The Infinite Potential of Japanese Pudding in Anime

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.

In Short

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.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Everything That is: Summer Wars

In a time where an interactive online community known as “OZ” has become so popular that even the governments of the world participate in it and treat it as a second reality of sorts, a young high schooler named Kenji is roped into attending his classmate Natsuki’s family reunion. When a mishap sends OZ into disarray, its consequences ripple outward into reality, affecting people of all ages and showing that, while everyone has different priorities in life, they can all come together for the common good.

I gave the above description to convey just a little of what Hosoda Mamoru’s Summer Wars is about, but it is hopelessly insufficient on its own, as Summer Wars defies categorization. But to get some idea of what kind of movie it is, perhaps we should first look at the title of the movie itself.  Summer Wars is designed in nearly every way to be a “summer movie,” and I mean that in the absolutely best way possible. When people talk about “summer blockbusters” that “the whole family can enjoy,” Summer Wars is it.

It’s all-encompassing, it’s down-to-Earth, it’s subtle and personal and yet also powerful and grand, simultaneously appealing to audiences young and old and of different values. There’s romance, there’s epic battles, and yet through all this the whole film never feels manufactured. Within the context of the movie, even simple actions take on incredible meaning as you relate to Kenji and Natsuki’s family. The characters are treated with the utmost care, and its story is solid and natural, even if it stems from a digital world.

Often times when a movie or a cartoon portrays any sort of “advanced technology,” it is very clear that the people responsible for these portrayals have no real or direct experience with that technology, but such is not the case with Summer Wars. Whether it’s an old countryside in Japan or the elaborate world of OZ, the animation is gorgeous and sensible and goes a long way in helping to make the movie as strong as it is. Clever art direction in both realms makes both OZ and the real world seem like separate entities, and yet I was never jarred out of the movie when it transitioned between the two. Its integration of various incongruous elements into a cohesive whole is so organic that everything just feels right, just like the entirety of Summer Wars.

In all truth, I almost don’t want to review Summer Wars, as there is so much to the movie that if I were to talk any longer I would give away too much or would risk spoiling the experience of watching it yourself. In fact, if you’ve read this far, there’s a chance I may have ruined the experience for you forever. And I know that Summer Wars isn’t just the kind of movie you can go and see easily, as I saw it as part of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, but if you can get to a theatrical showing or something at a con, I highly recommend you do so.

Speaking of the NYICFF, I had the fortune of being at a showing where Hosoda Mamoru himself was in attendance. After the movie was over, Hosoda went up to the stage for Q&A. I managed to ask him a question about the strong theme of closing generation gaps and his message to people of all ages, to which he responded that it was basically “to get along with one another.” But the real stars of this session weren’t me or Hosoda, but the kids. The children’s questions blew the adults’ questions out of the water, mine included. Many were surprisingly insightful and intelligent, and to me it showed me just how well-made Summer Wars is at communicating to both adults and children.

When I went to watch The Girl Who Leapt Through Time at NYICFF three years ago, I could hear the kids in the theater asking their parents, “What’s going on?” as the themes and topics were perhaps a little too mature for them. But such things did not happen with Summer Wars. Here, you have a movie which allows both adults and children to enjoy it without patronizing or insulting the intelligence of either. To me, that is the clearest sign that no matter your age or origin, Summer Wars is a movie which can keep you riveted through even the simplest of moments.

Exciting New York Comic Con Panels

…which ones are they?

Seriously, I’m not sure where I’m going. The plan at this point is to wander from panel to panel like a No(r)mad.

Though I do recommend seeing the showing of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I’ve seen it once already so I’m probably not gonna do a repeat, but it’s a movie everyone should really watch.