f you’ve watched even a small amount of anime, Japanese pudding is incredibly hard to miss, specifically in the form of a caramel custard flan generally known locally as purin. If I had to say why purin is so popular in anime, my guess would be that there are two reasons. First, its ubiquity in Japan means the food is familiar and comes in many forms, which allows it to traverse class and social status, allowing it to fit into a variety of narratives. Second, its jiggly consistency and unique appearance are ideal for both elaborately detailed animation as well as simpler and more limited animation.
Purin Across Strata
According to the website for Kakeien, a Japanese purin maker, the dessert came to Japan in the late Edo to early Meiji period. Since then, it’s become a staple of Japanese sweets, and depending on how it’s made, it can be a humble treat to decadent, high-class dessert, or somewhere in between. This also means that purin can show up in multiple situations and be a source of conflict, whether it be in the context of drama or (especially) humor.
Pre-packaged versions can be found in the thousands of convenience stores all across Japan, making it a quick and easy snack. This is the purin seen above in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which becomes a prime target for time travel shenanigans so that its heroine, Makoto, can savor it over and over.
Purin can also be made at home for cheap, and this can lead to either mishaps or mildly absurd developments. Minori in Toradora! takes this to an extreme by making a gigantic and self-explanatory “bucket purin,” scaling the small and simple snack into an example of hilarious excess.
High-quality versions of purin can also exist, with expensive patisseries making them in limited quantities. In anime, this “premium” quality can create tension between characters, either by highlighting a class difference or by positioning the purin is an exceedingly rare treat. In Magia Record, Rena buys expensive purin as a reconciliation gift, but all the girls get stomach aches because Rena took too long to make up with her friend before giving it to her. Different “levels” of purin can signify a lot about characters and their places in their worlds.
Purin as the Animation Ideal
In addition to the cultural aspect, the very physical qualities of purin lend themselves to animators and visual artists. It usually has a very distinct contrast in color between the custard and the caramel topping. It wriggles to and fro under the slightest bit of force, and when you scoop a little up, the spoon slices through its pale yellow body, leaving its mark. There’s a three-dimensionality to purin that makes its distinct features all the more appealing.
The recent series Princess Connect: Re-Dive demonstrates the strength of purin as an object in animation. It has an entire episode dedicated to purin, entitled “Flowers in Eternal Darkness ~Cursed Pudding~.” Numerous renditions of purin show up this episode to comedic effect, and are mostly portrayed in very simple 2D animation where the two-tone contrast is a clear identifier of the snack. However, at the end of the episode, one of the characters makes a large deluxe pudding, its gelatinous makeup conveyed through the use of 3DCG. Whether you’re dedicated to the craft of animation or merely need it as a visual device, purin has a role to play.
This is mostly my conjecture, but to me, purin is everywhere in anime because it is everywhere in Japan—both literally and metaphorically. It can be found in stores of all kinds, and it can play the role of the humble snack or the rare treasure. Its physical appearance means that it can be rendered simply and easily, while its wiggly nature means the potential to creatively portray its qualities through motion is tremendous. In other words, writers and artists of all kinds can utilize purin to their own advantage, and they’ll know the viewers will instantly recognize the delicious treat.