After some seriously high-profile involvement, Nintendo characters aren’t part of newest promotional push for 2020 event.
The organizers of the 2020 Olympics charmed the world last summer when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rose out of a pipe dressed like video game character Super Mario at the closing ceremony for Rio de Janeiro’s iteration of the Games. With the Olympics coming to Tokyo in 2020, promoters wanted an instantly identifiable image of vibrant Japanese energy, a role that the Nintendo icon, in many people’s minds, filled perfectly.
Given what a high-profile role the Kyoto-based video game developer played in the performance, some assumed that Nintendo would continue to be a major presence in the preparations for the 2020 Olympics. After all, Mario is so globally loved that his franchise is serving as the major motif for massive expansions of Universal Studios theme parks around the world. Plus, Nintendo is also a major stakeholder in the Pokémon series, and by extension adorable mascot Pikachu.
So when word came that the Tokyo Olympics organizers were going to be creating and selling a line of merchandise featuring famous fictional characters from Japan, many assumed that the heroic plumber and Electric-type Pocket Monster would be on the team. However, the Tokyo 2020 Official Online Shop has just begun taking orders for items from the newly unveiled Character Design Series, and it turns out not a single Nintendo character is involved.
The line’s hats and shirts feature a pretty large collection of characters, with Astro Boy, Sailor Moon, One Piece’s Luffy, Naruto, Dragon Ball’s Son Goku, a pair of Pretty Cure magical girls, Crayon Shin-chan, and Yo-kai Watch’s Jibanyan all standing tall in front of a wall of text that ends with “Ganbare Nippon” (“Go for it, Japan”), the country’s now-standard rallying cry for international sporting competitions.
The exclusion of Mario has a certain logic to it, as all of the featured characters star in significant anime franchises. However, that makes the absence of Pikachu all the more surprising, given that Pokémon had already been a phenomenally successful anime and video game series for several years before Yo-kai Watch’s entrance to those fields of entertainment.
But while this lack of recognition is no doubt vexing for Nintendo fans, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Mario and Pikachu are being entirely left out of the festivities. At the moment, the Character Design Series seems to be targeting Japanese shoppers, since with three-plus years until the Tokyo Games open, not too many foreign sports fans are in the mood to buy official gear and souvenirs just yet. That would also explain why Pretty Cure, Yo-kai Watch, Crayon Shin-chan, domestic smash hits which have had far more limited success overseas, are present and accounted for.
As such, there’s still a chance that Nintendo characters will be showing up later in more internationally focused promotions as we get closer to the 2020 opening ceremony. At the present, though, Mario and Pikachu’s involvement with athletics looks like it’ll have to be limited to hanging out at the sports bar and waiting until their services are called for.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s hoping against hope that Umi Ryuzaki and Ukyo Kuonji get added to the Character Design Series.