The Microsoft Office Assistant You’ve Never Seen (Until Now)

Posted on September 1, 2021 by Stephen Chapman in Office with 5 Comments

Last week, we explored a couple of Microsoft rarities from Japan: the Windows 20th Anniversary Edition of Windows XP, and the “Start Me Up” Windows 95 Promo CD.

Today, the journey continues as we travel back two decades with the unveiling of a long-lost Office Assistant from Microsoft Japan. In fact, at the time of this writing, it isn’t even listed on the Wikipedia page for official Microsoft Office Assistants!

For those who don’t know about Office Assistants, they were basically little animated UI characters that provided on-screen help with various Microsoft products. The most famous (and infamous) of them all is, of course, Clippit (aka “Clippy”).

“Those things give me PTSD,” Paul Thurrott said when I proposed this for my next article. Sorry, Paul (and others like him). =)

Introducing まんまちゃん (“Manma-chan”)

I know what some of you are thinking: “What the dog doin’?” And you’d almost be correct to say “dog”!

Manma is the mascot from a long-running Japanese talk show called さんまのまんま (“Sanma no Manma”). The host is comedian Sanma Akashiya, and Manma isn’t a dog, but rather an alien that’s shaped like a dog. The show first aired in 1985, but Manma wasn’t introduced until 1987 when his spaceship crashed on earth and he was discovered by Sanma.

Wild stuff, huh?

For those unaware of Japanese culture, there are mascots for everything: brands, products, stores, companies, television shows, etc. It’s a fun and quirky aspect of the culture that I’ve really grown to love!

Back to Manma, beginning sometime in mid to late 1999, there was a limited-time campaign from Microsoft Japan in which they mailed the following CD to those who purchased a copy of Office 2000 Upgrade Edition during the promotional period:

I had absolutely no idea about any of this until that disc was tossed in with a group of other stuff I’d purchased from a seller in Japan.

There also exists a full-color variant of the disc that I’m still hunting for:

 

As for Manma becoming an Office Assistant, I’m not sure how or why that happened. Obviously the show must have been popular enough at the time to merit such a thing, but how and why Microsoft Japan chose to do all of this with Manma is a bit of context I’ve yet to uncover.

Perhaps more signs that emphasize the apparent importance of this character is all the swag that exists of Microsoft x Manma. Here’s a few items I’ve documented along my journey:


Isn’t it crazy to see how much effort clearly went into this campaign, only for it all to be forgotten about for 20+ years? I absolutely love bumbling into new adventures like this!

For those interested, I went ahead and dumped all the animations from the installation files, then stitched them together into a video so you can see what all Manma does. If, however, you’d like to actually install the Manma Office Assistant, I’ve uploaded the files to my Archive.org library for everyone to check out. Now for that video:

As you can see, Japan is the gift that just keeps on giving — and trust me when I say there is a LOT more for it to give!

If you’ve stuck with me this far, then here’s a glimpse of what’s soon to come in relation to Microsoft and Japan’s affinity for mascots:

Stay tuned as we begin traveling down the rabbit hole of Microsoft’s official Japanese mascots for Windows and other products. If you’ve never seen this stuff before, then you’re in for a real surprise!

-Stephen

For a sneak peek into more of my collection and some of what’s to come, you can follow me on Twitter at @beta_collector!

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Comments (5)

5 responses to “The Microsoft Office Assistant You’ve Never Seen (Until Now)”

  1. karlinhigh

    I am an exception in that I have fond memories of the Office Assistants. I started a job at age 16 and had only the vaguest idea of what a spreadsheet might be. Power Pup was my favorite of the Assistant stable. I learned enough from the Assistants that eventually my supervisor would see me do some move he hadn't taught me, and ask "Is that something the dog knew?"

  2. anoldamigauser

    The only Office Assistant I ever enabled was Earl the Cat, and the only reason was so that I could dismiss him, which involved Looney Tunes levels of violence. Simple things amuse simple minds.

  3. karlinhigh

    "For those unaware of Japanese culture, there are mascots for everything"


    Even their tax agencies, apparently, from a 2016 article:


    www.dontmesswithtaxes.com/2016/01/would-a-cuddly-mascot-make-the-irs-loveable-not-to-gop-representatives-still-looking-to-impeach-irs-.html


    The now-defunct blog where I saw this had a resonse to the question of what an appropriate mascot for the USA Internal Revenue Service would be: "That would look like a stuffed Cthulhu."

  4. VMax

    For an insight into how weird, and how numerous, Japanese mascots are, I highly recommend @mondomascots on Twitter. Just to pick a couple of recent example:


    Cat-kun, an intergalactic blue cat who brings happiness from outer space and spreads it through cable TV in the Nagoya City area, is the mascot of Starcat Cable Network.


    Nondy, a 69-year-old alien who likes smiles and marshmallows, is the mascot of the JSNDI (Japanese Society for Non-Destructive Inspection) who inspect machines without damaging them. His special skill is a non-destructive wink.

  5. justme

    With the affinity for mascots that Japan has, what I wonder is how big the team at Microsoft is that handles/comes up with them?

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