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Anpanman

Anpanman

Courtesy of Wowow

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.

BaikinmanAny 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.

Stephanie Wratten

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