Gloomy Bear - Claws Out For The Lads
Take that, small child
Kiddyland, in Harajuku, Tokyo, is my favourite shop. It's like Toys
R Us with attitude, and on weekdays - when the kids are at school
- the shop swarms with students and 20-somethings hunting for the
latest cool, cute characters. Everybody in Japan under the age of
30 has some bulky character hanging from their mobile phone, or attached
to their bag, or dangling from their pocket. Many characters have
come and gone, from Pikachu to Afroken, while others remain constantly
popular, like Hello Kitty or Pooh Bear. Just before Christmas 2002
I was in Kiddyland, buying Beyblades for my nephews in the UK. On
the way out, slightly dazed and deafened by the all-singing-and-bobbing-and-bleeping
Christmas display, I caught sight of a small pink teddy bear. With
long claws. I wanted to stop, pick him up, find out who the hell he
was, but my girlfriend hustled me out of the shop. It wasn't until
after Christmas, when I went to a character fair in Ometesando, that
I became better acquainted with the clawed one.
Among the cute little teddies and miniature Aibos, stood the Gloomy
Bear stall. Pink Gloomies, blue Gloomies, black and red and yellow
Gloomies. Keyrings and notepads and T-shirts. And on the bottom shelf,
I found the Gloomy Bear that I wanted to take home: pink, with blood
oozing from his mouth and covering his claws.
Gloomy Bear is the creation of a young Japanese illustrator called
Mori Chack, who hails from and still lives in Osaka. A few years ago,
Mori Chack was selling postcards on the street, before his work was
discovered by the huge music and video distribution company, Pony
Canyon, who must have seen a chance to get into the massively lucrative
character business - create and syndicate a hit character in Japan,
and the yen will come pouring in. Of course, there are hundreds -
thousands - of characters (Sanrio, Hello Kitty's creators, have dozens,
none of them anywhere near as big as the mouthless cat) but only a
few of them make it big. Like pop stars, or actors. It seems to me
that Gloomy Bear stands out from the crowd because he's not just cute.
He's scary, and kind of disturbing too.
In one of Chack's drawings, reproduced on postcards and on the Gloomy
Bear calendar, a small boy is dreaming about all the lovely things
he'd like to do with his teddy bear: cuddle him, give him a bath,
carry him around in a cardboard box. Beneath this sweet dream bubble,
Gloomy is kneeing the boy in the face, blood splattering to the ground.
It's horrible. It's heartbreaking. But it's funny and cool, too. In
an interview with Japanese Streets,
Mori Chack said, "It is only natural that a bear attacks humans. I
wanted to express that in a cute manner." Gloomy is a real bear, and
real bears have real teeth and real claws. It's such a simple idea
that it's amazing no-one's done it before.
Pony Canyon recently released a Gloomy DVD, and in Kiddyland you can
find Gloomy pencils, postcard sets, writing paper and, of course,
toys. If the excited gasps of the 14-year-old girls I saw there last
week are anything to go by, Gloomy Bear is here to stay, and it will
be interesting to see if he crosses to America and Europe. Will there
be a Gloomy video game? A TV series? A movie? And, more importantly,
where can you buy this stuff and find out more?
There's very little info about Gloomy in English on the net. These
are the official websites, but everything's in Japanese:
There's an excellent interview with Mori Chack on Japanese
Streets. Look under 'Street Artists'.
In the UK, you can buy Gloomy stuff from Funkyzilla
Australians can buy Gloomy stuff from Figuro.com.
has Gloomy merchandise online, but it's a lot more expensive than
the Tokyo 'street price'.
If anyone reading this knows of any other websites or pages about
Gloomy in English, or any other online shops that sell Gloomy stuff,
please let me know. Right now, i'm going to say goodnight Gloomy -
and hope he doesn't tear my head off and paint the walls with my blood.
Update Jan 04: I got sent a new Gloomy for Christmas - a wind-up plastic
Gloomy who swings a small boy round and round. Fantastic! I also got
sent a very cool Gloomy mobile phone strap. And MarkCity reader Caroline
sent me this picture, which you can get as desktop wallpaper from
Figuro.com, under August 2003.
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