While deciding what to write about for this week, I kept thinking about the emoji characters from Kakao Talk, a popular messaging app in Korea similar to WhatsApp or Line.
Although it’s been nearly a year since my Fulbright grant ended and I left Korea, I think of Kakao emojis often. Only because my laptop is covered in Kakao character stickers.
My personal favorite is Tube, the duck in the center, but we’ll get to that later.
Line might be more widely used, but Kakao is king in Korea. It’s pronounced a bit like cacao, with more emphasis on the first “ka.” Better yet, just listen to Obama pronounce it in the “Obama Talk” alert. This audio clip was pulled from a real speech and you can still use this alert today.
But the thing that distinguishes Kakao from Line is not its “Obama Talk” or its bright yellow color scheme. It’s the emojis.
Kakao Talk has the BEST emojis.
(And in case you get the two confused, we’re talking emojis here, not emoticons, which look like this: : ) or : – ( or ^_^. Emojis vs. emoticons is one of those things I look up, and then immediately forget. So this is just as much for my benefit as yours: An emoticon is text; and an emoji is a picture. It’s all explained here.)
Having awesome emojis is probably why everyone in Korea seemed to have such a strong emoji game. You can’t help but want to use the adorable Kakao Friends emojis. On top of that, these little characters each come with distinct personalities. We’ll go through them, and then you tell me what’s not to love?
Kakao Friends and Their Elaborate Backstories
Since I first learned about Kakao friends – they were included in a workshop during my Fulbright Korea orientation – the company has revamped the character descriptions and added a new Kakao friend. I’ll include both versions for each.
Yes he’s first because I’m biased. I don’t want to sway you too much, but Tube is the best. He has two main traits: his foot insecurity and his alter ego. Tube wears flippers to hide his small feet – in the first image you can see that one has fallen off. How adorable is that?
He also has a hulk-like alter ego: a green duck that breathes fire and destroys things. As a result, he gets the table flipping emoji.
Muzi and Con
Muzi is a definitely second favorite for me. He (or possibly she) is usually paired with Con, a tiny, alligator-like creature.
Muzi is by far the most creative character. At first glance, Muzi seems like a rabbit, but it’s actually a picked daikon radish or damuji in Korean. Con is some sort of evil scientist who brought Muzi to life. Makes sense.
When I used a Kakao Friends review game in class one day, my students were shocked to hear me use a male pronoun for Muzi. I always default to my students’ expertise on matters of Korean pop culture, so I conceded that I wasn’t sure about Muzi’s gender. In Muzi’s original bio above, the creator uses “he,” but in the updated version, the writers are careful to avoid any gendered pronouns and only use “it.”
Frodo and Neo
Another pair usually grouped together, largely defined by their relationship, if you ask me. But in the revamp, they receive separate descriptions. Yay for progress!
The Kakao Friends designers created each characters with different segments of the population in mind. And they were definitely spot on with “the couple.” Couples in Korea are a big deal, from couple outfits to the common 100-day anniversary gifts.
Neo is a stylish, high-end cat. Honestly I don’t have much to say about Neo. She’s a stereotypical girly-girl But her emojis are fun.
Also this Dragon Ball Z reference is excellent.
Frodo doesn’t have a lot going for him either; he just looks good. His emoticons cover stereotypical boyfriend stuff.
Although it’s not in this description, people have also said that Frodo is a mixed breed, and therefore very sensitive to matters of birth and status. Perhaps this little detail is relatable in a society where most can trace their family history back to specific clans and regions.
Woah, is this allowed? And/or racist? Jay-G seems to be a walking stereotype and his name is just too obvious of a rip-off. Fortunately in the update, designers have drawn out features besides “loves hip-hop” in the one character clearly coded as black.
Jay-G used to be the boring wannabe rapper. He was a mole, which was interesting, but that was it. Now designers seem to be focusing more on his identity as a secret agent (who still loves hip-hop).
He’s the one who has interesting emojis that I never really use. I wonder if they’ll do more with this character.
Here’s a fun one. Apeach is a sassy peach who’s “not afraid to show off its backside.” And its name is literally “a peach.” Coincidentally, Apeach is another character who seemed to have gone from male to gender neutral.
And finally the last character is Ryan, the Kakao newbie. Ryan is the lion. The almost-rhyme/assonance is fun.
I can’t find the old version of Ryan’s backstory anywhere, so here’s this instead:
Ryan came out sometime during my second year in Korea, so between late 2015 to early 2016. I still haven’t fully accepted him as Kakao canon. He also looks a lot like a Line emoticon character, which is questionable.
But I guess he has an okay backstory. Ryan the Lion – even though he looks more like a bear – is from Africa. Go figure. He’s insecure about not having a mane, which is kind of cute, but has already been done with Tube and his small feet.
Regardless, Ryan seems to be popular now.
Next week: A part 2 on Kakao emojis that actually ties them to my artwork.