The Japanese toy overlords at Sanrio are known for their adorable cartoon critters: demure bunny My Melody, gleeful frog Keroppi, angelic Little Twin Stars and, of course, the juggernaut that is Hello Kitty. But there’s one that’s a bit different. Gudetama is an egg—an egg whose demeanor ranges from lethargy to despair, his little yolk face distinguished by a frown and furrowed brow. Introduced as part of a “characters that look like food” series in 2014, the wee yellow fellow is getting a new burst of appreciation stateside. You’d think he wouldn’t sell as many pillows, plushies and pencils cases as his fluffy, perky comrades, but after a recent star turn at San Diego Comic-Con International as part of the hello sanrio app launch, the dour little creature is increasingly popular. After all, who hasn’t wanted to roll over, pull up their bacon blanket and mutter, “Not today?”
Gudetama graces thermoses and lunch boxes, suitcases and cosmetics cases, bathrobes and flip-flops. There are T-shirts emblazoned with Gudetama, just slid out of his shell, greeting the world with a “Meh,” or clinging between a pair of chopsticks with an anguished “I can’t.” (Have you ever tried to pick up an egg with chopsticks? Probably you can’t either.)
There’s also a series of minute-long, curiously hypnotic cartoons. Often he just lies on his pillowy-white parts, muttering, “lazy…” or sticks his head back inside his shell, cooing “darkness…” He gets scrambled, sliced, fried, flipped and faces it all with melancholy resignation. Some moments feel like Sanrio Samuel Beckett: Sushi Gudetama, bound to a lump of rice by a strip of seaweed, wriggling futilely and murmuring, “I want to be free” or a newly cracked Gudetama whispering, “I want go home,” as the narrator reminds him, “You haven’t gone anywhere.” Every episode ends with an odd little man in a skintight yellow onesie doing a strange, repetitive dance that’s part ballet, part “Hokey Pokey” as the ear-worming Gudetama theme song plays.
Of course, food is meant to be consumed, no matter how endearing it is, and several pop-up Gudetama cafes have sprung up in Japan since last year. Naturally the walls are covered with cartoons. The menu contains items such as Gudetama over easy on a bed of pancakes, hard-boiled Gudetama inside a rice ball, Gudetama Benedict and, of course, cappuccinos with elaborate Gudetama cartoons sketched onto the foam.
Is Gudetama lazy because he lives in a world of perpetual morning? Is Gudetama apathetic because he knows that, whether he is scrambled or boiled, a rice bowl or an omelet, the decision is not up to him? Does Gudetama’s despair arise from his knowledge that his destiny is to emerge from his shell only to be eaten? Maybe your breakfast knows.
Lissa Townsend Rodgers moved from New York City to Las Vegas over a decade ago in search of a place where both bourbon and bacon-egg sandwiches are available 24-7. By day, she is a senior writer for Vegas Seven magazine. By night she can be found fighting injustice and leaping tall neon signs in a single bound or sitting on her couch watching Kojak reruns.