“We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.” —Jerry Seinfeld
- For the purposes of this here post, I make use of the each character’s personality and attributes in an effort to determine what Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka?‘s author thinks of a particular beverage based on their names. This was motivated by anticipation of the second season, and I’m hoping that, by taking a closer look at things, this post will remind fans of the different aspects for each of Cocoa, Chino, Rize, Chiya and Sharo to build some excitement for the aforementioned second season.
Whereas Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? has a premise and setting that seemingly precludes the possibility of any literary analysis, it is nonetheless interesting to take a closer look at how each of the characters in the might reflect on the author’s perspective of a set of beverages commonly served at coffee-houses and cafés. Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? is prima facie an anime about Cocoa Hoto’s life in a coffee-shop after moving in a new town to continue her education. Her everyday life is one filled with wonder and joy as she strives to become a better barista, all the while claiming Chino Kafū to be her sister and experiencing a laid-back life in a small European town. Cocoa soon befriends Rize Tazeda, Chiya Ujimatsu and Sharo Kirima, and according to the documentation, every character has been given a name reflective of a beverage that might be served at a coffee-shop or teahouse. Through their personalities and choice of kanji characters for each individual’s name, it becomes possible to gain a modicum of insight into how each of these commonplace coffee-shop offerings are distinct in their own right, and how Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka?‘s author is able to use each girl’s personalities to tell a story about their respective namesakes.
Cocoa Hoto (Hoto Cocoa) is named after hot cocoa, a non-caffeinated beverage with origins in the Maya civilisation and became popular in Europe after its introduction to the New World. Commonly prepared with cocoa powder and heated milk (or water, or both), as well as some sugar and cream, hot cocoa is widely seen as a comfort food, consumed during the winter season to ward off weariness associated with colder, darker weather. Some studies also find that hot cocoa contains antioxidants (such as gallic acid and epicatechin), which in turn aids with cardiovascular health, although consumed in excess, the sugars may also pose health problems. This sweet, inviting beverage is appropriately reflected in Cocoa’s personality: ever-cheerful, airheaded and with a fondness for all things adorable, Cocoa’s presence is one that sweetens the atmosphere in Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka?. She takes after K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa and Tamayura‘s Fū Sawatari, and consequently, Cocoa is indeed as familiar to viewers as hot cocoa is for patrons of coffee-shops. Seen in her propensity to easily become distracted, cuddling with Chino frequently, or else growing flustered over her mistakes, Cocoa may be seen as perhaps sweetening the mood in Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? even a little too much. Chino notes that while she does find Cocoa to be irritating at moments, she also grows to care for her, too. Similarly, hot cocoa might be seen as posing health risks in excess, but in moderation, acts as an ever-welcomed, comforting drink that is sure to ward off the cold under winter’s last light.
- Cocoa’s name in kanji is 保登心愛: broken down, “保登” is a recorded promise, and “心愛” is “beloved”. So, Cocoa’s name approximates to “a beloved promise”. Cocoa does indeed keep her promises, even if she does appear to be scatter-brained at times. In Chinese hanzi, “保登” translates to “always rising”, mirroring her family background and own skill with baking bread.
Chino Kafū (Kafū Chino) is named after cappuccino. Italian in origin, cappuccino’s modern incarnation is thought to date back to around 1930. It is made with espresso, hot milk and a milk foam that emphasises the espresso’s concentrated flavours. The resulting drink has a more noticeable bite than that of a latte, and in Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka?, reflects on the duality in Chino’s personality: though soft-spoken and polite, Chino also finds herself easily annoyed at Cocoa’s antics. At times, she also reveals that she greatly cares for Cocoa and is more accepting of Cocoa’s attention that she usually lets on. Thus, her personality can be seen as the sum of the components in a cappuccino: the espresso’s bitterness and pronounced flavour stand for her maturity, while the milk represents a more youthful, childish side. Typically, the espresso’s flavour is more pronounced in a cappuccino, but the milk’s presence adds a rich, creamy texture that is quite unsubtle; consequently, preparation of a cappuccino can be quite tricky. Chino’s quiet personality acts as a reminder of this: for her, making friends can be somewhat of a challenge for her, but when the right people are present, she is able to open up for those around her. So, cappuccino does take some finesse to brew, but when made by the right hands, it is a very welcoming beverage that strikes a fine balance between its components.
