May We Recommend an Anime About Life as a Scorched Bun?
Kogepan conjures a lovingly bleak metaphor for existentialists everywhere. And he’s super cute.
The many faces of Kogepan.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go through life as an over-toasted bun? As with many delightfully outré questions, the kind that only real freaks and great fiction writers would think to ask themselves, there’s definitely already an anime based on that. Kogepan, which aired in Japan for merely a few days in November 2001, explores the facets of an existence stalled at the intersection of adorable and outcast: Kogepan is a red bean paste bun that fell off a baker’s tray in the oven and was left for toast, now doomed to wonder what could have been. There are only ten episodes, and each are four minutes long. We first meet our hero crouched, huddling, with a tiny, cute whorl of smoke rising from his sizzled head, reproachfully muttering, “You know me, anyways.”
An omniscient narrator informs us he is “always sad,” and “doesn’t think.” Kogepan drowns his sorrows in milk (it’s implied this is like alcohol for bread) after being tempted into the dairy life by a fellow burn out hunk of carbohydrate at the bakery. The narrator asks, “I wonder what happiness is to a piece of bread?”
I, too, wonder, as a creature whose own habit of anthropomorphization has, at times, gotten the best of her. Perhaps this is but one of the manifold reasons I was a yung moth to the flame of anime; the Japanese seem to simply adore giving personality to inanimate objects. The massive success of San-X, the studio that created Kogepan as part of their evolution from stationery company to character creating and licensing machine, is but one facet of the vast industry of kawaii. If I may venture a vast simplification though, this cultural predilection for ascribing life to every overlooked thing could be rooted in something more ancient than the average piece of Mikanbouya merchandise might lead you to believe.
On top of being a singed loser, Kogepan has to deal with the fact that he’s surrounded by fresh little breads full of “energetic innocence,” who our blackened friend confronts in one episode, tapping a pair of tongs menacingly, and informing them that “everyone in this world is equal,” before tossing his instrument aside and offering them his hooch milk. There are bright spots of camaraderie in Kogepan’s charmingly bleak world though—there’s an even darker, more scorched piece of bread, “Black Pan,” aka “Charcoal Pan,” who turns Kogepan onto the really hard stuff: coffee milk.
In episode seven, Kogepan is caught amidst icing and sprinkles, as if attempting a baked goods version of drag. His friend, the cream bread, is embarrassed for him, thinking Kogepan is fine as he is, and he’s even a little jealous of him. More encounters with the Other follow, as in episode eight when Kogepan gets in the pretty and pink Strawberry bread’s face to let them know that “bread is a household staple. The substance is what counts!” It’s heartwarming to see the underdog muster self-confidence! Kogepan’s growing sense of self is even mirrored by the nascent admiration other breads hold for him: in the ninth episode, an undercooked appearing delicacy gets all crushed out on Kogepan, and covers themselves in ash to be more like the grumpy, seared bun.
And yes, there is a message in all of this—though some might wonder given Japan’s attitudes around racism and foreigners that the “blackness” of Kogepan is a glaringly obvious metaphor—that no matter what kind of bread you are, your breath is white in winter, “a sign that you exist.” The narrator calmly intones in the last episode, “It’s not much, but it’s something worth being happy about.” Kogepan: it’s not much of a show, but it’s always been something worth feeling happy about to me. The end.