Hamtaro Anime Review
US Release By
Exhibition of Cuteness
296 25-minute Episodes
2000-07-07 - 2006-03-31
What's In It
- Violence: 0 (none)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 0 (none)
Laura Haruna is a fifth grader who's moving to a new town. But we don't care about her--it's her hamster, Hamtaro, who's the main character of this show! Obviously, Hamtaro moved to a new town as well, and being a super-canny animal, he manages to escape from his cage and go exploring at the same time Laura does. He meets up with Oxnard, about the same time Laura meets up with his owner, Kana. Well, one thing leads to another and Hamtaro and Oxnard eventually discover a whole cult of hamsters that escape from their owners every day and hang out together! In the tunnels of the earth, there lives a field hamster who calls himself "Boss," and when Hamtaro and Oxnard make friends with him, they transform his humble hole into a fun clubhouse for the entire town's hamster population.
The show that is destined to be the next Hello Kitty in the US: Hamtaro.
The adventures of the cute little hamsters and their totally inept owners have already captivated thousands of children. But is this anime any good, or is it just kiddy crap?
I'd have to say no. You might not believe me, but Hamtaro is actually a very entertaining anime. To start things off with, I'll say that the anime fandom has more or less totally ignored this show. I guess they're just too 'cool' to watch Hamtaro. Careful, if you start to hang out with the 'wrong crowd,' you might be dragged into something 'bad.' Well, the point of this is to make myself look cool while admitting that I know absolutely nothing about the changes to the US version of this show. It seems to me that most of the character's names were changed, particularly the hamsters, but for all I know they were identical. Of course, some of them don't have a proper noun for a name, so those were obviously translated into English along with the rest of the words in the show. I'd wager that Laura's last name was probably Haruna in the Japanese version, and that Kana's name was Kana Iwata.
Obviously, Hamtaro is slim on storyline. Most of the episodes are self-contained plotlines, and simplistic ones at that. The episodes have a sort of structure to them, for the most part: Laura is doing some new thing, and Kana and all the other fifth-graders are doing it too, so of course, their hamsters have just got to try it for themselves. Some of the episodes are about some problem that crops up in the human's lives which can only be solved by the hamsters. Some of the episodes are extremely entertaining, but others are just sad. For example, the lives of the humans do progress bit by bit, and Laura's and Kana's teacher, Mr. Yoshi, ends up falling in love with a farm girl who rescues him from his greatest fear: chickens. Unfortunately for him, her father is overprotective and a 'chicken daimyo' (this has to be seen to be believed). The episodes involving that relationship are extremely entertaining; funny, cute, and with the nutrition of a tub of lard but the flavor of chocolate mousse. However, the episodes where Hamtaro is forced to find a floppy disc for Laura or a pair of glasses for her father are boring and trite. Most of the episodes find an exact middle path between the two extremes, and are entertaining enough to watch.
As characters, the hamsters are fairly shallow. Hamtaro is the helpful, go-get-'em guy who never gives up. Oxnard is a coward and an extremely hungry one at that. The Boss is a traditional "I want to be macho, but I keep being made a fool of." The other hamsters also follow these sterotypes, and there are too many of them to mention. Most of them also aren't important enough to warrant their existence; some of them (if you know the characters, I'd single out Cappy) only make the plots for two or three episodes, and hang around as a boring, pointless waste of ink the rest of the time. I actually enjoy watching the human characters more than the hamsters, because they all have more personality. Even Laura and Kana, who make a traditional Sakura and Tomoyo pair, but much shallower and without as much chemistry, are more interesting than the hamsters. They're also the vehicle to a lot of other interesting human characters. One of these is their teacher, Mr. Yoshi (mentioned above), who basically embodies what the usual anime nerd like Keitaro Urashima from Love Hina or Kyosuke from Kimagure Orange Road might turn into if they grew up and became a teacher. There's also Mr. Yoshi's mother, who tricks the girls with ghost stories; a very strange horror author who's friends with Laura's dad; and a pair of veterinarians who take their job way too seriously, among others. These characters aren't deep, and they only show up for one episode, but it's a lot of fun to watch them and their various personality quirks. Even Laura's and Kana's fathers, a weak office nerd and a pumped-up athlete (respectively), can be good for a laugh with their constant competition. If this had been a show about two girls who meet a lot of weird people, it would have scored a perfect five.
