If this is the spirit that lives in my local forest, then I’m staying out of it.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles County, otaku-oriented merch wasn’t so easy to find. If I was looking for, say, a mechanical pencil shaped like the hammer Skuld carries in Ah! My Goddess, I was going to have to fight the traffic and head downtown to Little Tokyo, or hit up some obscure little shop tucked in the back corner of a strip mall in Monterey Park or Costa Mesa.

So it warms my Japanophile heart when I come back home to visit and see, in major shopping malls, what can only be described as Japanese pop-culture specialty shops. They’re filled with Japanese snacks, anime trinkets, and all sorts of things that I would have spent all of my disposable cash on. But while that would have felt like a dream come true to teenage Casey, something I recently found in a Southern California Japanese pop culture shop would have given him nightmares (and just might end up doing that to adult Casey).

I’m going to refrain from saying the store’s name or its exact location, but it’s in a large shopping center about half an hour east of downtown L.A. Like a lot of Japanese pop culture shops, this one stocks a selection of Studio Ghibli anime-related items. Sitting on top of a shelf were a row of figures, and even though I’d spotted them from behind, I could tell right away by their shape that they were Totoro figures…but ones I hadn’t ever seen before. That was a surprise, since Studio Ghibli merch is something we keep a pretty close eye on here at SoraNews24, so I walked around to the other side of the shelf for a closer look.

“Oh, OK, so they’re more like accessory trays than figures?” I thought. It’s honestly kind of a clever design, and the pose sort of reminded me of the famous scene in My Neighbor Totoro where the big guy is taking a nap in the forest, so I leaned in to see what sort of adorably blissful expression he had on his face…

…and instantly wished I hadn’t.

I mean, how am I ever supposed to unsee the soulless abyss of those eyes, escape from the fear of the implied violent gnashing of those teeth, and shake the unnerving feeling from the glee Totoro seems to take in ritualistically raising those dead leaves to his temples?

▼ What I was expecting

▼ What was waiting for me

I resisted the urge to look away, thinking that if I looked at it long enough, I’d become desensitized to the insanity-inducing terror it radiated. Instead, continued observation just helped me notice another disturbing aspect of this creature.

The arc-shaped markings, which are supposed to be on Totoro’s chest, are instead on the beast’s inside.

It’s pretty clear that what we’re looking at here are some unlicensed knockoff Totoro figures, but the logic behind selling them is hard to follow. You’ve gotta figure that anyone who wants a Totoro figure likes the character because of how cute he is, but that adjective isn’t at all applicable to these things, so who’s supposed to buy them?

On the other hand, maybe that gap is intentional, and meant as a way to ward off any potential legal complaints. “Your honor, clearly these items do not constitute an imitation of or infringements on Studio Ghibli’s intellectual property, based on how hideously uncute they are,” sounds like a pretty solid defense that should hold up in any court.

Photos ©SoraNews24
Real Totoro image: Studio Ghibli
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he wishes he could remember where he put his mechanical pencil shaped like the hammer Skuld carries in Ah! My Goddess.