The Expendabears

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May 122012

It wasn’t just the dark underbelly of the Polar Bear Cafe universe that was exposed in this week’s episode. I always knew there was something a little strange about Polar Bear himself, but this episode finally exposes his questionable past.

If you’ve seen enough action movies, you’re familiar with this cliché. You have your “retired” action hero type. Once upon a time he was a hired killer or a mercenary or a Marine or something like that. He did some things that the average dude would find regrettable at best and abhorrent at worst, and he was damn good at those things. In fact, he was the best at doing those things. But he reached a point where he couldn’t take the lifestyle anymore. Maybe his wife was caught in the crossfire. Or maybe he met a kid who made him question his actions. Or maybe he saw one too many friends die a miserable, lonely death. Whatever the case, he’s turned away from his violent, shadowy lifestyle and wants to start anew.

To get away from that life, the guy usually takes up a career or hobby that’s a complete 180 from his prior gig. Steven Seagal in Under Siege becomes the cook on his ship. Sylvester Stallone owns a taxi boat in the new Rambo. Bruce Willis is just some bored retired dude hitting on the call center chick in Red. Their characters were all highly trained military types, and now all they want to do is live a relaxed life that has no hint of danger, conflict, or violence.

These guys always get dragged back into the action. Something comes up that forces them to use their badass killing skills in order to save themselves or save someone they care about. But before that they usually have some moment of temptation. Some old acquaintance comes along who tries to talk them into “one last job” or the like. This old friend never left “the life” and needs the main character to fulfill some big scheme or rescue the president or whatever.

What’s important in these scenes isn’t the actual “sell.” What makes these scenes cool is that you get a lot of hints of the history between these two characters. There’s always a  sense of uneasiness, since the main character doesn’t want any part of what’s being “sold,” but he also knows that he can’t really be abrupt about his unwillingness to help out. This guy is his friend, or at least used to be, and he doesn’t want to say the wrong thing. Or maybe he does want to say the wrong thing just to tick the guy off. And then there’s the references to past actions. Maybe someone brings up “that time in Guatemala” or something like that, and the two exchanged a few words about how they saw those events differently. Their history is detailed in as few words as possible, but you get the gist of it.

That’s exactly what went down when Polar Bear and Panda when to hang out at Bar the Grizzly. The Grizzly Bear who owns the place clearly has a past with Polar Bear. They exchange some banter that shows that their friendship is a little more than “two bears hanging out.” Their ways of life are clearly at odds, since Grizzly sees Polar Bear as being a bit soft while Polar Bear’s uneasy with Grizzly’s rough personality and wild patrons.

I get the feeling that Polar Bear has done some particularly nasty things in the past, and opening up his cafe is a way for him to get away from that past. His love of puns is probably some gallows humor that developed out in the field, where he’d lighten the mood with some awful quips. And maybe he chose a cafe because a woman he loved had a dream of opening such a shop, but she died before she could do so, and now he’s honoring her wish. Grizzly probably finds all of this a bit silly. While he’s set up his own place, he likely still keeps in touch with old friends in whatever line of work they used to be in. That alligator that tried to eat Panda is likely some mercenary taking a breather between jobs and wanted to scare the shit out of some wimpy-looking kid for a few laughs.

Yeah. Polar Bear Cafe is doing everything that Jormungand anime wanted to do (exploring the minds of mercenaries and the like), did it way better, and did it in one half of an episode.

Popee and the Morning Star

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May 122012

Popee the Clown. Popee the Entertainer. This thing goes by many names. One of those names is likely Popee the Lord of the Flies.

Popee is in Hell. It isn’t quite the sort of Hell we see in Dante or whatever. I’m sure this is one of the lower circles of Hell, but this isn’t a matter of people joining together in mutual suffering– their punishments streamlined and mass-produced to be appropriate for a wide range of similar sins. This is a personalized Hell, not unlike the punishments of Greek myth. If you piss of the Gods with your hubris, they create a custom scenario of suffering that only you will ever suffer.

Popee and his dog companion must have been amongst the greatest of mortal sinners, since they’ve received an elaborate set-up for their eternal torment. They’re isolated at a circus, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’re even dead, much less in Hell. Their only constant companion is a frog who is likely some demonic familiar placed there to keep watch on them when the various Princes of Hell are unable to pay attention. Each day Popee and his companion go about their business, playing games and training for the show that will never come. But their antics always lead to an escalating series of assaults, backstabbing, and murder.

These two souls are incapable of going about their day without turning on one another and attempting to kill one another, or at the very least “innocently” and “inadvertently” placing one another in harm’s way, and it never ends well. Without fail, someone is maimed, dismembered, or left for dead. And the next day whomever died rises back up, only to repeat the same sequence of slaughter again.

This is the sort of unending, inescapable punishment along the lines of Sisyphus. That dude pushes a rock up a hill every day, only to have it roll back down. Popee and his dog murder one another, only to come back the next day ready to die and murder again. And this isn’t Looney Tunes. They don’t stretch out and bend and flex with each blow. They bleed and cry and shudder in fear with every incoming bullet. They aren’t just doomed to kill one another, they’re also doomed to feel that impending dread that comes with facing one’s fate.

But their suffering doesn’t end here. Satan himself has taken a liking to these souls. He takes the form of another “performer” or “clown,” taunting his prey with the obvious allusion to his guise as Lucifer the Morning Star by wearing a sun-like mask. And with his appearance the punishments doled upon Popee and the dog only escalate.

Before Lucifer’s appearance, the suffering demonstrated was relatively tame. Sure, swallowing a bullet and shitting it out, only to have your friend swallow said shit bullet and shit it out again, is pretty damn freaky, but it’s also self-inflicted. Popee and the dog only have themselves to blame for that sort of torment since they chose to play around with guns. Once Lucifer arrives, there’s that looming presence of the other . Lucifer chooses the form by which today’s suffering will manifest. Saw oneself in half with a chainsaw? Popee would never dream of such a feat, but Lucifer’s taunting results in just that.

But the most horrifying act happens in episode 20 of the series. Lucifer hypnotizes the other characters to act like birds. Innocent enough, but once Popee gets into the act it becomes a duel of wills. Popee tries to make Lucifer act like a dog. Lucifer counters by trying to turn Popee into a cat. They start to stab themselves with daggers in order to ward off the hypnosis, turning the ordeal into an orgy of self-mutilation. Their hypnosis attempts de-evolve, as they try to make their enemy into increasingly primitive life forms. Finally, they hypnotize one another into worms, and the aforementioned “birds” swoop down and devour Lucifer-as-The-Worm. Popee is able to turn his own hypnosis upon the “birds,” mesmerizing them into skeletons, but the resulting celebration reveals that Lucifer’s eyes are still alive, and their last action is to hypnotize Popee into becoming Lucifer.

Bam. Popee is no longer himself. On this day, he learns of the worst form of suffering: losing one’s very existence. Popee isn’t just killed, he’s robbed of his very existence as Lucifer’s being imprints itself upon his very soul. Sure, Popee will rise back up the next day with his identity intact, but he has suffered a fate worse than death.

And Lucifer smiles.