When it comes to the most popular characters in Japanese animation, there are common traits among many of them. Often we see protagonists who are strong, funny, resilient, or even possess special powers that make them a wonder to watch and keep audiences coming back for years or sometimes decades. These are the kind of heroes that people often wish they could be, and so, their popularity has never been difficult to understand.
However, in 2013 the typical trend of strength and hope found in our favorite characters was bucked as an unusual creation cracked the animation scene. Far from the stories of action and saving the day, the world met Gudetama, a lazy and utterly miserable egg who would go on to win the hearts of millions around the world.
From Dinner to Design
When Sanrio, the Japanese company known for Hello Kitty, held a competition amongst their designers to create characters based on food items, Emi Nagashima found herself inspired to enter by her own cooking. A designer for Sanrio at the time, Nagashima was preparing an egg for her dinner after work one evening and while taking a moment to study it, saw the yolk as a droopy yet somehow cute figure. A tired-looking shape, she felt it was representative of how much of society, particularly younger people, felt about life in general.
As is the case with all successful characters, a name is arguably the most important part. You want something not only memorable, but representative of the being you’ve brought into existence, even if it is only an egg. So, in an effort to come up with a name that would stay true to her new character’s persona, Nagashima combined the Japanese term “gude gude” meaning lazy, and the Japanese word “tamago” meaning egg, to create Gudetama, which in English translates to “lazy egg.” It was a stroke of genius destined for success, though not immediately.
After other Sanrio designers entered the competition with their own creations and votes were tallied, Gudetama came second, losing out to a happy little salmon fillet by the name of Kirimichan. Immediately Sanrio began working on products branded with this cute cut of fish, but recognizing the potential in Gudetama, began working on a product line for the lazy egg as well. A decision that would soon see the miserable yolk become a household name.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Although failing to win the in-house competition at Sanrio, it wasn’t long before the proof was in the pudding and Gudetama outsold its fish-based rival Kirimichan. Keen to capitalize upon the lazy egg’s popularity, Sanrio quickly ramped up production on the Gudetama brand, which went on to include not only the typical range of t-shirts, television shows and collectible characters but also cosmetics, restaurants and even collaborations with international titans such as Hot Wheels. Yes, that’s right, Gudetama has its own Hot Wheels car.
But in typical Sanrio fashion, when a character is as well-loved as Gudetama, there is almost no ceiling on how far and wide its likeness can spread. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor Hello Kitty, in 2016 EVA Air, a Taiwanese international airline, launched a Gudetama-themed Airbus complete with Gudetama-branded pillows and chairs to fly between Taiwan and Tokyo. Following this, in 2018 Seibu Railway commissioned a Gudetama-themed train that ran for a limited time on its Shinjuku, Haijima and Ikebukuro lines. Painted entirely yellow with Gudetama’s face on the front and back, the train’s interior was also decorated with the lazy egg’s likeness throughout the carriages.
But with all this success, what comes next for everyone’s favorite melancholy foodstuff? A series on the world’s largest streaming platform, of course.
An Eggcellent Adventure
Due for release on December 13, Gudetama hits the small screen in the highly anticipated Netflix series, Gudetama: An Eggcellent Adventure. Starring an animated version of the lazy egg set in a live-action Tokyo, Gudetama is joined by a new friend: a freshly hatched chick by the name of Shakipiyo, whose enthusiastic and driven personality clashes with the lethargic despair of our favorite egg. Together, the unlikely pair must work together as they set off on a heartfelt adventure to find their mother.
The finer points of their journey are yet to be revealed. However, Gudetama’s belief that life is simply about being swept along until you’re eaten, combined with Shakipiyo’s will to survive and succeed, is almost certain to create some cute yet poignant moments throughout the series.
The Egg in All of Us
Being so unusual in its personality when compared to its animated counterparts, Gudetama’s success over the years raises the question: why does everyone love this miserable egg so much?
The answer? Because we can all relate to it.
The popularity of perpetually strong, positive characters makes sense because that’s something that most humans strive for. But in a world where life can simply become a little too much at times, Gudetama shines as a brilliant yet gooey example of what it’s like to be human.
Sometimes we don’t want to do the things we’re supposed to do. Sometimes everything feels a little bit too hard. Sometimes the thought of laying around all day on an egg-white mattress with a bacon blanket sounds perfect, and in that way, there’s a little bit of Gudetama in all of us.
Images courtesy of Netflix.