Readers of a certain age will probably remember the Tamagotchi craze of the late '90's. The UK was gripped by a sudden desire for the egg-shaped devices that allowed you to raise and care for your own portable virtual pet, but after the initial popularity people soon got bored by the game's limitations and the fad died off. However, a few years ago Bandai decided to re-launch Tamagotchi with new features and network capabilities that allowed users to link up their devices. The re-launch must have done pretty well too, as it not only spawned an anime series that was streamed in several languages through YouTube, but a feature-length outing too. And that is what Manga have decided to unleash on the UK.
Following hot on the heels of their recent release of
Panda! Go Panda!, Manga's latest
foray into kiddie territory is probably the most inoffensive anime I've ever
seen. The story follows a young girl called Tanpopo who is transported to
Tamagotchi Planet when a machine built by its inhabitant Mametchi gets knocked
off target by his friend Kuchipatchi. Tanpopo is thrilled to find that the
Tamagotchi world really exists but also wants to find a way to get back home.
However, it isn't going to be easy - Mametchi's machine is only designed to
transport things to Tamagotchi Planet, not away from it, so Mametchi's scientist
father agrees to build a rocket to take her home. In the meantime Tanpopo
has to settle into her new world along with her Tamagotchi friends Mametchi,
Memetchi and Kuchipatchi, including going to school and learning about them.
They have more challenges to face than just getting Tanpopo home though,
Mametchi is soon to have a baby sister and is worried that he won't be a good
older brother, especially as he's afraid of the dark. His plans to escape
his fear cause a bizarre series of events that could threaten the safety of the
planet itself, can Tanpopo and her friends work together to save the Tamagotchi
Planet and overcome their fears and challenges?
Tamagotchi The Movie is probably the best children's anime available in the UK. I'm not saying this because of its quality, but because it is the most accessible (despite the Japanese character names) and most completely nice anime I have ever seen. There are no villains or bullies in this film, the only challenges the characters face are personal or symbolic. I'll come back to that later, but to start with lets have a look at the surface. Tamagotchi The Movie does look like a film, not a lengthened TV episode, a film. The animation is good, the colours bright and vibrant and the music
cheerful (too cheerful, I'm not going to get that damn theme song out of my head for weeks).However, where this film really wins out is in design. At first glance you may think this looks a bit Pokémon-esque, but although the human characters are similarly styled, the Tamagotchi and their world is completely different. There is a childlike quality to a lot of the design, but best of all the world itself is wonderfully original with pretty much everything in it being a living thing - from buildings and vehicles to the planet itself! Children's cartoons rarely bother with this level of world-building (just look at Pokémon and Digimon, which are pretty much set in our world), and the attention to detail is superb. I loved how the seats in the rocket had arms instead of seatbelts and the sun had a bath every morning, it gave the film a magical air that you lap up when you're a kid.
With a setting like this the film is already set apart from
its peers, but it build on it with a parent-friendly story and complete lack of
violence and cynicism. The story focuses strongly on facing your
responsibilities, dealing with your own mistakes and working together to
overcome obstacles. This may seem quite standard for children's anime, but
instead of the usual stories which see children taking on these challenges
independently from their parents, this film is very much grounded in family.
It also deals with some surprisingly weighty children's issues, including the
fear that a new sibling will take your parents away from you, fear of the dark
and arguments between brothers and sisters. It handles all of these issues
quite effectively too, avoiding becoming a lecture and delivering them in a way
which children can understand. Unlike Pokémon and Digimon,
which focus on teamwork and overcoming the odds but generally through
confrontation, Tamagotchi The Movie sticks to overcoming your own
anxieties and working for the good of others.
So, it's cheerful and manages to sneak in a few messages, but like most children's anime it has another problem - it's phenomenally saccharine and pretty cheesy. Everything is a bit too nice, everyone is completely accepting and friendly and there is a simple solution to every problem, whether it's saving the planet or escaping a black hole. This makes it more difficult to identify with to a extent, and the sheer cuteness of everything is pretty overwhelming after a while too. Then again I am a 28-year old looking at something that is aimed squarely at young children, and to be
fair this is probably aimed more at young girls than it is boys. The cast is also pretty huge, even though many characters are pretty peripheral, and it is more confusing from an English point of view that many of them have very similar names. It is refreshing though that there is no suggestion that you have to collect all of them, and the product placement of the Tamagotchi game itself is limited to just a couple of screen appearances. Parent's wallets will no doubt also find this refreshing.
At the end of the day Tamagotchi The Movie is a superior children's anime because it takes the time to build a unique setting and couples a fun and colourful exterior with some strong messages. Parents should have no problem showing this to very young children, although there is more of a feminine air to it that may not appeal so much to boys. For once a children's anime focuses on telling a story and teaching children good values rather than selling toys or fighting bad guys, and this makes it more refreshing than most other shows. Yes, purists may complain that there's no Japanese dub or subtitle track (at least, there wasn't on the review disc we received), but it's nice to see Manga releasing something that has an appeal outside of the normal anime community. If you have young children then this is highly recommended.
Slim pickings, just a promo for the film which is notable only because it still has the original Japanese voices on it, which makes for an interesting comparison. The dub isn't far off to be honest.