By Pepsiman 21 Comments
I don't know if you've noticed this, but Japan is a delightfully capitalist country, its tendency to flaunt that fact matched only by the United States and (let's not kid ourselves) China. I say this only in half-jest because you don't have to walk very far here before you find iconic, lasting brands that, when they're also tied to entertainment, also tend to be merchandised to death because they can be. That should be readily apparent to those who read my previous blog in which I detailed the lengths Atlus would go to market one its more sexually iconic creations, but even those who didn't can easily find countless other examples. Persona 4, for instance, which was once just a lovely game, was turned into a manga, then into an anime, before finally reaching its logical apex in the form of a special effects-driven play. There's also Pepsiman the game, Pokemon curry, and god knows how many pachinko simulators, among many, many other bemusing, but ultimately frivolous goods and services.
I mention all of this to provide context for the next revelation: Dragon Quest is kind of a big thing here in Japan. Huge bombshell, right? I saw it firsthand a few years ago when I saw seemingly countless people playing through the then recently released IX while commuting on the train to and from school in Tokyo, but I'm sure even without that sort of eyewitness stuff, you were able to surmise that by some means or other. This year in particular is "big" for Dragon Quest because it's the 25th anniversary of the venerable franchise. 25 being a nice, big, and satisfying number and all, Square-Enix has taken upon itself to remind people just how much the games should matter in their lives with things such as that Wii compilation that's really just a compilation of the first three games. Technically, it's the first three games twice in that they included both the original NES games and then their SNES remakes. It was very considerate of them to do so. Of course, any sane person would ask themselves, "Why stop at a video game re-release to celebrate a video game anniversary?" and guess what, it's like Square-Enix predicted that and took the next logically conceivable step: they entered the realm of convenience store food.
Now I know what you're probably thinking now. "Pepsiman, the only way I want to celebrate Dragon Quest's 25th anniversary aside from playing it is to eat it, but what is that thing and why is it not a corn dog in the shape of cruelcumber?" Just bear with me. I know that's exactly how things would be handled in the States if 7-11 were ever going to be the patron saint of Dragon Quest festivities, but that's not how things are in reality. Let's just work with what we have here and that would be a nikuman, or a Japanese steamed "meat bun," in the shape of the series' mascot, the slime. Although Japanese meat buns look somewhat unique, even compared to the more iconic staples that have been imported throughout the world, in practice they're a lot like a meat pie or a cornish pasty. Basically, they consist of a doughy exterior that completely envelops a simple meaty interior. They're readily available most anywhere you can go given their simplicity, even if they're otherwise not as beloved here in Japan as other food genres (and probably rightfully so). That being said, given the spherical shape that nikuman takes, it's pretty easy to see why Square-Enix would pick that specifically to adapt the slime into a sort of food if they had to go with the slime at all and not the inherently superior cruelcumber.
Alas, though, I've spent the entirety of this blog up until now trying to justify why this slime-looking meat bun thing even exists. The burning question that I know is really on your mind is
"Pepsiman, why the hell couldn't you just write more concisely and get to the point sooner?" "Is it worth my money to fly over to Japan and buy one for myself? Or should I just import it?" The answer to both of those questions is probably, "The economy sure would appreciate it if you did either one, or maybe even both!" But I know you're looking for hard-hitting answers so that you can discern the truth behind this edible, so I'll give you what you want: a montage of pictures that I took as I was eating the slime, complete with commentary! It'll be like you're reading my thoughts in real-time, but in retrospect. With that being said, there's nothing left to do now but take it from the top.
The way you buy one of the slime meat buns is a similar to how you'd order other specialty food from a convenience store in the US: You walk up to the clerk, admit to them that you want that not particularly nutritious-looking slime meat bun that exists only because suckers like you will buy them for gamer street cred, take solace in the fact that despite sitting inside that sketchy-looking heated cooking case on the counter you think it probably won't kill you, pay for it (hopefully you only bought one "it"), and bike back home so you can eat it in solace. It's a convoluted, psychologically trying process, I know, but one that you eventually do get the hang of after a while. Regardless of that, my slime came wrapped in some unassuming paper that was subsequently inserted into a plastic bag, most likely to drive home the fact that not only am I about to waste my own body in consuming it, but also the environment as well. At this stage, I'm not feeling anything in particular about the slime one way or the other. It felt warm, something I appreciated since the local weather has finally begun to accept it should be winter by now, and there were also no funny smells wafting from it. A decent start, to say the least.
