Wc Donalds Picture

WcDonald’s Anime Restaurant Comes to Life


American fast food multinational McDonald’s recently ended a weeks-long campaign that embraced its unique “WcDonald’s” persona in Japanese anime. The makeover, which encompassed the launching of a new sauce, manga-inspired packaging, and episodic shorts, illustrated in many ways the robustness of US-Japan soft power connections.

From February 26th to March 18th, 2024, McDonald’s flipped its signature golden arches upside down, formally embracing its unofficial Japanese anime alter-ego to become “WcDonald’s.” The campaign was done in partnership with Japanese animation studio Studio Pierrot, the creator of world-famous anime like Naruto, Bleach, and Tokyo Ghoul, as well as Japanese manga artist and illustrator Acky Bright, who contributed his designs to create custom, anime-inspired packaging.

WcDonald’s is a fictionalized version of McDonald’s that originated from the 1981 manga and anime franchise Cat's Eye, first appearing in the 1983 anime adaptation's 48th episode “A Mystery for a Winter Night.” Since then, hundreds of anime have featured an abundance of WcDonald’s imagery to evoke the familiarity of the famous real-life fast-food chain, ranging from the full name of the fictional franchise to a simple yellow “W” on a red packet of fries.

Tariq Hassan, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer at McDonald's USA, commented on this cultural phenomenon: "Anime is a huge part of today's culture, and we love that our fans have been inviting us into the conversation for years... The WcDonald's universe is a reflection of what fans have created. It honors their vision and celebrates their creativity, while authentically bringing it to life in our restaurants for the first time ever."

While Hassan was most likely referencing the manga designs and the limited-time availability of a “savory chili WcDonald’s sauce,” one McDonald’s location went the extra mile to “authentically bring [the experience] to life.” From March 8th to 10th, customers in the Los Angeles area were able to enjoy a “WcDonald’s Immersive Dining Experience” and eat inside a McDonald’s that was fully rebranded as a WcDonald’s, complete with the inverted “W” logo all around the interior. Outside of California, more than 30 global markets participated in the campaign.

At those select locations, customers could purchase McNuggets featuring the WcDonald’s logo – “WcNuggets” – accompanied by a QR code for scanning which leads to a website showcasing weekly animated short episodes. This serialized content stars a plethora of WcDonald’s characters, blending parody with official endorsement from McDonald’s. Collaborations such as these, while intended to capitalize on fans, also reflect the soft power influence of each culture and highlight the receptiveness of integrating elements from the other’s cultural landscape which, in turn, facilitates exchange. McDonald’s first opened its doors in Japan on July 20, 1971, in the Ginza branch of the Mitsukoshi department store. After only ten years since first establishing a physical presence in Japan, the golden arches, albeit upside down, already started appearing in anime. These cultural products, which immortalize the improvement of US-Japan relations in digital format, are then exported by Japan to the rest of the world.

Japanese soft power and cultural exports in a post-WWII world were essential in re-establishing Japan’s credibility in the international sphere. Its post-war economic boom facilitated innovations and expanded the reach of firms such as Nintendo and Sony in entertainment. In much the same way, the global ubiquity of Japan’s manufacturing powerhouses, such as Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Honda, is a product of a well-managed economic rebound following the devastation of war. Japan and the United States continue to share a strong bilateral partnership across diplomatic fronts. American and Japanese private enterprises and citizens, receptive to each other’s soft power influences, contribute to maintaining a robust connection between the two countries despite having previously fought on opposite sides of a war. More than just the constant appearance of McDonald’s in anime, a symbol of American influence, the instant recognition of Japanese and American icons – such as Pokémon’s Pikachu and Disney’s Mickey Mouse – is perhaps an extremely potent diplomatic tool that is widely overlooked.

Vincent Zhang is a Spring 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a senior at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, pursuing a B.S.F.S. in International Politics with a concentration in Foreign Policy.

Kyle Ta-ay is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington and a Young Leader at the Pacific Forum in Honolulu. He is pursuing an M.A. in International Affairs at American University’s School of International Service. He is also an International Student Advisor at the International Student and Scholar Services, a Research Assistant for the ASEAN Studies Initiative, and the Vice President of Finance of the Graduate Leadership Council.