Story and Art: Koromo
Translation: Taylor Engel
Letterer: Lys Blakeslee
What They Say: A polar bear has fallen in love with a seal, but the seal is terrified of being eaten! To make matters worse, a rival for the bear’s affections arrives just as the pair go o their first date…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Polar Bear in Love is a bit of a strange one. The title, combined with the super-cute art style, leads you to anticipate something super-light and fluffy; a whimsical slice-of-life manga with anthropomorphized animal characters, made for the younger set. And it is like that, to a certain extent, but there’s a real darkness to it. Polar Bear isn’t actually going to eat Lil’ Seal (no way, he’s too nice!), but this is a world where it’s acknowledged that animals really do eat one another, and survival is hard. The manga just isn’t as innocuous as you expect; Polar Bear Cafe, this is not.
While Volume 1 featured Lil’ Seal constantly terrified that Polar Bear was going to eat him, by now he’s starting to catch on that that’s not really what Polar Bear is about, which is a relief. With primal terror out of the way, the two polar animals have a chance to chill out (pun intended, deal with it) and get to know the neighborhood. They meet some other nice North Pole residents, and it’s all a rather lovely time, until it all becomes about the pain of unrequited love and this silly manga about talking animals becomes an incredibly serious affair. Personally I found it heartfelt and moving, but I think you may have to be a bit of a romantic (and perhaps a generous reader) to really buy into the depth of the emotions that the characters are supposed to be feeling here. This is a much more serious love story than it first appears, and that may drive away some readers who signed on for cutesy animal antics.
Something else that might drive readers away is the fact that the relationship between Polar Bear and Lil’ Seal would be abusive in reality. Initially, Lil’ Seal is terrified of Polar Bear and just wishes that Polar Bear would go away and leave him alone, which Polar Bear can’t do. Even when Lil’ Seal begins to adapt to Polar Bear’s presence, it’s more because he has no choice in the matter then because he ever accepted this giant predator into his life. In a relationship between humans, that would be stalking and Stockholm Syndrome, respectively.
Personally I feel this shows the limits of interpreting fiction as an expression of power dynamics though, because I really don’t think the message Koromo is going for here is “stalking is okay.” It’s about how the power of love can conquer all: Lil’ Seal is the wrong species, Polar Bear doesn’t care. Lil’ Seal is a boy instead of a girl, Polar Bear doesn’t care. Lil’ Seal is afraid that Polar Bear will stop loving him once he loses his baby fur and changes color (thus becoming black instead of white), but the reader knows full well that Polar Bear would never stop loving him for such a silly reason. To take a story that challenges homophobia and racism so clearly, picking on it for featuring an unhealthy power dynamic feels to me like missing the forest for the trees.
On a less serious note, the volume ends with a penguin-shaped cliffhanger, and I am seriously miffed. There are no penguins at the North Pole; they only live in the Southern Hemisphere! This is a serious scientific inaccuracy, and I am downgrading the volume one entire letter grade in the name of geography!
…okay I’m not actually doing that, but be careful with penguin fans, we can be prickly.
Despite plenty of silly moments, this manga is a surprisingly mature affair that romance fans may pass over because the characters aren’t human. Don’t pass it up if you like tragic love stories.
Age Rating: All Ages
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: February 27, 2018
MSRP: $15.00 US/$19.50 CAN