- Chino’s name in kanji is 香風智乃: “香風” is “fragrant breeze” and “智乃” is “to be wise”. Chino lives up to her name, “wise, fragrant breeze”; as an employee at Rabbit House, she is quite skilled at brewing coffee and demonstrates wisdom beyond her years, even if Cocoa’s antics do sometimes test her patience is tested.
Rize Tedeza (Tedeza Rize) has a name that is a little difficult to pick out, and the documentation states that she’s in fact named after the Thé des Alizés tea. Made by the Palais des Thés tea company, Thé des Alizés is known in English as “Tea of the Trade Winds” and is only purchasable in France, Belgium and New York. Thé des Alizés is a Chinese green tea accented with white peaches, kiwi, and watermelon; while these tropical fruits are present, they do not overwhelm the green tea’s flavours. With a history dating back four thousand years and originating in China, green tea is the quintessential tea and is typically drunk without the addition of other ingredients. This no-nonsense, practical approach is seen in Rize’s mannerisms: she is disciplined, strict and vigilant. Although this is largely hidden from Cocoa, Chino and the others, Rize also displays partiality towards cute things and is quite mindful of her appearance. This side of Rize was likely inspired by the variety of tropical fruits in Thé des Alizés, and given that these flavours are said to never overpower the green tea itself, it is fitting that Rize is quite hesitant, even embarrassed, to express that side of her character in front of her friends. This side of Rize is intended to show that, although Thé des Alizés might outwardly be just be a green tea, the inclusion of fruit lends to it a unique element that gives it additional depth and enhances its flavour in a way that the green tea alone cannot yield.
- Rize’s name in Kanji is 天々座 理世: “天々座” is “heaven’s chair” and “理世” refers to a “physical world”, likely implying a connection with the practical and material world. In Chinese hanzi, “理” is reason, and curiously enough, also fits quite well with Rize’s personality, given that of the cast, she’s the most level headed and practical. Rize’s surname hints at her wealthy background, but in spite of this, Rize is nonetheless a practical person, fulfilling her given name’s meaning.
Chiya Ujimatsu (Ujimatsu Chiya) is named after uji matcha tea. Given that tea is pronounced “cha”, it’s straightforward enough exercise to derive Chiya’s namesake. Like Rize, Chiya’s namesake is also a green tea, but whereas Thé des Alizés uses Chinese style green tea leaves (which are pan-fired), uji matcha uses Japanese leaves, which are steamed to impart a leafier taste. Matcha is usually used as the de facto tea in the Japanese tea ceremony, and the Uji variety is considered to be the absolute best because of favourable growing conditions. As a result, uji matcha is quite expensive, and is prized for its aroma. It comes as little surprise that this distinctly Japanese tea is mirrored in Chiya, who is presented as a girl with a gentle, softer personality with a penchant for giving her family café’s menu items unique titles. Chiya carries herself with the kind of grace and air associated with that of the Yamato Nadeshiko; she’s refined, not very athletic and can be submissive, being hesitant to voice her opinions in front of the others, but also can be quite determined and forward as the situation demands. These decidedly Japanese characteristics mean that the uji matcha tea is seen as representative of the beauty, elegance and simplicity of Japanese tea, in keeping with the Japanese notions of Wabi-sabi.
- Chiya’s name in kanji is 宇治松 千夜: “宇治松” refers to pines from the Uji area, known for producing some of the best tea, and “千夜” translates literally to “a thousand nights”. Taken together, “The Uji pines of a thousand nights” could be taken to refer to the best patience, given that まつ is phonetically similar to 待つ (to wait). Alternatively, it could also refer to Chiya’s patience in deriving imaginative names for the Ama Usa An’s menu items.
