When you come to think of it, the successes of Cartoon Network shows are pretty cut and dried. Oftentimes, you’ll see colossal victories for the network like that of “Ed, Ed, and Eddy” or “Steven Universe” — shows that will undoubtedly captivate fans with their colorful characters and cooky antics for decades to come. Alternatively, there are those few flops that are quickly chucked straight into the channel’s garbage bin to essentially be wiped forever from our entertainment clogged memories. Though, there’s a small segment of CN classics that ride the wave of quality and obscurity so much so that they’ve acquired quite a sizable cult following made up of nostalgia hungry fans. This just so happens to be the case for the bubbly, punk, anime-inspired show, “Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi”.
Conceived to target Cartoon Network’s then under-catered demographic of girls ages 6-11, animation mogul Sam Register pitched the idea of the show to execs in 2003. The show’s premise was to follow the wacky adventures of real life Japanese pop punk duo PUFFY (or Puffy AmiYumi in the US). Given that the two had already made a mountain of a name for themselves in Japan, having their own talk show called “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy,” it seemed like the perfect concept to bring their ever expanding sensation to the states.
“I think my boss’ boss’ boss would have preferred Batman,” the creator tells Animation Insider in regards to pitching the show, “But there are people who will always be skeptical.”
Before they were taking the music industry by storm, Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura were quite literal strangers. With the prospects of stardom in their hearts, Ami and Yumi found themselves in the Tokyo offices of Sony — Ami had just let go of her lacklusterly performing band and Yumi had left her home of Osaka after acing the company’s talent search. One conversation at a concert afterparty was all it took for the two to become fast friends and eager music partners.
The two released their debut single “Asia no Junshin” under the production of Tamio Okuda, who had previously worked with Yumi.
“In the beginning we were so different so we didn’t think we’d hit it off. Once we started to become friends we hit it off right away though,” Yumi says in a 2005 interview for Women Rock, “It was luck.”
And lucky they were as the duo’s sensation spilled all throughout the country with the release of their debut album “AmiYumi” selling over a million copies. The two were so big in Japan that they quickly caught the attention of former CN Vice President, Sam Register.
“I saw a music video (of the band) on some public access channel,” Register says, “It just kind of happened, and I at first didn’t catch their name…and I was interested.”
The duo was not strangers to the network as, in 2003, they recorded the iconic theme song for the action packed mega hit, “Teen Titans.” As millions tuned in to catch the show around the world, PUFFY gained even more worldwide recognition before their show was even on air.
“Hi Hi Puffy AmuYumi” first aired on Nov. 19, 2004 to an amazing reception, garnishing a whopping 1.55 million viewers. The show greatly increased Cartoon Networks viewership of young girls, showing a 64% growth. The show’s bubbly shenanigans truly captured audiences as the animated versions of PUFFY rolled around in their PuffyBus to rock out venues all over the world.
“When we watch it, we watch it as cartoon Ami and Yumi,” says Yumi at the height of the show’s popularity, “We don’t really portray ourselves in it. It’s so exaggerated and if we were really portraying our normal lives, it wouldn’t be that interesting as a cartoon.”
Apart from the cooky storylines the two rockstars got into, the show’s success could be attributed to it’s innovative use of real-life concert and backstage footage. The veil of reality was pulled quite often during the program as interstitials and clips included Yumi and Ami’s realistic counterparts. This gave American viewers a small taste of Japanese culture and further gave the band worldwide acclaim.
While the show had a great run — earning three Annie nominations — it was quite short. “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” was prematurely cancelled in the middle of its third season due to the departure of Sam Register from the network. Register was quite unhappy that the animation studio intended to produce the show’s fourth season was instead hired to work on the network’s first live action program, “Re-Animated.” This left the highly admired program without a showrunner and destined to be removed from the program.
Though all mention of the show has been completely erased from Cartoon Network’s website, fans of both the show and the band hold it in a special place in their heart. There have been several outcries from the show’s cult following for the network to reboot the franchise. Though that day may never come, “Hi Hi Puffy AmuYumi” stands as a very interesting crossswords between international influence on the zeitgeist of American cartoons.
The first episode of “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” can be found on Vimeo while DVDs of the show in its entirety can be purchased on Amazon.
By Omar Letson