They (whoever “they” are) say you should never meet your heroes. The logic behind that tidy parcel of wisdom is that if you get too close you'll see how human and pathetically ordinary your heroes actually are. But things are quite different in Japan. Meet the oddest Japanese videogame heroes and you won't be underwhelmed or disappointed: instead, you'll be hypnotised by some podger's perpetual hip gyration dance and ripped to pieces by a sarcastic fish before a robotic maid forcefully evicts you from the room.
Are you ready to shake the hands of Japan's weirdest video game heroes? Can you handle such horrors as pixelly Lycra and bare polygon flesh? Then let the listing begin!
Appeared in: Virtually every Mystical Ninja/Ganbare Goemon game, highlights including Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES) and Goemon’s Great Adventure (N64), with cameos in titles such as Konami Krazy Racers (GBA) and the Parodius shmups.
The oddness: Where to start? Goemon's plump sidekick supposedly has a daughter and is based on an actual Japanese historical figure (one Nezumi Kozou – an 18th century superthief). But Ebisumaru is camp in the extreme: he skips along, arms splayed to each side, grinning at the sheer fabulousness of everything.
Despite being dumpier than the average ninja, Ebisumaru is sufficiently agile to pull some mad shapes when he puts on his tutu and performs his devastating “Heroine Technique”. If Billy Elliot put the masculinity back into dancing, Ebisumaru takes it all away again. And just when you think you’ve got him sussed, it turns out Ebisumaru is actually a big fan of the laydeez. This raunchy man of mystery carries out all sorts of sordid schemes to get closer to the opposite sex, even using a magical self-miniaturising camera so that he can get up close for a good look. Hentai hero!
Career high: In Ganbare Goemon 5, the Mystical Ninja series' N64 debut, Ebisumaru wiggled his plump hips wearing nothing but a thong and an eye-mask. Goemon wasn't too impressed, even though Ebisumaru had decided to dance like that ostensibly in order to negotiate cheaper ryokan accommodation for his crew. In the same game our sake-bellied hero uttered such defining statements as, “He just couldn't understand the beauty... in me” and “Give me a moment to go home and get changed into something different.” His weapons of choice? The Meat Hammer (a hammer, made of meat) and an instant camera. What a hero!
Career low: Concussing Goemon partway through his first Super Famicom adventure. The method? A killer dance-fart combination:
Appeared in: Made a cameo in the Saturn conversion of Fighting Vipers a few years before starring in his own one-off PlayStation game.
The oddness: Pepsiman was designed principally to make Pepsi-Cola look good in the Japanese market. After stints as a toy figure he became the star of some phenomenally popular TV commercials and, thanks to the kind of comic timing you can see in action here, he was soon the talk of Japan:
After all that he managed to land a lead role in his own PlayStation game (of course he had no competition and was pretty well qualified for the position). That Japan-exclusive game was called… Pepsiman.
This Lycra-coated soft drink superhero was the champion of a “noble cause”: he dispensed cans of Pepsi to quench the thirst of helpless sugar-addicted souls. Pepsiman was clearly Pepsi-obsessed (he was always running towards Pepsi-exclusive vending machines and sliding under Pepsi trucks) and Pepsi-dependent (he required endless cans of the stuff to fuel his in-game heroics), so it's probably just as well that his Kamen Rider-esque shiny mask kept the state of his teeth a company secret.
Career high: Achieving national fame in Japan on the back of some awesome TV ads and this “Pepsi propaganda MAX” vehicle of a PlayStation outing:
Career low: Being too frivolous to earn respect in other parts of the world.