Happy (Belated) Birthday, Segata Sanshiro

Editor’s Note: This post was scheduled to go up on the 5th of July, when it was actually Segata Sanshiro’s birthday. It did not. What the hell, Talen. What the hell. You had this planned way out. You had a plan, man. Instead it was published on the 9th.

First things first, some important context:

If you’ve lived a decent and whole life you probably have no idea what you just watched, unless, of course, you can read subtitles. This is the song Sega Saturn, Shiro, performed by Ichiro Tomita and Hiroshi Fujioka, as part of the advertising campaign for the Sega Saturn in Japan. And I mean campaign, we’re talking that this judo-suited dude hauling the luggage-sized Sega Saturn controller was the figurehead of multiple ads demonstrating numerous videogames.

This was the Sega Saturn, by the way. This is well past the point where videogames looked so bad you needed non-game representations of them. This is from the era where games could have nice detailed sprites or you could show off cars that looked a lot like cars moving a lot like cars do.

And who is that strange, strange man?

That, my friend, is SEGATA SANSHIRO.

Segata Sanshiro was the central brand of Sega advertising in Japan, and that music video clip, which was played as if it were a normal music video to be played in normal music video spaces, was his theme song. The pun of his name and the song was that Segata Sanshiro was effectively a real name, but also sounded a lot like Sega Saturn Shiro – an exhortation to play the Sega Saturn. Don’t give me guff, I’m not a linguist.

Segata Sanshiro was a wonderfully weird creation, a point of cultural gap that we just don’t have in most of our ad campaigns here. There’s something about what would ostensibly be, in the west, a singing duck or some other kid logo design, instead being a mid-forties man who judo-chops his way through nightclubs full of teenagers and children. And those lyrics! Talking about broken bloody bodies for those people who do things like have sex and go dancing. It’s a weirdly intense hyperbolic rhetoric, and on the one hand, you can do media anlaysis as it as gendered, or employing stereotypes of gamers – but on the other hand the dude judo-flips zombies.

Now, an advertising note: I quite liked the character of Kevin Butler and I also quite like Segata Sanshiro – as media. I didn’t buy a PS3 because of Kevin and I didn’t buy a Sega Saturn because of Segata Sanshiro.

The great tale of Segata Sanshiro came to an end – no really, they officially ended it – with the announcement of the Dreamcast launch. Because a terrorist wanted to destroy Sega (just wait a few months, mate), and decided to launch a goddamn missile at Sega HQ to stop it.

What happened…?

Well…

Yes, you just watched the mascot of the Sega Saturn judo-flip a missile into space, and give his life, chanting his name, only for the denoument to be exhorting you to buy the Dreamcast –

because it’s what Segata Sanshiro would have wanted.

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