It’s 3 p.m.! Let The A.V. Club briefly make use of the waning hours of your productivity with some pop culture ephemera pulled from the depths of YouTube.
The video game mascot game is a supremely dicey affair; unless you’re Mario (or one of his various associated mushrooms, dinosaurs, or apes), chances are you’re eventually going to be tossed in the dust bin by your parent company, with your only real hope of survival being a nostalgia-fueled revival project years after the fact. (R.I.P. Crash Bandicoot.) But one legend of the console-promotion game has lingered in our memories far past any Aero The Acrobats or the hated Bubsy: the immortal Segata Sanshiro.
Created by Sega in the late ’90s to promote their then-new Saturn console, and played with stone-faced stoicism by actor Hiroshi Fujioka, Sanshiro had a simple mission in life: Find kids who aren’t playing the Saturn—maybe because they’re foolishly out playing baseball or dancing—and beat them up with his judo powers. (He’s actually a parody of a famous fictional judo master from a Kurosowa film, with his name tweaked to sound like the Japanese version of his catchphrase, “You must play Sega Saturn.”)
It’s easy, when looking at any cultural artifact from Japan, to dismiss it all as simple mockery or exoticism of a “wacky” foreign culture. But the Sanshiro ads—which proved incredibly successful in their native country—transcend those trappings by being legitimately clever and fun, finding different ways to adapt the character to a variety of games. (Including his own; Sanshiro is the rare mascot character to work his way into video games, rather than the other way around.) They even managed to give him a fitting send-off, appearing during the launch of Sega’s next console, the Dreamcast, to give his life to save the company from an evil terrorist plot.
Sega continues to pay homage to Sanshiro from time to time; most recently, he popped up as playable character in the 3DS RPG Project X Zone 2. Honestly, we’re just happy to know he’s still out there, beating up little children who refuse to stop playing in the nice weather and go spend time with their video games.