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Anpanman: Is the children’s superhero the best thing since sliced bread?

Anpanman: Is the children's superhero the best thing since sliced bread?

If in case you have been anyplace in Japan for any size of time over the previous 30 years, there’s a excellent probability you’ll have come throughout Anpanman.

His spherical face, vibrant purple nostril, rosy cheeks and infectious smile may have beamed out at you from TV screens, billboards and grocery store cabinets the size and breadth of the nation. He and his seemingly countless forged of food-based associates could have waved again at you from TV commercials, purchasing facilities, public libraries and physician’s workplaces.

In the crowded and aggressive world of Japanese cartoon characters, Anpanman is king. He stands astride a business empire value an estimated ¥100 billion to ¥120 billion in annual income, and holds licensing agreements with round 70 totally different corporations.

He has bought 79 million copies of his image e-book collection, and has simply celebrated the 30th anniversary of his TV present, “Soreike! Anpanman,” on Nippon TV.

Not dangerous for a superhero with an anpan (bean jam-filled pastry) for a head.

“Some children can say Anpanman’s name even if they’ve never seen the TV show or books,” Rika Kataoka, managing director of the licensing division of rights holder NTVM, says forward of the Oct. Three anniversary of “Soreike! Anpanman,” which airs each Friday at 10:55 a.m. “Either their friends have Anpanman things, or their kindergarten or nursery has them. It’s a fact that kids can’t avoid knowing who Anpanman is.”

Anpanman was created by illustrator Takashi Yanase, who handed away in 2013 at the age of 94, and first appeared in the “Kinder Story” month-to-month journal for kindergartens in 1973.

Yanase got here up with the concept of a simply and true superhero who helps individuals in want by breaking off items of his face to provide to them to eat. These acts of kindness weaken Anpanman’s power and impair his means to fly, however thankfully his on-screen creator, grasp baker Uncle Jam, can replenish it by baking him a recent head in his oven.

Anpanman lives in a world filled with food-based heroes and villains, together with his associates Currypanman, Breadhead-man and Cream Panda, and his archnemisis, the dastardly, germ-riddled fly, Baikinman.

The franchise set a brand new Guinness world report for the most variety of characters in an anime collection when it breached the 1,768 mark in June 2009. That quantity has since risen to greater than 2,300.

“The target audience is maybe a bit younger than for some of the other iconic cartoon characters out there,” says movie critic and cultural commentator Mark Schilling. “There are other shows out there that target very young kids, but they exploited the market so well with all the character goods. It’s become this big franchise.

“In the West you see something like ‘The Gingerbread Man,’ but the story is completely the opposite,” he says. “A woman is making gingerbread cookies and she makes a gingerbread man. The gingerbread man comes to life and runs away.

“In the original story the gingerbread man is eaten by a fox, but in the Anpanman story, Anpanman gives himself to people. He takes part of his head off and gives it to people. In the American story, the character runs away to save himself. In the Japanese story he gives himself to the other characters. That strikes me as something very Japanese. You’re teaching very young kids to sacrifice themselves for others.”

Humble origins

Anpanman started life as a part of a month-to-month image guide bought on to kindergartens by writer Froebel-kan. Some individuals at the firm have been initially skeptical about the concept of a foremost character whose face is regularly eaten away to nothing, however an enthusiastic response from youngsters persuaded them to supply a particular version for common sale.

Additional new editions have been solely launched annually, however kindergarten academics started to inform Froebel-kan that their copies have been turning into worn out from overuse. The corporate subsequently elevated its output, taking the character to a wider viewers.

Yanase’s Anpanman books have been initially aimed toward youngsters aged round 5. Makoto Amano, an adviser to Froebel-kan’s Anpanman division who labored with Yanase for many of his time with the firm, believes the writer’s refusal to compromise was one cause for the books’ success.

“He never talked down to children or treated them like babies,” Amano says. “Even if kids don’t know a word, they still remember it and as they grow up they find out what it means and learn how to use it. He never dumbed it down just because they were children.”

The image books’ reputation meant it was not lengthy earlier than an anime model of the collection arrived, and a single-episode adaptation aired on NHK in March 1979. NTV then launched its “Soreike! Anpanman” collection, produced by TMS Leisure, in October 1988, and executives quickly realized that the six-month run that they had initially deliberate wouldn’t be sufficient to fulfill demand.

“The record viewing rate for ‘Soreike! Anpanman’ came on Christmas Day in 1989. It was 15.4 percent,” says “Soreike! Anpanman” producer Yuichi Takahashi. “That’s still the record for the program to this day. The time of day that the program is shown has changed since then so you can’t compare it properly, but that was a big viewing rate at the time. Of course, there were a lot of different factors, but if you consider that it got such a big figure just over a year since it was first shown, that tells you how much of an impact it had.”

