Monday, September 22, 2014

S****kuma Cafe, An Overview (and DMCA Magnet)

(Update, 2017). I've had to rewrite this innocuous article twice because some automated robot is sending DCMA notices about it to Google. I have no clue what attracted the robot's notice, but I'm removing the Japanese title, any mention of where it was streamed, and so on, even though this is basically a review of the series. Baka!

S****kuma Cafe (Polar Bear Cafe) was one of the bright spots in anime for a full year (April 2012 to March 2013) and also one of the more neglected series of the time. It was streamed in English, but no fansub group picked it up. Fansubbers now hold the series in great affection, but at the time it aired, they were put off by its "family anime" status and by the formidable number of puns in the dialog, which seemed beyond localization. As a result, the streaming version remains the only subtitled version, and as usual, it has no song translations and primitive typesetting.

Why is S****kuma Cafe so good? First of all, it has great characters. The four leads (Polar Bear, Panda, Penguin, and the human waitress Sasako) are all well-characterized, idiosyncratic, and endearing. Polar Bear is a calm and level-headed café master who can troll with the best. Panda is the classic self-absorbed teenager.  Penguin is an endlessly talkative bore.  Sasako is sweet but a bit dim. They are supplemented by an entire menagerie of animal and human sidekicks who have recurring roles and are all voiced by brilliant seiryuu: Llama, Grizzly, Tortoise, Wolf, Tiger, Sloth, Panda Mama and Sister Mei Mei, Mr. Full-Time Panda, Hanada the zookeeper (who has a crush on Sasako), the seven female  penguins inadvertently courted by Penguin, Mr. Tree Kangaroo the master coffee roaster and his red squirrel assistants, and on and on.

Second, the humor and the stories are all character-driven. The characters bounce off each other in endless combinations. While there are themes (Panda’s desire to find a job with no work; Penguin’s disastrous quest for a mate), there is no plot to speak of. If I have a sneaking fondness for the episodes set at Grizzly’s Bar (known, of course, as Bar Grizzly) and its carnivorous habitués, those are just some of the many fine sketches that the show offers.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to do a BluRay version of S****kuma Cafe. Ruell has done a decent set of encodes for that. However, there are still formidable obstacles. To me, the problem is not the puns – I thought streaming version handled them the right way, with no attempt at localization – but the scale of the project. All fifty episodes need to be retimed and then typeset.  There are three OPs and twelve EDs to be translated, as well as a special. That’s as many episodes as Orphan has done in the last three years.

So in truth, this blog entry is a recruiting ad. If you loved S****kuma Cafe as much as I did, would like to see a subtitled BluRay version, and can help with the key work items (particularly retiming the episodes), drop me a note or contact me on IRC. Polar Bear, Penguin, Panda and the whole menagerie need your help.  You’ll get a chance to revisit one of the best anime comedies of the past few years, do a good deed, and brush up your coffee-making skills too.

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