm down their little squabbles. The trio form an odd friendship and help each other out with their everyday problems. Well, mostly Panda's problems, but still.

The thing that will stick out to readers is the structure. Chapter length varies and can be very short, sometimes only lasting about four pages. I didn't have a problem reading lots of chapters at once, but it is meant to be read one chapter at a time. It's the type of book you read when you need a quick pick-me-up, like a good cup of coffee or a large serving of bamboo.

Good thing each chapter provides plenty of laughs. This is a "hang out" type of manga, so most of the humor comes from the animals talking with each other. We get to learn more about them and laugh at their unique quirks. It can feel like you're eavesdropping on friends casually hanging out. Plus, the manga taps into the absurdity of its world. Remember me mentioning how Panda works at a zoo? His job is hanging out in an enclosure like real-life zoos. Animals are allowed to visit at a discount, though they aren't allowed in areas where their species work. That would confuse the visitors and animals working, you see.

One of the sources of humor you might have heard of is Polar Bear's fascination with Japanese puns. This works in the anime because you can hear the puns, but in manga form it is difficult when only reading the words. To help, the translators provide the translation and add the romanized Japanese in parentheses. That way you know how similar the different words are. Are these puns still funny in English? It varies from joke to joke. Some work perfectly, while others don't quite hit. Then there are others where the puns are so out there that you can't help but laugh at the sheer absurdity. They hit way more than they miss, so congratulations on the translators for their Herculean feat.


But enough about translation, how about the art? I'm a fan of the realistic designs of the animals. The animals are already adorable in real life, why change things up? It also makes moments like Penguin driving a car more hilarious. How can he realistically drive a car? The manga lets us use our imagination. Plus, since they don't show the eyes for Penguin and Panda, you can fill in the emotions yourself.

All this serves the goal of iyashikei. The low-stake plots mean you're never worried if Polar Bear is going to eat his friends. All the characters are good-natured despite their flaws. For me, the realistic art places the cafe in an idealized world. One where we can live in harmony with the Earth's creatures, even able to understand each other. I'm sure it's a world we would all want to live in. Getting to enter that world, even if only for a few pages, is a treat.

I would say Polar Bear Café screams "Good Vibes," but screams is too harsh a verb. Maybe "soothingly speaks" would be better. Its base is iyashikei, and the author adds sweet humor, full-bodied characters, and a refreshing atmosphere. This is what my manga taste buds have been waiting for, and it goes down as soothing and comfy as I would hope.

P.S. If you like crafts, there are pages at the back of the manga you can cut out to recreate the paper animals shown during the anime's ending previews. No Penguin in this volume, though. Let's hope he shows up at the back of volume 2!

Polar Bear Cafe Collector's Edition Manga Volume 1 Manga

Polar Bear is a walking, talking, pun-loving bear who runs a serene café. The regulars include a lovestruck zookeeper with a crush on the café's waitress, and a panda who stops by after a hard day of being a panda at the zoo. Join the café's colorful clientele through the seasons in this comforting and pawfully funny manga about daily specials, romantic complications, and working the (coffee) grind.

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