Within animation fans, there exist two wolves: one foremost strives to further the depth of stories portrayed in the medium through creating and encouraging projects with intellectual and authentic emotional complexity and authenticity— and the other likes when the cute cartoons do fun things. Of course, these two facets of the animation medium do not exist as mutually exclusive; some series like (the previously discussed) City of Ghosts cleverly utilize their colorful characters and warm atmosphere in order to more gently and humanistically introduce complicated topics; and in a similar vein, series like Moral Orel, South Park, or Aggretsuko subversively use their whimsical outer shells to punctuate their heavier moments through the aesthetical juxtaposition created— the immediate discomfort of something being and then staying off. Indeed, Animation remains a particularly fascinating part of film/ television through how its inherently nonliteral foundation allows it a more immediate opportunity to express emotion and, in turn, the complexity of emotion. That said, a show like Pui Pui Molcar is squarely the other wolf— a fun-sized show focused foremost on providing a fun time; and, although that in itself may not seem as depthful, it nonetheless exhibits its proficiency in how well it accomplishes its goal of brightening up the viewers’ day.
Pui Pui Molcar is a 2021 stop motion-anime television series produced by Shin-Ei Animation and directed by Tomoki Misato that follows the various adventures of several molcars, a hybrid of a guinea pig and a car. The series demographically fits in line with Shin-Ei’s filmography, the studio most known for its long-running children’s anime like Crayon Shin-chan and both Doraemon animes; whereas the felt-based stop motion animation of the series comes more so from Tomoki Misato, who had made a name for himself in anime with the 2018 horror short film My Little Goat. Following the release of his acclaimed short, Shin-Ei approached Misato to direct a short animated children’s series (and, considering the The House-level content of My Little Goat, I would love to know how that meeting went). Over the next year and a half, Misato would write, storyboard, and direct the series, as well animating with the help of other animators from Japan Green Hearts. Pui Pui Molcar would later premiere on Tokyo TV in January of 2021.
Above all else, Pui Pui Molcar prioritizes enjoyment. Throughout its twelve, one hundred and sixty-second episodes, Misato and his team pack the show full of delightful locations, stories, references, and characters— there’s a molcar named Potato, and I love him, the “pui pui” in the show’s title references the Japanese onomatopoeia for the noises a hamster makes I also love that. Pui Pui Molcar creates its cheery atmosphere through Misato’s expert stop motion animation and design. The molcars themselves, obviously and of course, steal the show with their adorable and immediately charming and iconic designs, but I would add that the storyboarding really pulls the show together. The strong storyboarding, as well as how the series doesn’t utilize dialogue, presents a similar appeal as classic animated series like Looney Tunes/ Merrie Melodies and Tom and Jerry; focus on physical comedy and loveable characters compounded by the lack of any language barrier allows for the show to have a universal appeal. Moreover, that appeal becomes accentuated by the show’s strong art direction; I especially loved the sets for how they felt almost out of a Hiroshi Nagai illustration with how pristine each building in its pastel perfuse the city is— composited and lit as if there’s always the perfect summer breeze flowing by. Additionally, the show also incorporates various other forms of animation, most notably compositing the performances of the live-action drivers using pixilation, a form of animation where animators take photos of real people and assemble them similarly to stop motion. As well, the animators do a fantastic job of bringing the molcars to life with exquisite, expressive character acting.
At first glance, Pui Pui Molcar appears as if it takes place in an uncomplicated world where nothing bad ever happens to anyone— and you would be right! I mean— there’s littering, and that’s bad; but otherwise the show portrays a world where, even at its most outlandish, every problem has a neat and tidy solution, and every molcar helps each other out because they’re all loving friends— “if the car is a cute guinea pig” as Misato puts it, “the frustrating events that occur while driving will be solved.” The de-emphasization of conflict allows the show to instead focus intently on comfort; Pui Pui Molcar is an unpretentiously pleasant show because it recognizes its function as a product intended to brightly entertain a most-likely younger audience, yet it never approaches that objective cynically— but instead it does so with complete earnestness. The series has an unshakable and infectious sense of optimism that permeates its every crevice— I want to reiterate that there’s a little guy named Potato whose tiny grunts are provided by a real guinea pig. Everything the series seeks to accomplish remains in the service of bringing the audience with aliviation and a hug— and while the goal of presenting a sunny day appears superficially simplistic, that simplicity does not at all diminish its necessity nor its ability to accomplish that goal.
Although it seems easy to dismiss something like Pui Pui Molcar as ‘good for what it is’ or of a lowerbrow of quality because of its lighter tone, endearing animation, cute characters, hamster-car named Potato, etc.; I feel that it benefits animation to appreciate the immense amount of effort and skill required to bring about stories of such optimism. Much of the time in media criticism, there’s a reflex to analyze and praise the aspects of media that raise intellectual complications in audience, and understandably so: it’s a feat of the piece of art to resonate enough with the viewer to leave them ruminating on the questions raised in the art even after the credits roll. However, I feel that inverse consequently gets overlooked: a piece of art that sincerely dedicates itself to imparting positivity onto the audience, which Pui Pui Molcar does expertly because of its uninhibited optimism and naivety. While to some, it may seem silly to so emphatically recommend the plush-hamster cartoon purely because ‘I liked it and made me smile,’ that response seems faithful to what the filmmakers would want. In such a way, Pui Pui Molcar reveals how its apparent simplicity and innocence is, in actuality, an achievement of its design— the result of many hours of hard work the animators devoted to making something that would bring relief to the viewer, and I think Pui Pui Molcar effectuates such kindness commendably, which is to say: I liked it, and it made me smile.
Pui Pui Molcar is available to stream on Netflix. This is not an ad, I just like cartoons.