Saturday, 9 March 2013

Existential Angst and Anpanman

During a review class on comparatives and superlatives, I threw a question at my 8th graders that caused the most passionate debate I have ever witnessed inside classroom walls. The debate touched on the meaning of good and evil, the significance of intentions versus outcomes and ultimately questioned the entire moral fabric of Japanese childhood. The question: “Who is stronger, Anpanman or Baikinman?”
Anpan is sweet bread with a red bean-paste filling. Like a cream bun, but with more fibre and less mess on your face. Anpanman is a truly Japanese hero, who is lightyears ahead of Superman in edibility and popularity (Anpanman has been going non-stop since 1973). Anpanman’s head is an anpan. He lets hungry children and animals eat his face. His friend Uncle Jam the baker simply bakes new heads as needed and sends them flying to wherever Anpanman is. Anpanman is supported by a huge cast of baked-goods-buddies; in fact, the show holds the Guinness World Record for the largest number of recurring characters in a single program. My personal favourites are Yakisobapanman and Currypanman. Together they battle the enemy of dough-based-life-forms everywhere, Baikinman (bacteria/mould man). At the end of every episode Baikinman’s dastardly plots are foiled, so I thought my question was pretty straight forward. Not so. The argument included the following points (and many more that I just couldn’t understand):

  • Anpanman always wins, but Baikinman just goes home and comes back another day. Doesn’t it seem like it’s all for show and Baikinman let’s Anpanman win just to boost his self-esteem?
  • Anpanman fights to protect children and Baikinman has nothing to protect, so of course Anpanman is stronger. That’s obvious.
  • Then why doesn’t Anpanman defeat him once and for all? Anpanman needs Baikinman or his existence would be meaningless.
  • Then are we saying Baikinman is the true hero? He lets Anpanman beat him up every day so that Anpanman can be popular. Is it all for Anpanman’s sake? If so, who is the one really protecting the children?
  • Anpanman goes so far as to let children EAT HIS HEAD! How can you say he isn’t the children’s hero?
  • But Baikinman only has one head. He can’t just get a new one like Anpanman. And Anpanman has all those friends. But even with all that he doesn’t finish off Baikinman? Baikinman is stronger after all!
  • Maybe Anpanman just wants to give him a chance to change his ways?
  • So he lets children get into trouble just so a rotten villain has a chance to reform himself? Isn’t that actually worse?

At this point the JTE intervened and asserted that obviously Anpanman is stronger, end of argument. He then wrote it on the board and had the class repeat “Anpanman is stronger than Baikinman.” We moved on. But I could see the seeds of doubt planted in their minds.

What do you think?

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  1. Not sure about the question you pose, but one thing I've always wondered about Baikinman is this: If all it takes to weaken Anpanman is to make his head dirty/wet, you did it once, why can't you do the EXACT same thing again once Anpanman gets a new head?

    1. Further evidence that Baikinman is not really trying to defeat Anpanman?

  2. Bwafahaha. That's excellent. I wish I coulda been there to see it! Maybe I'll try to stir up the debate again in one of my own classes.

  3. This is great. I love how your class got so spirited over this. Funny how the JTE intervened to conclude the argument and hence teach the grammar point.


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