Saturday, August 7, 2021

Eagle Sam The Anime Olympic Eagle

It's Summer Olympics time again and the world's athletes are sweating it out in Tokyo while the world watches... from home, because COVID-19 is still a thing and spectators aren't allowed into the games. Fans of Japanese animation have been making Akira references since the Games were announced, the news media has had fun misidentifing Odaiba's Gundam statue, and in general Japanese pop culture has been an inextricable part of these 2020/2021 games. But did you know evidence of a Japanese anime connection to the Olympics might just be all around you?

Now pitching for the Dodgers, Eagle Sam The Olympic Eagle

Back in 1984 the Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and the committee selected an all-American mascot, Sam The Eagle. Sam was designed by Disney artist Bob Moore to be a friendlier, cuddlier version of America's national bird, the eagle, which is typically seen as stern and intimidating. Sam The Olympic Eagle would appear on a wide variety of merchandise and as a graphic element on hundreds of Olympic publications, and the mascot suit character would be seen around the world as part of Olympic events. 


However, one iteration of Sam The Olympic Eagle would only be seen in Japan. Taking this eagle to its bosom, more than forty Japanese companies licensed the character, releasing hundreds of character goods. A TV cartoon to sell this merch was a natural move, and Dax International, fresh from Vickie The Viking and Kirin Masterpiece Romantic Theater, got together with TBS to air the anime version of Sam The Olympic Eagle under the title "Eagle Sam." Please, we ask you, don't confuse this Eagle Sam with the Eagle Sam that narrated Disneyland's "America Sings" attraction. The Eagle Sam animation aired Thursdays at 7 from April 1983 until March 1984, for a total of 51 episodes.

Eagle Sam in April 1983's "My Anime"

You'd think an animated cartoon about an Olympic mascot would involve sports, but Eagle Sam has more important things to do - he runs a detective agency in Birdie Town, and that Uncle Sam hat? It's magic! Keiko Han voices Canary Carina, Sam's sexy secretary. Tagging along on adventures is Canary's younger brother Guzlan, and the whole crew is constantly coming into conflict with Albatross, Birdie Town's police chief. 


Eagle Sam and Canary

If the human being characters sometimes look a little Lupin III-ish, well, that's no surprise, as character designer Yoshio Kabashima also worked on Lupin's second TV series. Sam has adventures around the town and around the world, but strangely enough, there's nary a pole vault or 100 yard dash or diving competition in sight. 

one reason this show might not have made it to export

Eagle Sam shares this un-Olympic quirk with Japan's other Olympic-mascot-themed anime, 1980's Misha The Bear Cub. This TV Asahi series was built around Misha, the mascot for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and aired from October 1979 until April 1980. Misha is a cuddlier version of the Russian bear designed by Viktor Chizhikov, and he - Misha, not Viktor - lives in an animal town with his mom and dad and his bear girlfriend Natasha, who is also voiced by Keiko Han.


Misha and friends and Moscow Olympics logo

Misha's non-track-and-field adventures among the small-town animals are pretty typical kiddy cartoon fare for kiddy cartoons around the world, with the possible exception of episode 18. That's when Misha meets Kunta, the bear mascot of Hokkaido Television Broadcasting, who was named after Kunta Kinte, the star of popular HTB series "Roots." This mascot meeting of the minds might be the loudest echo of the Russo-Japanese War we'd seen in anime until 2018's Golden Kamuy.

Misha vs Kunta

Nippon Animation's Misha made it to France, Italy, and Arabic and Spanish-language markets, and was re-run on Japanese TV in 1999 and 2009. Eagle Sam, on the other hand, not only never aired outside Japan, but hasn't aired since and so far it has yet to see any home video release at all. I guess we know who won that particular Olympic competition.

Eagle Sam merchandise found in America's antique malls

On the other hand, if we want to talk about the availability of merchandise starring Olympic mascots who had their own Japanese TV cartoons, well, Eagle Sam is going to win hands down. Ever since I started keeping an eye out for him, I've seen Eagle Sam merch showing up in antique malls and vintage markets all over the place. He's definitely a 1980s anime character that will never be misidentified as a "Transformer." If you're interested in owning a bit of Olympic / anime history, Eagle Sam mugs, glasses, shirts, plasticware, and plush toys aren't too hard to find, especially every time the Summer Games roll around and the antique mall vendors fill their booth up with seasonal items. Prices can vary widely due to the Crazy Grandma Price Guide effect, so be cautious. 

hey buddy, they won't even let ME wear it

Well, you can't keep a good eagle down. Sam the Olympic Eagle is still seen every year as the mascot of the Mt. SAC Relays at Mt. San Antonio College, part of the LA84 Foundation's endowment, using the surplus from the 1984 Olympic Games to "promote and expand youth sports opportunities in Southern California." Keep up the good work, Eagle Sam!  And if you want to know what it was like to actually BE Eagle Sam, check out this podcast interviewing one of the people inside the Sam mascot costume! 


DISCLAIMER: OLYMPIC® is a trademark of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (“USOPC”). Any use of OLYMPIC® in this blog is strictly for informational and commentary purposes. The Let's Anime blog is not an official blog of the USOPC. The Let's Anime blog is not a sponsor of the USOPC, nor is Let's Anime associated with or endorsed by USOPC in any way. The content of this blog does not reflect the opinions, standards, views, or policies of the USOPC, and the USOPC in no way warrants that content featured in Let's Anime is accurate.
-Dave Merrill

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