The Story Behind Iconic Cute Cartoon Animals

I love all things cute. I have more stuffed animals in my bedroom back home than any eighteen-year-old probably should. The only pad of sticky notes I own is styled to look like a cartoon llama. And I really, really love cute animals, both the real-life kind and the cartoon kind. Most of the really cute things I like are from Asia, since I live there, so all the cute animal mascots described in this article come from Asia, with the exception of Pusheen. Here’s the story of how those animals came to be!

Pusheen

Pusheen started as a gray tabby cat created by Claire Belton and Andrew Duff for a comic strip on their website, Everyday Cute. You may know Pusheen from the Facebook sticker set, which is ridiculously cute and features her doing everything from reading to sleeping to staring at you judgmentally as a speech bubble containing an ellipsis hovers above her head. Her name comes from the word puisín, meaning kitten in Irish. Although she began as a cat, Pusheen’s simple design gives her versatility, so she comes in lots of different forms, such as Batsheen (Pusheen as a bat), Pusheenosaurus (Pusheen as a dinosaur), and even these adorably illustrated Pusheen Pokemon!

More background on Pusheen: she has a little sister named Stormy, who looks similar save for that she’s smaller and a lighter shade of grey, and her fur has a different texture. Somewhat confusingly, the Pusheen wikia states that Pusheen is a boy despite using “she” pronouns, whereas Wikipedia and the official Pusheen website state she’s a female. Personally, I enjoy interpreting this as genderfluid, nonbinary Pusheen is the representation we all need.

Molang

I don’t think Molang—the white rabbit on the left—is as well-known in the West, but they’re definitely worth knowing if you like cute cartoon animals! They were created in 2010 by Hye-ji Yoon and taken over in 2013 by the French animation studio Millimages, resulting in Molang getting their own television series. Their sidekick is the small yellow chick Piu Piu, pictured on the right. Hye-ji Yoon also refers to Molang as a “pig rabbit,” which seems fitting given how chubby and round they are.

Although many sources say Molang is female, Yoon originally preferred not to assign Molang a gender. However, she now refers to Molang as a boy. She also invented Molang to represent Korean sticky rice—a resemblance I can definitely see—and the name derives from the Korean word “mallang,” meaning squishy/soft/puffy.

 

Also, Molang and Piu Piu are best friend goals.

Totoro

Studio Ghibli, the Japanese film studio, is probably most famous for Spirited Away, but My Neighbor Totoro is quite well-known too and is a wonderful family movie. It follows two sisters (pictured above) who move into a new house in the countryside and have different adventures, many of them featuring the enormous Totoro. Although Totoro is a species, the small white and medium-sized blue creatures are totoros too.

An interesting conspiracy theory—and one denied by Studio Ghibli, and probably not true—surrounding the origin of Totoro is that he’s actually the God of Death. The two sisters are only able to see him because they are close to death or already dead. The Catbus in the movie acts as an escort to the afterlife, and the mother can see the children because she’s ill (canonically) and already close to death. You can read up more on this theory, and a cool urban legend called the Sayama Incident, here. Or don’t, because if you’re like me, you don’t enjoy your cutesy family movies getting ruined.

As a bonus, here’s a photo of a Totoro my friend Eileen made out of string lights for her dorm wall, with her Totoro plushie below it.

Aggretsuko

Aggretsuko, who you may know for her series of Netflix shorts, is a red panda invented by Sanrio, a Tokyo-based corporation who also created Hello Kitty. Described as an “irritable, over it red panda who complains about her crowded subway commute and overbearing boss,” she’s highly relatable. Her name is even short for “Aggressive Retsuko.” A polite introvert in her 20s who’s a bit of a pushover amongst her annoying co-workers and superiors at work, she copes with her frustrations by going to a karaoke bar at night and singing death metal.

We probably can’t relate to the bubbly, bow-wearing Hello Kitty nearly as much as Aggretsuko, who is equally cute and a lot saltier.

 

Gudetama

Eggs aren’t animals—although to be fair, they could grow up to be—but I’m including Gudetama anyway because he’s hilarious. Described as the “anthropomorphic embodiment of severe depression” who “feels existence is almost unbearable,” Gudetama is an egg yolk mascot also created by Sanrio. Like Aggretsuko, he’s very relatable in some ways. He’s literally retreating into his shell, which is something we all want to do sometimes, and are unhappily deprived of the opportunity to just bury our face in a pillow—or in Gudetama’s case, a strip of bacon—and take a nice, long rest while we contemplate how tired we are.

Aggretsuko and Gudetama are interesting because although they represent negative emotions, they’re still adorable in their awkward ways, and none of that is necessarily a bad thing. While we shouldn’t be singing death metal or feeling gloomy all the time, it’s normal to want that some of the time, especially given the busy rush of modern life. To have an outlet for those emotions through cute mascots is a good thing, and it’s cool that we get new ways to express those emotions without being looked down on.

I hope you all had a Happy Halloween! As a closing note, please enjoy these Halloween-themed images of the cute mascots mentioned above.

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