Thursday, July 2, 2015

Polar Bear Cafe, Part 1

I 've always been puzzled by the cool reception fansubbing groups gave to Polar Bear Cafe). No one resubbed the original streaming release; no one bothered with the BluRays. In doing so, they overlooked one of the best series of 2012-2013.

I've heard various reasons put forth for this lack of interest: it's a kid's show; it's full of puns that are impossible to localize; it's got talking animals; yada yada. There's an element of truth in all of those assertions. It is an "all ages" anime, interesting to children and entertaining for adults. It is full of puns that can't be localized. And it certainly has talking animals. So what? Polar Bear Cafe is charming, heart-warming, and above all funny. It has great characters whose interplay is the foundation of the show. Yes, it's not "about" much of anything. Neither was Seinfeld.

So I'm proud that Orphan Fansubs is releasing a BluRay version of Polar Bear Cafe. We'll release it by "seasons" - 13, 13, 12, and 12 episodes - with a final batch at the end. The subtitles are from the streaming release. The song translations are either crowd-sourced and checked or done from scratch by deltakei and Moho Kareshi. I edited and did the typesetting. ninjacloud did the timing. Calyrica did QC. The raws are from Ruell (Ruell-Next version).

Polar Bear Cafe has proven to be a difficult series to subtitle, but not because of the puns. I like the way the streaming release handled the puns - providing the English translation as well as the Japanese word, so that the sound similarities were obvious. No, the stumbling block, for me at least, is the signs, ranging from a few to dozens per episodes. Many of them are beyond the scope of automated motion tracking and have to be set frame-by-frame manually. I've learned a lot trying to set the signs, and I want to acknowledge the help I received from my colleagues in FFF, Eien and KmE, particularly with font matching. However, the many mistakes in the signs are totally my own.

I decided to stay with the original subtitles in omitting honorifics. I think this goes hand-in-hand with translating the animal characters' names into English. I can see using "Shirokuma-kun," but "Polar Bear-kun"? Seriously? And the character names need to be in English, because only some of the animals, like Panda, Penguin, Llama, and Grizzly, are named with English loan words. It's not reasonable to expect an English-speaking audience to put up with a dozen Japanese animal terms. Nonetheless, omitting honorifics does lose some of the nuances of the dialogue. For example, Polar Bear always refers to Penguin as "Penguin-san" - Mr. Penguin - but Penguin calls Polar Bear "Shirokuma-kun." This is odd. Normally, the owner of a cafe or bar is addressed respectfully as "Master" rather than with a diminutive for younger males. This aspect is lost without honorifics.

The music of Polar Bear Cafe is a delight, and I spent more hours than I should have assembling a complete collection of the soundtracks and OP/ED songs. The opening songs tend to be upbeat J-pop songs and earworms, but the endings are all "character" songs, sung in character by the voice actors. The endings range from the ditzy "Bamboo Scramble," an ode to bamboo sung by the ever-hungry Panda, to the soulful folk rocker "My Dear," sung by Polar Bear as the last ending for the series. In between, every major character, and a few minor ones, get to strut their stuff. Particular favorites include Penguin's ode to his lady-love, "Zokkon! Penko-san" and Llama's memorable "Llama-san no Llama Mambo." The songs have hardsubbed kanji in a fixed location for the first 22 episodes. After that, things get more interesting. Each "season" will include the appropriate non-credit opening and endings.

The animation is nothing to write home about. There's little action; most of the animation is at 8 frames per second, with just mouth parts or appendages moving. Lots of still frames are used with zooms or pans to give the impression of movement. The animators' need to make things look dynamic while not spending money caused endless grief with the typesetting. Signs often pan in one direction while characters walk in another, requiring frame-by-frame clipping or clip merging by hand.

So what of the show itself? There's no need to provide a detailed synopsis; Guardian Enzo has already done a week-by-week breakdown of the show in his "Lost in Anime" blog. Suffice it to say that it emphasizes character-driven humor, with the main trio of arch-troll Polar Bear, narcissistic youngster Panda, and put-upon adult Penguin providing the stable center of the cast. However, the large supporting cast supplies many pleasures, including Polar Bear's lifelong friend, the self-proclaimed "wild bear," Grizzly; the cafe's oblivious but ever-helpful waitress, Miss Sasako; the shy zookeeper, Mr. Handa; the preternaturally calm herbivore, Llama; the Panda-stalking florist, Rin Rin; and Koala and Tortoise and Sloth and Tree Kangaroo and Red Panda and Mama Panda and Mr. Full-time Panda and Mei Mei Panda and the trio of "wild beasts," Tiger, Lion, and Wolf... The list goes on and on. And let's not forget the porcupine idol group, Yama Arashi. The show is endlessly inventive, but it always comes back to Polar Bear trolling Penguin, Penguin being exasperated with Panda, and Panda being entranced with Panda. It's laugh-out-loud funny.

Enjoy the first season of Polar Bear Cafe! More to come. However, we could use some additional resources: the team needs help with QC in particular.


8 comments:

  1. So, how about Hi-Speed Jecy?

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    1. Encoded: 12; translated: 12; timed: 12; edited: 7; translation checked: 2; QC'd: 0.

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    1. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to train a newcomer. Nonetheless, thanks for your offer of help, and keep watching!

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    3. Thank you for your feedback. Yes, it was a comma splice and needed to be separated.

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