At this time, I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas! May the blessings of the Holy Family be upon you this season as we commemorate the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; let us remember the words of the angelic hosts that night, to the shepherds who saw that star over Bethlehem: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” (St. Luke 2:10-11)
In the year 2007, there were two things that I cared about a lot: watching the Toronto Maple Leafs win games, and like any other kid my age, getting up to watch cartoons on the now-much-maligned Saturday morning TV block, 4KidsTV. Years before I learned how the whole truth behind how it flanderized the shows I liked, and thus deterred me from watching any available English dub forever, I would spend up to 2 hours or so watching shows like Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or my favourite, Sonic X – in addition to reluctantly sitting through F-Zero GP Legend or Tokyo Mew Mew along the way. However, there was one show which regrettably I flossed over, called Kirby Of The Stars (for the North American, Kirby: Right Back At Ya).
I watched some parts of the show here and there, but as my priority began to lean towards Sonic X, I began to not really care much for this show, and only caught glimpses of it during commercial breaks that I impatiently waited to end. Fast forward to ten years later, as a college student working on a 16-month long internship as a software developer in Toronto; I decided to revisit this series during my lunch break and see what was up with it all these years. I managed to get 80 episodes far at first, but it wasn’t until 4 years later that I finally completed all 100 episodes of it this September. So for this year’s final Anime Review I present to you this long-awaited series for analysis.
KIRBY OF THE STARS
In 1984, American lawyer John Kirby successfully defended Nintendo in a lawsuit against Universal Studios over the naming rights to the character Donkey Kong, and for this, Shigeru Miyamoto forever immortalized him as a cute, pink gluttonous puffball with his surname, in a game eight years later known as Kirby’s Dream Land. The game was a hit on the newly-released Game Boy handheld platform, selling 1.3 million copies and paved the way for the character’s further appearance on other games like Kirby’s Adventure, later to be repackaged as Kirby’s Nightmare In Dream Land ten years later, Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Air Ride, Kirby’s Canvas Curse and many others.
At the turn of the new millenium, Masahiro Sakurai, the franchise’s creator, worked with a team of Studio Comet animators, who previously collaborated on the popular Initial D and Dragon Quest anime series, to create a 100-episode series chronicling Kirby’s story, which would become Kirby Of The Stars – or Hoshi No Kirby in Japanese. Instead of going with the more obvious fantasy-adventure route, the creators made it more sitcom-like with the hopes of finding a bridge with all ages to enjoy it. After its initial two-year run from October 2001 to September 2003, it was picked up by the abominators at 4Kids who managed to uproot its charm and using their “infinite wisdom”, place dumb censors to make it more appropriate to air on a children’s channel, silly as it sounds. Needless to say, the series remains a fond memory for many who grew up in that generation, but didn’t pick up much steam on both sides of the ocean due to either low merchandise sales or the nonsensical edits.
Pupu Village is a town on the planet Popstar inhabited by the Cappy species, a group of mushroom-like individuals ruled by the self-proclaimed King Dedede, an overweight penguin and his trusty snail sidekick, Escargon, whose pastime involves playing pranks on their people by sending down monsters courtesy of their provider, Holy Nightmare. Despite their presence, the town remains largely peaceful and lively. Among them include two enthusiastic kids: Fumu, an intelligent girl who likes to read books and contemplate the world around her; and Bun, her younger, mischievous brother with a penchant for stirring up trouble with his friends Honey, Iroh and Hohhe. But one fateful day, their lives take a new direction when a small Star Warrior, Kirby, crash-lands and is identified as the long-awaited hero that would protect their land, much to the villagers’ confusion.
