What you need to know
The appeal of the children’s show PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars cannot be denied. It may be a sign of discontent with capitalism in Taiwan.
The Japanese anime PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars — or PUI PUI Molcar in the Japanese original — has become a cultural phenomenon in Taiwan, spawning not only endless internet memes, but a wave of interest in raising guinea pigs.
The release of the fifth episode last week saw over one million hits in less than twenty-four hours on the YouTube channel Muse木棉花-TW, which releases Japanese anime in Taiwan with Chinese-language subtitles. Assuming the viewers were mostly Taiwanese, that would mean that up to 4% of the Taiwanese population watched episode five in less than twenty-four hours. Though PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars is well-received in its native Japan and in other markets, such as China, it does not seem to have become a runaway hit elsewhere.
PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars’s unusual conceit is that it depicts a world in which humans drive cars that are sentient, highly expressive guinea pigs, which make squeaks recorded from actual guinea pigs — the “PUI PUI” noise referred to in the show’s title. The animation style differs from traditional Japanese animation, in that PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars is recorded with stop-animation, inventive camera angles, and a bright, pastel-like color palette. The humans that appear in the show as drivers of the guinea pigs are depicted by live actors in close-up scenes inside the cars and as action figures in scenes outside the car.
Although PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars is aimed at children, what is clear from the reception of the show in Taiwan is that many of its viewers are adults. This has even led to an internet joke, “Kids watch Demon Slayer, adults watch PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars,” Demon Slayer being the hit anime series whose cinematic adaptation recently broke box office records to surpass Spirited Away as the biggest box office hit in Japanese history.
The success of PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars arises in part from expected sources. First among them is the cuteness factor of the guinea pig cars themselves. Though not particularly distinct from each other in terms of personality, five different guinea pig cars feature in the story, with occasional appearances from police guinea pig cars and ambulance guinea pig cars. Just saying the words “ambulance guinea pig car” should suffice to get a sense of this.
The appeal of PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars also comes from its dramatic tension and release. Each episode features one or more of the guinea pig cars facing some sort of dilemma, usually through no fault of its own. The second episode, for example, features a guinea pig car unexpectedly forced to be the getaway car for a group of bank robbers. The fourth episode involves a guinea pig car that gets sick after it is fed garbage by its owner. But by the end of each episode, everything is resolved and poetic justice has been served to wrongdoers.
Scenes of the guinea pigs panicking while stuck in a predicament show many close-up reaction shots of guinea pig cars’ faces. This seems aimed at maximizing the cuteness of the guinea pigs — scientific research shows, after all, that part of the appeal of cute things is that they elicit protective feelings from those that see them.
The conundrums not only enhance cuteness but also place the guinea pigs in a universe that is relatable. Many of the dilemmas faced by the guinea pig cars are decidedly capitalistic or at least, reflect the inconveniences of modern urban living under capitalism.
Episode one, for example, stars a guinea pig car stuck in traffic, driven by an impatient office worker. The garbage-eating plot element in episode four calls to mind the problems of littering and trash collection in many cities. The world of PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars is evidently a highly contemporary one. And despite the fanciful nature of the guinea pig cars, they live in a capitalist realist setting.
In the show, the main characters are the guinea pig cars themselves. It’s their point of view from which the story is told, not the drivers. More often than not, human involvement gets the guinea pig cars into trouble. Perhaps, then, the popularity of the show is because the guinea pig cars inspire not only protective feelings, but a sense of identification while the negative depiction of humans in the show can be viewed as a critique of consumerist culture.
That is, guinea pig drivers suffering from both selfishness of their drivers and seemingly arbitrary misfortune are easily identifiable to contemporary Taiwanese slaving away at white-collar jobs in offices or jobs in the service industry. After all, Taiwan had the fourth-highest working hours in the world in 2019.
Even the format of PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars accords with the needs of workers, as each episode clocks in at just under three minutes and is readily available on YouTube, making them watchable on the commute, a “small pleasure” to be consumed while taking a quick break at work.
So is the popularity of PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars owed to the bleakness of contemporary capitalism? Certainly that seems part of the appeal. Rise up guinea pig cars, you have nothing to lose but your drivers!
TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)
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