Wa Tang Tang Kenigito, Jeju cartoon, Jeju, South Korea
Meet Hayoung. She’s a typical Korean girl leading a not-so-typical life. She lives on Jeju-do with her father, who owns a restaurant on a bluff overlooking the ocean. He also happens to be King of the East Sea. Hayoung dreams of one day becoming the world’s greatest chef, but those dreams were recently shattered when judges at an international cooking competition called her cooking “trash.” She’s a determined young girl though, and one day she’ll make her dreams come true with a little help from her friend, Kenegito.
Kenegito is a man with mysterious origins. He follows Hayoung around for the free food but also has the uncanny ability to turn himself into whatever he eats. Together they travel around Jeju, helping the gods of the island with their problems and getting their best recipes in return. Hayoung hopes to later use those divine recipes to become the world’s greatest chef.
That’s the story behind Watangtang Kenegito, a new cartoon series produced by island-based company Jejunet. It was founded by local entrepreneur and CEO Ko Chang-Wan. Ko produced the cartoon and a new text book on Jeju’s history and folklore to teach Koreans and foreigners more about his island home.
The show features slick, anime style art and animation and the storyline incorporates a number of Jeju myths and folklore, along with some subtle and not-so-subtle references to Jeju’s unique culture and major tourist attractions. Ko hopes the show will draw attention to Jeju-do and increase foreign interest in the island without being too preachy or blatantly commercial.
Kenegito’s character is based on myths surrounding a protector god from the Kimnyoung region of Jeju. In the cartoon series his arch nemesis is a black pig (huk dwaeji). Black pigs appear on restaurant menus across the island and are a symbol for Jeju’s distinctive cuisine. It should be no surprise then that black pork is Kenegito’s favorite food. A giant, flaming pig, who shoots fireballs from his nostrils, relentlessly chases Kenegito in the hopes of avenging all the other pigs he’s devoured. Hayoung’s got problems of her own, dealing with a hot-headed sea god of a father and angry chefs who don’t take kindly to her attempts to upstage them. Aiding her in her quest is a magical cookbook with two faces. One side of the book is good-natured and advises Hayoung on her journeys. The other side is mischievous and tries to trade information for kisses from Hayoung.
To Ko, Jejunet and it’s new cartoon are about more than just a new tourism marketing ploy or business venture. In recent years, Jeju-do’s economy hasn’t been performing to government expectations. Tourism revenues are down and local efforts to draw businesses to the island have been met with lukewarm response. Ko says he based his company on Jeju to create more opportunities for young professionals living on the island, who would otherwise have sought jobs in larger cities on the mainland. The show was written on Jeju, and all of the concept art was created by local talent.
Twenty-six episodes are currently in production, and Ko hopes to start airing them sometime next year. An English language script is in the works, and a trailer has been shown at a number of different festivals and conventions, including the 2007 Hong Kong Design Fair. It will also be featured next year at the 2008 Tokyo Anime Fair.
Ko’s plan is to air the show in Korea before looking to markets overseas. He says he’s not worried about foreigners having trouble understanding Korean humor or the show’s often obscure cultural references. He’s confident Watangtang Kenegito will succeed based on the strength of its characters and its compelling story.
To learn more about the show and view its trailer, visit www.foodgod.kr.