Hello Kitty Animation Theater Vol. 1: Once Upon a Time
More then the chicken and the egg, one question has been puzzling me: which came first, Hello Kitty or the horde of Hello Kitty merchandise? Long before I was even aware of the Hello Kitty anime, I had seen the cuddly cat's mug on everything from panties to Pez dispensers. Even today, if you do a search for Hello Kitty on Amazon, you'll come up with nail polish, art sets, bags and dolls before coming upon any actual anime featuring her. When I flipped by the Hello Kitty show one day on TV a few years back, I assumed at first that it was an animated commercial rather then an actual show.
Now with ADV releasing the series on DVD, I have a chance to see more then just glimpses of it while channel surfing. The disc has eight episodes (really four episodes divided into two stories) that re-tell classic fairy tales, casting Hello Kitty or one of her many, less marketable friends in the lead roles. If you ever wondered what Snow White would be like if it starred Hello Kitty, or if My Melody was Little Red Riding Hood, or if Badtz-Maru was the boy who cried wolf, then watching this show will satisfy your curiosity. I can save you the trouble though, and tell you that the stories are pretty much the same as any fairy tale you've ever heard, regardless of having a talking cat as the main character.
The fact that Hello Kitty Animation Theater retells fairy tales without adding anything new is what kept me from really getting interested in it. The Snow White short is the best example, practically being a shot-by-shot remake of the Disney movie. Luckily, the episodes get better as the they go along, though none of them ever break from the stories that they're based on to provide any twists in the plot. My favorite story in this volume was "Hello Kitty and the Bamboo Princess", because it was a fairy tale that I wasn't familiar with and I didn't know how it would turn out. However, that episode as well never strayed from the source material. By just animating well-known fairy tales and throwing Hello Kitty and company into the mix, it feels that this anime was made more for character exposure than in order to create a truly exciting show for children.
Maybe I'm being too hard on Hello Kitty. Despite the pretentious title, Hello Kitty Animation Theater is a show aimed at young children. Perhaps it just doesn't appeal to me because I'm ten years older then its intended audience. When I watched it with my seven year old brother, he seemed to enjoy it, though he was just as happy to get back to watching his American cartoons afterwards. There's nothing in this show that would offend anyone or raise concern about young kids watching it.
The dub is great, with most of the voice actors closely matching their Japanese counterparts. With this show, a good dub is especially important, as you'll probably end up watching it with kids who won't be able to keep up with the subtitles and probably can't speak Japanese either.
Aside from kids, Hello Kitty will appeal to people who remember watching the show as children and who want to check it out again. Nothing in Hello Kitty's world has changed much since her conception in 1976: the character designs are all still the same, and the animation looks like it could be from just about any decade. One smart thing about basing the series on fairy tales is that it makes the show accessible to just about anyone. Hello Kitty is really one of those timeless anime shows that will be around forever in some form or another. There's something oddly comforting about this, knowing that when you need a dose of harmless, banal cuteness, you can always reach for Hello Kitty. It's a good show to watch and focus on the pretty colors and cute characters, and to leave the harsh, not so-cute world behind for an hour or so.