Monday, July 14

History of Domo kun

Domo-kun, originally created in 1998 as a mascot to promote NHK's satellite broadcast services, has been enjoying great popularity worldwide. A series of Domo-kun puppet animation programs, newly made for overseas markets, has been sold in more countries than Oshin, NHK's popular 1980s morning drama series.

The broadcast of the animation program also started in Japan last month in the wake of its popularity abroad. But why is a character with the physique of a sofa cushion and a gaping smile, looking run-down and laid-back and saying nothing but "domo," so popular?

Domo-kun first appeared in short stop-motion sketches in December 1998 to mark the 10th anniversary of NHK's satellite broadcasting.

The sketches are about the relaxed days of Domo-kun, a strange creature that hatched from an egg that had fallen into a cave where Usajii, an old rabbit, was leading a secluded life. Other characters appearing in the sketches include a girl weasel named Ta-chan.

The main character is said to have been named Domo-kun as it became able to say only "domo" after former NHK announcer Shizuo Yamakawa, who happened to be appearing onscreen when Domo-kun was hatched, uttered the word.

The meaning of "domo" varies by context, but it often can be translated as "hello" or "thanks."

Even in this era when computer graphics are considered a universal solution, the creation of puppet animation such as the Domo-kun featurettes requires a lot of hands-on labor. Animators have to change the position or pose of the puppets little by little to act out the scenes.

Since the work requires a lot of money, too, Domo-kun animation sketches usually last for only six seconds. Even the longest version only lasted for about 30 seconds.

But fans of Domo-kun were increasing in unexpected areas. A survey by NHK on the use of its various programs without permission on the Internet revealed that images of Domo-kun were being collected mainly by North American students.

Domo-kun then caught the eye of television program producers overseas, who asked NHK if it had more substantial programs featuring Domo-kun.

In response to the growing popularity and requests, NHK decided to make a more fleshed-out Domo-kun television program. When it showed a five-minute pilot program two years ago at an international trade fair of television programs, NHK was deluged with inquires from foreign TV stations, particularly those specializing in children's programs.

"Puppet animation was originally strong in countries like Britain and Czechoslovakia. People in other countries seem to have been surprised that Japan also produces this kind of animation. They also were attracted by the charm of Domo-kun as a character," said Atsushi Oshida, the head of the character business department at NHK Enterprise Inc.

Having increased the number of characters in Domo-kun's world, NHK made 26 two-minute episodes, mainly targeting the North American market.

When it comes to the export of Japan-made television programs, many may recall Oshin, an NHK morning drama series written by Sugako Hashida, about a poor woman who endures hardships on her way to success. Oshin eventually aired in 64 countries and territories

But the long-awaited Domo-kun programs have already been sold to 115 countries and regions, including Britain, France and the United States. Broadcasting has already begun Italy, Singapore and some other countries.

"I think, regardless of nationality, people are attracted to the same movements and expressions of such characters. Domo-kun in particular offers a very unique world," said Masami Goto, deputy chief of NHK's broadcast bureau.


Just in case the news got deleted, printing it here in full text. Japan produced some really weird shit, and this is one of them.

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