Gudetama is the latest kawaii character from Sanrio, that Japanese culture factory that rolls out cuteness as fast as Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends. A play on “gude gude,” the Japanese term for lazy, Gudetama is an egg who “lacks spunk.” This is an understatement, because Gudetama lacks almost everything: joy, empathy, pants. Unlike Hello Kitty, My Melody, and other chipper, cheerful characters that danced across your fourth-grade pencil case, since 2013 Gudetama has been complete and unapologetic dick prone to dramatic sighs and stealing people’s smartphones to upload videos of himself to Instagram. Unsurprisingly, he’s a hit with Millennials, who relate to his nihilism, laziness, and fondness for social media. (He has 672,000 Twitter followers. I, a tax-paying member of productive society, have 12.)
Gudetama’s apathy is showcased in a series of minute-long Internet cartoons in which the listless egg lounges around on plates of food, huddling under a bacon blanket and complaining about everything from the temperature of the room to the fact that he “can’t even.” His human companion, a nameless man at the dinner table whom we only see from the back, is forever scolding Gudetama for his general worthlessness and telling Gudetama to put on eggshell underwear. But the egg persists in being a self-absorbed little shit. Each short showcases one of Gudetama’s Very Important Problems (will he reach the remote?), but all invariably end with a full-grown man named Nisetama-san, “Mr. Fake Egg,” in full-body orange spandex dancing humorlessly through the closing credits like Buffalo Bill in his lady suit.
So what’s the appeal? Why should anyone feel endeared to this gelatinous turd high in cholesterol but low in moral fiber? It’s easy to blame the Millennials for this, but really, I think Gudetama speaks to the squishy, vulnerable heart of everyone old enough to doubt that Santa isn’t real, the soft-boiled yolk of the soul that fears the melting ice caps and the looming threat of zika (not to mention the high cost of lattes) and longs to return to the warm, isolated shell of youth. With the world as it is, what’s there to be excited about? Who can feel optimism over ever finding love, happiness, or even nice-fitting jeans? “I wanna go home,” Gudetama says. “But you haven't even gone anywhere?” replies his human companion. Leave it to an egg--even younger than a baby--to strike at the core of adulting: you wake up, you go to work, moving but never advancing, nostalgic for “home” and a time in your life when dreams meant something and adventures weren’t rare.
It is unclear if Gudetama’s human companion ever eats him. Is Gudetama a single egg or all eggs in succession? Are we, as people, prone to the same innate hopelessness?
The larger, human metaphor of Gudetama is clear but lies not in the spoiled naked egg scratching his salmonella-dripping bottom but in the guy who must deal with these ovoid shenanigans: all of us are, deep down, lazy, navel-gazing, and worthless. But our job as adults is to overcome the urge to take comfort in bacon or stink up our Instagrams with self-indulgent photos. We must, every morning, consume the egg, destroy it. Address its lazy power over us and defeat. Eat our breakfast, wash the dishes, put on that spandex, and just keep dancing. In short, Gudetama teaches us that we must “even”--even when we can’t.