Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hello, Please!: Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan (nonfiction book) by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda

Hello, Please!: Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan is a tiny nonfiction book composed mostly of photographs of “working characters,” cute mascots for everything from toilet paper to police departments. I can't remember how I first heard about it, but the brightly colored cover was appealing. I decided to request it via ILL after looking through some photos my sister took while she was in Okinawa.

The book is divided into five sections: Official Characters, Instructional Characters, Warning Characters, Advertising Characters, and Food Characters. Each section has an introduction that gives a little background on the various types of characters and the reason for their existence. The information struck me as being very light and surface level, quick attempts to explain what made the different types of characters so special and uniquely Japanese. I don't think I ever quite understood what made these characters so different from mascot characters outside of Japan - it seemed to boil down to "there are a lot of them" and "they are used in more situations." Also, I was left with lots of questions.

For example, the characters are repeatedly referred to as “reassuring.” Are they really perceived that way by Japanese people, or is that just the effect that companies, designers, and organizations are going for? The Official Characters section, which covered characters used by various official services, such as police departments, hospitals, and public transportation, left me wondering how many of the characters specific to certain locations would be recognizable outside those locations.

The greatest appeal of this book is its pictures. Alt and Yoda include a dizzying array of characters, and each one only gets one or two photos. The photos have short captions describing the purpose of the character and giving its name if it has one. The only characters in the book that I was familiar with were the OS-Tan, which were mentioned in the text but not pictured, due to “murky rights issues” (151).

All in all, this was an okay book, but I was left wanting something more. More depth on the origins of the characters, or an in-depth look at one or two of the characters, or brief interviews with creators of some of the characters, or even just “what do you think about this mascot character?” interviews with average Japanese folks. Still, the pictures were nice, and I appreciated getting to see so many of these characters.

2 comments:

  1. Looks fun! Have you seen this interview with Matt Alt on Begin Japanology? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG-wqc8twsY

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    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you! No, I hadn't seen this. It provides a little more detail on a couple of the things mentioned in this book - nice! I should try their youkai book.

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