You do not need to be a character freak to know Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma. They are everywhere, and the companies behind them are eagerly fighting for a market share. Hello Kitty’s Sanrio has already won the hearts of many Japanese and non-Japanese with characters like “Little Twin Stars”, “My Melody” and more modern ones like “Cinnamon Roll”.
But competition does not sleep, and thanks to Rilakkuma, Sanrio’s rival “San-X” had a great breakthrough in the fight for public recognition of cute characters and the merchandise involved and sold around them.
“San-X” was founded in 1932, which is almost 30 years before Sanrio even existed. But it took them a while until they started producing character goods. The company sold stationery and started to use characters in 1987, with “Pinny-Mu” being their first popular one, until “Tarepanda” was created in 1995. This lazy panda was a huge success.
Many of the company’s characters charm is based on cuteness, relaxing and being just different.
Before Rilakkuma was “born” in 2003, there was “Kogepan”, the burnt and disappointed bread, “Mikan Bouya”, the mandarine boy, and many many more, like “Atsugari-san”, a spirit who always feels hot, or “Samugari-san”, the opposite spirit, who always feels cold.
There have been obvious cute characters, like animals and anthropomorphic food, but there are also those who are cute due to their clumsiness, or popular just because they are weird.
An example would be “Beer-chan”, an adult beer-fairy, who loves…beer or “tohoho-ken”, the sad dog!
Sanrio understood quickly, that “relaxed” characters are extremely popular and are easy to sell, so “Gudetama” was introduced, a lazy egg (Japanese “gude gude”).
However similarities to “relaxed” characters like “Tarepanda” or “Kapibara” (different company, though) cannot be ignored! It is surprising that Sanrio, who has been famous for humanoid characters and animals, start to use inanimate objects, such as food, to get back their market share.
Another food object introduced by Sanrio recently is “Kirimi-chan”, a sliced piece of salmon, who has cheered up his/her fans since the end of August 2013.