Since my daughter was about 2 years old, she became a fan of Anpanman. Anpanman is a famous cartoon character that has been around for decades, and Japanese people of many ages know who he is, and know the theme song well:
Indeed, when my in-laws in Japan found out that my daughter liked Anpanman, they started sending her lots and lots of toys. Anpanman is a very successful business in Japan, with toys, clothes, books, DVDs and so on. one friend I knew in Ireland who lived in Japan told me that you can find Anpanman everywhere in Japan. I noticed this too. But what is Anpanman?
Anpanman is a superhero made from anpan, a Japanese pastry made with red-bean paste. Sometimes he even gives a piece of his head to people who are hungry. He can fly, has excellent hearing and is very strong. He often rescues people in distress, while stopping the main villain, Baikinman (“germ man”) from doing evil things:
Baikinman lives with his partner-in-crime, Dokinchan, and the two are often hatching silly plans, such as stealing someone’s food because they’re hungry or taking something valuable Quite a few episodes involve them being hungry, though.
What makes the show interesting is the huge number of characters. In many episodes, they introduce new characters, usually these are “food” characters or ordinary objects like pencils, books, music instruments, etc. The show has been running since 1968, so the number of characters is immense, and the story lines do tend to repeat (Baikinman does something naughty, Anpanman is weakened but recovers and defeats him). However, the writers often try to change things up by either introducing other villains who work against Baikinman, or simply episodes where people don’t fight and just help each other out. I like those episodes the best.
Below are some images I took of my daughter’s toys, to illustrate some of the main characters. These actually came from a set of figurines you could get at 7-11 in Japan. My in-laws were collecting them for my daughter and periodically sending them to us when we lived in Ireland. We have a lot of them (not many repeats either), but these are the more representative ones.
The Good Guys
The main good guys are here:
From left to right:
- Jam Ojisan (“Uncle Jam”) – he is Anpanman’s creator and father-figure. Whenever Anpanman is weakened, he bakes a fresh, new Anpan head for him to give new strength.
- Meiken Chiizu (“Fine Dog, Cheese”) – he is Anpanman’s pet dog. He can’t talk, but he is faithful and helps where he can.
- Batakosan (“Miss Butter”) – she is Jam Ojisan’s assistant and helps bake new heads for Anpanman.
- Anpanman – The main hero. He is actually voiced by a female actress. He is weak against water and mold (Baikinman has “mold” henchmen). He has two super-moves: An-punch and An-kick.
- Meronpannachan (“Melon bread girl”) – Another “pastry” superhero. She is a good friend of Anpanman and helps him fight Baikinman sometimes. Her older sister, Rōrupannachan (“Butter-roll girl”), sometimes helps too, but is kind of a rogue-like figure. Meronpannachan misses her older sister often.
- Kareipanman (“Curry bread man”) – Another super hero who frequently teams up with Anpanman. He spits out hot curry, which is too spicy for Baikinman, but makes a great meal for others. In real life, I love kareipan pastries. The ones in 7-11 Japan are really good.
- Shokupanman (“Shokupan man”) – Another super hero who frequently teams up with Anpanman. While Kareipanman is opinionated and strong-willed, Shokupanman is the level-headed, logical one. Sometimes all three team up together if Baikinman is too strong.
- Kuriimupanda (“Cream bread panda”) – The youngest superhero of the team, he is a young boy who frequently wants to prove himself.
Also the villains:
- Baikinman (“Germ Man”) – is the main villain and shown here in his traditional black and purple. He is an evil genius and likes to build robots and vehicles that cause trouble. He also has a funny laugh: ha hi hu he ho, which actually are the Japanese letters は ひ ふ へ ほ in Japanese alphabetic order, and also has the recurring line bai bai kiiiiin!, which is both a pun on “bye bye” in English and his own name. He is a braggart and refers to himself as ore-sama accordingly. Baikinman is actually my favorite character of all because his voice and personality are so over the top and funny.
- Dokinchan (“Dokin Girl”, orange) – she is Baikinman’s selfish and vain sidekick. Unlike Baikinman, she is sometimes nice to people, and also has a huge crush on Shokupanman whom she respectively calls shokupanman-sama. She often instigates Baikinman’s evil plans by nagging at him because she’s hungry, bored or just wants something. The word dokin is onomatopeoia for one’s heart skipping a beat.
