Call me old fashioned but I remember when mascots were meant to be cute, not demons spawned by human weakness or yam ninjas.

It’s that time of year again. The time when the nation unites and casts a vote for their favorite mascot. The Yuru-kyara Grand Prix is an annual election where men and women in loose fitting costumes with giant heads from all over Japan vie for the top spot.

The Grand Prix’s first ever winner likely needs no introduction: Kumamon the black bear mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture was able to capitalize on his title and since then grew into a multi-billion yen brand with international recognition.

▼ Kumamon (center) and the other past Grand Prix winners

Image: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

Winners since then haven’t quite capitalized on their first place honor, but that hasn’t stopped mascots from all over from trying their luck at winning and catching a wave of popularity. This year the field of candidates has grown to an overwhelming 1,727 mascots representing either a city, prefecture, organization, or corporation.

To give you a sense of the competition, the current front-runner of the 2016 Yuru-kyara Grand Prix is Hanipon who represents Honjo City in Saitama Prefecture.

(Current place: 1st with 6,491,506 points)

Image: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

Hanipon possesses many of the qualities desired in a Japanese mascot. He is cute and easily approachable for children that he would likely meet at his various public appearances. He also represents the 1,400 year-old art of clay statues called haniwa.

Fun and educational, Hanipon has a good chance at taking this year’s contest. But for now let’s look at some of the more unique mascots in this year’s contest. First, in 404th place we have The White Underground Kingdom Ninja Jinenja.

White Underground Kingdom Ninja Jinenja
(Current place: 404th with 2,906 points)

Image: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

Jinenja is a creation of the Association Supporting Wild Yams of Shiroi and although easily mistaken for a walking terrified turd with mold, he is actually a yam ninja. He comes from the underground kingdom of Stickyland under Shiroi City in Chiba Prefecture. However, the kingdom was attacked by a mysterious adversary who kidnapped Princess Gooey.

Tasked with rescuing the princess, Jinenja was given the kingdom’s strongest weapon, The White Wild Yam. However a win in the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix could help bankroll his quest. He’ll have his work cut out for him though, because Floor Plan Boy is hot on his heals!

Floor Plan Boy
(Current place: 439th with 2,482 points)

Image: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

It might be hard to spot at first glance, but the face of Sanpuku Holdings Ltd’s mascot is actually the floor plan of a modest but cozy bachelor apartment perfect for a busy single or budget-conscious student away from home.

According to his bio, Floor Plan Boy is only five years old and is taking up pro-wrestling to build his strength. However, judging by the looks of him, he’s going to have a heck of a time in his weight class. He’s also going to be in a lot of trouble if this other thing in the contest catches up to him.

(Current place: 1,276th with 138 points)

Image: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

This mascot does have a name, but it is an unreadable string of Chinese characters representing “seduction, evil, light, vermilion, end” (婀魔照朱吽). This mascot also appears to have an interest in world religions judging by its robe imprinted with the symbols of many major faiths.

Here is its bio:

“Born of human deception, arrogance, and bitter jealousy.
I wonder why the same mistake is repeated, thinking each one’s own side represents ‘justice’ in conflict.
Cannot understand, but should recognize…”

The word “unsettling” springs to mind. Even though this mascot is lingering in the polls, it is certainly having an impact on all who come across it online, yielding comments such as:

“Cool, but not a yuru-kyara.”
“I like it but it would make kids cry.”
“Why do they let non-yuru-kyara into the Grand Prix?”
“That mascot just changed my view of the world…Get out of my head!!!”
“What? Isn’t that a monster from Persona?”
“How do you read that name?”

Also, things get weirder. Remember: to participate in the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix, a mascot must represent a region of organization. Well, this thing looking straight out of a Tool video is said to represent Vermilion Cicada LLC (Shusemi Godokaisha), but very little is known about this company.

I could find a company by this name listed on a few corporate database websites. Vermilion Cicada was apparently established in December of last year, but the owner and phone number were unlisted and the business the company was involved in was listed as “other.” There was an address, but a Google Map search led to a small four-unit apartment building by a river in Kagoshima Prefecture.

So, if you would like to see the demon of religious conflict or yam ninja become the next Kumamon in Japan, head on down to the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix and cast your vote.

They clearly need it.

Source: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix, Hachima Kiko, Naver Matome (Japanese)
Top Image: Yuru-kyara Grand Prix (Edited by RocketNews24)