SERIES REVIEW: Rilakkuma and Kaoru
The adventures of Kaoru and her lovable roommate Rilakkuma, a bear who wants to spend each day just lazing around.
Director: Masahito Kobayashi
Cast: Mikako Tabe
Runtime: 12 min per episode
Review by Leon Lau
Rilakkuma and Kaoru (2019) might just be the most delightful new show I’ve seen all year; I went into this with no expectations beyond seeing a cute children’s cartoon, but Rilakkuma and Kaoru turned out to be so much more than that. I was pleasantly surprised by its adorable stop-motion animation, and its heartfelt story.
The story follows our main protagonist, Kaoru, an office lady who lives with three distinctively adorable pets. More on them later, but at its heart the show has some surprisingly humble aspirations. Director Masahito Kobayashi stated that his goal was to make a show was purely centered around Rilakkuma and Kaoru living ordinary daily lives. Considering the time consuming nature of stop-motion animation, it’s a brave choice to use the technique to realise such a simple slice-of-life story. But what visuals they are!
Every blade of grass, flower petal and prop detail had to be painstakingly crafted and animated, and the sheer abundance of minute details add up to a vibrant and rich world. Even characters are given the same attention the detail, and you can spot the fur off Rilakkuma’s body. Couple this with some gorgeous lighting and a pastel colour palette, and you have a world that is practically inviting you in. It took the team two years to realise these thirteen episodes, and their efforts can be seen in every frame.
But what truly sets Rilakkuma and Kaoru apart from other animated shows is its story and characters. Despite its bright aesthetics, the themes of the show are surprisingly deep, and have a universal appeal that can reach both kids and adults. In one of the earlier moments in the season, Kaoru has to deal with loneliness when all of her friends cancel their plans with her. Who hasn’t had a moment in their lives where they felt left out? Or felt that they didn’t couldn’t fit in at work? The show tackles these themes with grace, and the inclusion of our three mascots lends a comforting warmth to the show.
Rilakkuma is our large, laidback brown bear, while Korilakkuma is a smaller, mischievous white bear. Rounding out the gang is Kiiroitori, a small yellow bird who is hardworking and loves to clean. Their relationship with Kaoru forms the heart of the show, and seeing them bond together through the obstacles of everyday life makes for some delightful television. Communicating only through adorable grunts and chirps, I grew to love all three of Kaoru’s cuddly companions.
It’s impossible not to smile after an episode of Rilakkuma and Kaoru. There is depth and meaning to each of the lovingly crafted episodes, and the series is surprisingly emotional and mature underneath its adorable surface. In a time where animators are pushing for more outrageous visuals, Rilakkuma and Kaoru is a reminder that animation can also be used to portray the quiet, slice-of-life moments.