A love story for all ages and species.
Title: A Polar Bear in Love (Koisuru Shirokuma)
Publisher: Media Factory (JP), Yen Press (US)
Serialized in: Comic Gene
Translation: Taylor Engel
Original Release Date: November 21, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
They say Cupid’s arrow can strike at any time and for any one. But can that arrow strike for someone of a different species — one you are supposed to eat?
Well, it certainly happened in A Polar Bear in Love. A certain polar bear (aptly named Polar Bear) is immediately enamored with the fluffy whiteness of a seal. The poor, young Seal is both confused and scared for a multitude of reasons: they’re both male, polar bears eat seals, and he is under the impression that people in love eat each other. It’s no wonder Seal spends so much of his time trembling in fear. Polar Bear, on the other hand, vows to protect his beloved and also work hard to obtain his love. It’s just like those manga between normal/honor students and delinquents… except instead of social classes we have classes of species.
This setup may seem perfect for a 4-koma, but the manga generally starts with some short one-page comics (anywhere from four to about seven panels) before having a multi-page story to close out the chapter. While the format is a bit random, the chapters and arcs flow surprisingly well. While Polar Bear wants to be Seal’s lover, he first has to slowly earn Seal’s trust. Well, not so much trust as much as assurance that he won’t Polar Bear’s dinner. Seal spends most of his time quaking in fear and plotting his escape before slowly realizing that Polar Bear’s words are true.
With this setup between predator and prey and a cover which involves glomping and trembling, it’s easy to think this is a laugh-out-loud, gut-busting humorous manga. (Plus, it’s rated A for all ages, a rarity in English-translated manga.) Certainly, parts are hilarious: Polar Bear and Seal are both a little off in what they think a relationship is like, and they get the wrong idea about the other’s reaction. The bonus holiday-themed chapters are my personal favorite. (Ever seen a seal who wanted to dress up as a reindeer?) However, at least a couple moments are bound to tug your heartstrings a la Bambi or The Lion King. Comedic misunderstandings and general ditziness are aplenty and will probably make readers grin; seeing a male bear whose love is so pure that finding out his beloved is also a male doesn’t faze him is what will actually move readers. I just hope that younger readers don’t think that eating someone you care about is one of them…
Regardless, at least the art is very accessible to the younger crowd. It’s very minimalist. The two leads are both white, and along with the ice and snow, means there is a lot of whitespace. (Shocking, I know.) Koromo relies on thick lines to make the characters stick out against the tundra, and her panels tend to be large and feature very few aside comments. The design on the cover is about as fancy as the manga gets. Polar Bear and Seal don’t even usually use their mouths to speak, and since most of the manga is just the two of them interacting, the art relies heavily on Polar Bear’s doting expressions and Seal’s shivering. I
If it weren’t for the Japanese side effects and reading order, the story could probably be read by most elementary students. A Polar Bear in Love gives a romaji reading of the sound effects along with an English translation, but the latter is only included on the first immediate use. This is pretty common for Yen Press, but with the sound effects being very prominent against the tundra background, it may be distracting for those who don’t normally read manga. Even honorifics, which are usually kept in the company’s manga, are dropped for the fully English “Mr. Polar Bear” and “Li’l Seal”.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and fortunately that little seal on the cover doesn’t spend all of A Polar Bear in Love about ready to faint from fear. Whether Polar Bear’s love is granted or not, his pure-white devotion is enough to warm up readers’ hearts even in the frozen Artic. Who knew a story between predator and prey could be so cute and yet also moving?