Before I get to what it does score, I'll discuss the technical aspects of Hamtaro. The animation is simple and clean (like the song in Kingdom Hearts... okay, not the time). When I say simple, I mean VERY simple. I, a fan artist who usually just copies pictures printed off the Internet, had no trouble watching the show, then picking up a pencil and making an exact reproduction of any character. Human or hamster, it doesn't matter. The hamsters are even simpler because they are all essentially clones of each other. Laura and Kana both have freakishly thin arms and legs and really big, blobby heads, which takes a bit of getting used to, but does grow on you. Most of the minor characters look a bit more traditional, but all of them have a very original style (well, going back to that Keitaro Urashima thing, Laura's father looks almost exactly like him....but everyone else is distinctive). The backgrounds are also sparse, but everything moves consistently and it's all brightly-colored. The style fits the anime perfectly, so even if it's not Ghost in the Shell, no complaints there. The music's sources are many and varied; the opening is an original pseudo-musical creation from the US distributors. The BGMs could be the original ones, but I'm not sure of this. The ending, I'm fairly sure, is a translated and re-sung English version of the original ending song. It has a fairly catchy tune and a good rhythm, even if they have segments in the song where I can't even understand what they're supposed to be saying. The dub is good enough; it's not horrible, but it isn't the greatest dub ever created. Some lines have been horribly rewritten as cliches or lame puns that I'm sure weren't present in the original version, but all the voices are well-cast and acted. If you watch Inuyasha, you'll probably recognize a lot of the voices. Laura has the same voice as Kagome, Panda (a minor hamster) has the same voice as Shippo, and the very minor hamster Sabu has the same voice as Inuyasha himself.
I've been looking at Hamtaro from a fairly objective viewpoint thusfar, but I'm not really an objective person, so time for my subjective opinion. This will entail a lot of chewing out of the traditional American fanboy, so don't be too offended if that means you. Despite some very boring episodes, on the whole, I think Hamtaro is an excellent anime. It's very innocent, cute, fun, sweet, and it doesn't even insult the intelligence of the viewer. Most anime fans in the US like to watch anime with a lot of action, giant robots, naked girls, explosions, magic, etc, etc, and this is what's preventing more children's anime from coming to the US. Some people might say that's a good thing, so let me explain my viewpoint. When I came in to anime, one of my first 'real' anime (not Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z) was Evangelion. This is a quintessential anime to an American fan; giant robots, sexy girls, blood, excellent animation, a confusing plot. After this, I watched a lot of other anime like Eva, and Akira and Ghost in the Shell. One day, while watching Betterman, something just snapped. I realized that Betterman was a pointless waste of time masquerading as a good anime, and while it packed all the blood, naked girls, and confusing plots, that wasn't what I wanted anymore. Starting with Hamtaro and Hello Kitty, then leading to Love Hina and Cardcaptor Sakura, I went through a downward spiral that led to me wanting to watch a fun, sweet anime with bite-sized chunks of plot and super-cuteness. I still like Eva, but I don't want to see anything else like it. So from this point of view, the simplistic-yet-fun plotlines and innocent characterizations in Hamtaro and Cardcaptor Sakura are almost like a godsend. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I'm into anime because I'm an unconventional person, and being a conventional anime fan just isn't me any more than being a conventional anything else. I have my opinion, and you have yours; neither one is right, but mine is mine and yours is yours.
If you have kids (if you were really a parent looking for something kid-friendly, you wouldn't have suffered through my entire rant), they'll love Hamtaro. Even if you're not, or don't have, a kid, just try watching a few episodes. You might get hooked like I did and decide to give up on Betterman and Spriggan (neither of which were any good in my opinion).
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Notes and Trivia
Based off a series of Japanese children's books by Ritsuko Kawai.
US DVD Review
The DVDs are dub only, with three episodes per disc.
It's like Hello Kitty, okay?
Violence: 0 - Danger, but no actual violence (unless you count being chased by chickens).
Nudity: 0 - They're hamsters.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Some of the hamsters fall in love with each other.
Language: 0 - Since bad puns don't count, nothing.
Staff & Cast
English Dub Cast
Laura Haruna: Moneca Stori
Panda: Jillian Michaels
Sabu/Cappy's Owner: Richard Cox