As everyone adjusts to their new hero’s stay, they learn more about his personality and fascinating abilities, such as his enormous appetite, childlike behavior and simplistic responses of “Poyo!” to everyone. However, he proves himself as formidable by defeating one of King Dedede’s monsters, a sheep-eating octopus, Octacon, by eating a giant fireball and absorbing its powers to chuck them “right back at ya”. Because of this, Kirby becomes a guest of honor, getting a modest home in the outskirts of the village, friends in Fumu, Bun and the respect of the villagers, who he helps in many different ways in various episodes. His growth is overseen by Meta Knight, a Star Warrior veteran himself who wishes to ensure the latter becomes the hero that everyone needs and deserves.
His newfound popularity does not sit well with King Dedede and Escargon, who concoct various schemes to slander his name in the form of summoning giant sumo blocks, killer ice dragons, cooking impostors, parody dinosaurs and cheap imitations of British authors courtesy of Holy Nightmare. Sometimes, their meanderings also lead to troubling consequences for the whole town, leaving Kirby, Fumu and Bun to investigate the cause and clean up their act. With Kirby’s very own “Copy Ability” and his trusted Warp Star at his side, over the course of 100 episodes, Kirby Of The Stars explores our pink, circular hero and the various situations he gets placed into, both everyday and extraordinary, culminating in the final battle against NME, the head of Holy Nightmare, whose goal is to vanquish happiness from everyone’s nightly dreams.
WHAT I LIKED
- The show contains several interactive episodes usually around New Years’ where the main characters participate in a quiz show to test how well they know Kirby’s adventures. It contains a lot of fourth wall throwbacks as well and for those like myself who have been avidly following what’s been going on they’re fun to join in as well. (They also make for good summarizations for the purposes of blogging 😉)
- Like the Super Mario Bros. movie I reviewed, the show does well in preserving its video game legacy, and when Kirby gets into a battle with Holy Nightmare’s legion of monsters, either some of the brutes he fights have appeared in video games (e.g. Blocky in episode 2, Paint Roller in episode 77, Fire Lion in episode 33, and Holy Nightmare’s leader, NME in episodes 98-100) or are completely fearsome originals like the Dedede Stone of episode 8 or Whispy’s succubus, Lovely from episode 27.
- It seems to me that the creators did great in making life in Pupu Village look exciting; what I’m talking about is the various different plots that take place for each episode. You’ve got extreme drag races, out-of-context cooking competitions, pie fights and amusement parks complete with destructive karaoke competitions as central components of certain episodes, which make up for an intriguing start, middle and end. Dare I say this is one series that if you can get used to the repetitive story format, you’ll always be looking forward to what you’ll encounter next.
- For young children and adults, this show is a good way to entertain them through its multiple narratives, while slightly broadening their experience with other real-world themes like environmentalism, discernment of true/false media narratives, and educational/government politics. It does this while keeping the tone friendly to the former’s ears and a moral simple enough for them to understand, while balancing things out for the latter with references to existing pieces of literature or history, like Harry Potter in episode 38 (complete with a Quidditch/hockey parody) and the Japanese WW2 holdouts in Kit Cosmos’ character from episode 22 and lots of fourth-wall humor, like King Dedede and Escargon being aware they’re in a TV series from time to time.
- Visually, the CGI and 2D animation mix blended in well together, and complemented rather than provided a major distortion towards each other. This is visible during the opening intro, battle scenes where Kirby’s on the Warp Star or featuring Dyna Blade, or where King Dedede and Escargon are together: the animation is fluid, consistent and fits well with the background.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- One of the major flaws with the episode format is not that it’s predictable, but rather that some of the episodes repeat a theme way too frequently than it should. Twice does King Dedede try a National Enquirer style slandering of Kirby’s name, or make an anime series to glorify him; five times is there an episode dedicated to environmentalism, and a cooking episode occurs six times. It concerns me that they have multiple episodes that repeat the same plot.
- Following up with the results of the above point, the repeated plots leave me in disbelief at how egregiously dumb the Cappies are in constantly falling for Dedede’s nefarious schemes, that it’s no wonder the guy and Escargon can manage to keep power for as long as they can without repercussions.
