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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

The Ballad of Grape-Kun

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Darren Blair

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Given all of the negativity in the world right now, I figured I’d pre-empt the regularly scheduled columns and take a few minutes to talk about something else for a while.

Over in Japan, there’s a multi-media franchise known as “Kemono Friends”. The franchise is premised around a number of different animals who have been anthropomorphized as cutesy young women. This allows them to have various misadventures, both with each other and the world around them.

The franchise ended up being a hit. Such a hit, in fact, that arrangements were made with various zoos all over Japan to do tie-in promotions. These zoos would, among other things, place cardboard cutouts of the various characters in enclosures containing the real-world versions of the animals each girl is supposed to represent. Among the zoos partnering with the franchise owner for the effort was the Tobu Zoo in Saitama.

As the Tobu Zoo has penguins, they received a cardboard cutout of the character Hululu, one of several penguin characters from the franchise’s anime adaptation. The cut-out was placed on top of a large rock in a prominent part of the enclosure, the idea being that the attendees would be able to see it more easily. But, it turns out, they weren’t the only ones who were looking at it.

Enter Grape-kun, a 20-year-old male Humbolt penguin who resides in the enclosure. Most of the other penguins didn’t seem to even notice the Hululu’s presence, let alone care. But for Grape-kun? By all appearances, it was love… up to and including a courtship pose known as the “bray call”. Grape-kun was even missing meals to spend time with Hululu, something that caused concern for zoo officials and onlookers alike given how old he is for a penguin. When Grape-kun would be put behind a mesh net for the night to keep him from falling into the water, he’d stare longingly at his beloved.

In time, news of the situation was reported by sites like Anime News Network and Know Your Meme. Once word got out that a humble penguin had itself a waifu, the internet did a collective “D’awwwwwwwwwwww!” and embraced the pairing. Fan artwork and other messages of support began to circulate along with well-wishes and expressions of concern for Grape-kun’s mental and physical health, especially once it was learned that the promotion was only for a limited period and so there was a chance that the Hululu cut-out would be removed once it was over.

In a way, however, Grape-kun has had a happy ending of sorts. Ikuko Chikuta, Hululu’s Japanese-language voice actress, eventually paid a visit to the zoo. She made it a point to see Grape-kun himself, leading to a photo op in which she held him while next to the cut-out of Hululu that started things off in the first place. As I type this, it’s not quite known what the future holds for Grape-kun and the cut-out beyond this, but quite a few people are hoping for the best.

Yes folks, I’m well aware of what’s going on in the world right now, including things the average person probably doesn’t even know is going on. Sometimes, staring into the darkness gets a little exhausting. Hence, time out for a penguin story.

In fact, it’s good to get out of the darkness and enjoy the sun for a while. I’d rather recommend it to everyone. Just unplug for a bit and enjoy the good parts of life.

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