Creator of 'Anpanman' cartoon dies in Japan, 94

Japanese cartoonist Takashi Yanase (right) and his famous character Anpanman at his exhibition in Tokyo on May 1, 2013. Mr Takashi Yanase has died of heart failure, his agency said on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Japanese cartoonist Takashi Yanase (right) and his famous character Anpanman at his exhibition in Tokyo on May 1, 2013. Mr Takashi Yanase has died of heart failure, his agency said on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Takashi Yanase, the creator of Japan's wildly popular "Anpanman" cartoon, has died of heart failure, his agency said on Tuesday.

He was 94.

The former graphic designer, who was also a poet and lyricist, died on Sunday at a Tokyo hospital, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Anpanman - whose name reflects the red beans and bread he is made from - first appeared in 1973 in a picture book.

The cape-wearing hero takes on dastardly opponents to save the downtrodden from oppression, ultimately offering them his own bread head as sustenance.

The costumed crusader made his first television appearance in Japan in 1988 and continues to occupy a prime broadcast slot for children every Friday afternoon.

Anpanman is popular in places as far flung as Hong Kong and Brazil, with a vast merchandising machine following his televised adventures.

The cartoon entered the Guinness World Records in 2009 for the largest number of characters, at more than 1,700.