Reviewby Caitlin Moore,
Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama?
Meet the pets of Third Street! There's Tama, a curious cat who loves to explore but often ends up getting lost in the process. His best friend is Pochi, the tofu seller's meek white shiba inu. Beh is a tuxedo cat whose spaced-out personality hides that nobody knows the shortcuts around the neighborhood as well as he does. The daredevil tabby Tora is usually brave, but sometimes his courage fails him in high places. The dog Kuro is the son of a purebred champion and is as energetic as they come, but a klutz. Laid-back Gon observes the comings and goings of his friends with a smile. Fluffy white Momo attracts customers to her owner's cafe and is a Petstragram celebrity. Brash kitten Koma is the youngest of the group. Stray cat Nora's may act standoffish, but he has a soft heart underneath it all. Finally, there's the newcomer Bull, a bulldog who acts tough but falls in love easily.
I use the word “known” loosely, since the cute, cartoony kitties and puppies of Third Street don't seem to have gained much traction in the US at any point in their 37-year history. While my elementary school friend sported backpacks and pencil bags featuring Pochaco, Keroppi, and Badtz-Maru throughout the '90s, I'd never even heard of Tama. It was apparently dubbed by 4Kids in the early '00s, but doesn't seem to have penetrated past the Saturday morning cartoon crowd and never released on home video.
Because of this lack of exposure, Uchitama will doubtless be most of its English-speaking audience's first experience with the franchise. Having no familiarity with the original myself, I can't say for sure whether or not it's a good thing, but the quirky humor paired with the conceit of animating the animals as humans with tails and ears make it an appealing entry point.
There's been quite a few anime in the last few years that play with anthropomorphic animals as a central concept; even in the same season, there was also Nekopara and Seton Academy: Welcome to the Pack. Uchitama stands unique among them in that these actually are animals, just drawn as humans. This creates several rich veins of humor, both in dialogue and visual gags, which the writers and animators mined thoroughly for all eleven episodes. With a concept like this, it would be easy to lean into just one joke repeated ad nauseum: watch these human-looking characters do things that animals do! Uchitama does make use of that gag, frequently and effectively. Tama and his friends, in human form, perch on walls, get distracted by falling leaves, and nap in boxes. It's the kind visual gag that could get repetitive quickly, but Uchitama strikes the perfect balance, using it frequently enough to emphasize consistently that yes, these are cats and dogs, but never running it into the ground.
The rest of the humor ranges from clever to silly, but they almost always work. Gon and Kuro sit on a hillside and discuss how strange it is that humans have only two nipples. Bull has a penchant for bursting into freestyle rap. The humans completely misunderstand their pets' behavior. An argument about who is the strongest pet in the neighborhood turns into an extended Yu-Gi-Oh! parody. Strong storyboarding and a good eye for background jokes make sure even the most off-kilter bits work.
Uchitama does occasionally veer into sentimentality, which works less consistently than the humor. Of these, the segments that work best are the ones that touch on the plight of homeless pets. While Tama may have a loving family that provides him with food, shelter, and affection, that's not the case for every animal. Nora especially provides an avenue for discussions about homelessness, many of which can be easily extended to real life, not just for strays but for human homeless youth as well.
Technically speaking, Uchitama is neither earthshakingly nor laughably terrible. The animation itself does the job just fine, rarely off-model but not especially fluid or remarkable either. The design work is a little more inspired. While the animal forms of Tama and the rest of his friends have been long-established and set in stone, character designer Mai Otsuka had more room to play with their human forms, translating their markings into their wardrobe and physical features. A spiked collar becomes a spiked bracelet, and a spot over the eye turns into glasses. They're clearly designed to be as appealing as possible, in order to move character goods; it is, after all, a Sanrio property.
The voice cast does a good job as well, selling the humor and their characters' personalities well. Wataru Hatano plays with Gon a thick Kansai accent, and Tomoaki Maeno pulls off both freestyle rap in tough guy dialect and sappy Broadway-style musical numbers as Bull. The biggest stand out is Yuuki Kaji as Nora, who is a bit more complex than most of the other characters and often features in the more dramatic segments.
After watching Uchitama, my biggest question remains, just who is the intended audience? The first episode reminded me most of children's books about mischievous pets like Slinky Malinki or Hairy Maclary, but as the humor gets weirder, the less likely it seems to be meant as a children's show. Nor is it clearly meant solely as an appeal to nostalgia, since I could enjoy it even with no previous familiarity with the franchise. The mostly-male cast and bishonen-based character designs, as well as the pastel color schemes of the character goods, seem to be an appeal to female fans, but many of the characters are young-looking enough that only certain dark corners of fandom would be invested in shipping them. It feels like a marketing-driven series, but I'm not entirely sure who it's marketed to.
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Varied humor is more hits than misses, solid vocal performances
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