- The show has a lack of interesting adventure arcs, opting for the 30-minute sitcom style where everything is non-sequitur and quickly forgotten afterwards. The closest we have is episodes 75-76 with the characters in a deadly dinosaur park, the Air Ride segment in episodes 96-97, where we explore new flying machines and powers for Kirby to try out, and episodes 41-42 where the town faces the imminent danger of an asteroid courtesy of Holy Nightmare, a la Armageddon. It would have been nice to see an arc where the folks go on an adventure to another place and fight someone else other than King Dedede and Escargon’s monsters.
- The first four episodes started with talking about Kirby’s Star Warrior lineage and dives into Meta Knight’s backstory, but the sad thing is that it’s never really given serious treatment, which is a shame because it would have been really cool to see the other Star Warriors have a larger role, especially the cool-headed Meta Knight, and not just have Kirby do all the work.
- Some of Holy Nightmare’s choices for monsters are just plain weird. For example, they have a fitness instructor, a dental chair, a magic broom, brainwashing dolls, and a group of dimwitted animators as part of their catalogue, which only a fool like King Dedede manages to buy. Even then, they’re unthreatening as can be and it boggles my mind as to what they were on when they decided to design Kirby’s foes.
Being that this is mainly a kid-oriented show, the characters are for the most part stock and void of any multi-dimensionality, but even with the lack of that, they’re not all that bad, and I can say that there’s a multitude of character types we can expect to see. Fumu, Meta Knight, and Escargon act out the voices of reason, while Bun, Chef Kawasaki and King Dedede play the role of the dunce to contrast them. In the case of the latter members of both groups, however, their double role as villains is largely overshadowed by their comic relief as they often get themselves in mucky situations from time to time, like Dedede’s mishandling of the garbage or erratic paranoia over a fiery Kirby, and the time Escargon became king to impress his aged mother – not exactly Dr. Eggman or Dr. Wily types. However, their presence enhances the show and succeed in giving it life.
The Cappy population, like Fumu and Bun’s friends Hohhe, Iroh and Honey, or Mayor Len, police officer Borun, fortune teller Mabel and car mechanic Gus are present not just as basic background characters, but from time to time appear as central characters, making them story-drivers to whatever Kirby will face next rather than wastes of animation space. Occasionally we get to see Kirby’s Animal Friends from the games involved in a run-in with him, such as avians Tokkori and Coo, Kine the fish (who has an unrequited crush on Fumu) and the notoriously good Rick the Hamster; sadly unlike the game where they’ve got abilities and an active role in helping Kirby, their role here is sanitized to the same level as the Cappies.
Speaking of which, this section wouldn’t be complete without a look at Kirby, the titular Star Warrior and hero. What much can be said about him except that he’s not only cute and fun, but his unexpected strength is enough to make him a worthy main character? His large appetite enables Chef Kawasaki, who is considered by the townsfolk to be a mediocre-at-best, to see Kirby as his favourite customer. In addition to that, the show explores his growth not only through the many abilities he absorbs, which he can only hold one at a time – shooting fireballs, breathing out ice, becoming a spiky obstacle, or a giant stonified version of him, among many others – but also by how he changes the life of the Cappy folk for the better, giving them hope amidst the darkness; overall, a pleasant soul with a heart of gold and no iredeemable qualities.
The music of this series comes in two parts. On one hand, you had a slew of original tunes with a whimsical flair that seemed, to me almost as if they came out of an early 1950s show, which honestly makes sense considering the show’s very tame nature and its trend towards slapstick. Oddly enough it also fits with Kirby’s relaxed, goofy and curious nature as he explores the intricacies of Pupu Village and its surroundings. But the biggest thing that came out of this series were soundtrack pieces that came from previous Kirby games, and others such as these nifty sound bites; the coolest fact which was these also happened to be soundtrack pieces from the 2004 game Kirby’s Air Ride, which was my first Nintendo Gamecube game. When I first heard this on my first viewing of this series, I was surprised to discover where the music of that game came from, and I became eager to share that fact with anyone I played that game with, developing an even stronger appreciation for it.
