Big in Japan

NEW YORK — The lyrics of the Japanese female rock duo Puffy AmiYumi, at least when translated into English, can be completely absurd, if they make sense at all. In “Asia No Junshin,” a record that sold more than a million copies in Japan, they sing: “Take every panda/and line them all up/every single white one/Tonight the pure hearts/are shining so bright/about to burst into flame.”

Their Beatles-meets-Abba bubblegum melodies sung by Ami Onuki of Tokyo and Yumi Yoshimura of Osaka have made them a huge success, since 1995, in their native land — another big hit was called “Love So Pure” — but introducing them to American audiences has been more difficult. So, taking a cue from “The Yellow Submarine” and playing on the ardent following of Japanese animé, Cartoon Network has turned them into an animated series, “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi,” which will debut Friday night.

During a 10-minute ride last month in the nondescript Puffy AmiYumi van from the Gramercy Park Hotel to Webster Hall, where they were playing their one New York area show, Ami, 29, and Yumi, 30, through a translator, say they love the Japanese master of animé, Hayao Miyazaki, and the Powerpuff Girls. But they never could have imagined they’d be turned into cartoons themselves.

“I’d think if I were a Powerpuff Girl, I’d be this one or I’d do this,” says Ami. “But I never thought of myself as a cartoon character.”

Aside from an Asian-looking band manager who recalls Charlie Chan, the cartoon characters on the show are quite Westernized. Mixing elements of “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Laverne & Shirley,” the show chronicles the trials and tribulations of touring as a rock duo. Save for the variety show-like segments that introduce their real-life counterparts with obvious English misfires, you might think this Ami and Yumi were Caucasian.

“I don’t think it’s a straight representation of ourselves, but as animation, it was really funny,” says Yumi. “It may have some essence, but it’s not exactly as we are.”

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