|BIG IN JAPAN
You don' have to live in
Japan for long before you become very familiar with anpan, that unique Japanese creation
of bread filled with sweet red bean paste. But do you know about Anpanman, the cartoon
character whose head is made of anpan? Just ask any Japanese toddler they can fill you
in on this popular bean-powered superhero, whose work is helping hungry and troubled
people in Anpan World.
Yanase Takashi began drawing the comics of Anpanman and his fellow made-from-food
characters years before anyone even dreamed of dango sankyodai. In 1990 these
were adapted for television, and now Anpanman can be seen every Friday at 5:30pm on Nippon
TV, channel 4. In the stories, Jam Ojisan (Uncle Jam), a regular human, creates Anpanman
by baking his anpan head. Anpanman has some special skills that help him fight the bad
guys—he can fly, and he also skillfully executes the an-punch and an-kick when necessary.
Of course, he does have a few weak points. Those are primarily bacteria, mold and dirt.
And water. But thanks to Jam Ojisan, he has a special helmet that can protect his bread
face from getting wet. Anpanman loses his special powers if his head is damaged, but Jam
Ojisan can bake a new one each day.
Any superhero needs an arch rival, and so for Anpanman there's - you guessed it
- Baikinman (Bacteria Man). He comes from Baikin Planet and zips about in little flying
machines, each week plotting a new way to fell Anpanman or his friends. His sidekick and
girlfriend is Dokin-chan. She's a bit moody and thinks she is the cutest girl in the
world. She also seems to have a bit of a crush on Shokupanman, one of Anpanman's friends,
whose bread slice head is, well, handsome if you like that sort of thing.
In a recent episode, Tendonman (his head is a donburi rice bowl with shrimp tempura poking
out of the top) and Tenmusu-chan (her head is a rice ball with shrimp tempura) meet and
become quite smitten with each other. But a hungry Baikinman and Dokin-chan devise a plan
to turn them against each other. A competition is staged to see who can make the best
shrimp tempura, which Baikinman and Dokin-chan gladly judge, greedily eating more and
more. But all is not lost! As Tendonman and Tenmusu-chan near exhaustion, Anpanman comes
to the rescue. The requisite fight ensues, and though we think several times that Anpanman
will meet his demise, he comes through in the end with a strong an-punch to save the day.
The shows are formulaic, and the female characters often fall into stereotypical roles.
Still, the show tries to have a positive influence on kids. Mothers are probably thankful
that their toddlers can make so many healthy "food" friends watching the show,
and even befriend Hamigakiman (Tooth-brushing Man), one of the gang featured on Anpanman's
web page. And Anpanman certainly is cute. Even if you don't like to eat anpan, his round
face, rosy cheeks, and big smile are sure to win you over.