Sometimes, stories and characters designed for kids score a hit outside of their target market. Witness, for example, all of the Disney-themed engagement rings and wedding ceremonies inspired by princesses created to appeal chiefly to girls far too young to be seriously planning their nuptials.
Sometimes, the popularity of a franchise can even cross gender lines. Sailor Moon rose to popularity partly because its leggy heroines and tongue-in-cheek humor appealed to guys, and then there’s the puzzling yet undeniable Brony phenomenon of young males ardently following the My Little Pony animated series.
Next up on the carousel of unexpected fanboy demographics: full-grown men who are hardcore players of Aikatsu, an arcade game solely intended for little girls.
In most Western countries, video game arcades have largely disappeared, rendered more or less obsolete by the increased graphical performance of home consoles and their online functions that enable gamers to find opponents without even getting up from their couch. In Japan though, arcades evolved, and while you may not see as many as you would have 20 years ago, they’re still pretty easy to find.
One of the ways Japanese arcades survived was by switching to a business model focused on games that use collectable cards. Players purchase the cards in packs, each of which features a nice piece of artwork and grants some sort of ability or power boost. The system adds depth and continuity to arcade games, plus helps keep players wrapped up in the title as they search for and try out new cards.
One of the more popular games of this type is Aikatsu, in which the player creates an idol singer, coordinates her outfit, and sends her out for auditions and performances. The combination of cuteness and collectibles, not to mention the marketing budget that comes with being a product of Bandai, Japan’s biggest toymaker, have won Aikatsu numerous fans in its intended user base of preschool and elementary school girls. The franchise has since grown to include sequels, an animated TV series, manga comics, and even a novelization.
But the appeal of perky, frilly-skirted idol singers is unisex in Japan, and Aikatsu machines sometimes attract male players old enough to be the dads of the little girls it was originally designed for.
Or, occasionally, their grandfathers.
These fans, known as Aikatsu oji-san (Aikatsu Uncles), have been cropping up in photos on the Internet. Sometimes they appear in packs, literally descending on the game cabinets manufactured for players much shorter than themselves.
▼ Sure these three guys look silly, but at least they seem to be enjoying themselves, unlike the girl with the bored expression whose boyfriend dragged her along to the arcade for a date.
Aikatsu units can also be found in the game corner of some large supermarkets in Japan. At certain stores, complaints have been made about adults using the machines, with one customer referring to them as “creepy.”
As of now, there hasn’t been any movement to ban such Aikatsu players, unlike the photo sticker booths which are also common in Japanese arcades and are largely off-limits to all-male groups.
▼ Boys’ night out
However, there are some adult Aikatsu fans who cross the line, earning themselves the label yami no Aikatsu oji-san, or “Dark Aikatsu Uncles.” A common offense is buying an unreasonable amount of playing cards, therein lessening everyone else’s chance of getting the special one they’re searching for. But by far the worst offense is hogging the machine.
▼ “Sorry kid, grown-up stuff going on over here.”
Basic gaming manners require a player to give up the machine if his or her game ends and there are others waiting in line. The Dark Aikatsu Uncles pay no heed to the growing lines of children stretching behind them, though.
The situation has become so bad that some of them won’t even give a turn to their fellow Aikatsu Uncles.
Thankfully, many Akikatsu machines have a sort of built-in grownup time limiter. As we said, since the majority of players are girls around six or seven years old, the cabinets are short. As long as there’s no chair provided, it boils down to a competition between the kid’s patience and the grown man’s joints.
▼ We give this guy’s knees five minutes, tops.