We find ourselves in trying times, and you know what they say: trying times call for an adorable and relatable cartoon animal mascot. It’s moments like these when I turn to Sanrio, the Japanese mascot company that brought such market stalwarts as Hello Kitty, Keroppi, and the endlessly dispassionate Badtz-Maru. Sanrio was there for me during my personal nadir, with the introduction of Aggretsuko, a cute little fox who channels her hatred of a disillusioning office job into drinking and heavy metal karaoke (literally me, circa 2007). But behind the scenes at Sanrio, there are a couple of hundred characters who, for one reason or another, never made it front-of-house in Gorgeoustown, and as we’re collectively faced with huge obstacles as a society these days, it’s time to dig into this file for the hero we need in 2019: Big Challenges.
I was alerted to the existence of Big Challenges by a Twitter thread by @chloi, which also clued me into Have You Heard About This Boy?, a hand-drawn fanzine by an artist named j hayley, which captures and chronicles some of these lesser-run but amazing Sanrio characters. According to Have You Heard About This Boy, Big Challenges was introduced in 1978 as a “[u]nique crocodile-kun with a blurry face. It looks like it is laughing!”
That’s the entire backstory on Big Challenges, whose lesser-run status perhaps had to do with perceived encroachment on the Lacoste logo, which had been dominating the reptilian mascot scene since 1927. But listen, Big Challenges is totally different — for one thing, it’s a unique crocodile-kun, and for another, an American journalist baptized René Lacoste “The Alligator,” so technically the Lacoste crocodile is an alligator. At any rate, I think Big Challenges’ time has come (and side note: how fun do character pitch meetings at Sanrio sound? Is everyone high, or?).
When factions of society ready for change are met with resistance by those demanding regression, when the impact of climate change forces the realization that our collective human impact is unsustainable for the planet, when billionaires who could pave the way for lifesaving societal innovations are instead developing vanity space tourism for other billionaires— these are the times we need an animal mascot ready to take on huge issues. We have big challenges and we need Big Challenges! So come 2020, I will personally be voting for whichever democrat adopts Big Challenges in their primary campaign. It looks like it is laughing! But if it’s anything like the rest of us, it’s crying on the inside and deadly serious about making a change.