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Pui Pui Molcar Drives Home Stop-motion Anime with Fuzzy Characters and Black Humor

No language barrier, the anime using fuzzy felt guinea pig cars drives its messages home with soft emotion, details and cuteness, charming international and domestic audiences alike.

Rei Miyake

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Stop-motion animation Pui Pui Molcar featuring adorable woolly felt characters has become an unexpected smash hit. Aired on TV Tokyo every Tuesday from 7:30 A.M., its black humor and masterful filmmaking techniques have caused a sensation on social media. 

The much-anticipated final episode was aired on March 23, and experts have high hopes that it will trigger a golden age of Japanese stop-motion animation.

International Fan Base, 3.8 million Views on YouTube 

Pui Pui Molcar follows the strange lives of Molcars, a portmanteau of “car” and “morumotto,” the Japanese word for guinea pig. 

The animation is directed by Tomoki Misato, 28, a puppet animator who has received awards in Japan and overseas. The series has a total of 12 episodes which started airing on January 5 as part of the children’s variety show Kinder TV. 

Pui Pui Molcar has gone viral for its strange combination of guinea pigs and cars, and its dark sense of humor. Its basic scenario involves Molcars becoming unwitting victims of human actions like bank robberies and traffic jams. 

In the Molcar world, where guinea pig-car hybrids face a variety of situations from daily life problems to zombies, it’s easy to forgive the Molcars’ antics and mishaps. With episodes as short as 2 minutes and 40 seconds, it spread like wildfire on social media, accompanied by comments like “Humans are idiots.” 

Despite being a children’s show, it has captivated many of its target audience’s parents, forming a huge fan base of adults in their 20s and 30s.

Pui Pui Molcar became a trending topic on Twitter every time a new episode was released. Its official Twitter account had less than 2000 followers after the first episode was aired, but it now boasts 408,000 followers. The show has been viewed more than 3.8 million times on YouTube and will soon be available on Amazon Prime and Netflix. 

The animation is not constrained by language barriers because it has no dialogue. It has seen explosive popularity in Taiwan, where it is aired 32 times a week on terrestrial television as Guinea Pig Car.

Purpose and Intention in Every Detail

“I honestly didn’t think it would become a massive hit,” says Noboru Sugiyama, executive producer of Shin-Ei Animation, the studio that produced Molcar. “I knew it was a masterpiece the moment I saw it, but the world doesn’t always recognize a masterpiece.”

Although Sugiyama decided to give the go-ahead because he was impressed by Misato’s talent, the animation was a complete original, meaning it had no branding or the popularity of an original work to rely on. The studio struggled to win over investors as the project had no guarantee of success. 

They had initially planned a 30-minute short film, but changed gears to create a short animation series for children because of the cute appearance of the Molcars. The shortness of each episode and the accessible nature of videos on social media had perfect chemistry, making its popularity skyrocket. 

Sugiyama feels gratified whenever the viewers notice the small and meaningful details in the background, like the scene where only one of the Molcars is parked under a shelter in a parking lot under the scorching sun. Viewers noticed that it showed how that particular Molcar was especially cherished by its owner. 

Sugiyama says, “Unlike live-action films, there are no coincidences in the world of Pui Pui Molcar. When Director Misato creates a set, everything is arranged in a particular way for a purpose.”

A Revival of Stop-motion Animation in Japan

“It’s for children, but it’s not child’s play,” says film critic Kei Onodera, praising the intricacies of the work. 

“Each scene presents a tremendous amount of information. This is especially the case where a scene is filmed from an angle that shows the whole picture from a distance. Everything is moved under an exacting calculation so it doesn’t ruin the landscape. Viewers who are not used to watching anime will also recognize that the animation was made with great care.”

Stop-motion animation is created by incrementally manipulating the objects between each frame. The filmmaking technique is ideal for filming three-dimensional characters with unique textures, such as stuffed animals or clay, but requires a massive amount of time and effort to produce. Hand-drawn 2D animation is still the mainstream in Japan, and computer graphics (CG) has also become more sophisticated in recent years.

However, the major success of Pui Pui Molcar is a sign of the great potential of stop-motion animation. According to Onodera, “If animators start getting recognition, there would be more opportunities to present animated works, which would expand the industry as a whole.” 

He hopes that it would “trigger a golden age of Japanese stop-motion animation.”

Inspired by the History and Artistry of Classic Animations

Stop-motion animation generally requires 12 to 24 frames per second and involves a huge amount of work, but it has a rich history. According to Onodera, there are two branches in the genealogy of stop-motion animation. One branch consists of commercial works for children with popular characters, like Pingu and Wallace and Gromit. The other branch consists of works with subtle satirical qualities, like animations by Czech artists that tend to receive critical acclaim at international film festivals for their artistic value.

Onodera commends Molcar as an original work that combines both commercial success and artistry. “At first glance, I was drawn to the cuteness of the stuffed animals and their emotional expressions, but after watching it a few times, I started to notice its unique worldview and black humor. It will make a name for itself in the history of anime.”

(Read the story in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Rei Miyake

Rei Miyake is a journalist in the culture section of the Sankei Shimbun.