To get an idea of just what a huge cultural icon Doraemon is in Japan, all you have to do is take a look at the theatrical versions of the anime robot cat’s adventures. The first Doraemon movie was released in 1980, and a new film in the franchise has hit Japanese theatres like clockwork every year since, with the lone exception of 2005. Perhaps in apology for the tiny break in the streak, Doraemon’s producers gave us two films this year. The second just premiered this month, and even though Stand by Me Doraemon is the 35th movie in the series, it still breaks new ground by being the first to be computer-animated.
CG isn’t the only new frontier the beloved character is challenging though, as he’s going one more place he’s never been before: our bellies, in the form of the Doraemon cream bun.
To celebrate the release of Stand by Me, convenience store chain Sunkus has rolled out the Doraemon cream man, a sort of Chinese-style steamed bun with a sweet filling. Since anime and desserts are two things we hold very dear to our hearts, we raided Sunkus on August 19, the same day the treats went on sale.
Not only was Doraemon peeking at us from above the door, his face was plastered on posters and banners throughout the store.
We found what we were looking for in the steamer case by the register. While the steamed glass meant we couldn’t see exactly what the buns looked like, the placard sure made them seem cute. It also informed us of the happy news that until August 25 the price is knocked down to just 160 yen (US $1.58), a 20-yen discount.
▼ From this angle, it almost looks like Doraemon has a body made out of a regular pork bun.
After the cashier handed us our bag, we hurried home and removed the bun’s paper wrapper. Sure enough, we saw the loveable blue cat from the future staring back at us.
If we’re being totally honest, it didn’t look as cute as the sign at Sunkus had led us to believe. For one thing, the line separating the blue of Doraemon’s head and the white of his face is a lot lower on the actual bun. It kind of makes it look like Doraemon is wearing a hard hat, plus it brings his eyes down lower and gives him a more pronounced forehead, making him look a little less wide-eyed and full of wonder.
▼ The fact that the blue section is a separate piece adds to the helmeted impression.
Speaking of his eyes, they aren’t quite as identically shaped as in the promotional photo. Also, since they’re extra pieces of dough stuck onto the bun, if the placement on the one you get is off, Doraemon ends up looking a little cross-eyed.
But even though Sunkus’ edible version of the CG character model from Stand by Me isn’t 100 percent like the original, it’s still sort of cute, especially compared to a normal steamed bun. The shade of blue used is great, too, and instantly recognizable as Doraemon’s.
▼ The underside, meanwhile, looks like a pile of tie-dyed laundry.
If you’re planning to share your Doraemon bun, you might run into a bit of a problem. At first, we thought about using a knife to slice it, but honestly, unless you’ve got ice water running through your veins, could you be cold-hearted enough to make the cut?
▼ This is as far as we got.
Maybe this required a softer touch, so we decided to use our hands. And at first, pulling on Doraemon’s cheeks made his face all the chubbier and cuter.
▼ Heck, he looks better than when we took him out of the bag!
Once we opened a crack in poor Doraemon’s face, though, we just couldn’t finish the job with him looking at us. Really, the best solution is to turn the bun over, then tear it in two, guilt-free.
One word of warning, though. After you’ve done this, do not turn the pieces back over, unless you’re looking for a model to use when sketching your Doraemon/Cthulhu crossover fanart.
Deciding the best way to face our fear was to eat it, we took a bite, and the feeling of terror was replaced with…not a whole lot, really.
Steamed cream buns themselves aren’t anything particularly new in Japan, and in general they’re pretty tasty. The filling of the Doraemon bun, though, is decidedly lacking in sweetness. Custard is made with egg, and we could taste a bit of that and not much else. We know Doraemon is trying to project a healthier image in English-speaking markets , but since the cream bun made in his likeness is only available in Japan, this could have really done with some more vanilla, or sugar at least.
Not only is the custard on the bland side, there’s not a whole lot of it, either. Particularly in the double wrapped blue section, you’re left with a pretty small sliver of cream. The extra layer of dough doesn’t help, as it makes the whole thing a bit on the mushy side, especially if you’re already used to the balance of ordinary, single-thick steam buns.
In the end, the Doraemon cream bun ends up in the weird position of being a dessert that’s actually more enjoyable to look at than it is to eat, although thankfully the gap isn’t as wide as it’d be if you tried to make a meal out of one of those giant stuffed animal Doraemons . Still, if you’re a fan, the experience alone is kind of fun, and given the cheap price and quick service at Sunkus, you don’t really have a whole lot to lose.
If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that the continued success of the Doraemon movie franchise means he’ll probably be back in theatres again next year, giving Sunkus another shot at making a Doraemon that tastes at least as good as it looks.
▼ Consider this the final warning, though.