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.

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