Raccoon City

There will, I am sure, be no change at all at NEO magazine, as the lunatics are already in charge of the asylum. But for much of the rest of the British press, the onset of summer sees the beginning of “silly season.” The media slows down, even more than it has in pandemic times. There are less product launches, less premieres, less new books. Half of the world goes on holiday, and the people covering for them might let a few things through that might not otherwise

All of which goes to say that the media might get even weirder for the next month, and you’ll have to do a double-take at some of the stranger sounding stories that make it past sub-editors. But June’s Guardian piece on the imminent danger prevented by “racoon-dogs” was not part of silly season at all, but another dire addition to our annus horribilis.

Native to China, Siberia and Japan, and better known to any anime fan as tanuki, the raccoon-dog is “an exotic member of the fox family,” and notoriously skillful at escaping from cages. Introduced to Soviet-era fur farms in eastern Europe, the species has been inexorably working its way across the continent, and constitute one of the most potentially dangerous “invasive non-native species.”

Now, zoologists are clutching their pearls in horror because one was caught in the wild in Wales last year. Another was seen near Lincoln, and another was reportedly stolen from an illegal back-garden cage in Oldham. The Mammal Society (of whom, I confess, I have not heard until today) is warning members of the British public to stay vigilant, because raccoon-dogs will eat anything, breed like, well, like raccoon-dogs, and pose a clear and present danger to voles, frogs, other small mammals and ground-nesting birds. Oh, and they are also riddled with a number of diseases that can be passed on to humans. Because the last year hasn’t been surreal enough already. Isao Takahata has passed away, so he’s not around to defend the loveable trickster tanuki made famous by his Ghibli feature Pom Poko. There was not a word in the Guardian of their shape-shifting powers, their ancient wisdom or their entertainingly magical testicles. They are, it turns out, bad news, as unwelcome as Japanese knotweed and murder-hornets, and not the least bit like the fun-loving furries depicted in the anime classic. Maybe it’s time to watch Pom Poko just once more, before the real world ruins the fantasy.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #210, 2021.

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