Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Hamtaro: Adventures in Ham Ham Land

Back around 2002 a rather strange yet charming anime hit the UK TV screens, featuring the adventures of a hamster and his friends the "Ham Hams" and their human owners. "Hamtaro" was picked up by Viz Media and Fox Kids in the west and given a rather huge marketing campaign. However it ended up falling between the gaps of the kids demographic and the usual teen audience that tend to tune into anime. "Hamtaro" was by nature an anime aimed at a younger age group than the usual anime offerings and ended up paired with it's japanese stablemates or on channels that didn't normally do preschool offerings. So after a few seasons it was phased out (with "Ham Ham Games" officially finishing the dub series in 2006)

It's a shame because Hamtaro, despite it's lower age range. Was actually quite an inventive series considering hamsters are not normally considered the most exciting of critters. Hamtaro and his friends all have a delightfully innocent viewpoint of the world as they know it and tackle their own issues. Hamtaro himself is your typical young boy character, he's ambitious, adventureous and loyal. The ladies adore him for it, but sadly he's also as blissfully ignorant of any relationship beyond the realm of best friends, much to their dismay.

Introductions done with, we get into the film at hand. "Adventures in Ham Ham Land" is the first of 3 movies based on the series. The Ham-Ham's go to an alternate world called Ham Ham Land where hamsters all go to have fun. Hamtaro wants the enchanted seed hidden in Ham Ham Land so he can tell Laura his feelings and celebrate her birthday with her.

The movie opens on Bijou telling everyone the story of Ham Ham Land from a storybook. Everyone wishes they could go there but suddenly Hamtaro comes tunneling in quite literally, in rage and tears over his owner Laura (a rather strange characterization that I'll go into later) Hamtaro's rage digging hits upon an unknown door, which inexplicably turns out to be the entry point into Ham Ham Land. They are joined by a fairy hamster chaperone called Yosei who tells them to all go have fun, but remember to depart before 8:06pm that evening. The Ham Ham's all go have fun bar a morose Hamtaro, who instead is musing on the idea of never going back home, as well as his frustrations over trying to tell Laura his feelings. Yosei notes Hamtaro's frustrations and tries to get his friends to make him feel better, however nothing seems to shift his mood. Not even an interjected performance of Morning Matsume's "Ai no Uta". Performed in a 3D form that actually doesn't look as jarring as it sounds.

Meanwhile a wizard called Devil-Ham (subtle!) is curious about this large group of new arrivals and asks his Ninja Ham's to go take a look at why they are here exactly. Hamtaro figures the enchanted seed is the answer to his conundrum and goes looking for it by asking seemingly everyone where it is. Eventually it turns out the answer is at Ham Ham Land's school, which nobody up to that point attends. What follows is a bunch of Japanese speech based gags which ends with Hamtaro winning the seed. Sadly the Devil-Ham manages to get his mitts on it. It turns out the Devil-Ham can change himself into a Dragon and a rather large battle scene ensues, with Hamtaro and co. managing a peaceful resolution though reasoning (of course!). Turns out Devil-Ham simply wanted the seed for his sunflower seed collection and was suppressing feelings for his alter-ego Yosei (who can turn into a powerful fairy of sorts) . Hamtaro loses the seed anyway and decides he wants to stay in Ham Ham Land and not go home. However Yosei tells him if he decides to stay everyone will forget he ever existed and he will forget them, prompting Hamtaro to get the hamsters to help him get home. Laura faintly hears someones voice and discovers Hamtaro, with a happy ending for all.

Maybe it's something I missed from the Japanese series (though I had watched a few subbed episodes before), but Hamtaro is remarkably out of character during this film. In the series he's only interested in being best friends with everyone and doing his best, and brushes off even failed ventures or attempts. However on this occasion he wants to show his owner, Laura, that he cares for her, the way Hamtaro acts in the flashback and in response is rather strange in comparison. In the series Hamtaro clearly cares a lot for his owner, but never expresses envy, frustration or jealousy over any character in the series. So to see him suddenly aware of his feelings for another character in a selfish manner is strange, it makes even less sense as the series and subsequent movies ignore this character development (even though the second film directly references this one!). As such it just leaves me somewhat bemused, I thought this was going to be a light, fluffy film! (Sanrio did deceptively fluffy yet depressing much better with "Ringing Bell" and "Unico")

In addition the large cast of Ham-Hams (that in-series have their own storylines and personalities) become little more than background characters. Even Bijou, despite her crush on Hamtaro in the series, does nothing of consequence, the cast is simply there to cheer Hamtaro on. The interjection of Morning Matsume as hamsters and the DJ Ham later on also serve little purpose other than to lend the feeling of atmosphere. As a result all the characters feel expendable or like cardboard cutouts. It's a shame because with such a vast cast this could of been so much more.Certainly it's interesting to see Hamtaro in a feature length form, it's just a shame they were not as bold with the film as they were with the original series.