The animated collection caught largely to the themes and elegance of Yanase’s books, though a number of beauty alterations have been made. The unique books noticed Anpanman break off so many items of his face over the course of an episode that he would fly again to Uncle Jam’s bakery headless, however that was deemed unsettling by TV executives and the character’s acts of kindness have been rationed to 2 or three chunks at the most.

Over time, Anpanman turned extra rounded and cuter, dropping his 5 fingers and creating digit-less, ball-like arms. The age of the audience additionally fell to round 1-Three years previous, though Amano insists that Yanase maintained a excessive degree of management.

“When the anime was first made, Yanase submitted a list of demands,” he recollects. “Usually the author would leave most things up to the producers but Yanase was very particular about things. He wanted the characters to be a certain way and wouldn’t allow certain things. He had his own rules. So when the anime began, it was made the way he wanted it to be and there weren’t any impossible demands placed on him.”

The success of “Soreike! Anpanman” uncovered the character to a nationwide viewers, and opened up profitable new alternatives to market his picture.

Anpanman’s rights are held by a coalition of NTV, TMS, Froebel-kan and the Takashi Yanase property, with NTVM serving as the “shop window” for licensing tie-ups. NTVM’s Kataoka says most of the roughly 70 corporations that presently license Anpanman’s picture — and emblazon his face on all the things from toothpaste to clothes — have held their agreements for the 30 years since “Soreike! Anpanman” first aired.

Anpanman’s reputation has additionally spawned a sequence of museums, with the first showing in Yokohama in 2007. They have been adopted over the subsequent seven years by franchises in Nagoya, Sendai, Kobe and Fukuoka, though the identify “Anpanman Children’s Museum” is probably stretching the definition considerably.

Quite than musty artefacts, the amenities are primarily youngsters’s play areas with areas for reside performances, workshops, dioramas, puppet exhibits and the probability to satisfy mascots dressed as Anpanman and myriad different characters.

The Yokohama museum employs round 120 individuals, whereas the adjoining shopping center, which contains a vary of shops all promoting Anpanman-branded items, employs round 380. The museum attracts between 700,000 and 800,000 guests annually, and is about to relocate to greater premises in June 2019.

On a Monday morning in Yokohama in September, the museum was busy regardless of having simply opened at 10 a.m.

“It’s my daughter’s birthday,” says Michael Sill, an American resident of Japan, as he watches his Four-year-old daughter, Hannah, chase after a Baikinman-branded ball. “I guess she heard about it from family and she wanted to come here. I think the first time I heard of Anpanman was when I had been here for about a year and I saw some toys and the TV show and a lot of kids wearing the clothing.

“It kind of reminds me of Tom and Jerry, or something like that. It’s about one guy trying to get the other. It’s fun and playful.”

Sill admits he had by no means heard of Anpanman earlier than shifting to Japan 4 years in the past, and he isn’t alone in that regard amongst individuals raised outdoors the nation. “Soreike! Anpanman” has been proven in numerous nations, principally in Asia, however the character has by no means actually taken off abroad in the method that profitable Japanese exports similar to “Pokemon” have.

NTV producer Takahashi believes the very essence of Anpanman and his associates could also be the drawback.

“We broadcast a special 30th anniversary Anpanman show, and part of that involved interviewing people on the street. We asked some visitors from overseas what they thought of it, and they didn’t know what anpan, karepan or meronpan were,” he says, referring to sorts of bread based mostly on bean, curry and melon.

“They’re all Japanese foods. These are things that are familiar to us, but people from overseas don’t know what meronpan is. You would have to explain it to them. It really is a show with very domestic Japanese content.”

Enduring reputation

However, Anpanman has loved some success overseas and, in September 2015, the first official store abroad opened in Taiwan.

Earlier this yr, South Korean pop group BTS, who’ve bought an estimated 9 million albums worldwide, recorded a music referred to as “Anpanman,” explaining that they have been impressed by the concept of a superhero who helps others.

The Anpanman Youngsters’s Museum in Yokohama has additionally reported numbers of round 20,000 abroad guests a yr since it started retaining data in 2016, accounting for round 2.5 to three % of all guests. The museum publishes flooring guides in English and Chinese language.

Schilling believes there’s potential for Anpanman to cross over into the Western market, however he admits there are vital cultural limitations.

