There is a legitimate form of animation, that despite every couple of years getting a hugely successful movie that everyone applauds because of the effort and dedication, is then forgotten about. This form of animation, being largely ignored (if not rejected) by the broader anime watching community, despite some of these projects being Japanese, animated, therefore anime. I’m talking about stop motion animation of course.
The specific animation project I want to talk about being Pui Pui Molcar. Which, you really can’t judge this series based on it’s stills. There’s a lot to love about these modern oddities.
The series takes place in a world where guinea pigs are now furry automobiles known as “Molcars”. Humans still remain the drivers, it’s just that Molcars aren’t merely transportation. They are sentient creatures with their own worries and desires – some more goofy then others. These critters, sometimes driver-less, sometimes at their driver’s discretion end up in many interesting and genuinely wild situations.
My introduction to Pui Pui Molcar now PPM for short in this blog, wasn’t the best. My friend tried to show this really cute show, her words, and I didn’t get it. I was more confused then entertained and admittedly, I thought the show was a little childish. This was rich coming from me, who watches actual live action children’s programming for entertainment. Neither here nor there.
Regardless, PPM stuck with me for two major reasons. The first is that the episodes were short, like less then three minutes. So it wasn’t a huge time suck to at least experience it. The second is that shortly after watching it mid-2021 the series boomed in Japan, because the merchandise was suddenly everywhere. We’re talking gachapon machines, crane games, and a series is huge if it makes it into a dollar store like Daiso so it remains accessible. It’s huge.
The second part was after this boom, I was visiting friends and we were trying to find something to watch while we ate. They had Netflix, but the three of us had very differing tastes in anime and I felt the cloud of doom that we would spend 30+ minutes trying to pick something. I jokingly threw out PPM as an option, it was short, goofy, and on Netflix. We’d either love it or hate it. So we watched it.
Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the bit of wine I’d had, maybe it was all the secondhand exposure via consumerism but it clicked. We were hooked. It’s trite but we laughed, had some relatable feelings, and at one point I even cried a little. It was a bit of a joke that our one friend was so focused they didn’t give commentary and looked kinda like a little kid while they were watching. But honestly the biggest fan of the series at the end was probably me. Like I was seeing it everywhere and my brain wanted nothing more then to have all the PPM content I could.
Now to talk about why the anime audience should be watching this. The first is that PPM has layers – I’d argue even more then a standard TV anime. The first is the actual molcars are all felted. Felting is not a skill I have personally, it’s way harder then it looks, but one I admire. It’s also bold to use a felted character design because without proper care felted creations can lose their shape way faster then a clay one. The pay off of using felted figures, is that they are very round but not quite fluffy, and pretty damn expressive. Like when the molcars get scared or sad – I geuinely felt sad with them verbally going “oh no~~ poor baby~~” aloud.
The other layers to PPM is that it’s not just a stop motion series. The techniques that make it work are also things like time lapse photography. A bit of a given, nonetheless impressive. They also use 2D animation techniques in addition to pixilation ones as well. The drivers of the series are a mix of clay figures and live action counter parts, the live action personalities appear exclusively when driving their respective molcars. Needless to say, all those different techniques take a lot to film and produce. Let alone make into a cohesive short series like this. And the fact that Shin-Ei Animation pulls it all together to make the final product that’s damn near flawless – it’s impressive.
If that all isn’t enough for you let me tell you about my final trump card – sound design and soundtrack. A fine factor if done well, people will praise, if done poorly people will criticize forever, and usually largely forgotten if it’s just average. PPM has a lot of thought and considerate into how it sounds. The world of PPM sounds similar to our own, there’s still traffic, other critters about, people, weather, etc. Yet, it’s very clearly not our world – I mean there are molcar’s after all. So when a Molcar hits something, it won’t sound like a typical car impact, but it still has wheels so burning rubber is to be expected.
The molcars also make typical guinea pig sounds – to my knowledge. The sounds of curiosity, happy squeaks, even the distressed one all sound very real to me. Coupled with the attention to how lettuce, verses a carrot crunches, all adds to the adorable factor of these little guys. I also find it really unique that the human characters don’t speak. They make sounds that similar to speaking, but even between two characters the dialogue doesn’t really exist. I think the only clear word uttered in the series is “yeah!”, and that’s used sparingly.
The sound track, is a lot of snippets of sounds. I’m not sure that the music used would still qualify as a ‘track’. Either way, there’s a lot of attention to instrumentation and usage. There’s no constant background music uselessly filling air time. It’s intentionally constructed to contribute to the scene. If there’s something scary or negative going on, they have a set deeper track to use similar to a Mario game, if something happy or goofy is going on they have music for that too. It flows within these episodes and works with the sound design where it’s cohesive and complimentary – always. The opening/ending jingle is iconic as well to the point where it’s easily recognizable.
All of this to say the obvious: go watch Pui Pui Molcar already. It’s got the short run time to compete with tik tok. It’s got cute characters that anyone into kawaii culture will want one of their own. It has all the techniques and technical details down pat. Hell it’s even on Netflix, so the distribution is right there in front of you!
As always, if you’re on the Pui Pui Molcar train with me, let me know down below! I’d also be curious to what other stop motion animations you think anime fans have passed up on over the years. I know there’s many more for me to discover~