Sanrio published a new manga of its reboot of Hello Kitty called “Ichigoman,” or “Strawberry Man,” so I want to review some of that along with their new webcomic, “Funny Kuromi-chan.” Here is the link:
They actually have more than just “Ichigoman” and “Funny Kuromi-chan” at this site. There are two other comics focusing on the characters Keroppi the frog (“Completely Gutsy Keroppi” – ど根性けろけろけろっぴ) and Pompopurin the dog (プリンあらどーも). The webcomics feature some bishonen “beautiful boy” characters, so fans of that style may want to check them out. The length of the chapters vary, depending on the central character, so some are rather short.
“Ichigoman” (イチゴマン) has 15 chapters with an introductory chapter zero. I’m only going to go over about five chapters a post here. “Ichigoman” opens with shots of crowded city streets where two cute girls are taking a selfie. Suddenly they notice something behind them in the sky in their photo. There’s no dialogue at this point in the manga, so we see through the pictures that they first think that there’s an angel in the sky. But their welcoming turns to fear as a very sinister shape overshadows the city.
When the creature turns out to be a huge, phoenix-like mecha (robot), the scene turns chaotic as the inhabitants go running about in a panic. A couple of hot guys join the cute girls just as Hello Kitty appears as an Ichigoman mecha to fight the phoenix. Of course, the city is in ruins since Hello Kitty bursts out from underground and the phoenix is already knocking buildings down. Their eyes meet, and the tiny Hello Kitty mecha gets in a fiery battle with the phoenix as the four humans in particular watch. Hello Kitty’s bow doubles as some sort of weapon or light beam, and there’s a great shot near the end of the chapter of Hello Kitty standing in a small bow-shaped halo over the silhouette of the monstrous phoenix. As she blows the phoenix to smithereens, the humans watching are elated to see Hello Kitty save the day.
Moving on to chapter 1, which is 21 pages, it starts off with a very cutesy shower scene at a swank apartment with Hello Kitty and her pet looking over the city on a calm morning. I’m guessing the pet is a squirrel, and its name is Jam. Then we get the opening color splash page showing Ichigoman in costume kicking butt before launching into the story. In the next sequence, we see Hello Kitty dressed in her hero costume riding her bike with Jam, musing about how she’s a hero looking for evildoers. But everything is peaceful…Until finally someone has their briefcase snatched by cute-looking hooded ghost. Ichigoman goes into action!
After a preforming a sequence of superhero poses, she chases the thief and runs into a voluptuous blonde wearing butterfly sunglasses named Lady Swallowtail (as in the butterfly), who looks like all of the superhero herself! She asks Ichigoman to explain her hero status and introduce herself, which she does. She suggests Ichigoman may be a criminal for not having a hero’s license, which sort of confuses Ichigoman a little. She insists Ichigoman must get a license, which costs money. Ichigoman feels stressed by this since she thought being a hero was an act of service to humanity and philanthropy. She wonders if there is a professional warrior company, and Lady Swallowtail ponders aloud whether she is a pro or amateur. Ichigoman decides she needs to get some money to get a hero’s license and be considered a professional hero instead of remaining an amateur as Lady Swallowtail suggests she is. It ends with Ichigoman leaving Lady Swallowtail on her bicycle with Jam.
Chapter 2 has 23 pages, and it continues with Ichigoman returning to talk with Lady Swallowtail about getting a hero’s license. This time Ichigoman brings her bank book and bank seal to buy a license off of her, which is just a handwritten note that Lady Swallowtail scribbles up on the spot. Ichigoman is a bit flabbergasted by the informality of it and questions it. Then Lady Swallowtail asks about Ichigoman’s lack of a mask; telling her it has something to do with increasing a woman’s self-confidence, Lady Swallowtail then puts magic makeup on Ichigoman. The page where she puts it on is a full two-page spread with cosmically drawn flowers and Ichigoman floating in space. When she’s finished, Ichigoman looks positively garish, but Lady Swallowtail enthusiastically declares her kawaii!
Then Ichigoman takes her new found confidence and tries to go after the hooded thief, but she can’t catch him. Lady Swallowtail still has Ichigoman’s bank book that she takes to go get an expensive meal, and Ichigoman is forlorn at the end of the chapter since she has been swindled and lost her apparently apartment. She sits on the sidewalk with Jam and bursts into tears over her predicament. The last scenes show elegant boys noticing Ichigoman’s plight via a drone camera, and they wonder amongst themselves about her desire to save the world.
Chapter 3 introduces the story’s characters formally, including four handsome guys, with a full-color page. Here Lady Swallowtail is described in more detail as the world’s female phantom thief. The one thing I don’t like about the otherwise really awesome manga page setup is that you can’t zoom in and look at the text in detail, so I’m losing a few of the kanji or furigana that are too small to read. It’s not very user-friendly for Japanese-language students.
Next the story turns to some place named Freeze where these four bishonen boys are members, and it’s revealed that the thief she followed earlier is an alien from outer space, one of a whole group of similar-looking aliens whose earth invasion Freeze is set to fight. Freeze is then described as a global defense organization against aliens. The boys’ names are Shinobu Sawada, Kirari Suetomi, Mako Yanagiya, and Takeru Hira. They are identified as elegantly dressed warriors, and they each have a different colored hair, not that it matters on the monochrome pages.
