I finally got around to watching Netflix’s Rilakkuma and Kaoru, a stop-motion animated show featuring one of Japan’s most beloved mascots. I’m not too familiar with Rilakkuma beyond the fact that he’s a very lazy bear —thing.
Through some research, mostly through TV Tropes, I learned that Kaoru is an established character in the Rilakkuma mythos, but is usually only seen in silhouette. In this show, she’s the main focus. And I like it.
She’s somebody I can relate to. A lot.
Kaoru exists in a very similar place to Retsuko; they’re both office workers, unhappy with their lot in life. But unlike Retsuko, Kaoru doesn’t really have any friends or an outlet for her frustrations. She’s kind of meek, quiet woman who during the show’s year-long timespan, has a lot of bad luck.
While she’s decent at her job, she suffers from some kind of anxiety and has trouble making decisions and going out being social. Her colleagues don’t invite her places, not out of malice, but they don’t think she’ll enjoy it and a little because they don’t want her dragging them down. Her college friends have their own lives, and don’t really have the time for her….
But we mostly see her life outside of work. I’m not even entirely sure what she does. It’s not important. We see her going to festivals, falling in love with a delivery man, wanting a pet cat and struggling to pay credit card bills.
The bears, Rilakumma and Korilakumma and Kaoru’s bird, Kiiroitori have their own little adventures on the side.
The show focuses on a year in her life, where nothing seems to be going quite right. I would say it’s a realistic take, but considering the show also deals with ghosts and aliens I don’t think that sounds quite right.
But it’s calmer, and much more low stakes. The show doesn’t pad out things like Kaouru losing her apartment for drama. The fact that her building is getting demolished is treated as a sad but inevitable fact of life.
And despite everything, Kaoru always finds something to be happy about; at the end of the series, she still has her animal friends, a new apartment building that still has a kind of rustic charm, she’s still in touch with Tokio, her kid neighbor and even has a kind-of sort-of boyfriend.
…She’s incredibly flawed and incredibly human. Like when she mocks the bears’ attempts at trying to cheer her up after she is excluded from a trip to Hawaii. The bears end up being rewarded with a free trip and leave Kaoru behind… She deserves not to go, but in other areas you still feel terrible for her and I can understand why she acted like she did.
It’s weird; the bears aren’t a huge part of the series, and I think that probably disappoints a lot of people. But I liked it. And of course, I absolutely loved the animation which was smooth, with a kind of whimsical charm to it. Stop-motion was perfect choice of medium for the series.
And the music was spot on. The Sanpo melody was adorable and very ear-wormy. Honestly, this was kind of a crazy week, so I wish I had more time to focus on this series, which I liked far more than I thought, but I wanted to talk about it now because I have a lot to talk about in the next few weeks.
And that’s the scoop!
Year of release: 2019
Length: 13 episodes; 11 minutes -14 minutes
Creator: Aki Kondo
Executive producers: Hiroshi Chida, Kaata Sakamoto, Masao Chida, Taro Goto
Producers: Hiroki Ito, Noriko Matsumoto, Yuriko Okada
Director: Masahito Kobayashi
Writer : Naoko Ogigami
If you liked this read: “Isle of Dogs,” a bland, cluttered ‘tail’ of a boy and his dog