By Tom Speelman
Anime has no shortage of cute pet stories. From icons like Doraemon, Hamtaro and Hello Kitty to recent hits like Kemono Friends and My Roommate is a Cat, anime loves itself some cute kitties and puppies. And beginning this season, one of the medium’s most iconic kittens is getting a brand new look.
His name is Tama, star of this season’s Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama? And you might not know about him yet, but he’s a global phenomenon the world over. Let’s take a look at what makes him so special.
Who are Tama and his friends?
Tama (voiced in the new series by Soma Saito) is a small, white cat with yellow-colored ears, a black spot on his head, and a penchant for getting horribly lost. He lives with his owner, Takeshi Okamoto, (Yuka Terasaki) and his family in District 3 of an unnamed Japanese city, which has an unusually high number of pets. Seriously, almost every house or business has either a cat or dog.
Tama has several cat friends, but his best friend is a dog: the white, short-eared, good-natured and nervous Pochi (Kensho Ono). The two often get into mischief together and then find themselves lost. It’s to the point that Takeshi keeps a supply of “lost pet” posters on-hand for whenever Tama eventually goes on an adventure.
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Other cats in the neighborhood include Tora (Yusuke Shirai), who loves climbing up high places… until he can’t remember how to get down; Beh (Yūma Uchida), who knows all the shortcuts and back ways around town; Nora (Yuki Kaji), a standoffish, stray cat who knows a lot; Momo (Kana Hanazawa), a popular, proper lady cat and Koma (Tomoyo Kurosawa), a younger, slightly spoiled cat.
Other dogs besides Pochi include the intimidating but secretly soft Bull (Tomoaki Maeno), who has a crush on Momo and is new to the neighborhood alongside his owner Kun (Minami Takahashi). There’s also the laid-back Gon (Wataru Hatano) and the hyperactive but clumsy Kuro (Yuichiro Umehara).
What is Tama and Friends?
The wider Tama franchise, known as Tama and Friends, was created as a merchandising line in 1983 by the staff of Sony Creative Products. After a few years had proven the characters popular enough, Sony enlisted studio Group TAC and director Tsuneo Maeda to make an OVA series, Tama and Friends: Third Street Story (which ran from 1988-1990), and a TV anime, Tama of Third Street: Do You Know My Tama? The series ran for 28 episodes from 1993-1994.
Actually, if you’re American and grew up devouring any and all dubbed anime you could, you might remember Tama of Third Street, which was dubbed by 4Kids Entertainment and aired in syndication in 2001, although it never got a home video release.
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Many of the character names were changed — Pochi was renamed Doozle, Kuro became Wocket and Beh became Chopin, for instance — but if it’s remembered at all, the dub is probably best known for having voice actor Andrew Rannells (Girls, Big Mouth) as Tama.
There’s been other anime and several video games but Uchitama is not only the first time Sony has really tried pushing the Tama franchise in the West, but it also represents the biggest departure for its characters.
What is Uchitama?
If you’ve watched Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama? or seen promo material, you’ve probably noticed that Tama, Pochi and co have been anthropomorphized. That is to say, they’ve been upgraded to catboys, dogboys, catgirls, etc.
What’s most charming about this is how the series takes inspiration from, of all things, Calvin & Hobbes. When humans see the cats and dogs, they’re just normal pets. But when they’re on their own, they’re in their humanoid forms.
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Director Kiyoshi Matsuda and studios MAPPA and Lapin Track take it a step further by frequently cutting between the two states to make it more fun. As humans, Tama, Pochi, Momo and the others are as highly-detailed and good looking as characters from any other MAPPA show like ZOMBIE LAND SAGA, Yuri!!! on ICE and so on. But as cats and dogs, they’re drawn in their familiar, simplified shapes, which helps to sell the goofiness of the situations they get into.
If you want some sweet hangout vibes with a bunch of fun, funny cats and dogs, then Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama? is definitely the show for you!
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