Ni no Kuni isn't only the PS3's most beautiful game, it's also pretty darn cute. Thank Studio Ghibli for that. Know what cute calls for? A cute kid.
Mana Ashida is one of the most popular stars in Japan. She's only seven, but she's already done way more than those twice her age, including lending her seal of a approval to a stunning game.
Every other year, it seems like a pint-sized star captures the country's imagination, whether that be Nozomi Ohashi with the Ponyo song or Seishiro Kato as child car dealer. Japanese entertainment doesn't do anything half-assed, so when these kids become popular, they are everywhere.
The child star complex in Japan is similar to that in the West; the pressure is intense, the kids grow up fast and then they seem to disappear as quick as they appear.
In Japan, one of the most successful child stars in the modern era is Hibari Misora, who began acting as the Second World War was grinding to a halt, singing and dancing. She was the Shirley Temple of Japan. However, as she aged, she continued to record and became a truly iconic performer, selling millions upon millions of albums.
Ashida has also made her mark on music, releasing a top three hit single on the music charts, making her and her six-year-old collaborator, co-star Fuku Suzuki, the youngest performers ever to reach the top 10 in Japan. The tune, called "Maru Maru Mori Mori", is the theme to a television show both Ashida and Suzuki appear in. It's viewable in the gallery above, and it will probably make your teeth hurt.
She's a "charisma" grade schooler, meaning that she's famous among little kids — and even has a certain degree of influence. At my two-year-old's pre-school, they play "Maru Maru Mori Mori" every week, and all the kids dance along. A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in a fast food restaurant, and the kids at the next table were singing this song over and over and over again.
Besides appearing in TV shows and feature films, Ashida is hosting a variety show starting this month. This makes her the youngest TV host on Japanese television. She also appears in a seemingly endless stream of commercials, selling everything from school supplies to homes to natural gas.
Her appearance in the Ni no Kuni DS commercials are no accident as she also voiced a character in the game. For the PS3 version, Ashida will once again act in the upcoming TV spots for the game.
Ashida is the latest in a long string of kiddy stars in Japan. Whenever they appear on television, they're well-behaved and charming—something that most parents probably wish their own children were. Hopefully, they still get to be kids, too.
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