The boys are interested in Ichigoman, observing her from Freeze’s secret base since she has some of the special energy that Freeze has harnessed in its fight against the aliens. They discuss whether Ichigoman is male or female, which is a little controversial because she looks a little girly and uses the word “man” as part of her name.
Finally they go to the sweets café where it happens that Ichigoman works as a waitress. She wears a kimono at this establishment, which looks typically Japanese, and is dispatched to bring them all tea. The story gets sidetracked on their food, and we even get some color pages thrown in, which includes a nice full-page of all four boys eating. I’m not sure they ever actually notice that it is Ichigoman waiting on them. When they finish eating, they leave the restaurant, and Ichigoman watches them walk down the street with some interest.
Chapter 4, the last chapter I’m covering in this post, has 22 pages and much less dialogue than earlier chapters. We see Ichigoman at her day job again, this time delivering takeout sweets on her bike and getting into a bunch of scrapes with trucks around town. It ends with her bicycle getting hit, her flying through the air with the food spilling out everywhere, and her kimono ripping off to show her Ichigoman costume underneath!
Here’s a screenshot from “Ichigoman”:
Although I wasn’t able to capture it with my screenshot, the cursor turns into a bright, hot pink strawberry when it hovers over the screen on any chapter of these webcomics. I just wish it did something other than move the pages. They really need a magnifying glass feature. However, Sanrio really didn’t leave any detail to chance, and the webcomics are worth a look even if you can’t read Japanese.
Next we move on to “Funny Kuromi-chan” (おかしなクロミちゃん), which has 15 chapters, too, and it looks like this webcomic is still getting new chapters posted. (I’m not sure which others are still being published and which are complete.) I’m only going to cover the first chapter in this post since the other chapters are much shorter. While Hello Kitty is very well-known, Kuromi is a more obscure Sanrio character that requires some introduction. Here is her profile:
So Kuromi is a white rabbit in a jester’s hat with a punk/goth vibe, and she’s into food. She’s even the leader of a biker gang.
It should be a fun webcomic then.
The opening chapter, which has 21 pages, starts with a character introduction page showing five other characters besides Kuromi, all rather elegant-looking humans. Unlike “Ichigoman” where the boys all had Japanese names with kanji, this one has all of the supporting characters with names written in katakana, indicating foreign names. Their names are all cake names. For example, the first male character who wears a brown top hat and suit is named Chocolate Opera!
One boy is named Strawberry Shortcake, one woman is Cheesesake Rare, another is Mont Blanc Chestnut, and the last one has the Japanese name Niki Yatsuhashi. But Yatsuhashi is a type of Japanese pastry usually folded around red bean paste filling:
We start off with two kids playing tennis, a boy and a girl who are not listed on this first character page. Kuromi is serving elegant, single-serving cakes at a place named “Sweety’s” that is in a European-style house that looks a little like something out of a fairy tale. The pastries on her tray all seem to be of the very sorts that the characters’ names reference. At this point, it seems there can be an alternative translation of the manga title since おかし can also refer to confections!
The girl watching her classmate play tennis runs into this cake shop crying, and Kuromi confronts her when the girl mistakes her for a plush toy. When she has settled down at one of the tables, Kuromi brings her tea. The girl explains how she was upset watching her senpai (older classmate) Ikazu play tennis. I think the reading of her name is Imuzu, but the furigana is a bit small on both of them, and I can’t zoom. Then Kuromi suggests that she select one of the five cakes from her tray, and the girl picks the strawberry shortcake.
When Kuromi serves the slice of shortcake to her and she takes a bite, it turns into the human character by that name, in this case the little blond boy. He introduces himself and suggests he can help her since she was so upset. The girl is astonished. Kuromi explains how he is a cake fairy. We see Imuzu picturing him going with her when she’s running and working out, acting like he was her coach or cheerleader. Then he goes with her to cheer Ikazu on at the tennis court. Somehow there is a misunderstanding with Ikazu, and Imuzu runs from him, but he catches up with her. He asks her to be his girlfriend, and they call each other by name with hearts in their speech bubbles and walk off together hand in hand!
The action returns to the sweets shop with the other cake fairies sitting around talking. It ends with a color shot of the shop. I actually didn’t know that much about Kuromi before reading this, and she’s quite adorable. Don’t let the goth profile throw you off, she’s whole-heartedly Sanrio sticky-sweet. She wears a little maid costume as she serves cakes at work, and even with the pink skull on her jester hat underneath her maid cap, it still looks quite cute.
I think that’s plenty for an introduction to Kuromi. Here’s a screenshot including all of the cakes in their prosaic forms:
You can see why I found these webcomics too irresistible to pass up. Shintaro Tsuji, the Sanrio founder, is a genius at promoting the kawaii “cute” culture, and I think the value of its psychology is hugely underrated. It’s also interesting because Japan was once the most warlike of the East Asian nations, with their military leadership and samurai then later a military dictatorship in the early 20th century. More strongly Confucian East Asian countries didn’t value the military to the same degree as the lightly Confucian Japanese. Then after WWII when they were stripped of their right to a conventional military, their culture turned so warm and fuzzy across the board as Hello Kitty and other cute characters’ popularity soared. In a way, that weirdly echoes the desired post-war perception that they were now harmless to the world. But I personally think kawaii culture is a fun and useful export that I’m happy to promote.
More goofiness as we continue with these webcomics next time!
Part one of a three part series