This Week in Anime
Is Rilakkuma and Kaoru Worth Watching?

by Andy Pfeiffer & Steve Jones,

Rilakkuma and Kaoru uses its unique style of stop-motion animation to explore feelings of loneliness and ennui in warm and fuzzy ways. This week, Andy and Steve break down what makes this Netflix short stand out from the crowd.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Steve
Hey Andy, I was just taking the trash outside
and found this:
Now my apartment is full of bears eating all my food and taking all my naps.
Andy
Sometimes a squatter bear is all you need to improve your life. At least that's the general sense I got from Rilakkuma and Kaoru.
KUMA SHOCK
And yes oh my god these bears (and bird) are the adorable and comforting presence I didn't know I needed in my life right now. What a delightful little show this turned out to be!
I went in without a clue and expected something far more childish than what we got. Honestly, the title should be Kaoru and Rilakkuma, because for the most part the show is this:
It's definitely meatier than I was expecting from what's ostensibly a children's television program. For me, the biggest draw is the intersection between the fluffy whimsy of Rilakkuma's antics with his other stuffed buddies, and the relatable millennial despair of Kaoru.
The first episode introduces her drinking a six-pack of beer alone out of spite, and that's when I knew she'd be a good protagonist.
 
 
She's great, and so is the weird family she ends up coming home to. They're somewhere between pets and children, but without putting her in the position of being their mother. For the most part, they exist to help her de-stress from the anxieties of being a completely average person, while also finding some joy in her relatively normal life.
Every episode tends to end with a single line to hammer that aspect home.

That said, I sure hope you like watching the dub, because Netflix's subtitles are dire. The dub script is a lot more natural in comparison to what feels like a straight up google translate job.
Netflix really has a shaky track record with its anime subtitling, which boggles my mind considering how much money they surely have. That said, I did watch the Japanese dub, and Mikako Tabe does a wonderful job as Kaoru. A decent amount of the show is just the bears and bird grunting and chirping wordlessly at each other, so a lot of its charm is nonverbal.
That's part of what bothers me so much. There's relatively little script and it still feels so poorly translated. I agree that the Japanese cast still sounds great, but it's hard to fit those feelings to the words on the screen. But like you said, much of the charm lies somewhere between Rilakkuma's low hollow tones and the chirps of this particular angry birb.
Kiiroitori def became my favorite. He's just trying to keep a tidy house and collect loose change.
What a role model.
He's got the truest definition of a nest egg.
And Kiiroitori vs Mushrooms might be my favorite segment of the show on a pure entertainment level.
What an episode. Another thing I love about Rilakkuma is that it never shies away from getting weird. There's an entire plotline about Rilakkuma growing mushrooms on his butt that Kaoru proceeds to try and eat.


Every generation needs a Mushroom Samba. It also helps illuminate the elephant in the room—while Kiiroitori is an actual bird, and it seems like Korilakkuma might be an actual bear,
Rilakkuma is a god damn Mimikyu.
 
I can't think too hard about the implications of Rilakkuma's existence because it will only upset me, but it is canon that he has multiple skins. I'll leave it at that.
I'm betting this is the reason we got Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu instead, because right now Danny Devito is squatting in a poor middle-aged Japanese woman's house while never showering and wearing a series of onesies.
Regardless of his many mysteries, one thing that's never in doubt is that Rilakkuma is living the life.
Can we talk about Kaoru's horny levels though?
Kaoru is a DISASTER and I love her.
 
 
And I mean, it's completely okay to fantasize (about food or sex), but it's another thing entirely when others have to pay the consequences for your sexual frustration.
 
