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"Puffy" Power is Undercharged

by on October 21, 2004

Japanese Pop duo Puffy in their animated formPerhaps envious of the high social status given toys in the U.S., Japanese celebrities seem to be looking for their own piece of the pie. After all, who wouldn’t want bling-bling like Pikachu has – millions in the bank, Hummers in the garage, Pokemon in the Jacuzzi. So here comes Japanese pop duo Puffy hoping to realize the American dream with a Cartoon Network original cartoon series – Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi. Will they be the next hot fad, and maybe even breakfast cereal? Time will tell, but the pilot episode suggests that Count Chocula needn’t lose much sleep just yet.

Having lived in Japan during their meteoric rise to fame in the late 90s, I am quite familiar with Puffy’s Ami and Yumi, two typically super-cute Japanese pop stars who made their mark with infectiously upbeat melodies and often wildly nonsensical lyrics. Although it often gave me a headache trying to find any rhyme or reason to their words, I must admit they know how to spin a catchy tune, or their producer does anyway. Plus they’re none too hard on the eyes, although when I say “they,” I mostly mean Yumi. However, they do manage to stand apart from the throngs of faceless zombies known as “pop idols” in Japan. Their music tends to be more diverse and charismatic, and they lean more toward being spunky tomboys than sex objects. I was a bit surprised by the announcement of this cartoon, as I thought that, as they are now sinfully past the age of 20, Puffy’s career had rather matured in Japan. Perhaps they seek new frontiers to conquer.

Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi does give us a brief glimpse of the dynamic duo themselves in action, but it’s mostly its own entity. The colorful opening credits are a blast, combining animation and concert footage. From there the first episode leads into a brief intro with Ami and Yumi in somewhat awkward English as they begin to debate which of their hometowns of Osaka or Tokyo is better. Then it’s on to the animated shorts that make up the bulk of the show, before concluding with more mildly convincing bickering from the hosts.

In “Disharmony,” Puffy is stalked by an obsessed fan, in “Dance-a-Gogo” they try to win a dance competition, and in “Taffy Trouble” they take a part-time job at a candy factory to pay rent on their tour bus. Various high jinks ensue, but nothing really distinctive or funny enough to be worth noting. The animation is on par with other Cartoon Cartoon productions. Given its very basic nature and most probably miniscule budget, it does manage to have a lot of visual flair. Ami and Yumi look more or less like, well, Ami and Yumi, with Ami being the cute one and Yumi the rebel. It is a bit much to buy Yumi as a fret-melting punk rocker though.

The voice work is competent if not exceptional. Puffy are played by American voice talent, who, although they don’t quite sound like the girls, do speak much more smoothly. A handful of Japanese phrases are thrown in here and there, perhaps so the network can claim the show as educational programming.

In fact, the program is very similar to the 60s Beatles cartoon. Both shows have similar animation, corny humor, and simple plots that are basically just excuses to have extended musical montages, often over chase/action scenes.

So whom is Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi going to appeal to? A fair question to be sure. The first episode lacks the sharp writing and distinctive characters that make shows like Fairly Oddparents and Powerpuff Girls a strong draw for a wide range of viewers. In fact the program is, even more than the group’s music, just a harmless piece of fluff. I suppose young girls may be attracted by the cute imagery and music and inspired by the modest girl power theme. It’s difficult to imagine a much broader audience though, apart from diehard Puffy fans. While I’m hardly one of the faithful, I definitely subscribe to half their platform. Osaka rocks!

The Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show premieres this Friday, November 19 at 7:30 e/p on Cartoon Network.

Discuss this review here on Toon Zone’s Cartoon Network forum.

Read Toon Zone’s other reviews of this program:
“Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” Repeats More Than It Pleases
“Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” Presents Possibilities But Does Not Accomplish Many
“Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi”: CN Can Still Bring the Funny

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