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Japanese Mascot Character Kumamon Heads for TV Series With Tonko House

A consortium of Japanese media companies is partnering with U.S. animation studio Tonko House to make an animation series starring Kumamon. The hugely popular character is the mascot of Kumamoto, a province in southern Japan.

The project was announced by Kumamon creator Kundo Koyama and provincial governor Ikuo Kabashima. Koyama is a TV producer who also wrote the Oscar-winning drama “Departures.”

Tonko House is best known for Oscar-nominated short “The Dam Keeper.” It was launched by former Pixar art directors Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. The studio is handling development and production of the project. The number of episodes and the start of broadcast have yet to be announced.

The Japanese partners are talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo, ad agency Asatsu-DK, Ireton Entertainment, a production and distribution company headed by former Warner Japan president Bill Ireton, and Thefool (“Like Father, Like Son”).

Introduced in 2010 to commemorate the start of the Kumamoto “shinkansen” express train, the black-bear-like Kumamon is the most widely recognized of the hundreds of so-called “yuru-chara” mascots that can represent everything in Japan from government agencies to amusement parks. The partners are looking for expansion into films, games and merchandizing.

Kumamon is already popular in China and Ireton believes it has “universal appeal.” “We decided to go with Tonko House, to develop the character from an international perspective right from the start,” he told Variety. “It will be the first Japanese mascot to be introduced to the world this way.”

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