Netflix animated series Rilakkuma and Kaoru

Review: ‘Rilakkuma and Kaoru’ delivers zen and cuteness

Eat, sleep, relax, repeat. Although at first a little disorienting to see our beloved Rilakkuma as a star on screen rather than adorned as an accessory, we find Rilakkuma and Kaoru, released Friday Apr. 19 on Netflix, another perfect place to see his adorable smile.

Rilakkuma and Kaoru presents short clips of a single woman Kaoru (voiced by Mikako Tabe) going through the everyday frustrations of her life but helped by her animal friends, Rilakkuma, Korilakkuma, and Kiiroitori. The show goes through an entire year, from spring to next spring, in a series of 13 ten-minute episodes.

Official trailer

Check out the trailer!

Overall Feels

So zen

Altogether the show is incredibly zen, not forcibly profound but remarkably relatable. Our human protagonist Kaoru passes through her young adulthood without many close friends, in lack of a relationship, and not incredibly interested with her job, although content enough to get by. As the show progresses, we’re introduced to a variety of her challenges, such as balancing familial obligations with her own career as well as finding her own self-value.

Storytelling

Each episode in the storyline is contained and could be understood without context, but notwithstanding references and subtle hints to the chronology of time passing. While at first, we are thrown into an on-the-spot snapshot of present-day events, the last couple of episodes flip back to the very beginning (when Kaoru first meets the bears) before finishing in the last episode, both chronologically and in the season.

The storytelling in Rilakkuma and Kaoru is slow and patient, but well-paced and calming. For me, watching the show was incredibly soothing and certain moments elicited themes that anyone going through a rough patch in life can identify with. Tidbits about Kaoru’s friendships and family are scattered throughout the season, which allow us to better understand Kaoru through her interactions with them. There is a lot more showing than telling in the series, marking this Netflix series more profound than what first meets the eye.

Each episode ends on a quote, spelling a proverbial message related to the general existential crisis of the installment — for example, accepting change or finding positivity. We learn the same lessons as Kaoru does through the year, and the show ends on a hopeful and optimistic tone, yet with full understanding that new challenges and obstacles will come.

Art and Audio

Stop-motion animation

As well-done as the content is, the art design of Rilakkuma and Kaoru is the real showstoppers. The stop-motion animation, by Japanese studio San-X, the original creators of Rilakkuma, is the first of its kind featured on Netflix, giving the show an overall rustic and scrapbook look with the fluidity of a modern day animation. Highlighting textures — the fur of the bears or the air bubbles at the edge of a cooked pancake — is one of the strongest features of the style, providing a refreshing and crisp look. The show gives attention to the mundane details of life, from cooking a pancake to doing laundry or even just sitting and eating an ice cream bar, adding to the focus on the day-to-day.

Original soundtrack

This emphasis on the routine is also evident in the show’s soundtrack. The audio is minimalistic — ranging almost on an ASMR level — intentionally silent for the majority of the time, but not holding back on sounds like rustling fur, zippers zipping up, or eggs being cracked into a sizzling pan. Music choice is selective, often only appearing towards the conclusion of episodes and almost always acoustic.

The simplicity of the plot and production of Rilakkuma and Kaoru grants us a sort of mental massage, true to the essence Rilakkuma. Fortunately, for those of us that enjoy the show, Netflix seems to have plans for its renewal, so stay tuned for yet another spring of warmth and growth.

Spoilers below!

For those of us that have already watched the season, this is for you. For just over two hours of total playtime, Rilakkuma and Kaoru enabled me to deeply reflect — an effect I definitely did not expect when first clicking to watch it. There is surprisingly a lot of conversation that can come out of the themes of the series, these three of which I found most recurring:

Loneliness

The twelfth episode — “The First Day” — informs viewers how Kaoru first come to meet the bears. It is chronologically the first episode, where we see Kaoru leaving a friend’s wedding feeling incredibly lonely. She longs for something warm and loyal to come home to and at some point, while reflecting on the difference between the price tag of a pet store cat in comparison to an abandoned cat, drowns in negative thoughts about her own value. She catches herself in the midst of these depressive and existential thoughts, and when she comes home, she suddenly finds Rilakkuma in her home. He appears in Kaoru’s life when she is at her worst and when she most needs him, remarkably symbolic as a comforting presence as Kaoru goes through the year.

Self-worth

Work and camaraderie with coworkers seems to be recurring theme for many Japanese shows (see, Aggretsuko), and Rilakkuma and Kaoru is no different in that regard. Samejima Corporation, where Kaoru works, is the second-most utilized setting for the show outside of Kaoru’s home. Kaoru is a diligent worker and a reliable employee but often compares herself to her colleagues, who seem to be doing much better than her. We have a few windows of her relationship with her family, and we see that she still seeks approval and praise from her mother, who is more enamored with the successes of her brother and her sister-in-law.

Many of the episodes directly address our tendencies to think lowly of ourselves and instead encourage self-love and to be at peace with our flaws.

Go with the flow

Not only does the show’s content itself present its Taoist nature, the entire show as a concept itself is that way. Through the entire series, we may ask ourselves many questions: What are these bears? Where did they come from? What is Kaoru’s relationship to these bears? How do these bears exist — completely different from all other life forms in the show — yet are completely accepted when seen by other characters in the show? How do they communicate with grunts but are still understood?

Conclusion

The show has us choose to ignore these questions and to accept everything as it is and to simply enjoy what we are watching — a grand gesture of the show teaching us to fret the details.

What were your takeaways from Rilakkuma and Kaoru? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @GeekGalsCo!

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