Then I actually unwrapped the slime so that I could properly dive into it. This was when a few warning flags about its potential quality really began to fly (aside from the fact that, you know, I bought it from a convenience store). First and foremost was just the general state that the slime seemed to be in by the time I set it free on my plate. Maybe the bike ride home inside my backpack did a bit of a number on it, but the slime just seemed to be a little... emotionally unstable. As you can clearly see in the picture, its eyes simple starred blankly in two different directions and no sign of life was to be found in either of them. The smile, too, seemed to be disingenuous, borne either out of a psychological meltdown about its upcoming prospects or simply because it was mentally incapable of actually having a care in the world. It was also starting to melt, which only deepened my suspicions about its mood. In addition to all of that, the slime was very much so sweating, having steamed itself inside the wrapping on the way home. While this is to be expected given the sort of food that it is, it was still unsettling to be reminded "Hey, you're about to eat this hot slime that's dripping with... something and is 80 percent dough with blue food coloring mixed in." Truly, I was in for the delicacy of my life.
The moment of truth was here, folks. While I can't say I have much actual experience with the Dragon Quest games themselves aside from a few hours spent with VIII and several more with the otherwise thoroughly delightful Rocket Slime, I do know that your first rite of passage in a Dragon Quest game is to generally take out a slime in combat. I'm not sure whether Square-Enix wanted me to think I was accomplishing the same thing in real life in dissecting the meat bun, but if they did, it sure felt uneventful. Maybe it was because things like the exchange rate and my quest to find a copy of some game had already previously proven to be more arduous. Every journey starts with a step, though, as the cliche goes, so I didn't question things to deeply. I had deeper, meatier things to address right in front of me.
Well, I couldn't look back now. I'd both sliced and diced the slimey and still sweaty meat bun, so I had to commit to it until the end. As the picture indicates, I, of course, had to start eating it by going for the face. The sooner I got rid of that depressing-looking mug, the better, I figured. That slime had already lived a terrible life inside that convenience store oven for who knows how long and, if nothing else, it would find salvation at least in my stomach and intestines. Maybe one day it would get reincarnated as that cruelcumber corn dog everybody really wants.
While I'm glad I made the decision to euthanize the slime with my eating utensils, I wasn't as pleased, if that was at all possible, with how the actual innards of the slime actually tasted. Indeed, I can't say I set my sights particularly high at all with regards to how it might taste (I'm not even sure I set any sights at all), but what I was greeted with was complete blandness. Neither the dough nor the meat that constituted the slime's innards had anything that really resembled an actual flavor, although the dough was more overpowering on my taste buds just by virtue of how much it outnumbered the actual meat. I imagine this might have been on purpose on Square-Enix's part, though. Like defeating the first slime in a Dragon Quest game, I had overcome my first hurdle in a journey that would likely be filled with far greater challenges than I could ever conceive at the time. If I were to guess, those greater challenges would probably involve my stomach, but again, one step at a time. I was working my way through the slime and its anticlimactic-tasting innards. That was the important part.
In the end, I didn't end up eating the entirety of the face first thing. Maybe I was a sicko and wanted to see a least one half of that drab stare and disheartening smile suffer one last time as I ate the rest of the body, but what's done is done. The last part of the slime I ate was the remainder of the face. It was no better or worse than the rest of the meat bun, as it was as mostly doughy and slightly meaty as ever. And that's okay. I was never going to want to buy another one ever again, but it did reaffirm two beliefs I have: Japanese convenience store food is edible and it is not aggressively out to kill you. In the end, I accomplished my main goal and that was to not die, which, again, is sort of the whole point of slimes in the Dragon Quest games: to prove you can be the killer and not the killee. High falutin' philosophy and vocabulary, I know.
After I had eaten the entirety of the meat bun slime, I was left with what I had started with: the paper wrapping, having now revealed a generic message politely expressing thanks for all the years of Dragon Quest support and a hope for many more years of it to come. It was a fitting way to end things. I started off with basically next to nothing, with a slime being that in terms of power, ate a whole lot of nothing taste-wise, and finished with nothing. Much like my perverted desire to both rid the slime of its suffering and save at least part of its face for last, it was fulfilling in its own way. Or at least that's what I'll say until my stomach rejects it. Then it'll be fulfilling in that I lost weight. Either way, as a result of that nothingness, I'm not left with much when it comes to a conclusion. However, beings as this is a video game web site, if I were to review it, the by-line would probably look a little like this:
And that's how we wrap things up around here.