2004 Retrospective: Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi

kcw 2004 retro

Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: Aired November 2004

I wanted to start my 2004 Retrospective with a television show that I never really talked about with friends before, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi. It was a show that I watched in secret largely because my younger brother would make fun of me for watching, and my Mom indirectly disapproved of. If you’re not familiar with the show, it follows two brightly colored J-Pop stars Ami and Yumi who are actually real-life J-Pop stars. I suppose it bothered my Mother a great deal that her 11-year old son would watch a show with two female protagonists. She would ask “What is this? Why are you watching it?” in the overly-judgey tone that she often used to shame me into abandoning things she disapproved of. I don’t know why, but I resisted the shame and watched the show whenever I could be alone to enjoy it. I remember flipping channels when people would come into the room to avoid negative comments and stares… But now ten years later, I’m going to just sit back and watch the first episode in peace, finally.

The two things I remember most fondly about the show remain the two best parts still: the J-Pop music, and Yumi. The theme song is one of the catchiest anthems of all the cartoons I watched as a kid, and the music used during montages makes otherwise boring montages fun to watch. Now let’s talk about Yumi because she’s a total badass. That’s probably a large part about what kept me around as a kid. The combat-boot, spiked-bracelet, and collar-wearing punk of the duo was the one always making the wise remarks as I remember, and I’ll be honest I totally did (and maybe still do) have a thing for punk/goth characters. They’re always level headed and wiser than their years, usually independent, and they embraced alternative clothing options. Coincidentally Yumi’s voiceactor, Grey DeLisle, also voiced Sam, another goth character that would debut in 2004’s Danny Phantom.

I can’t say the first episode is full of laughs; it first deals with a stalker fan, who inexplicably shows up wherever Ami and Yumi go. In an amazing Alien reference, the stalker bursts out of the chest of Yumi while they’re on the moon. There’s tons of great throwaway gags though, like the girls wanting to get “Pizza on a Stick” while at the mall, or Yumi learning ninja-skills from a mail-order biodegradable monkey who tragically biodegrades… As a whole the episode was entertaining enough to a 21-year old, and I take that as a sign that the show holds up pretty well. I really appreciate that the show doesn’t shy away from using Japanese songs or language on-the-fly either, it certainly lends to an overall sense of character. The songs are fun, the art’s pretty good, and the show’s packed with clever jokes – so just about ten years later I’d say Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi is still work watching.

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A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory” (1991)

I’ve never heard of A Tribe Called Quest before, not until a friend recommended that I check it out for the blog. So going into “The Low End Theory”  (1991) I had no idea what to expect. I’ve ever heard anything that sounded quite like this album; there are perhaps some similarities to Warren G’s “Regulate… G Funk Era” (1994) in regards to the themes and positive vibes, but A Tribe Called Quest lays their relaxed lyrics over bass guitars and old-school drum beats instead of the funky synths of G-Funk.

Wikipedia throws this album in a genre called “Jazz Rap”, and while I’m no expert on musical classification I would agree that “Jazz Rap”  accurately describes what I heard on “The Low End Theory.” It’s really easy to lose yourself in the rhythms of each song; the drums, the bass, and especially the vocals act like a force of current bringing you down an incredibly relaxed, down-tempo state of mind. The album also has a tight aesthetic, as all of the songs deal with down to earth themes and tend to play with the same musical elements. The occasional scratch of the turntable is perhaps a little out of place, and breaks this mental image I have that I can only describe as coffee house rap. The old-school drums are simple and just sound right, and the bass, touch of keyboard, brass, guitar – they all sound part of this beautiful aesthetic, and the presence of turn tables is a little weird – like a hint of cubism in an impressionist painting.

I loved “The Low End Theory” and I experienced this incredible worlds-meeting moment listening to “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and realizing that it was the basis for the chorus of the Beastie Boy’s “Sure Shot” (1994). I suppose that’s who A Tribe Called Quest reminds me of the most, the Beastie Boys. Regardless,  A Tribe Called Quest  seems an important piece of musical knowledge to have while trying to assemble the 1990’s musical landscape.