Anpanman: A hero of the people

This picture taken on May 1, 2013 shows Japanese cartoonist Takase Yanashi and his famous character "Anpanman" (L) at his exhibition in Tokyo. Takashi Yanase died of heart failure at the age of 94 at a Tokyo hospital on October 13, his agency announced on October 15.

Anpanman is an anime hero beloved by people of all ages, from children to the elderly. Although the death last year of author Takashi Yanase was certainly sad news for fans, the people involved in producing works on the bean jam-filled hero have inherited what can be called Yanase-ism and will continue to protect and nurture the character from now on.

Anpanman's latest film, "Soreike! Anpanman: Ringo Boya to Minna no Negai" (Go, Anpanman: The wish of the apple boy and friends), is currently showing at movie theatres nationwide. It is based on Yanase's last original picture book.

Ringo Boya is an apple-shaped character who admires superheros. One day, the apples in his Apple Land home are suddenly turned into poisoned apples by the wicked witch Majora. To restore its former glory, Ringo Boya searches for the "magic seed." Anpanman and his comrades join forces to help the boy.

Actress Mao Inoue, 27, plays Ringo Boya (Apple boy) in her debut as a voice actor. She says she feels like she was destined to give her first voice acting performance in the Anpanman film.

"I started watching the TV anime ["Anpanman"] when I was about 3. I like Currypanman and Kabao-kun, but my most favourite character is Anpanman, without a doubt," Inoue said. "He allows others to eat part of his head. In other words, he saves others by sacrificing himself. This image of a vulnerable hero fascinates me."

Regarding her performance as a voice actor, she says, "I felt both great pressure and excitement I'd never felt before." 

Yet Inoue's voice acting is so superb, it's hard to believe this is her debut. "If I get married and have children some day, I want to boast to them that I was in the Anpanman film," Inoue beamed.

Actress Keiko Toda, 56, has been dubbing Anpanman since the anime began. She recalled how Yanase was often in and out of the hospital in the last 10 years of his life, unable to walk properly due to leg problems and also suffering from bad eyesight. "I can't get out of my mind how Yanase-sensei always tried to do his best," Toda recalled.

Toda also felt again the deep meaning behind Yanase's reason why Anpanman doesn't eat anything. 

"He's always standing and looking at others with a smiling face. Anpanman feels pleased when he does everything he can without seeking anything in return," Toda said. "I really love him."

She was most struck in the new film by a scene in which Anpanman gently gives advice to Ringo Boya.

"To be truly just, one needs not only might, but also kindness. [Anpanman] conveys the importance of embracing these two principles by intentionally speaking slowly. I'm sure this message will reach the audience in movie theatres," Toda said.

Certainly. In the eyes of this reporter, the scene is well designed to convey Yanase's wish to have people deeply listen to the important message but doesn't push too hard.

The biggest concern for Anpanman fans is what will happen to the popular anime series now that the author has passed away, but producer Yusuke Kubo, who has been involved in the production of Anpanman anime and films, had a strong message for them.

"I'd like to pursue answers, always thinking 'What would Yanase-sensei do in this situation?' In other words, we'll produce films and other works, carrying on his Yanase-ism. Anpanman will continue flying unchanged, so I want the fans to look forward to new works," he said.