The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama?
How would you rate episode 1 of
Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama? ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Though the franchise is not well-known in the West, most Japanese are probably at least somewhat familiar with the long-running Tama and Friends franchise, which has been around in some anime form or another on-and-off since 1993 and in merchandise form since 1983. However, that substantial history should not deter any viewer from checking this new version out. It requires zero familiarity with any previous content and thus is 100% accessible to newcomers.
In fact, this is a great stepping-on point for the franchise, as this new full-episode series does something that I don't believe the franchise has done before: it gives all of its pets human forms. Throughout the episode each animal alternates between appearing in its cutesy chibi animal form and in a human form complete with clothing, tail, and animal ears. So yes, that means we get a couple of catgirls in the mix, but more significantly, we also get catboys, which have traditionally been a rarity in anime. There are also a handful of dogboys involved as well, and they are featured in one of this episode's segments, but so far at least they are generally getting less attention.
The episode is subdivided into three distinct segments. The first and longest involves namesake cat Tama getting lost while out exploring with a friend and the others (and two of their human owners) deciding to go out looking for him even though this isn't the first time Tama has done this. (That this is the first segment is both significant and highly appropriate because the franchise was originally inspired by a lost pet notice titled, “Have you seen my Tama?”) The second and by far shortest segment involves a trio of dogs checking out a newcomer dog that Tama had encountered in his explorations: a bulldog who's a bit uptight about making a proper first impression. The third segment involves the boy cats contemplating what kind of paradise the fabled “Waiha” is. (As the episode later explains, “Waiha” is apparently a term that old Japanese use to refer to Hawaii.) This basically involves them looking for the warmest and coziest places, though this also leads to the one incident of potential danger.
Aside from that incident, however, this is very relaxed, light-hearted, even playful content which emphasizes cloying cutesiness and gets some of its humor from watching humanlike characters display cat/dog characteristics. It's the kind of thing to watch when you want to mellow out and turn your brain off for a while, and thanks to a remarkably sharp technical effort and some nicely- imagined humanoid character designs, it accomplishes that quite well.
Gosh darn it, if this isn't the cutest thing I've seen all season. Uchitama may use cat-and-dog-earred people as its gimmick, but what it's really about is the lives of pets outside of their homes, with the human forms doing double duty as both giving viewers a more expressive form for the characters (while cashing in on what is clearly a key theme this season) and providing a little extra absurdity. It works surprisingly well, never losing the feel of actual animals doing their thing with the added joy of seeing humans in ridiculous positions, such as heatbathing under cars or loafing under benches.
And this episode, made up of three short parts, really does a good job of capturing how animals act and interact. While there's more getting along than not, I've absolutely had a dog and a cat who were best friends, and Justin (the cat) certainly did go for walkabouts to the degree that Tama seems to within the show. (And yes, he took Lilly the dog with him on occasion, much like Tama takes Pochi.) Other very familiar actions include Tora deciding that his owner's laptop must be “Waiha” because it's so warm and cozy – and decimating the man's work in the process – and that one stray that all the housecats tolerate eating their food. Sadly, the fact that Nora, the stray, seems to have had a person once also rings true.
While that fidelity to familiar cat and dog behaviors is a major draw here, the way that the animals think and talk to each other also forms a highlight, as does the fact that there are dogs included in the mix of neighborhood animals, although I imagine it will seem odd to some viewers that the dogs apparently have the same freedom as the cats. It does stand out as weird in the story's urban setting; I would guess that it's both a storytelling device and a holdover from the franchise's earlier roots. Why someone keeps feeding Bull pastry is an entirely different issue and we're doubtless not intended to take umbrage at it the way I did.
The downside here is that this would have worked equally well, if not better, as shorts, as well as the fact that not a whole lot happens from moment to moment. It's saved by its intense cuteness and charm, as well as the fidelity to domestic animal behavior, but I could see this getting a bit old if it isn't careful to mix things up each week. Be that as it may, however, this is utterly adorable and absolutely worth checking out, especially if there's a cat or dog (or both!) currently sharing your life.
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