 
Right, the crux of this episode is that Kaoru is super-thirsty for a sweaty delivery guy, (and whom amongst us would cast the first stone on that one?) so she orders a ton of stuff to keep seeing him, which is exactly the kind of sitcom bullshit I live for.

but the romance ends when the bill arrives:
Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity. It certainly captures the "oh shit oh no" feeling of getting an unexpected bill for far too much in the mail. I greatly envy those who have yet to discover that emotion.
For being an anime based on a lazy bear character, I was surprised by how much Rilakkuma and Kaoru doesn't shy away from the less glamorous aspects of modern adult life. Kaoru works a dull office job. She's constantly pressured by society into worrying about finding a boyfriend/husband. Her mom condescends to her. She compares herself to her more successful friends from college and feels herself drifting away from everyone she used to know. It's a lot!
It certainly raises the right questions, but it also shies away from any hard answers. Being valued at her job is a good example of how it falters. I mean, she gets a single platitude that I wouldn't even consider truthful from this dude.
I'm of two minds, because ultimately the show aims to be inoffensive, so it doesn't really dig into these issues. But I also think it's a totally reasonable (if definitely sad!) resolution that Kaoru is placated by the smallest bit of validation from the worst place, because sometimes that's just where you're at mentally.
Totally fair, and the series does try to show more than just her office, with the animal friends taking on part-time jobs to help dig her out of the financial horny hole she created. Kiiroitori does great as part of a cleaning crew, and Korilakkuma takes the Polar Bear Cafe career route of professional adorable bear.

Rilakkuma however...
 
 
He's trying! The chef is being entirely too mean to a giant stuffed bear-person-creature. Rilakkuma doesn't deserve that kind of treatment.
I really like the message at the end of this episode though. He may suck at various jobs, but that doesn't make him worthless.
Right! Rilakkuma is good at plenty of other things, like eating, napping, and pretending to be a mermaid! That's the kind of energy (or lack thereof) I could always use.
I do want to point out that his final attempt at repayment has key similarities...
...to a certain commercial.
This isn't the Rilakkuma lore I wanted, but it's the Rilakkuma lore I deserve.
I'm just saying, all the signs are there.
Hell yeah, ghost girl. Bird vs Shroom may have been the most entertaining segment, but the entire spooky episode is my favorite from an animation standpoint. The stop motion that makes up the entire show is absolutely great, kind of like a natural extension of if Gumby had been more influential.
But the ghost episode introduces supernatural elements to the show out of nowhere, while also mixing in different animation styles like this horror movie the gang watches to open the episode.
 
 
I'd watch it.
It's like somewhere between Kakegurui and Liquid Television. Then later in the episode, we get this sketchbook backstory from the ghost herself. Making this otherworldly stuff a different type of animation from the rest of the show was a stroke of genius.

I loved those 2D sequences, and it's worth reiterating just how good this show looks overall. It's handled by Dwarf Studio, who also did the Domo-kun anime, and their craft is undeniable. I've always adored stop-motion animation, and Rilakkuma just nails that cozy, tactile sensation you can only get from manipulating real objects.
One of my favorite sequences in the anime shows Kaoru and everyone else waking up to the quiet, iridescent atmosphere of a snowfall, and that mood is conveyed so well via the stop motion.
 
 
So many character details come out in the little shivers, shakes, and general nuanced movement of everything. They are truly experts at this, so it's a shame it's such a niche style.
Also, snowbirb is precious.
I love snowbirb as much as I hate this monstrosity.
I'm glad this show gives the artists freedom to show off. The entire snowman dance sequence is wonderful.
And then there's the episode where Korilakkuma hangs out with an alien and some pandas.
like you do
And the final episode is a Mari Kondo crossover! Truly something for everyone.
Mari Kondo can take my various precious penguin items when she pulls them from my cold dead hands.
Many shows that attempt this balance between children and adult audiences become a confused mess that feels like it's for no one, but Rilakkuma and Kaoru is just visually and emotionally engaging enough for the little ones, while the underlying themes will be more relatable for parents.
Yeah, at least I hope kids will be able to happily ignore some of those more dire messages about late capitalism's stranglehold on our lives.
 
 
Man, that one hurt. For anyone who's never had intrusive thoughts, this scene is scarily accurate, and fittingly it's also why we tend to look at cute things on the internet.
Kaoru needs a big bear hug, as do we all.
That the show simply ends on them moving out is eerie and fitting. The entire time we're told that things never stay the same, and we end with absolute proof of that.
 
 
This show is on some real mono no aware shit at times, and I'm here for it. These two screenshots sum up the appeal of Rilakkuma and Kaoru for me, because the first one answers the second.

The bear is there because the bear is adorable.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru: sometimes it do be like that

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