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January 8, 2016

An Episode In Gaming: Kirby: Right Back At Ya!

Hello, and welcome to the first review of 2016! As I said in my previous review of a Kirby game (namely, the start of the legend himself, Kirby’s Dream Land), I’m planning to review a lot of Kirby games this year. However, I also had plans to take a look at TV shows featuring video games as a major element, or shows that are adaptations of video game series. Back in 2015, I put up a poll on the Planned All Along Google+ Community asking my readers if they wanted to see me write recaps of such TV shows. The response was a crushing majority of “Yes”, so I relaunched, asking what TV shows I should do… and once again, there was a crushing majority leading to the anime called Kirby of the Stars… or, as we know it in America, Kirby: Right Back At Ya!. Because it looks cute, and the abbreviation is spelled similar to Kirby, geddit? K:RBaY! Kerbay!

Hoshi No Kābī, which translates to Kirby of the Stars, began airing in Japan on October 6th, 2001. The series, which ran for 100 episodes, was produced by Warpstar Inc., a company that resulted from a joint investment between Nintendo and HAL Laboratory. As in, the actual people behind the Kirby games were helping the creation of this show. That had to help, right?

Another notable element of Kirby of the Stars is that it was one of the rare few TV shows at the start of the 21st Century to experiment not only with blending 2D and 3D animations, but also to feature a few CGI-animated characters! It blends itself together better than you’d think. However, the only major characters to be frequently rendered in CGI were Kirby, King Dedede and Escargoon – who’s that? Oh, I’ll get to it soon enough. And even then, sometimes the show liked to play with the idea by having those characters often hand-drawn instead. Granted, the difference could be quite noticeable, but in some cases it was done so well that you would have to take a second look to properly say if a character was hand-drawn or animated in 3D. As you may guess, the blending of these two animation techniques didn’t look so great in the earlier episodes, but as time went on, the methods were perfected.

Then, the show came to America, where it aired on the Fox Box until 2005, and then was picked up by 4kids TV until it was pulled off the air in 2008. In Canada, it aired on CBC in the large English Canada, and in Quebec, it aired on… Radio-Canada, CBC’s French version for non-English-speakers. And, damn, I can’t believe I missed that show at the time! Was it part of the Saturday morning cartoons? Or the Sunday ones? Dammit, I missed it all! Yet, before I had cable, I always watched the weekend morning cartoons on Radio-Canada! Way back, when they had Animaniacs, and Duck Tales, and Tiny Toons, and the occasional weird-as-all-Hell show such as Flatmania… Ah, that was a golden age. And yet I missed Kirby! Aw, shucks!

Although, do note that I would have been watching it in French, the same way I watched those shows at the time. For English speakers, the show was dubbed by 4kids. Alright, crack your “4kids sucks” jokes right away, that’ll spare us some pointlessness. Point is, when 4kids got the show, they of course changed some things. As usual, they tended to remove the more violent elements, as well as the scarier moments in the show; since this is a show targeted at kids, you can probably make a valid argument that these changes weren’t bad, compared to the “invisible guns” and “shadow realms” and… ah dammit, I said I wanted to avoid the “4kids sucks” jokes! On the other hand, the Kirby franchise as a whole is known for being a sugar bowl of cuteness that always totally takes a turn towards terror by the end. Just think of almost every damn main villain in this series that isn’t Dedede or Meta Knight. The Kirby series isn’t the only one to have horrifying villains at the end of otherwise adorable games, but this is definitely its main defining point. It would just be normal that a Kirby anime would follow the same logic of having a lovely world with scary villains. Although, one could argue that 4kids, while they removed the most terrifying elements in the series, still kept most of it in, so they didn’t mess it up too much. And then a third group pops up, claiming that much of the educational value of the show was taken out in the dub… Oh my, I think I’m getting a headache. Let’s just move on…

"Hey ya! Watch arr show! Or I'mma smack ya with dat
dere hammah!"
4kids also has a tendency to re-use their voice actors for all the anime shows they dub to English. Kirby was voiced by Makiko Ohmoto in the Japanese dub; most of Kirby’s dialogue consists of “poyo”, and the rest is a bunch of noises to let Kirby express emotion (Think something along the lines of Snoopy). Since Kirby doesn’t speak, they didn’t have to provide an English voice actor. King Dedede is voiced by Ted Lewis, who you may also remember for voicing Yami Bakura in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, a villain definitely scarier than anything Kirby: Right Back At Ya! could ever show. While on the subject of King Dedede, the dub gives him this kind of Texan accent, as well as speech and mannerisms not unlike a certain ex-President of the United States. Yeah, the one that was in office right before Obama. That’s pretty funny… As for Meta Knight, he is voiced by Eric Stuart, which you probably know as the voice of James, the poor Team Rocket loser from the Pokémon anime. Or Brock, from the same anime. Or perhaps you know him as the no-nonsense, genius billionaire not-playboy misanthropist and dragon enthusiast from Yu-Gi-Oh!, Seto freaking Kaiba. Oh, and did I mention that the caped knight has an Antonio Banderas-esque Spanish accent?

