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Nintendo and McDonald’s Have Teamed Up in Japan, and the Result is Adorable

An screenshot of McDonalds Japan's trailer showing free kirby toys given away with Happy Meals.
Image: McDonald's

According to the numbers, Japan ranks third globally in countries with the most McDonalds (US takes gold, China gets silver). Over 2,900 branches dot the nation’s 381,000 square kilometres, making the Golden Arches an ubiquitous site indeed. However, what makes the Big M really stand out in Japan has absolutely nothing to do with its signature burgers or fries.

As a kid in the West, going to McDonald’s used to be everything. Yeah, I can hear you now with your child obesity stats and high sodium warnings, but just be cool for a second. The main appeal was the Happy Meal: a convenient way to score a sweet limited-offer toy from a franchise de jour while enjoying some nuggets. Unfortunately, no matter how awesome I think my plastic treasures were, they pale in comparison with the goodies dispensed at a McDonalds in Japan, especially with the current line-up of toys. 

For the first time in the long history of Japan’s Happy Set (as Happy Meals are known in Japan), Nintendo and McDonald’s are teaming up to give kiddos — and adult nerds — super cool and kawaii Kirby plushies. Oh yeah, the gang’s all here too. Every iteration from the adorably onomatopoeia-named Pukapuka Kirby to an interesting “Triangular Cheeks” Kirby are waiting to go home with you and brighten up your day. 

Just look at these little puffballs:

Pretty cool, huh? However, this pink gift from the Japanese burger gods isn’t all that surprising, considering the already prolific amount of excellent toys the Happy Set’s pumped out over the years. I mean, just look at this killer Godzilla set that came out just last year! Moreover, with one look at this mouth-watering list of items, my inner child chides me for not going to high school in Japan.

A Happy Set comparison with U.S. Happy Meals during the same year underscores just how big of a cultural difference there can be in determining what children wanted to play with. For example, in 2005, kids in the US could go home with either a generic Hot Wheels car or a figure from Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus collection. Meanwhile in Japan, you could bag a character from the MegaMan NT Warrior series.

Digging deeper, the Kirby Happy Sets are also fascinating simply due to the amount of elapsed time since Kirby’s debut on Nintendo in 1992. After all these years, why hand these out now? We’ve seen some significant game content recently with 2022’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and 2023’s superb Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe, but with nothing new on the horizon, what reason is there to promote? Perhaps Nintendo’s trying to tell us something important vicariously through a fast-food giant.

Regardless of the motive, I’m still insanely jealous of patrons queuing up in McDonalds’ lines thousands of miles away. Why? At the core of all of this, I’m just a big kid who somehow wound up with kids of my own, whom I immediately inundated with all things Nintendo. As the birthplace of Mario, what better spot to grub on a Quarter-Pounder with a Waddle Dee next to you?

As we speak, I’m calculating the ROI on flying to Japan for lunch, snatching up a plushie, then catching a red-eye back. True, Kirby may eventually wind up on a shelf at a second-shop, but for the moment, I…er, my kids would be content. 

Isn’t that the whole point of a Happy Set? 

Guest contributor // Joshua Furr's problematic obsessions with video games and pop culture have hounded him since the early 90s. A fierce disciple of Nintendo, his tastes bounce around from AAA games like Tears of the Kingdom to indie darlings like Hollow Knight, Stardew Valley and Cuphead. When he's not clacking away, you can find him in the kitchen, playing Mario Wonder with his kiddos or doing some light jogging.