I’ve only started watching Polar Bear Café, and I’ve only watched the first two episodes. They made me really angry, to be honest. I thought Panda was going to work at the café and get whipped into shape by Shiro Kuma (aka Polar Bear), but he didn’t pass the interview. But then I realized how accurate that was because in the real world, a person like Panda would never get a job at a nice, trendy café (I say it’s a trendy place because they only serve organic food and drinks; that’s still really hard to come by where I live) with a country feel like Polar Bear’s. In fact, Panda doesn’t seem suitable for any form of employment.
I know a certain percentage of the anime-watching population is comprised of students who have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the working world. When I was a student, I worked part-time because my parents and I had reached an understanding that I shouldn’t expect them to buy me things that were not necessary to my survival if I was old enough to earn my own income. Most students these days are expected to find full-time, permanent, employment after they’ve concluded their post-secondary education. I imagine this is Panda’s situation, perhaps minus the education part. (Some students, despite being thoroughly educated, will feel just like Panda when looking for a job.)
At the persistent prompting of a parental unit, Panda half-heartedly looks for employment. He’s turned down for several positions including working at the Polar Bear Café. Part of Panda’s failure lies in the fact that he has no idea what he wants to do, and doesn’t try very hard to adapt to the different job roles he’s applied for. But eventually, he does find a job – and not just any job, but the perfect job: part-time panda at the zoo. The job description of part-time panda is to act like a panda; so he’s expected to sit around, eat bamboo, and play nice with the other panda who works there, full-time. After half a day of work, Panda falls asleep in the panda pen and wakes up just before closing time.
I stopped being angry with the show when I stopped envying Panda’s job. I wondered if Panda really enjoyed his job or if, despite doing things that he liked (ie eating and lazing around), the fact that it was a job made those activities less enjoyable. I wondered if there isn’t something else Panda actually wants to do, but just hasn’t discovered that interest or passion yet. I wonder why Polar Bear runs a cafe and doesn’t work at the zoo like the other animals. I wonder if the perfect job for Panda is perfect for who he is at the moment but debilitating for who he could be in the future. I wondered if working as part-time panda at the zoo was a job that Panda was simply capable of doing – no more, no less; no challenges, no growth, but also no real chance of screwing up. Complacent and stagnant, in other words.
Work is a funny and fickle factor in life. Most of us will spend a majority of our lives working, whether we do something we love or barely tolerate what we do. Panda reminded me that being a panda is what you make of it: you can either embrace working as a panda and make the most of it, or you can quietly tolerate it if it becomes tedious. Or you can quit being a panda and open your own café.
… Or you can marry rich and be a panda at your own leisure.