Here's what the kids are saying:
"It isn't cute at all."
"It feels totally out of place."
"You always were conservative, Nara. Way to go."
"The more you look at it, the easier it gets to stomach."
"As a resident of Nara, I'm embarrassed."
Here's what the Japanese press is saying:
"It's got a ferocious amount of impact."
And here's what the mayor of Nara is saying:
"We're just glad for the publicity. Whatever form it takes."
They're talking about the as-yet-unnamed mascot designed to celebrate the 2010 event planned to mark the 1,300th anniversary of Nara's establishment as Japan's former capital. A caricature of the Great Buddha at Todaiji festooned with antlers resembling those of the deer that roam the grounds of the famed historical site, it's the latest in what some Japanese news sources are now calling the "go-tochi kyara boom" ("the local mascot boom") of ultra-localized PR characters. (Perhaps the most famous being Hikone Castle's Hikonyan.) But Nara's creation deserves recognition as the first mascot to ignite a firestorm (well, sort of) over its decided un-cuteness.
Is this a sign of growing sophistication among Japanese consumers, who demand super-cuteness in their mascots? Or was it a deliberate attempt to stoke the flames of controversy? Japanese website J-Cast asked the Nara event committee themselves. They were told simply:
"This design was picked because of its outstanding impact and instant association with Nara. Also, as an incarnation of the energy of the Nara region, it will allow us to create further storytelling opportunities in the future."
In Japan, it seems, mascots don't ALWAYS have to be super kawaii.