All sorts of things surprised me about Seoul. And some delighted me. Among the latter was the inescapable everywhereness of cartoonified... mascots? Characters? Anime friends?
I don’t really know the correct nomenclature, but they’re everywhere. Like, literally everywhere you turn you are likely to run into the gigantic plastic or furry manifeststation of Korea’s childlike fascination with delightful little cartoon friends.
Pondering the sorrows of human conflict at the National War Museum?
Let your little friends help you process that.
Drank too much soju and got a little rowdy?
Officer Friendly and PC Plod have a bed for you in the lock up until you feel better.
I found these things everywhere. The foyers of banks, the forecourts of giant industrial combines. And of course in the many, many, many brick and mortar shopfronts of the various corporations (such as Japan’s Line messaging app) that brand themselves with little friends.
At first it was just weird. You’ve got this hugely successful, super advanced post industrial civilisation, and it looks like it’s obsessed with infantilised cartoon culture.
But within days, so was I. There is something hugely appealing about universal whimsy. I found the more time I spent in the company of my little cartoon friends...
...Some not so little...
... the calmer and happier I was. The 24hr insta-rage energy of Twitter and Facebook pretty much lost all attraction for me. I ignored Facebook the whole time I was there, and logged into Twitter rarely, mostly to post pics of my dinner when I ordered too much. There just seemed to be no sense to any of it when I could be spending time digging on the magical superquirk of Korea’s cartoon mojo.
It wasn’t a youth culture thing. I saw very serious looking, and very successful businessmen lined up to buy teddy bear stickers, stuffed toys, weird, almost inexplicable plastic fancies (cartoon sperm, plastic egg yolk superhero totes).
I never really came to understand any of it. I still don’t.
But I did love it.