- Kokinchan (“Kokin Girl”, blue) – she is Dokinchan’s younger sister, who can make people cry when she cries. She is childish and spoiled, so she often cries when she doesn’t get her way. This makes people who are too close to her cry too. She also has a crush on Shokupanman.
- Horāman (“Horror Man”) – he is Baikinman’s awkward henchman. He has a crush on Dokinchan, but she doesn’t like him much. His name is a pun in Japanese because horā is an exclamation meaning “see?” (e.g. see what I mean?). But is also sounds like the English word “horror”. He often says “hora, hora” as well.
- Shown on the left are Baikinman and Dokinchan in their disguises when they try to steal food or spy on Anpanman. I forget the names. It’s funny that Baikinman uses a Japanese-style surgical face mask to hide his appearance.
- On the far-right is one of many of Baikinman’s robot monstrosities that try to defeat Anpanman.
Recurring Good Guys
These are other good guys who frequently appear in many episodes, but often need Anpanman’s help (from left to right):
- Tendonman (“Tempura Donburi Man”) – another favorite of mine. He’s always with his two friends Kamameshidonman and Katsudonman. All three are “donburi” characters. He’s often the “silly” one of the three.
- Kamameshidonman (“Kamameshi Donburi Man”) – He has a deeper voice and is often the “tough guy” character.
- Katsudonman (“Katsu Donburi Man”) – Because katsu was a foreign import to Japan, this character has a more Western-looking moustache.
- Omusubiman (“Omusubi Man”) – He is the stereotypical Edo Period ronin wandering around, doing good whereever he can. When he talks, he speaks in Edo Period-style language (you can hear the gozansu endings easily). He is courageous and noble.
- Komusubiman (“Little Musubi Man”) – He is the son of Omusubiman and travels with him. He is still young and gets into trouble sometimes, but is a good son. Like his father, he talks in archaic language, but with a kid’s voice (degozansha instead of degozansu).
- Hanbāga Kiddo (“The Hamburger Kid”) – He is the stereotypical American Cowboy hero. He is yet another favorite of mine. He has a lasso, rides a horse, and is not afraid to help Anpanman when needed. Normally such stereotypes might annoy me, but he’s such a positive character I don’t mind.
- Yakisobapanman (“Yakisoba Bread Man”) – Another “pastry” hero, he is another cowboy character. My wife says I look like him because of the uni-brow. :p
These are miscellaneous characters that represent the diverse personalities and foods in the show (from left to right):
- Nigauriman (“Bitter Melon Man”) – Based on the Okinawan bitter gourd.
- Tekka no Maki chan (“Tekka Maki Girl”) – She is based on the sushi by the same name (tuna roll, tekka maki), and is stubborn and hot-headed.
- Dorian Ōjō (“Queen Durian”) – She is a queen in the form of the infamous Durian fruit. As royalty, she’s haughty and bossy, but has a good heart and helps where she can.
There is also a famous Anpanman Musem in Yokohama, which we visited with our daughter, sister-in-law and various friends. It’s pretty fun in there, and there’s quite a few things to see. Much of the museum is various models and scenes like this one depicting a typical summer festival in Japan:
Or life-sized models of characters, such as this one (Daikon Yakusha) who is a parody of old Kabuki actors:
That’s a brief look at Anpanman. Chances are someone could write a whole blog devoted to the subject, the show is huge and has been on air since 1968. The subtle puns and cultural references are legion. For me, I enjoy the show quite a bit, and enjoy the challenging listening practice (it’s roughly early grade-school level Japanese), plus the amazing variety of characters.
P.S. I almost forgot! Here’s my amateur translation of the opening song (hopefully now it will make more sense):
Sou da, osorenai de (Oh! Don’t be afraid)
Minna no tame ni (for everyone’s sake)
Ai to Yūki dake ga tomodachi sa (Just love and courage, hey [we're] friends!)
Nani ga kimi no shiawase (What makes you happy?)
Nani wo shite yorokobu (What do you like doing?)
Wakaranai mama owaru (Ending without knowing)
Sonna no wa iyada! (That’s no good)
Wasurenaide yume wo (Don’t forget your dreams)
Kobosanaide namida (Don’t shed any tears)
Dakara kimi wa tobunda …
doko made mo (Because you can fly anywhere!)
Aa Anpanman (Oh, Anpanman!)
Yasashii kimi wa (You’re so nice)
Ike, minna no yume …
mamoru tame (Go, so you can protect people’s dreams!)
Feedback appreciated on the translation. I was a little fuzzy on a couple parts.
Update: Several edits, including theme song translation.