Bring NOVA back from the brink — or the bunny gets it

Failed NOVA Corp.’s thousands of unpaid teachers, hundreds of thousands of paying students left without classes and billions of yen in debt have been well-documented, but Shukan Asahi (11/9) notes an important question about the English conversation chain remains unanswered: What’s going to happen to the NOVA bunny?

NOVA grew to become Japan’s biggest English conversation chain, but its rapid growth became too hot to for it to handle, and the company is now in the hands of receivers after filing for protection from creditors.

Receivers have said they’ll give NOVA a month to find a savior and if it doesn’t happen, the company will go bankrupt.

While in its heyday, the NOVA bunny was one of the country’s most recognizable symbols, but what’s going to happen to it now?

“If NOVA can find a company to prop it up so that it can continue offering classes and doing business, the company’s trademark rights and intellectual property rights like the bunny will stay as they are,” a expert on commercial law tells Shukan Asahi. “But if NOVA goes bust and the company is broken up, all its assets have to be monetized and the proceeds forwarded to creditors. Rights to the bunny could well be sold off. That is, of course, if there’s anybody out there who wants to buy them.”

The NOVA bunny first appeared in a TV commercial the conversation class chain started airing in the autumn of 2002. It made an enormous impact among the cute-loving Japanese and was soon among the most highly rated commercials in the country.

Merchandising followed, first with the release of a CD that reached No. 12 on the Oricon chart — Japan’s equivalent of Billboard — then came soft toys, mobile phone straps, T-shirts; the whole kit and caboodle.

Within months, the NOVA bunny was one of Japan’s hottest properties. Like the company that spawned it, though, fate hasn’t been too kind to the NOVA bunny.

“When the bunny merchandise first came out, it was only sold to students of the chain, so it was regarded of something of a rare commodity and also served to boost student numbers. I wanted to buy a bunny doll myself, so checked out the prices on an online auction site and saw that they were selling for several thousand yen apiece,” Dokkyo University professor and economic analyst Takuro Morinaga tells Shukan Asahi. “The bunny was as cute as hell, but soon it was being sold everywhere and eventually turned up in game centers all across the country, losing that ‘rarity value’ that had made it so popular in the first place. I think, like NOVA itself, it wasn’t good for the bunny’s fortunes that it became too popular too quickly. It’s really unfortunate, but I think in terms of the value of intellectual property and commercial rights, it’s a bit much to expect anything from the NOVA bunny now.”