Made almost exclusively for chemically altered young adults, "Kappa Mikey" is a cacophony of sights, sounds and animation interspersed with some relatively clever writing. Catching most of the jokes or the visual gags, however, requires quick TiVo reflexes and extensive knowledge of pop culture shouldn't take long to become a cult hit.
Made almost exclusively for chemically altered young adults, or perhaps with the U.S. snowboarding team in mind, “Kappa Mikey” is a cacophony of sights, sounds and animation interspersed with some relatively clever writing. Catching most of the jokes or the visual gags, however, requires quick TiVo reflexes and extensive knowledge of pop culture — which means the show, the first original series for Nicktoons Network, shouldn’t take long to become a cult hit. To make sure that happens, the net has ordered 26 episodes.
Touted as the first American-made anime cartoon, the show will undoubtedly spawn Internet debates on the authenticity of this claim. The real mislabeling lies in calling it a kids’ show, since it’s clearly not designed for the lower end of Nicktoon’s 6-14 demos.
Exactly how many of the pop-culture references should a 6-year-old, or even a 10-year-old, understand? “Kappa Mikey” is not a scourge on the nation’s children; it’s just not really written with them in mind. In fact, the writers and creators have imbued the show with frat-like sensibilities and self-congratulatory insider jokes. No doubt the New York animation studio where the show is created is a really fun place to work.
The concept is clever, mimicking the traditional fish-out-of-water sitcom formula with a show-within-a-show plot. An unemployed actor from Cleveland wins a shot at Japanese stardom via a scratch-off card and joins the cast of the once popular but now foundering animated show “LilyMu.” Because Tokyo pop is so closely linked with American culture, Mikey revives the show in a big way, much to the dismay of the show’s original star and resident diva, Lily. Although her character is Tokyo’s sweetheart on air, off camera she’s a jealous hellion bent on making Mikey’s life miserable.
Mitsuki, the show’s rough-and-tumble tomboy, is the real sweetheart, secretly pining for Mikey while Gonard is more of a big teddy bear than the evil genius he plays onscreen. Guano, the quiet, one-note fuzzy bear sidekick, wears all the creative hats behind the camera, working as writer, director and sometime babysitter to the stars. They all answer to the “LilyMu” producer, the opportunistic and temperamental Ozu, who caters to public whims, employs a grueling work ethic and is shadowed by Yes Man, easily the most offensive and irritating character, either real or animated, on television.
The joke here is that various characters are drawn using different styles. The eponymous Mikey is styled with big clunky lines and primary colors. His Japanese co-stars are buxom and big-eyed in the tradition of anime and manga while others look like editing-floor rejects from “Speed Racer” and “Pokemon.”
Anime has proven to be a big draw in this country, especially for boys, but it’s not just an aesthetic, it’s a sensibility as well. And not all of the elements here are praiseworthy. Instead of bridging cultures, the animation here seems like just another way to stereotype an entire culture.
Show’s flash animation technique lends itself more to the Web than to TV, leaving the show so frenetic and full of negative energy, it’s enough to make viewers reach for the Ritalin. And while the interspersed flashes of the gyrating sushi are sure to become this year’s dancing baby, they’re a bit of a head-scratcher. The sound effects are inspired, but it’s the theme song, from the Beat Crusaders, that totally rocks.
Animation used to be peppered with double entendres and odd references so as to make TV time with the kiddies a little more tolerable for the adults in the room. Perhaps it was just a matter of time before TV bypassed the middleman — the kids.