When it comes to marketable and recognizable cartoon characters, Disney tends to win every time on a nearly worldwide basis. But for a time in Japan, there was a cartoon character who outstripped even Mickey’s global grasp. And his name was Rascal.
Rascal the Raccoon was the 1977 entry in the World Masterpiece Theater series, a franchise that adapted (largely American and European) literary works into anime series. Other entries in the series include Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and the legendary feel-good hit Dog of Flanders. Based on Sterling North’s Rascal, A Memoir of a Better Era, the series traces a year in the life of a young boy as he raises a pet baby raccoon.
Japanese audiences were so enamored, Rascal’s popularity outshone pretty much any other cuddly cartoon character in the late 1970s. And with that adoration came many families wanting a Rascal of their own. After the series aired, hundreds of raccoons were imported to Japan as pets — sometimes up to 1500 per year. But, as most people who have encountered trash pandas in the wild know, raccoons don’t usually make good pets. Escaped and released Rascals led to North American raccoons becoming an invasive species in Japan, present in all 47 prefectures as of 2008.
Fortunately, our memories of the cute critter aren’t entirely bad. This year marks the landmark series’s 40th anniversary, and Japan is celebrating in style. A World Masterpiece Theater exhibit recently displayed vintage Rascal merchandise and cels, as well as memorabilia from other series in the franchise. And, for the second year running, the show is collaborating with Attack on Titan to make some adorable limited-edition merch being sold at toy and hobby stores around Japan.
So while the hype may have convinced a few (thousand) Japanese families to make a really silly decision, the show also brought a lot of joy to people in Japan and worldwide… and, from the looks of things, will continue to do so for quite some time!