Sharo Kirima (Kirima Sharo) is named after the Kilimanjaro coffee. Tempting though it might be to mention the Halo medal (seven kills, each subsequent kill must be within four seconds of the previous), the Kilimanjaro coffee is what will be discussed here: Kilimanjaro coffee is grown on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro coffee is slightly acidic. It has a sharp, rich and deeper taste when properly prepared, which is described as being quite complex. Sharo is depicted as being cultivated and quite knowledgeable about culinary wares, but is also quite poor (she’s quite sensitive to her socio-economic status and goes to great lengths to hide this fact). The fact that she’s a scholarship student and is seen working at a variety of venues shows that she’s hardworking, while her reaction to rabbits and coffee is immensely amusing to behold. In short, Sharo’s a multi-faceted individual and serves a very versatile role within Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? through her interactions with each of the different characters. Quite similarly, Kilimanjaro coffee is probably implied to be a coffee that is quite difficult to characterise in words, but with a full-bodied flavour, it is suitable for consumption in a variety of occasions.
- Sharo’s name in kanji is 桐間紗路: if we take “桐間” to mean “between the Aleurites cordata” (a wood-oil tree) and “紗路” as “Silk Road”, then Sharo’s name refers to “a path between the trees”. Given that oil from A. cordata can be used as fuel or even in cooking, it hints at the fact that Sharo is practical, and the silk road suggests that she is elegant in her own manner.
The supporting characters each have names derived off beverages, as well. The novelist Midori “Blue Mountain” Aoyama is named after Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, which generally has a mild, nutty flavour that lacks the same bitterness of other coffees, and is also quite expensive. Speaking in gentle tones, she is particularly fond of coffee-houses and Chino’s grandfather. Her interests figure prominently in her novels, and before his passing, Midori frequently sought advice from Chino’s grandfather. Her personality suggests that Blue Mountain is a more refined coffee, and Blue Mountain can be somewhat childish at times to show that the coffee isn’t quite as bitter. Cocoa’s older sister, Mocha Hoto, is named after caffè mocha, which is similar to hot cocoa, but includes espresso. Given that espresso is a drink that children do not normally have, mocha can be seen as the more mature counterpart to hot cocoa but otherwise making use of similar ingredients and preparation techniques. While Mocha has yet to make an appearance in the anime, her name makes it easy to surmise that, though bearing a more mature, composed demeanour, Mocha is nonetheless quite similar to Cocoa in terms of personality. Maya Jōga is named after the Jogmaya tea, which is a variant of Darjeeling tea, which has a floral, grape-like tone in its flavour. In Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka?, Maya is a bit more boisterous than Megumi, suggesting that Darjeeling tea is highly spirited. Megumi Natsu is named after nutmeg, and though nutmeg is more often used as a spice, it can complement beverages by adding an egg-nog-like taste. Compared to Maya, Megumi is quieter and therefore, might imply that nutmeg, though not usually used on its own, is a necessary and tasty addition to numerous things, illustrating how close Megumi and Maya are as friends (and that they’ve substantially helped Chino in opening up to others, too). While Tippy’s name is not directly related to a beverage, the term “tippy” is a tea-grade, part of the grading schema for black teas, and refers to the abundance of tips, unopened terminal leaf buds, in tea flushes.
- Analysing the names for the supporting characters was not undertaken for brevity’s sake. With that being said, the supporting characters nonetheless play an important role in augmenting the primary cast’s interactions. In conjunction with their European setting, Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? is able to distinguish itself from other slice-of-life on account of being able to fully use the setting to explore aspects of life outside of the Japanese high school student, making the anime quite memorable.
Though Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? definitely earns its praise for succeeding as a cathartic anime with a minimal narrative, it might come as a surprise that the series can serve as a clever commentary on common beverages served in cafés. In a manner of speaking, Cocoa and her friends become anthropomorphic representations of their respective beverages. However, rather than simply presenting them as humanised drinks, Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? takes the additional effort to embody each drink’s characteristics through each individual’s actions and interactions. This shows that some of the seemingly unassuming slice-of-life anime can conceal hidden depths that may contribute to the viewing experience, and with a second season of Gochūmon wa Usagi desu ka? set to air in October, it will be interesting to see what kind of dynamics Mocha brings to the table.
- I would like to thank readers who’ve read the entire post, and doubly so for anyone who’s taken the time to offer feedback. Some food for thought includes: how well do my thoughts align with yours, and if there is official documentation on what the series’ creators were thinking (which I’ve not read), how close am I? In the more general case, who’s looking forwards to the second season?