Sometimes it really feels like anime has more mascot characters than you can shake a stick at. Even discounting those shows that are basically made up of mascot-friendly characters like Pokemon and Digimon, it seems that a huge number of titles – old and new, comedic and serious alike – find the time to utilise cute animals or other forms of chirpy critters in all manner of ways.
Some of them annoy the hell out of people (I have a good friend who would apparently like nothing more than to punch Mokona Modoki, pictured above, in the face), while others seem to delight audiences the world over. For this article, I’ll be narrowing down (in no particular order) the top 5 mascot characters that have stood out the most to me over the last couple of decades.
Warning: potential spoilers ahead.
Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)
Making his official on-screen debut in 1988, Totoro is easily the oldest mascot character to make this list. For something that doesn’t talk (or, you know, do much at all besides sleep and stand around in the rain), he certainly has an undeniable charm. Likened to Winnie-the-Pooh or Mickey Mouse in terms of his fame, Totoro has made a huge cultural impact on Japanese audiences, and has also made non-Japanese cameo appearances in the likes of South Park and Toy Story 3. This is perhaps not surprising given just how recognisable Totoro is; such an enormous supernatural creature would normally be intimidating, if not downright scary, but to most people, he’s the epitome of all things cute and adorable.
Pen Pen/Pen² (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
Another of the ‘classic’ choices, Pen Pen, like Totoro, doesn’t actually speak – although, given his penchant for reading newspapers, watching TV, and drinking beer, he sometimes feels a lot more human in nature than one or two other Evangelion characters. Ostensibly Misato’s pet, Pen Pen clearly has a fairly high level of intelligence and, given his retractable claws, seems able to fend for himself just fine. Unfortunately, his fate remains a mystery, as Pen Pen is given to Hikari for safekeeping after Zeruel’s attack on Tokyo-3 and is never seen again. However, I’d like to think that he’s still chilling in his own personal refrigerated room somewhere, cracking open another beer and thinking deep, deep thoughts about the world around him.
Kyubey (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
Contrary to the above two mascot characters, Kyubey is one smooth talker. He’s also creepy as all hell – probably in part because of his completely unchanging expression, but admittedly also because he’s one of the only (possibly the only?) magical-girl mascot character portrayed as an antagonist. Oh, sure, he’s not ‘evil’, exactly, just… let’s say extremely goal-orientated… but I also don’t think many people would define the ability to literally rip souls from the bodies of young girls, or to replicate oneself after death and consuming one’s remains, as particularly endearing. Kyubey is, however, one of the most iconic mascot characters to have come out of anime in recent times, and no doubt taught everyone who watched Madoka Magica to double-check the terms of a contract before signing.
Tachikoma (Ghost in the Shell)
I don’t know if there are any other well-known robot anime mascot characters are there, but if so, I doubt any of them could be as wonderfully portrayed as Tachikoma. There are in fact nine of these blue, multi-legged combat vehicles assigned to Ghost in the Shells’s Section 9, all equipped with artificial intelligence and synchronized every night so that they can start the next day with identical consciousnesses. This does not stop the Tachikoma from possessing individual personalities and opinions – resulting in several lively and sometimes rather humorous philosophical discussions between them on such topics as humanity, memory, and sentience. While some members of Section 9 view the Tachikoma purely as machines (causing them to accuse one character of bigotry), Batou at least has his own personal, hyperactively cheerful Tachikoma, which he pampers with natural oil and refuses to switch for any other model. I can honestly say that Tachikoma Days – the series of shorts that end every episode of both Ghost in the Shell TV seasons – are one of my highlights of the entire franchise.
Nyanko-sensei (Natsume Yuujinchou)
It’s not often that an anime mascot becomes my favourite character of a whole series – but then again, it’s not often that a character like Nyanko-sensei comes along, either. Ordinarily taking the form of a fat and squishy maneki-neko, or Japanese beckoning cat charm, Nyanko-sensei’s true form is an enormous and very powerful Inugami, or dog god, named Madara. Despite his constant protestations of not being a cat, Nyanko-sensei is easily distracted by cat toys, and displays many of the playful and mischievous traits that anyone might expect a regular cat to have. Unlike a cat though, Nyanko-sensei is a bit of a drunkard and loves drinking sake, as well as eating sweets – particularly dango/Japanese dumplings. Selfish, proud, and condescending, his outward distaste of Natsume (despite his claims of Natsume being an emergency food ration) is belied by Nyanko-sensei’s obviously protective attachment to him. Now there’s a thought – could Nyanko-sensei secretly be a tsundere??
And now, a few honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut:
– Ein, the Welsh Corgi “data dog” from Cowboy Bebop.
– Ryo-Ohki, the entertaining cabbit (and also spacecraft) from the Tenchi Muyo! metaseries.
– Kuroneko, the black cat (hence the name) that randomly appears in every episode of Trigun.
– The numbered trio of blue Penguins from Mawaru Penguindrum who only the Takakura family can see (but #2 is my favourite, mostly for his cockroach-spraying antics).
– Black Hayate, Riza Hawkeye’s Shiba Inu from Fullmetal Alchemist (who receives either excellent or abusive housetraining, depending on how you look at it).
– Jiji, the sarcastic black cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
– Last but definitely not least, Chiyo-chichi (Chiyo-Father) from Azumanga Daioh; the cat that sometimes appears in Sakaki’s and Osaka’s dreams claiming to be Chiyo’s father, and who may or may not be a flying, bullet-proof, baseball-playing Santa Claus.
Question of the post: Do you have any favourite anime mascot characters that aren’t mentioned here? How about any anime mascot characters that for whatever reason you just can’t stand?