A Polar Bear in Love
恋するシロクマ (Koisuru Shirokuma)
Shoujo – Boys’ love, comedy, gag, romance
4 Volumes (ongoing)
For Polar Bear, it was love at first sight! For Seal, it was fear at first sight! What kind of connection will form between these two when one wants to be a doting partner and the other just doesn’t want to be eaten?
A Polar Bear in Love — the only manga where you can see a tsundere orca and a rapping seal.
I’m going to let an early page of the manga explain the setup:
Yep, Polar Bear is struck by Seal’s beauty and immediately proposes. But Seal is trembling in fear because, of course, polar bears eat seals. Not only that, but they’re both males! Of course, being the same gender shouldn’t stop a relationship, but this bothers Seal. Even then, there are still more obstacles like Seal’s young age. Koromo never gives readers an idea of what their age would be equivalent to in terms of human development, but Seal is still young enough that he hasn’t learn how to swim. Polar Bear is older but is not a fully mature adult either.
But it’s best not too think too deeply about any real-life comparison for age gaps. In a comedy series, it’s usually best to not do much thinking at all. However, A Polar Bear in Love has several moving and introspective moments that do make this more than a mindless read. The author calls the series a “surreal gag manga”, but the inner turmoil is not secondary in the manga. The section about Polar Bear’s family history, for instance, is going to make readers want to give Polar Bear a great bear hug. He also deals with the joys and sadness of falling in love. The main relationship — whether it turns romantic or not — is about trying to get over biases and reservations, even if some of those fears are understandable. The “love is love is love” sentiment is also on display here, although it’s also a point of debate between characters.
Still, it’s clearly a comedy. Polar Bear doesn’t always realize Seal’s feelings/thoughts — or outright misunderstands him. But Polar Bear is sweet and optimistic, and although he doesn’t want to pressure Seal, he does dream of a future together as a couple. And he does get excited when he sees Seal being adorable. Seal, meanwhile, must balance his own survival instincts with Polar Bear’s pure-hearted feelings that make it hard to hate the big predator. Although there’s a romance aspect between the two of them (unrequited, of course), they are a bit like a duo you see in media of a slightly grumpy or practical protagonist and a neighbor/self-proclaimed friend that just doesn’t “get it” that they aren’t close. Seal does warm up to Polar Bear, but even hearing stories or regular comments has him imagining his demise. (Because, of course, polar bears eat meat!)
I do want to be clear that this isn’t an animal version of the human world. In fact, humans come visit the area regularly. The animals can talk to each other, but they don’t live in houses or get dressed up or anything. The manga has cartoon logic on occasion (suddenly, Seal becomes a rapper), but they don’t go get their meals at the local market or anything like that. Their knowledge of the human world is shaky and random (again, probably some cartoon logic): Polar Bear knows a Japanese love charm, but he doesn’t know the world is round.
So although Polar Bear and Seal are the main characters, other animals are featured in various story arcs. While most were introduced for a chapter or two, Cathy the penguin becomes a part of the main cast. Orca will also likely round out the story, mostly because Cathy is crushing on him. Cathy is fond of Polar Bear and Seal because they have love issues like Cathy, but the penguin is also a hyperactive big sis type.
The volume is divided into chapters, but then they are further divided into named sections. It’s kind of like how 4-koma strips usually are named. But this is not a 4-koma even though some of the pages/arcs are very similar, including ending with a punchline. The most common punchline is, of course, Polar Bear trying to express his emotions as Seal misunderstands (or, to be more accurate, thinks in terms of getting eaten) or just flat out refuses/says no. A Polar Bear in Love ends each volume with some additional comedy pages. Some of these are unrelated gags like celebrating holidays and has them a bit more anthropomorphized.
The manga is rated for all ages. However, a couple of parts may raise some eyebrows (the use of the word “dammit”, a man telling his lover off-screen that he’d like to “eat” her). The fact that Seal and Polar Bear are both males isn’t portrayed as a joke but rather a simple fact of life: most animal species are heterosexual. Seal is also young enough that he may not fully understand his sexuality, but right now, he clearly sees himself with a female. It’s another barrier to any potential relationship, but the bigger issue is, of course, they’re different species. And quite frankly, Seal is a coward, but he’s also young so it’s understandable.
But it’s not like other animals are going, “EWWW, YOU TWO ARE BOYS!!” or anything. I could see an argument that perhaps the manga would have been good as a potential introduction to the boys’ love genre or help promote the idea that two men (or women) are not different from other couples. Who knows what path Koromo will take in regards to the main twosome. At the very least, the idea that love can come in different forms will resonate with readers young and old. The most obvious example is Polar Bear and Seal, but there are other interspecies relationships and, as I mentioned before, much about dealing with the complicated feelings of love. In many ways, it’s very shoujo school romance-like, just with animals. Polar Bear thinks about wanting his beloved to be happy, Orca is clearly a tsundere, etc. So if you like shoujo monologues and doting, protective leads, A Polar Bear in Love falls into those categories.
The manga hasn’t had a new volume in Japan for almost two years, and I have no idea when Volume 5 is going to come out. So that is also a strike against the series since it likely means, at a minimum, it will be another year before we revisit these characters. There’s simply too much out there, but if/when A Polar Bear in Love returns to its one-or-twice a year schedule, perhaps it may be higher on your list. The good news is that the manga isn’t at any major cliffhangers or anything. Well, it’s not like it had any major plot to begin with outside of what the two main characters’ futures will look like. And, to a lesser extent, Cathy and Orca.
The art is simple but very cute. It’s mostly large shapes with thick lines, much like you see in children’s stories. Panels are large and so are the dialogue bubbles. The animals are expressive (tears, blushes). Most of the time their mouths are closed, likely to keep them cute instead of showing off teeth. Overall, there’s not much to say about the art since it’s more of a kid-friendly release. It’s the kind of manga where that, once readers get used to reading a book “backwards”, it shouldn’t be that hard to read since the minimal art/text means it’s a smooth and easy on the eyes. Nothing super technical, but it’s cute. Some color pages are also included that show off the adorable animals and the beauty of the Arctic.
No honorifics are used. So it’s “Li’l Seal” and “Mr. Polar Bear”. Translation notes are included for things like new year dream good luck items.
A Polar Bear in Love is going to be a hard sell for many manga readers. It’s not a gut-busting comedy, it’s not a quirky requited romance, and it has very cutesy, childish art. Still, if you like innocently heartwarming stories with a melancholy streak, the series may be worth a look.