If you’ve ever been in an Asian gift shop, brushing past the “Hello Kitty” merchandise in search of delicious, delicious Pocky, then you’ve undoubtedly run across the character Pucca. Despite appearances, Pucca is not actually an offshoot of the all-powerful Sanrio corporation (makers of Hello Kitty, Pochacco, Badtz-Maru and all things übercute). The big-headed cartoon girl in the traditional Chinese garb and the odango atama (“dumpling head”) hairstyle (think Princess Leia) is actually the creation of the South Korean company Vooz. Having conquered the realm of merchandising (T-shirts, dolls, stationary, coin purses, adhesive bandages, cell phone straps), Pucca has made the leap to animation, landing her own cartoon series, currently airing on Toon Disney’s late-night Jetix block.
The cartoon series, produced in Canada of all places, is notable for its simplistic Macromedia Flash-style animation. Storylines are equally simplistic and normally consist of Pucca, a 10-year-old tomboy whose family owns a Chinese restaurant, trying to steal a kiss from her frequently unwilling “boyfriend,” a macho, black-clad ninja named Garu. Pucca’s rural hometown is filled with a multitude of oddball background characters including a Bruce Lee clone, a girl with a chicken on her head, a Buddhist deity named Master Soo and Santa Claus. Yes, you heard me right, Santa Claus. The show is also largely silent (Pucca and Garu never speak), an affectation which has helped contribute to its worldwide appeal. Think of it as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon crossed with “Peanuts.”
While at first glance the show looks dangerously cute, I can assure you its level of cuteness is well within acceptable parameters for non-prepubescent girls. In fact, the series is surprisingly funny and appeals to a wide range of audiences. The antics of kiss-crazy Pucca and stoic Garu give the show plenty of backbone. But it’s the unending parade of strange, obsessive supporting characters caught in the romantic crossfire that provide most of the laughs. Tobe, for example, is a would-be evil ninja who lives only to defeat Garu in combat. He tends to spout villainous catchphrases like, “Drink up, Garu, drink from the fountain of vengeance!” More often than not, he ends up getting mowed down by Pucca, oblivious to the danger, but hungry for some man-love. Abyo (the Bruce Lee clone) rips his shirt off every couple of minutes in manly fury. And Santa Claus is portrayed as a cheerful, but thoroughly clueless do-gooder.
I wouldn’t say that “Pucca” is aimed at adults, but there are plenty of obscure cultural references to tap into. (Not too many elementary schoolers would recognize Bruce Lee’s yellow tracksuit from Game of Death.) For the kids in the audience, there is plenty of frantic martial arts action and a pervasive fear of kissing.
“Pucca” is like a lot of Asian snack foods (the above-named Pocky, for example). It’s simple, a little odd at first, maybe, but ultimately completely addictive. Give it a try, and I bet you’ll want more.