Pondering About the Blue Penguin Kigurumi Phenomenon
If you have been reading some of the blog here for quite a while, you may have eventually realized the number of times we mentioned just how weird it is for standard penguin kigurumi in anime to consistently display its light/sky blue color scheme.
For starters, we don't even have that kind of penguin kigurumi in our store. We never had one, ever. Our owl kigurumi may have a similar-ish color pattern, but well... it's an owl kigurumi. Cat kigurumi may have wackier colors, but they're never dead set on just one scheme, with the color very much intended to be a non-realistic, fantasy version anyway.
Besides, it has always been mostly black. Even in Japan itself, real-life depictions of penguin kigurumi products are still mostly using something near the actual color of a regular penguin, which is black-ish/dark brown-ish. It is only in Japanese animation and other related multimedia that this phenomenon seems to happen.
Why exactly is that? Well, we need to go to the root, observe the patterns, and point out other related things to this weird phenomenon.
Humble, But Not-Really-That-Obscure Origins
Before we begin, a bit of disclaimer.
Let me clarify first that blue penguins do exist in real life. In fact, its exactly one of the official names for Eudyptula minor (also "little penguin", "fairy penguin", among others). Obviously, this is because they have the distinction of being the one and only species of penguin to ever inspire the same color scheme as those we see so prevalently in anime.
Okay, back to regular programming. One of the earliest depictions of blue penguins that I personally remember is the official box art for the FamiCom (NES) game Antarctic Adventure. The goofy drawing of the penguin looks more like a mascot than anything else, with a gorgeous tie to boot!
As for the actual game, it is, uhh... well it features a black penguin. Later box arts for western audiences did correct this, but the blue penguin of the Japanese box art still looks fairly odd in comparison today.
Now, this may not have been the inspiration for the "blue penguin kigurumi phenonemon", but we do see a trend of other similar penguin characters donning the same colors over the next two or so decades of Akiba-style multimedia development.
Here's a few other not-cherry-picked-at-all examples of blue penguins in early Akiba-style media that might tickle your fancy nostalgia:
・Tuxedosam (1979-present), the adorable plump gentleman penguin mascot from Sanrio. Not related in any way to Badtz-maru, which is actually colored black.
・Don Quijote (1980-present), as already seen from our preview image earlier. the absolutely lovable mascot of the similarly named discount store mega chain in Japan.
・Penguin Wars (1985-present?), both the original arcade and the subsequent console versions (both box art and in-game sprite). Oh, and including the modern remakes as well.
・Yume Penguin Monogatari (1991) , though to be fair the blue color scheme is deliberately chosen here to represent the "boy" penguin character.
・King Dedede (1992-present), sworn rival to Kirby. Never officially classified as a penguin actually, but the stature and body parts highly suggest the creature designation.
・Piplup (2006-present), the mascot penguin-like Pokémon. Also technically includes its evolutions Prinplup and Empoleon, but Piplup is basically the bluest of them all.
・The Penguin Trio (2011), three mysterious penguin mascot(?) entities from the original anime Mawaru Penguindrum.
The March of the Blue Penguin Kigurumi
Fast forward then to the 21st century, and in the age of modern anime, we start seeing the same pattern being repeated on featured kigurumi. The penguin kigurumi would almost always be blue-colored, typically the lightly colored variations, though occasionally sporting deeper blues.
Starting from this, thing...
... then this...
... and then some more from this...
and it goes on...
... without signs of ending.
The consistency is almost baffling to the point that you start to question whether this is actually some sort of stereotypical norm. Maybe its a reference to some older mascot penguin. Or it could be a classifier, a design point that tells the observer that it is not meant to be a realistic depiction.
Of course, this is not always the case. Occasionally you would still see one or two penguin kigurumi in anime that is naturally colored black, or something very close to black. Sometimes the two colors even appear together, although that might just be more of a differentiation choice, like how cat kigurumi might appear in different colored pairs as well.
But, penguin kigurumi colored in original black remains as a curious outlier in Japanese animated media. In probably more than 70 percent of the time, the light blue variant will always be the default.
Other Weird Things to Note
Aside from the oddly consistent choice of the lighter variants, blue penguin kigurumi also have a few other perks that seem connected with their physical configurations. Some of these include:
Oddly mascot-like hood design/coordination - variation of penguin facial features in blue penguin kigurumi is... quite peculiar, maybe even a bit too specific. Meh, probably just a case of over-analysis.
Almost similar-ish hue of light blue - as mentioned earlier, there is almost an uncanny way that almost all blue penguin kigurumi keeps their color schemes somewhat consistent across different titles and platforms. Subjective? Well, yeah. Instantly dismissible? Nope.
Significantly less anatomically accurate - being a wilder, less realistic version of other penguin kigurumi, blue penguin kigurumi doesn't need to have realistic patterns, or even an overall design for that matter. Again, this kind of reinforces my suspicion that this is actually a cultural reference to some primordial mascot penguin character or something similar.
Beak caps - okay fair enough, this is mostly a more generic bird/fowl kigurumi-based perk, but penguin kigurumi are also subject to the choice of either making the beak a cap or just part of the hood's ornament.
The Azure Trend Goes On
Once again, I do need to stress that this is NOT the case with real-life kigurumi in Japan. Most penguin kigurumi products in the country still mostly have the same typical black color scheme as the west, and the blue ones are considered only as alternatives. So this is largely an anime, manga and game-only (Akiba-style) phenomenon.
But proper explanations aside, it would seem that the trend isn't really going to stop anytime soon. Barring a few more specific representations of penguin kigurumi for other series and characters, the charge of the light blue penguin kigurumi brigade goes on amidst the booms and pounds of future multimedia titles.
... Maybe I'm really just missing some totally obvious Japanese cultural meta that directly explains all this.