by Alastair HIMMER, December 7, 2017
(AFP) - Tokyo Olympic organisers unveiled a shortlist of three official 2020 Games mascots Thursday -- from bug-eyed cartoon heroes to cuddly raccoons.
The Olympic and Paralympic designs, which celebrate the themes of harmony, diversity and resilience, were unveiled by pupils at a Tokyo elementary school.
After a bungled rollout of the official Olympic logo that led to it being scrapped following accusations of plagiarism, local organisers have left the selection of the Tokyo 2020 mascots in the hands of schoolchildren.
From December 11 to February 22, pupils at every elementary school across Japan -- and Japanese schools overseas -- will choose their favourite design, with each class casting a single vote. The winner will be announced on February 28.
The competing mascots are instantly recognisable as "Made in Japan", ranging in appearance from sci-fi cool to a glum-looking fox closer in spirit to the country's beloved "yuru-kyara" (soft characters).
Design A's futuristic blue-checked design with pointy ears and oversized eyes evokes Japanese manga, while Olympic organisers revealed it has a "strong sense of justice" and can apparently move faster than light.
Its Paralympic cousin, meanwhile, sports red checks derived from cherry blossoms and possesses the ability, helpfully, to "talk with stones and the wind."
Design B pairs a cartoon hybrid of a "lucky" cat and a fox draped in a red flame-like cloak with a blue lion-dog of the type seen guarding Japanese shrines -- the common thread between them big round eyes resembling disco lights.
Olympic Mascot B also "loves to take naps underneath the sunlight," said Japanese organisers, adding that it "gives happy energy to people by touching them with its tail."
The softer appeal of Option C, meanwhile, brings together a fox looking less than overjoyed at being decorated in prehistoric "magatama" beads and a red raccoon looking a little bemused by all of the commotion.
Tokyo organisers will hope to make smooth progress on the mascots to build on recent momentum following a series of public relations disasters.
Last month, Tokyo opened its first new permanent venue for the 2020 Olympics -- a welcome boost after plans for the main stadium were torn up by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe two years ago over its $2 billion price tag.
Designs for the official Games emblem were then scrapped amid a plagiarism row.
There was more bad news in October when Olympic organisers admitted that prolonged summer rain had brought high levels of bacteria to a venue earmarked for triathlon and open water swimming.
While Tokyo has taken successful measures to reduce costs, the International Olympic Committee has urged local organisers to try to further cut its current $12 billion Games budget.