During the Netflix Anime Festival, many different people took to the stage to announce Netflix's new anime lineup. However, in this crowd of well-dressed people, one attendee stood out -- mostly because this attendee was a large brown bear. The bear was Rilakkuma, and he was there to promote Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure, an eight-episode miniseries that will act as a sequel to 2019's Rilakkuma and Kaoru.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru is a wonderful show that charmed critics and audiences alike when it hit Netflix last year, but it didn't get the mainstream attention it deserved. Now, however, is a great time to catch up with it as the show is the perfect thing to curl up with on a cold and dark Fall evening. And if you get up to speed now, you'll be ready to jump into Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure when it arrives on Netflix.
Rilakkuma first appeared in 2003 and is owned by the San-X company (who, despite having a similar name and business model are not to be confused with Hello Kitty creators Sanrio). Rilakkuma is a lazy bear who likes to relax. In fact, he is named after this trait -- Rilakkuma being a portmanteau of the Japanese words for 'relax' (rirakkusu) and 'bear' (kuma). Rilakkuma first appeared in the four-panel comic strip, Rilakkuma Seikatsu, before slowly growing in popularity in both Japan and America.
In 2019, Netflix launched Rilakkuma and Kaoru. This series follows stressed-out office worker Kaoru who, despite her best efforts, always seems to have bad luck. Thankfully, Kaoru's three roommates, the relaxed Rilakkuma, the playful bear Korilakkuma and the super hard-working bird Kiiroitori are there to support her and help her overcome her troubles. The series chronicles one year in the life of this little group with each of the 13 episodes focusing on one month, starting with April.
The show rejoices in the mundane events and adventures we all go on, from trying to survive the hot summer heat, visiting festivals, getting spooked at Halloween and playing in the winter snow. While not shying away from the bittersweet nature of modern life, Rilakkuma and Kaoru goes out of its way to show that sometimes, the little adventures we take with friends can make everything worthwhile.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru's animation is sublime. The whole show is animated using stop motion and the level of detail is immense. Plants and fabric subtly move in the breeze and the animal's fur moves and shifts when touched. Director Masahito Kobayashi's use of light is stunning. From the warm dappled light of the sun peeking through the trees in the summer episodes to the moody and atmospheric shadows of the Halloween episode, the show never fails to look beautiful. The show also uses its stop motion animation to seamlessly transition between the real world and the world of Kaoru's imagination, allowing the audience to get a look inside her mind as she ruminates on her troubles, and dreams of the future she wants.
Special attention must be paid to how Rilakkuma, Korilakkuma and Kiiroitori are animated. The animators made each of them feel weighty and real, so they don't feel out of place when stood next to the human characters. Each of them has a distinct body language and they convey so much personality through their movement and expressions alone. This is useful as the three animals only communicate through soft growls and mumbles rather than words. The animation is also wrapped up in a fantastic soundtrack that perfectly sets the mood for every situation the group finds themselves in. Quruli's song Sampo is both the show's theme and an earworm that you'll be humming for weeks.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru is a positively joyous show full of wholesome moments that will fill you with warm and fuzzy feelings. The show's central message about the power of friendship and how the little things in life can help us both survive and thrive is very much needed right now. In many ways, the show feels like sinking into a warm blanket, which means it is the perfect thing to curl up with on a cold Fall night. We can only hope that Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure is the start of many more adventures for Rilakkuma and his friends.