The evolution of Japanese game commercials

30 years of daft, brilliant and disturbingly odd TV skits

The power of music (2001)

There had been J-pop-game-CM crossovers before, but 2001's PikMin commercial spawned a hit of its own, with its theme song released as a single due to popular demand. Indeed it was so popular that it sold a million copies and topped the charts, making lots of other CDs very jealous.

Play this charming ditty to any Japanese person and they'll tell you it's "the PikMin song", and that's the real evidence of the CM's success. It's not the band's song (sorry band, whoever you are!), it's the game's. These days, having your song attached to a game CM is practically mandatory for J-pop acts who want to conquer Japan.

Sex sells - well, durrr (2002)

Like Ebi-chan's presence in SEGA's Puyo Puyo CMs a few years later, only a thousand times more blatant and shameless, Capcom's Devil May Cry spot pitches an attractive idol to help sell a game. It's not the oldest trick in the book, but it is one of the most effective. And at least with this attempt there is some kind of logic to it: we hear a voice saying "Oh, that's a nice pose! That's a cool pose!" while seeing what could pass for such poses in-game, and then the camera cuts to reveal a photographer who was actually praising his idol. Who is standing on his chest. Waving a sword. In a bikini.

The sexy game CM is now an intrinsic part of Japanese TV, and it won't go away no matter how many letters of complaint your grandmother sends to the Japanese TV Standards Office - because your granny can't write kanji.

Comedians heart games: true (2009)

And this is where we are today. Sharp white backgrounds (colour may vary according to company, but probably won't), humour, celebrity, an air of sophistication. Of course the hyperactive ads still exist - mostly for pachinko simulators still being released on the PS2 - but the prevailing trend is one of elegant simplicity. Which, after all, is what the whole wa thing is all about.

The stars of this particular CM, for Nintendo's DSi, are popular manzai comedy duo Audrey. Guy on the left introduces the DSi as being equipped with a camera, and Kasuga (the chap in the pink jumper) says, "Women, my camera is aimed at you!" to which the guy in the suit replies "I'd like you to get away from here immediately!", implying that Japan's womenfolk are at risk from the gaze of Kasuga's DSi.

That's the tone of the humour. But more important than the content of the modern CM is the cast, and it's now extremely rare for a game to be promoted without the backing of a major Japanese celebrity or, preferably, a dozen of them. The future? More celebs, no doubt. What a scary thought.

September 3, 2009


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