Man-fish Hybrid Casts pearls Before Swine

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2002

by Sumie Kawakami

IF YOU NEED SOME philosophical advice in these troubled times, just ask Seaman what do. If you are a salesperson worried about meeting your quota, Seaman will advise by saying, "Whatever you do, just don't become a person who deceives his customers." If you are worried about not finding the job of your dreams, he will comfort you with nuggets like, "many people just try to prove themselves by changing jobs" or "do you know how long it took for me to make it to PlayStation 2?" That's right -- this amphibious fortune cookie is indeed a PS2 game character. In fact, Seaman claims he's been around a lot longer than Sony's marketing dream of a console -- his muddy footprints can be tracked right back to ancient Egypt.

The Seaman game, produced by Vivarium, isn't exactly a megahit like the Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy series, but his popularity reaches beyond the virtual world. Just as 'The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump' was born out of a movie to become one of the most frequently quoted books at trailer-park sewing bees, Seaman's sometimes-critical but mostly encouraging messages are providing philosophical tips for the modern Japanese. A book called "Seaman Goroku," or Seaman Quotes, (published by Diamond) became one of the best sellers among newly released books in November last year, hitting its first reprint the very next month. The book was ranked on the non-fiction hit list at Maruzen Bookstore's Nihonbashi branch, a location with a high population of young salaried men and women, during December.

First released in 1999, the game is becoming a real slow-burner -- according to private game research company Media Create, 318,594 units of the PS2 version Seaman have been sold in Japan by November. Together with two other versions (including one for the deceased Sega DreamCast), total sales in Japan have reached 834,000. Considering the fact that the Dragon Quest series (Dragon Warrior in English) has sold almost 7 million and the Final Fantasy series has managed more than 10 million, it isn't a huge figure. So, what's so different about Seaman then?

"While most games are aimed at achieving some targets, Seaman provides communication tools. That's why people who normally don't buy games -- say women from their late 20s to early 30s -- are getting into it," says Mizuho Hanada, a salesperson at game distributor ASCII Corp. Seaman himself sums it up when he admonishes fans of shoot 'em ups: "I wish you'd keep it in the game. I like peace myself."

Nonfiction author Naoki Inose reasons that the popularity of Seaman lies in his ability to tell the modern population that old standards are no longer relevant. He writes: "Common sense today may change tomorrow. It can be changed by the way you look at it and it is useless to be bound by it. It seems that Seaman, who has been watching the history of humanity, can deliver that message very well to the Japanese population."

Or, it may be because the legend behind his existence is so well defined, that it makes people want to believe he is real. Unfortunately, on a discourse of whether Seaman really exists, he simply says, "The truth is one, but facts are not. This is the reality." Seaman Goroku, JPY1,000, ISBN 4-478-702373

The Legend Behind Seaman

The legendary story of Seaman goes like this: In 1933 French scientist Jean-Paul Gazet met Seaman in Egypt, where he was conducting an archaeological survey. He tried to raise him, wrote documents on him but nobody believed him. Dr. Gazet disappeared, but wrote a letter to a Japanese friend Mr. Masuda. During the late 80s, Masuda's ancestors discovered Dr. Gazet's letters in the family's old warehouse ... @

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