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Kimo-kawaii Catharsis: millennials, depression and the empty healing of Sanrio's Gudetama
Gudetama is a Sanrio product that has been called ‘Hello Kitty for Japan's millennials’, but whose social significance has escaped scrutiny in Japan and abroad. This article looks at how underneath its official ‘healing’ function, Gudetama's short video texts reflect Japanese discourses towards millennial dissatisfaction with work, as well as depression. I argue that Gudetama's ‘kimokawai’ (gross cute) images function like Bakhtin's concept of carnival, allowing a cathartic look at social problems and the discomfort they cause, while its dialogues function as a discourse schema for modeling microagressions against millennials and the mentally ill. In this way, Gudetama functions as capitalistic subjectification in keeping with its corporate origins. This analysis can contribute much to the understanding of such popular cultural products and their function in Japanese society, while reducing the allure of ‘weird Japan’ explanations for cultural phenomenon.