The Saturn did not succeed in United States because we did not have a frightening martial artist stalking us and demanding that we play Sega’s 32-bit console like in Japan. At least, that’s my working theory.
Everyone remembers that console companies like Nintendo and Sega had mascot characters, but companies often had human (albeit fictional) mascots as well. You might remember Sony’s PlayStation executive Kevin Butler, but Sega’s Saturn spokesperson Segata Sanshiro predated Butler by several years. In Japan, actor Hiroshi Fujioka portrayed Sanshiro as an intense, Chuck Norris-like Judo master whose sole mission on Earth was to get you to play Sega Saturn. And he was awesome and worth remembering today, which is the 22nd anniversary of the Saturn’s release in the United States.
Through a number of commercials that aired on Japanese television from 1997 through 1998, consumers saw Sanshiro get into one insane situation after another. But whether he was beating up a club full of dancers or fending off a horde of zombies, he would always repeat his catchphrase (which comes across more as a holy mantra): “You must play Sega Saturn.”
Sega truly treated Sanshiro like a heroic character. When it came time to retire Fujioka’s character, the publisher didn’t just pull the ads from television. The company put up a final spot where terrorists (?) fire a missile at Sega’s headquarters. Sanshiro is able to catch it before guiding the explosive into space and sacrificing himself in the process.
“You must play Sega Saturn,” Sanshiro says over and over before dying in the blast.
“Segata Sanshiro will live on forever in all of our hearts,” a voice-over says before the ghost of Sanshiro comes up over the city of Tokyo.
And in 2017, I think he should live on in your heart as well.