Anpanman: The History of Japan’s Beloved, Bean-Based Superhero

Tubi has recently acquired the streaming rights to one of Japan's household children's characters: Anpanman. This is huge, considering the Anpanman franchise is massive and has been around since 1973. While it's been a huge hit across Asia for decades, North America has seen very little of Anpanman. Now that Tubi will be streaming ten films from the franchise, now's the perfect time to take a closer look at what exactly Anpanman is and why it's such an iconic franchise.

Originally created by Takashi Yanase as a Japanese children's picture book, Anpanman has since exploded into a massive franchise, including manga, anime, full-length movies, animated shorts, Christmas specials and so much more. The anime, Soreike! Anpanman, is one of the most popular anime series among young children in Japan -- and it's easy to see why. Anpanman is a superhero that is made from a red-bean-filled pastry (anpan) who fights against a germ named Baikinman in order to protect the world. Anpanman is a symbol of justice, defending people from villains and preserving honor, integrity and safety.

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English-speaking fans may have heard of Anpanman through One Punch Man, which seems to be directly referencing both the costume and the name of the children's hero. Other than that, Anpanman has not had much of a presence in North America. While it's certainly a popular franchise, what makes it so popular is the effective merchandising of the character. Anpanman is on virtually every children's product available in Japan, from clothing and backpacks to pencil cases and stuffed toys. Anpanman is everywhere. In 2002, Anpanman even surpassed Hello Kitty as the top-grossing children's character and has held that position since.

The filmography of Anpanman is huge, with over 30 feature-length films released. There's also been an Anpanman Christmas Special every year since 1988, though the streak ended in 2016. There are also 42 different video games that have been adapted from the franchise, although all of them were Japan-only. As if that wasn't enough, there are also five museums across Japan that are dedicated solely to Anpanman. There's even a museum dedicated to Anpanman's creator, Takashi Yanase, called the Takashi Yanase Memorial Hall.

The Anpanman franchise is also incredibly influential, from inspiring anime to being a recurring reference in K-Pop Idol Group BTS's songs. But how can a bean-filled bread man so easily capture the hearts of millions? Anpanman is not exactly a typical superhero, like Batman or Superman -- he lacks any real powers and is literally made of dough, which means he's highly vulnerable. But what he lacks in physical power he makes up for in kindness, spirit and bravery. It's an inspiring twist on a hero and has inspired countless children around Asia. Even a weak hero is a hero, and it is far more engaging to see a superhero struggle than to see them easily win battle after battle.

Anpanman also frequently references his origins -- he's the product of a creative baker who did his best to make delicious anpan, only to have a lightning bolt strike his creation, giving rise to Anpanman. Anpanman's credence to his humble origins and respect for the creator that made him the way he is, flaws and all, paints the miraculous bread man as a surprisingly down-to-earth hero. It's this appreciation of his flaws that works perfectly for a children's program, teaching them that flaws are what make us who we are. Anpanman embodies that more than any other children's hero.

Anpanman is a testament to the strength of wholesome children's content. The franchise has thrived for almost 50 years, helping children be happy and comfortable in their own skin. There's a reason it's been so successful and why its reach is so wide. The passion of Takashi Yanase, combined with the passion from the audience, makes Anpanman a superhero for the ages. Now that Tubi has acquired the streaming license for some of their films, Anpanman will finally make his debut in North America and continue to show just what exactly he has to offer. Even though he's just a red-bean-filled pastry, Anpanman stands the test of time and proves that wholesome superhero content will never be out of style.

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