When the hell did Domo become big in the U.S.?

Over the weekend we stopped into the local Target store and I was stunned to see huge advertising displays featuring the weirdly cute fuzzy Japanese monster-thingy known as Domo all over the place. That’s a pic of him over on the left. I’ve known about him for years and have a QuickTime movie file on my PC which contains every single one of the short animations he featured in used as station identification shorts for NHK TV in Japan. He’s been fairly popular among anime fans for years, but almost no one outside of the anime subculture knows who the hell he is.

Or at least I didn’t think they did. The fact that Target has licensed him to sell Halloween stuff seems to suggest he’s gone mainstream. Not only was I surprised to see Domo all over the place, but a little kid that walked in with us immediately knew who he was and started calling out his name, “Look mom! It’s Domo!” According to his Wikipedia entry it seems Nickelodeon licensed him in 2006 for 26 two-minute shorts which they just started airing this year. If they were half as warm and fuzzy as the Japanese originals then they were probably a sensation with the kids, as the one child I saw this weekend would attest. And now Target has snapped him up.

Turns out I wasn’t the only person surprised by this as reporter Tom Horgen over at StarTribune.com wrote a big article about him:

In 2003, an American licensing company named Big Tent approached Goda and NHK about bringing Domo to the United States in a bigger way, a deal that eventually led to the Target campaign.

“No, no, no,” Goda remembered saying at the time, hesitant about Domo’s American fate. Goda was unaware that Domo already had a following outside of Japan.

Today, Goda said he’s excited about Domo going mainstream in this country. But he understands why some of the character’s cult followers might be perturbed.

“It’s really difficult to balance the popularity and keeping the core fans,” he said.

But after Goda finally saw Domo in his new American setting, he was pleased.

“When we saw the Target store in Portland and saw Domo surrounded by all that American stuff, I was so happy,” he said.

In fact, Goda has been a fan of American pop-culture since he was a kid. His favorite character? That would be Snoopy, created by Minnesota’s own Charles Schulz.

Like Domo, Snoopy is a cuddly troublemaker and a man of few words. He’s also been a mainstream icon for decades, one that even anti-mass-market geeks like myself have loved.

Earlier in the article Tom brings up the possibility that early fans of Domo here in the states may feel he’s “sold-out” by becoming a mascot for Target:

When underground sensations like Domo hit the mainstream—he also has a deal with Nickelodeon—it can render the original uncool, or even result in cries of “sellout.”

That seems kind of stupid considering Domo was created to advertise a TV network, but I suppose some folks who don’t know his history may fall into that trap anyway. Still it’s kind of neat to see something I’ve been a fan of for years suddenly being popular in the United States. If it makes it a little easier (and not to mention cheaper) to finally pick up a Domo plushie then so much the better.