Once in a great while, a love story comes along that makes you re-evaluate romance and life in general. The tragic tale of Grape-kun the penguin is just such a story. A Japanese penguin named Grape-kun lived with other penguins of the Tobo Zoo, in Japan, but he was a little different from them. Having suffered heartbreak and loss, he turned his affections towards someone that could never harm him: a promotional cutout of an anime character. This bittersweet romance captivated the hearts of zoogoers, as well as the entire internet. In 2017, all those hearts broke as news came that dear Grape-kun had passed away.
The love story of Grape-kun lives on, however. Penguins are already adorable, in the fact that they mate for life, cuddle each other, and much more. Grape-kun just made himself even that much more sweet with the simple purity of his misguided love. Weird, maybe. Adorable, definitely.
No matter if you've been following Grape-kun's journey from the beginning, or if you've just come into it in the end, his story is sure to move many to tears and break a few hearts along the way.
As far as zoo penguins go, Grape-kun's life was a pretty average one. He was born in 1996 in Hamura Zoo in Tokyo, and was given a purple band on his wing for identification purposes. This purple color gave him the name "Grape," and "kun" was added on as an affectionate suffix. In Japanese culture, "kun" usually refers to a younger male, pet, or affectionately known male, and Grape-kun was definitely cute enough to earn the title. He found a mate by the name of Midori, and eventually had a chick, named Hanpen, who was moved to a different zoo.
All in all, it seemed like the ideal, normal family life for this little penguin. Unfortunately, all that changed after the happy couple was moved to Tobu Zoo in 2007.
It’s a sweet little fact that penguins usually mate for life. The word “usually” is included here, because in the case of Grape-kun the penguin, that was not what happened. Grape-kun had been transferred to the Tobu Zoo with his mate, where the two had their son, who was moved to another zoo. This sudden loss of their chick may have caused their relationship to suffer, but it was illness that caused a real problem.
Grape-kun grew sick in 2010. He was already a somewhat older penguin, so he was separated from the others for treatment. In his absence, his mate Midori quickly took interest in a much younger male named Denka. By the time Grape-kun returned, his former mate had begun to ignore him entirely, and she was soon content to be with this other male instead. While infidelity is usually cause for social rejection from the group, the flock accepted the new couple, and Grape-kun was ostracized! Grape-kun was left alone, for the first time in years. Luckily, this didn't last for long.
As you might guess, Grape-kun was not doing well after his mate left him. His usual social group was ignoring him, his former mate was with someone much younger, and the pair even had a new son named Beer, who also lived in the enclosure. Grape-kun stopped eating, and his handlers had to actively feed him, since he wouldn't do it on his own. Things seemed at their worst, until something amazing happened.
For a promotion for an anime show called Kemono Friends, in April of 2017 small cardboard cutouts of cute characters dressed as different zoo creatures were erected inside various animal enclosures. While most other penguins seemed happy to mostly ignore these signs and cutouts, Grape-kun soon took a particular interest in the cutout in the penguin pen. This character was named Hululu. The girl looked shy, chibi, and was in a cute penguin cosplay outfit. The penguin seemed to become infatuated with her, staring at her for hours per day, and eventually moving close to her. Some people began to suspect that he was beginning to develop some sort of affection for the figure, a suspicion which he soon confirmed himself.
One day, Gape-kun was seen standing in front of the cutout, looking up at it. As people watched, he opened his wings, tipped back his head, and opened his beak. While this was very cute, it also had a much more serious implication in the animal world. Grape-kun was demonstrating courtship behavior! From there, his romantic affection became obvious. He would climb up on the rock to snuggle beside the cutout. He would stare at it and make noises at it, and handlers had a hard time separating the two without him throwing a fit.
What's more is that his mood seemed to improve in general. His appetite returned, and he began playing and splashing in the pool, as he had not done in some time. While animal behaviorists have long been puzzled by this penguin's behavior, most agree that he had obvious special feelings for Hululu. She was his waifu: his special someone.