Bringing up voice actors means I have to bring up the new characters invented for the show, and who voices them. First is Escargoon, Dedede’s loyal right-hand snail. He, too, is voiced by Ted Lewis. Another villain introduced in the show is Customer Service; that’s his Japanese name. In English, this character doesn’t have a name, but for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to him as Customer Service. This is a mysterious human who works for a powerful evil entity. He’s always seen from the waist up, on screens in Dedede’s castle, and he’s the go-to guy whenever King Dedede wants to buy a giant monster to “clobbah dat dere Kirbeh”. Needless to say, this is a pretty important villain, and him being voiced by DAN GREEN means that he sounds ready to activate a Trap Card at any moment. For the protagonists now, we have Tiff (Japanese name: Fumu), voiced by Kerry Williams, and Tuff (Japanese name: Bun), voiced by Kayzie Rogers. These two siblings are the children of Dedede’s Cabinet Minister. They are major characters in the anime, mostly because they’re Kirby's guides in this new world, and they participate in his adventures against the monster – or the crazy plot – Dedede has unleashed lately. They usually serve as the link between Kirby and the other speaking characters.

Top: Falala and Fololo.
Bottom: Tuff, Kirby and Tiff.

Last but not least, there are many more characters in the anime, characters who don’t appear as regularly as the ones mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Most of the citizens of Cappy Town are Cappies (the mushroom people who have been a part of the game series since the start, except they don’t have their mushroom hats). Some others, such as Chef Kawasaki, or Lololo and Lalala, were bosses in previous Kirby games, but here they’re good guys, mostly citizens of Cappy Town, the main setting of the anime. It also leads many Cappies to gain personalities of their own, because a town like this needs a mayor, police officers, shopkeepers, janitors, librarians, etc. But expect most of them to be defined mostly by their job. At the same time, more regular enemies, allies and bosses from the Kirby series often appear, be it for a single episode or a few.

But what is the overall story of the show, anyway? I discussed the characters and all, but what’s the plot? Well, it starts one night, when a giant octopus kills and eats all the sheep in a field near Cappy Town. The citizens are desperately in need of a hero. In crashes Kirby, a Star Warrior with the amazing ability to copy abilities and use them like a champion! There’s only one problem; Kirby wasn’t supposed to wake up from his space slumber, inside his star-shaped spaceship, at this moment! He was supposed to wait another 200 years… and as a result, he’s still a baby. A baby with a dangerous appetite, that’s for sure, but a baby who turns out to be the best hero to foil the plans thought up by King Dedede! Most of these plans involve demon beasts bought from Customer Service, who works for an enterprise called N.M.E. (geddit?), although there’s the occasional scheme to get money out of the Cappies’ pockets (pockets? They don’t even have pants! Or legs, for that matter!). Ironically, most of that money Dedede makes would then be sent to pay for all those giant monsters he buys. Sigh, what an odd cycle. And amidst all this, we have sub-plots involving Tiff adhering to all kinds of causes, many secrets that Meta Knight is hiding, and dozens upon dozens of references to the Kirby series with allies, enemies and bosses from the games showing up in the anime, be it for an episode or many.

Meta Knight is like the viewer.
He's always watching.
Unlike what this quick synopsis could lead you to believe, this is a show with a continuity, which means that even though they often seem inconsequential, you need to watch the episodes in order. Now, that’s one of the bigger mistakes 4kids has made: They would often switch around the order of the episodes, either to have episodes about holidays come out around the time of these holidays, or having some later episodes come out around the time a new Kirby game is released. That one was a particularly bad move, as two of the final episodes were shown in the middle of the series instead… simply because said episodes had a relation to Kirby Air Ride, which came out around that time on the Nintendo GameCube.

Now, I’ll explain how this is going to work. Do you remember the Demo Reviews? Back in December? Well, call it a test of sorts. The main problem with Demo Reviews was that I always had to play through the game before writing a proper, albeit short, review of it for the site. And in my house, that meant having access to the television in the living room. It wasn’t always available, and I had a pretty busy schedule myself, so it wasn’t very simple to write these Demo Reviews. For Kirby: Right Back At Ya!, it’s different; I can find the episodes freely available on YouTube. I can just sit down, watch, then write, and voilà! A lot less problematic.

Now, does that mean I’ll stop writing reviews? Oh, of course not! It’s going to work similarly to December; every once in a while (2 or 3 times a week, rather than once per day), I’ll post either a review (or part of review), or a quick recap on an episode of K:RBaY. Never both on the same day. As a result, there will be anywhere from 5 to 6 recaps per week, for about four months. When the recaps end, I’ll write my final thoughts on the series as a whole, an article that may be in multiple parts as there will be a lot to discuss. It might end with a list of my favorite episodes. Of course, this means that I’ll try to analyze the series as it goes on. I’ll try to take into consideration the Aesop of an episode, if there is one, and I’ll also question some of the elements of the plot if they puzzle me. By this, I mean the characters and their attitudes, or a plot element that doesn’t make sense (possibly due to the 4kids dub). Then again, keep in mind that these articles will be short, for the most part. I won’t take greats pains in describing the plot from A to Z, as I usually do for films. This will be an exercise in brevity. And God knows that I need to learn to be briefer when I write!

Well, this covers it. We’re starting tomorrow! Stay tuned! Next Friday, I’ll be reviewing another Kirby game! …I think it’s time to review Kirby’s Adventure, don’t you think?

...Wait a second, I thought one of the rules from Masahiro Sakurai himself for Hoshi No Kābī was "No humans whatsoever"! What is Customer Service doing there???