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Rascal shoos off some native species. (via Idea Wiki)
First introduced in the 1963 book, Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, the impish little trash-eater known as Rascal was a hit from the start. The book, a memoir of author Sterling North’s childhood experience in which he adopted a baby raccoon for a year, was a hit with the youth of the era. It was quickly made into a live-action film by Disney, which depicted Sterling’s adventures with a comedic playfulness that was not quite so apparent in the book. While both of these incarnations met with popular success, it was not until Rascal hit Japanese audiences that his star really rose, for better or worse.
In January of 1977, the Nippon Animation Company released Rascal the Raccoon (Araiguma Rasukaru), a 52-episode anime cartoon series that returned the story back to its more dramatic, bucolic roots (and also featured early work by animation pioneer Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli cofounder!). The series aired all year long, and the ongoing adventures of Sterling and Rascal were a massive hit among the Japanese children who instantly took to the story of a young boy and his ever-present animal sidekick, foreshadowing the popularity of such franchises as Pokemon which would take the country by storm decades later.
The Japanese title card (via Wikimedia)
The show proved so popular that Japanese families began importing pet raccoons from their native North America at an alarming rate. For years after the cartoon’s 1977 release, at least 1,500 raccoons a month were hitting Japanese shores so that fans of the show could act out Sterling’s adventures along with him. If only they had finished the series first.