Sep 052012

Let’s run in a completely different direction with Polar Bear Cafe. Most of my posts have dealt with the world as one where sentient animals have mingled into human society, and this has led to all sorts of wacky shit about animals as minorities or whatever.

But this week’s episode made me look at the thing in a completely different light. Let’s look at Polar Bear Cafe as a post-singularity transhuman world. Yeah.

The idea clicked in my mind when I saw how Sasako was behaving in this episode. She’s always been the audience surrogate character who’s left purposely vague so viewers can insert their own biases into the grand scheme. This latest episode took that a bit further than before. She comes off as someone who doesn’t really “get” what it’s like to have preferences and interests.

Hand wants to buy Sasako a Christmas present, but he has no idea what she likes. He looks to Polar Bear for some help, and this leads to several indirect interrogations to see what Sasako digs. Thing is, she deftly dodges every single question. What’s her hobby? She doesn’t really have one. What’s her favorite color? She doesn’t really have one. She shows no real interest in talking about guys and relationships when she’s hanging out with the women at Lesser Panda’s restaurant, not does she take an interest in bands and idols. Each question she’s presented with gets this blank faced reaction, as if she doesn’t really understand what’s being asked of her. Or rather, she understands the meaning behind the question, but there’s genuinely no information within her personality that equates to this question.

The only time she expresses any joy is when it comes to incredibly basic and repetitive things. Her “latest obsession” is a cell phone game where you see how many pillbugs you can poke in a limited amount of time– one of those monotonous, number-crunching, efficiency-testing games that feel more like mental exercise than something enjoyable. And when Handa starts talking to her about potatoes, she rattles off an encyclopedic-like knowledge of them.

Seriously, man, she comes off like a robot in this episode. She isn’t interest in things that carry any sort of emotional weight. All of her interest are mathematical and data-oriented– if it’s something that can be calculated or Googled, she’s into it.

Yeah, all of this is likely due to making her as blank slate-like as possible, but the emphasis she gets in this episode makes all of these tidbits happen in rapid succession, so it paints this automaton-like impression of her. She’s a robot, dude.

So that got me thinking. What if this is a world where robots are a thing. Everyone, including the animals, is some sort of artificial being. Maybe some of these people are organic, like some of the animals or whatever, but their intelligence has been uplifted by genetic tampering and shit. This is some world where they’ve reached that fusion of man and machine– where anything can be made to resemble human intelligence– and instead of getting some steampunk cyberpunk dystopia we got a happy-go-lucky sitcom world where animals own restaurants and work at zoos.

If that’s the case, Polar Bear Cafe’s the most hopeful and optimistic approach to The Future we’ve ever seen in anime. It’s the anti-Akira, and that’s a good thing.

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