Quite possibly I’m just not the right audience for Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: Kaznapped!. Any work is going to have an intended audience, and Kaznapped is not designed to appeal to the twentysomething Master’s student. But even on a kitsch level, the game has no resonances with me. That I find strange. I’m a huge fan of cartoons—not only just the extended Saturday morning toy commercials I had growing up (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Rainbow Brite), but even modern cartoons. Shows like Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls (both creations of Cartoon Network, the network that is also home to the cartoon of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi) have a wit and a heart that I can get behind and appreciate. But a rental of the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi show didn’t do much for me. One could conceive of a show using the same premise—characters based on a real-life Japanese pop duo and their cheapskate manager, and the wacky adventures they all have—that would be a fun time for all; just add the rocking soundtrack that comes pre-made when you write a show about and starring a rock band. But the actual show comes off as flippant and generic (and the band’s music is barely used).
Every episode of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi is bookended by bizarre live action sequences starring Ami and Yumi themselves, speaking in broken English. Said sequences are confusing, as I’m actually not sure whether we’re supposed to be laughing merely at the duo’s antics, or at their heavily accented speech.
Indulge me for a moment more. Ami and Yumi are Japanese; obviously they speak fluent Japanese while their handle on English is more tenuous (as evinced by the bookend segments). In the cartoon, for expediency reasons, the characters all speak in English. We could assume that in the cartoon’s reality the characters are speaking Japanese and we’re getting a diegetic translation, or, more realistically, that they’re speaking a generic universal language—as evidenced by the fact that the two interact comfortably with characters from other cultures, and that such issues are translation are irrelevant issues to be pored over only by twentysomething Master’s students.
We could end the discussion here were it not for the fact that occasionally the characters will drop an interjection of Itai! or Baka! or Honto?. Japaneseness in Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi is reduced to being nothing more than the odd mild expletive or arcane cultural scrap such as the superstition relating to sticking chopsticks in rice. (One imagines American otaku adoring the show, as the implication is this: memorize a few choice phrases and you can be Japanese too!) I’m uncomfortable with the way cultural identity is reduced to an affectation to be put on during certain moments.
In the cartoon, the only way we know they’re Japanese is because it occasionally reminds us with these interjections. Tithe game goes a step further and gives us only the veneer of the cartoon. We have sprites which look like the characters, which are drawn in the show’s style, but, in the grand tradition of so many licensed titles, there isn’t a single thing to make it feel distinct.
Kaznapped is a vague sequel to the Hi Hi episode “Dis-Harmony” in which the group meets Harmony, their biggest fan. Harmony, in the episode, turns out to be incredibly annoying to Puffy and Ami (and, by extension, to the twentysomething Master’s student viewer), and the two go through greater and greater lengths to get rid of her. (Puffy AmiYumi is obviously not one of those bands that go the extra mile for their fans; rather, they appear to be one of those ungrateful bands that think they deserve the love.) The two travel to different corners of the globe, only to meet up with Harmony, who insists on spouting her high-pitched catch-phrase: “I’m your number one faaaaaaaaaaaaan.” In Kaznapped, Harmony decides to steal the band’s instruments to go on her own world tour as the band won’t hangout with her. She also steals manager Kaz, and it’s up to Ami and Yumi to get him back.
That brief synopsis I just gave is the entirety of the storyline; for a game based on a cartoon television show there is precious little in the way of cutscenes. If we were still in the ‘80s, that might be okay—the script of Capcom’s Ducktales, for example, is only a few dozen words long and it’s one of the greatest licensed games ever. But this is a game made in 2005. While we don’t need a Xenosaga-length scene, it might be cute to show a quick interlude between stages. All we get is a shot of the two characters and a caption to the effect of, “We’re going to the moon!” “We’re going to a haunted castle!” (And why, incidentally, are they going to the moon? Because that’s one of the places the duo goes to escape Harmony in the cartoon.) As the game stands, the player isn’t given any motivation. Just as we can forget that Ami and Yumi are Japanese, just as we can forget that they’re in a band, we can forget why exactly we’re going from stage to stage.
I find so much about Kaznapped to be strange on a production level—why there are no clips of the band’s songs played at opportune moments (the GBA has the capability), why there aren’t more cartoony interludes, why the whole experience feels incoherent and forgettable. I know that licensed titles are usually viewed as hack jobs, rushed to make a quick buck while the series is popular, but that doesn’t mean that the game ought to feel as lame as it does. I guess the biggest problem is that the game feels like it has no heart. When the original work it’s based on is as shallow as it is, I guess that’s an unavoidable hazard.