Yokohama police mascots more cute than cop
In a country as obsessed with kawaii (cute) as Japan, the creation of official characters is serious business. So the fact that the police precinct of Seya, a homey suburb of Yokohama, debuted a pair of brand new mascots this month shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
What is surprising, however, is just how curvaceous these particular mascots are.
"As far as I know," laughs officer Tanaka of the Seya Police Department, "these are the most cutting-edge police mascot characters in existence."
Characters by committee
Most official characters take the form of unassuming little animals or creatures to appeal to the broadest possible demographic (the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's Disney-esque Pepo-kun being a classic example).
But Seya's dynamic duo of "Seyano Ajisai" and "Seyano Keyaki" take a different approach: they look like they stepped right out of the pages of a comic book or anime show.
"We used to have an outreach website without any mascots, but nobody read it," explains Tanaka. "So we established a committee to make a new one, and they decided that using a manga style would be the best way to reach the most people."
The result fuses a laundry list of town symbols -- the owl, the ajisai hydrangea, the keyaki tree -- with a slew of stereotypically "otaku" images.
Seyano Ajisai, the female of the pair, features an ample bust, curvaceous hips, and a coquettish pair of anime-style eyeglasses. Meanwhile, her twin brother Seyano Keyaki sports a determined grimace, a proud stance, and a pair of eyes straight out of a Dragonball cartoon.
In concert with the requisite police-wear, the effect is decidedly less "cop" and more "cosplay," less "the Man" than it is "moé" -- that fetishization of girlish innocence and naiveté so popular among anime fans these days.
Smells like teen spirit?
At first blush, it would be tempting to accuse Seya of using borderline pedophilia as a PR tool, but the reality is more complicated. In Japan, mascots are most definitely not kids stuff.
They are de rigeur for any government agency that deals with the public, be it the waterworks, the post office, or the fire and police departments. Even the Self-Defense Forces sport their own cute mascot characters.
The point isn't condescension or infantilization, but rather reflecting the tastes of society.
"These mascots were designed to appeal to everyone, mainly teens and young adults," says Tanaka. And for better or worse, the tastes of citizens have shifted towards doe-eyed moé characters like Seyano Ajisai and Keyaki -- which says more about society at large than it does about the aesthetic choices of a suburban police department.
And it appears they may have indeed hit a sweet spot. Representative of the local Twitter buzz surrounding the launch of the police mascots were the comments of 25-year-old translator Hiroyuki Ochiai: "They feel so wrong, yet so right!"