“They have done it successfully with other shows,” he says. “Take ‘Power Rangers.’ With ‘Power Rangers,’ they just took the action scenes. They totally reconfigured it for the American market. They introduced American actors. If you just had the Japanese characters, it wouldn’t have gone over so well. So for something like Anpanman they would have to redo the whole thing. They would need a new food.

“But they’re doing so well in Japan. It may be confined to Japan, but why put in the effort to take it abroad?”

Anpanman definitely is doing nicely in Japan. In June, he was named as the nation’s favourite fictional character amongst youngsters aged Zero-12 for the second yr operating in a survey carried out by toymaker Bandai, beating Doraemon, Glitter Pressure and Kamen Rider with 11.5 % of the vote.

The explanations for Anpanman’s enduring reputation have been extensively debated, with educational theses even being written on the topic. Schilling, for one, believes Anpanman’s attraction is of a primal nature.

“It addresses something that very young kids are familiar with, which is food,” he says. “Something very, very basic. Little kids see everything in terms of their oral fixation. They see something on the floor and they want to eat it. You find this in the West as well, of course. It’s a universal trait.”

Others have additionally argued that Anpanman stimulates one thing latent inside younger brains, and Bandai has even launched a variety of branded toys whose designs the firm says have been based mostly on analysis by neurologists.

Froebel-kan’s Amano, nevertheless, believes Anpanman’s lasting attraction is a testomony to Yanase’s storytelling.

“Yanase himself didn’t even know why it was so popular,” he says. “But children look at things from a pure point of view. I think the times caught up with Yanase. At first people thought it was cruel to have people eating Anpanman’s head and they couldn’t understand what it was all about. But then people began to realize that it was all about helping people in trouble.”

So what now for Anpanman? With greater than 2,300 characters in the Anpanman universe and plans so as to add extra, can followers sustain with who’s who? Can the franchise survive with out Yanase’s guiding hand on the tiller? And can the evil Baikinman ever achieve getting one over on Anpanman? There’s an opportunity, for positive, though it’s just a little arduous to see our pastry hero going stale anytime quickly.

For the second, followers are content material to enjoy the celebrations surrounding the 30th anniversary of “Soreike! Anpanman,” with a particular occasion being held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan this weekend.

A vote was additionally organized via the Anpanman Fan Membership to seek out out the hottest character in the collection, and the outcomes have been introduced on Oct. Three.

And the winner? Anpanman, in fact.

“At the moment the show has a lot of support, but at ‘Soreike! Anpanman’ we’re always looking to create something new,” Takahashi says. “We don’t want it to always be the same. We have more than 2,300 characters and every week we’re looking for them to do something new.”Anpanman: Anpanman was born when a capturing star landed in Uncle Jam’s oven as he was baking anpan. He’s a champion of justice who provides items of his face to these in want, and can go anyplace to assist somebody in hassle.

Uncle Jam: Anpanman’s fictional creator is a kindly previous man with grey hair and a bushy mustache. A grasp baker who lives in the Bread Manufacturing unit, he’s additionally a scientist who created the Anpanman Cellular.

Batako: Upbeat assistant to Uncle Jam in the Bread Manufacturing unit, she is nonetheless forgetful. A great singer with a knack for comforting infants, Batako can also be a talented seamstress who fixes Anpanman’s capes.

Cheese: Cheese is a canine who was saved by Anpanman when he was a pet. A loyal sidekick who helps Anpanman out when he’s in hassle.

Currypanman: A pleasant superhero whose head is made from pastry crammed with red-hot curry. May be quick-tempered and tough however can also be a dependable big-brother determine who’s liked by everybody.

Breadhead-man: A pal to Anpanman whose head is a slice of white bread. One thing of a heart-throb, Breadhead-man is especially fashionable with younger youngsters and women.

Melonpanna: Feminine superhero who has an elder sister named Rollpanna. Melonpanna’s signature transfer is the Melo Melo Punch, which makes the individual on the receiving finish love sick.

Cream Panda: The youngest of Anpanman’s buddies and a foster brother of Melonpanna and Rollpanna. Appears as much as Anpanman however typically will get pushed round by Baikinman.

Baikinman: Got here from Planet Baikin to defeat Anpanman. His identify means “Bacteria Man” in Japanese, and he can typically be discovered enjoying tips on individuals and bullying these weaker than him. His favourite phrases are “Ha Hi Hu He Ho” and “Bye Baikin.”

Dokin-chan: Baikinman’s feminine sidekick. Useless, egocentric and grasping, she has a crush on the good-looking Breadhead-man. Her identify is a portmanteau of the Japanese onomatopoeic phrase to suggest a beating coronary heart, and the phrase for germ.