Talking Lunch: Mameshiba Invades North America

A boy drops a pea from his fork. The pea suddenly develops a face and floppy ears and announces "In French, dandelions are called pissenlit, which means 'urinate in bed.'"

Welcome to the wacky world of Mameshiba, where legumes from cashew nuts to coffee beans surprise unsuspecting diners with odd bits of trivia.

Mameshiba started out as short cartoons produced by the Dentsu advertising agency to serve as filler for unsold ad slots, and they caught on; according to Wikipedia, 78% of adults in Japan are familiar with the little critters. Now they are coming to the U.S. and Canada as characters in a new set of original graphic novels published by Viz Media and due out on July 5.

The word Mameshiba comes from the Japanese words "mame" (bean) and "shiba" (a breed of dog), and it also sounds a bit like the word "mamechishiki," or trivia. In the cartoons, each of the characters is a type of bean or legume—lentil, fava bean, pistachio—that suddenly comes to life and startles its would-be consumer with an interesting fact, often something to do with biology (hippo sweat is pink; flamingoes' mother's milk is red—wait, flamingoes have milk?).

Viz's version promises to be a bit livelier. They are starting out with Meet Mameshiba!, a character guide to the quirks of each character; besides being a handy field guide in case your lunch starts to talk back to you, it also contains puzzles, games, and quizzes. Then the beans get to have some actual adventures (rescuing friends, exploring outer space), while still spouting bits of trivia, in Mameshiba: On the Loose!, a graphic novel that, unlike pretty much everything else Viz produces, isn't Japanese—it was created specifically for North American readers. Both books are rated All Ages and will be marketed through the VizKids line, but with their combination of cuteness and non sequiturs, they may catch on with teenagers as well, especially if Viz chooses not to dial down the quirkiness too much.

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