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Saturday, November 20, 2004
The Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi Show
Puffy Ami Yumi have been my favorite Japanese pop band since they made a stop in Portland a few summers back. Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki, along with a slew of producers and studio musicians no doubt lurking in the shadows, combine a '60s rock with electronic beats and j-pop to create infectious tunes that conquered radio stations in their native country. Hints of rockabilly, disco, classic rock, country, surf all are apparent on their five CDs. But in the states "Puffy" is a name associated with a certain rap superstar that is better at throwing parties than throwing out rhymes. Ami Yumi are largely unknown in the US and played clubs during their 2002 tour.
Last year, the band recorded the theme song for Teen Titans, a Cartoon Network series now airing on the WB but more kid-friendly j-pop acts like Shonen Knife or Morning Mesume might have leant themselves more easily to an animated off-shoot. For CN to produce The Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi Show, let alone throw their weight behind it in a marketing campaign that has extended to posters on the walls of Portland's Regal Cinemas, is fairly unusual. On the other, the station hit pay dirt with its after-hours Adult Swim block with the sort of programming usually found only in Spike and Mike festivals.
As strange as a cartoon show devoted to an obscure j-pop ground might sound, the show itself is essentially a straight-forward combination of Josie and the Pussycats, the Powerpuff Girls and anime. The series follows Ami and Yumi's counterparts as they perpetually tour the world with their manager and pet cats. In one episode, the two dart around an unnamed metropolis contending with an obsessive fan. In another, they encounter vampires ala Scooby Doo. Ala the Powerpuff Girls, the show manages to appeal to kids while wooing 20-somethings with in-jokes and clever nods to '70s Saturday morning fodder.
Much like the Jackie Chan Adventures and Samurai Jack, Hi Hi attempts to incorporate Puffy Ami Yumi's Asian roots. Puffy and Ami introduce each show (they aren't responsible for the voice work) and, while their characters look more western-bred, this is a staple technique of anime and their cartoon doppelgangers throw out the occasional Japanese phrase. In one episode, Ami becomes obsessed with the Yu-Gi-Oh-like giveaways in a brand of cereal. In another, Yumi trains to become a ninja.
Perhaps more unsettling though is the bumpers the station used during the show's debut last night. During commercial breaks, Cartoon Network's Friday night bumper spokespeople dressed as clichéd Japanese game show hosts and, in one spot, bowed repeatedly while screaming "HAI!" At what point does culture-embracement and tongue-in-cheek good fun become, well, racism? McDonald's drew criticism while promoting Happy Meal toys for Mulan, an animated Disney feature that debuted in 1998. In one spot, Ronald McDonald performed jump kicks while pitching Chinese-themed McNuggets and limited time only dunking sauces. More recently, a group calling itself the Media Action Network for Asian Americans petitioned Fox to ax Ms. Swan, a recurring character on Mad TV.
A quick search on Google yielded nothing but praise for Hi Hi but is the show one watchdog group away from controversy?