The opening and ending songs each came in two pairs: the pompous Kirby March and pop-style Trampoline Of Dreams to kick things off along with First, You Draw A Circle and Kirby Step as the curtains close. The four songs were positive in the sense that they were catchy and wholesome to listen to, as opposed to the Kirby rap that 4Kids put out and the openings especially were accompanied with wonderful visuals of the main cast in a circus or going through a journey across the stars. Overall, the show’s soundtrack is a rocker, and one that I can genuinely consider to be a contributing factor towards its EXTREMELY GANGSTA nature.
Favourite episode: I remarked on Twitter that episode 49 made me feeling hysterical – part of it was because of the extreme absurdity of Dedede’s anime. In that story, King Dedede decides to showcase his greatness to the universe by creating an anime series of his own: the not-so-subtly named Dedede Of The Stars. He gets the town to volunteer themselves to go through the entire anime production, from storyboarding to drawing to putting together a parody of the eponymous show’s first episode, where we witness its EXTREMELY GANGSTA results due to Dedede’s ineptitude and the strict deadline. See here for the full episode!
Favourite major character: Kirby takes this spot; he’s too awesome to pass over and his antics are something that I always look forward to in each new episode. Though his strategic skills are peanuts when Meta Knight or Fumu’s not around and his character development is like a television without a remote, his curious nature, friendly and innocent demeanor make it hard to dislike anything about him as opposed to others.
Favourite minor character: Easy: Rick the Hamster, one of Kirby’s Animal Friends. He is adorable in every sense of the word, and even has an entire episode dedicated to him and his squad on how much they run their neighborhood – like a true GANGSTA. Plus, he’s also very adorable, laid-back, has a cute voice and totally doesn’t remind me of a certain famous Internet meme sharing his first name.
Favourite enemy: I liked the intimidating-looking Bugzzy from the third episode; a nice throwback to the boss battles from Kirby: Nightmare In Dream Land on the Game Boy Advance featuring him.
Favourite moment: The rowdy turf war between Kirby, Bun and their friends against Rick and his animal cohorts over territorial rights to Acore, an old friend of Whispy Woods qualifies for this, in no small part to Rick’s leadership role as opposed to being a background character.
Favourite quote: King Dedede and Escargon’s self-glorification monologue in episode 49, which sounds like a hacked version of Gaston and Lefou’s song from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, is comical, straight-outta-bad-fanfiction, and nicely satirizes the relationship between the two:
Escargon: It’s His Majesty. What’s up?
King Dedede: What’s up Escargon? You’re looking swell this morning.
Escargon: Your Majesty, nothing is cooler than you in your full glory.
King Dedede: Truly you are the most splendid.
Escargon: You are the coolest, Your Majesty!
King Dedede: You are the most beautiful of them all. (author’s note: …….)
Fumu: The heck is this? The dialogue is so corny.
Bun: Literally they picked the worst time to drone over their egos.King Dedede and Escargon stroke each other’s egos in episode 49
Kirby Of The Stars is a fun, relaxing show that makes sense for a lazy Sunday afternoon or a lunch break. With a large size of useful characters, a unique set of storylines, a fair bit of action and some decent, light-hearted humour courtesy of King Dedede and Escargon, on top of featuring plenty of musical and aesthetic throwbacks to earlier Kirby games, it’s got everything a near-faithful video game-based adaptation needs. However, it falls short on its bang-for-your-buck value, as the episodes can get stale after a while, the slapstick is excessive and the scenarios are relatively dulled out, even though the Kirby franchise is known for being very tame and wholesome. While the franchise’s games had a coherent adventure and excitement to it, this anime is like if you made The Legend Of Zelda about Link’s zany road trip mishaps in a Toyota Hybrid, instead of a fight against evil wizards. Not to say that it’s bad; it’s got plenty of redeeming factors that make it watchable, but definitely nowhere near the level of a timeless classic.