*NOTE: The lyrics didn't appear in the broadcast version of the intro.
Maggie Chretien – G, Mauve Madison (US) various
Daisy Masterman – Love, various
Emma Taylor-Isherwood – Angel, various
Sally Taylor-Isherwood – Music, various
Charlotte Nicdao – Baby, Say-Wah, various
Danny Smith – Rudie Rhodes, Twisty T, various
|Gwen Stefani with her Harajuku Girls: (from left) Maya Chino, Jennifer Kita, Rino Nakasone & Mayuko Kitayama.|
Harajuku Girls was also the name she gave the group of backup dancers she hired for the tour that wore make-up and clothing meant to be evocative of the Japanese aesthetic. The Harajuku Girls were comprised of Maya Chino, Jennifer Kita, Rino Nakasone and Mayuko Kitayama, who performed under the stage names “Love”, “Angel”, “Music” and “Baby”, respectively, after the album. Along with the tour, the Harajuku Girls served as Stefani’s entourage in public (it was alleged that they were contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in that instance), appeared with her on interviews (where part of her gimmick was that she considered them imaginary friends), and starred in 8 of her music videos (three of them would also appear in No Doubt’s “Settle Down” video, sans Harajuku styling). Stefani would go on to use the name “Harajuku Lovers” for a line of fragrances, which came in caricature bottles fashioned after her and the Girls, and fashion for Target also adorned with those caricatures. During this period, many critics would come to regard Stefani’s Harajuku Girls as not so much cultural appreciation, but more along the lines of cultural appropriation as well as reinforcing negative ethnic stereotypes.
Fast forwarding to 2014, Stefani announced the next Harajuku-inspired product: an animated series. A desire to turn the Harajuku Girls into some kind of media project existed since the initial album’s release, but it wouldn’t be until 2013 that she pitched it at Kidscreen’s Asian Animation Summit. Australia’s Network Ten liked the idea and greenlit the production. Although this would be Stefani’s first animated series, she had a familiarity with their inner workings through her brother, No Doubt co-founder and former member Eric Stefani, who worked as an animator on cartoons like A Pup Named Scooby-Doo and The Simpsons.
Initially titled Koo Koo Harajuku, the show was developed by Steve Aranguren, Gillian Carr and Madellaine Paxson and co-produced by Vision Animation, Red Flags Fly and Moody Street Kids, with DHX Media (now WildBrain) handling distribution. Animated in Flash, the series followed the adventures of teenaged band HJ5 as they often met with challenges that prevented them from playing their gigs without interruption such as unruly fans, fun-hating despots, or inventions gone amok. HJ5 was comprised of leader G (modeled after Stefani, voiced by Maggie Cheretien), the glue of the band who keept them together through tough times and represented bows; Love (Daisy Masterman), the group genius whose inventions often caused more problems than they solved and represented hearts; Angel (Emma Taylor-Isherwood), a bubbly and cheerful fashionista who could be a bit of an airhead at times and represented stars; Music (Sally Taylor-Isherwood), the sarcastic and strong-willed second-in-command of the band who was both an amazing fighter and dancer and represented musical notes; and Baby (Charlotte Nicdao), sweet and carefree to a fault who loved adorable things and giving hugs (and was constantly hungry) and represented cuteness. Their manager was Rudie Rhodes (Danny Smith), who was enthusiastic but hard-lucked and clumsy and tended to get the band into trouble through his antics and forgetfulness. Additionally, the band had a sassy robotic personal assistant and chauffer named R.O.D. (Robotic Obedient Driver), as well as several monster pets (cut little creatures that could be domesticated or wild) and a Pomeranian named Chewie (based on Stefani’s own pet). The characters, designed by Kyla May, were heavily influenced by the Harajuku Girls while remaining ethnically ambiguous.
The series featured a number of antagonists bent on ruining HJ5’s careers any way they could. Chief amongst them was General Ira S. Nofun (Paul Heng, Ian Bliss in Australia), the leader of Nofunland who hated anything fun. His top man was Commander Bo-ring (Bliss), who led a double life as pop star Baron Von Melody. Nofun also had a cat, Moods Meow, who had designs on world domination. Other antagonists included Madame Shhh, who hated noise and wanted to soundproof everything through magic spells and bubbles; Sammy Starr, Rudie’s arrogant rival who used leet speak and tried everything to sign HJ5 to him; Say-Wah (Nicdao), a technological whiz who wanted revenge on the band for not accepting her into their ranks; The Kimberlys, a rival band comprised of similar-looking girls all named Kimberly who wanted to be famous without doing any of the actual work; Tizzie Lizzie (Natalie Bond), the band’s biggest (and obsessive) fan and daughter of an incredibly wealthy man who attempted to subjugate HJ5; Angelica (Amanda Harrison), a young inventor and Love’s chief rial; Cici, the leader of a mermaid singing group who felt they had sole performing rights in oceanic territories; Panda Pete, a panda-obsessed businessman who wanted to make the whole world kawaii (the Japanese culture of cuteness); Mimi Di Pollo, an extreme fashion designer who wanted revenge on HJ5 for firing her because of her impractical outfits for them; and Bertrand, a smartphone modified by Love to never become obsolete that evolved into a sentient despot, among others.
Other characters included Colonel Spyke (Jaqueline Brennan), captain of the Harajuku Defense Squad who disliked HJ5’s music but didn’t hesitate to employ their services on missions when needed; Twisty-T (Smith), a prominent music producer Rudie always strove to impress; Jo Jo Jolie, a fashion designer and Twisty T’s wife; Mauve Madison (Brennan in Australia, Chrehtien in the US), a popular talk show host; Trixie La Trill (Bond), a hair stylist and Rudie’s aunt with a desire to be famous; Sparski, a sentient computer virus; and Krispin Krouton, a tabloid journalist, among others.
Kuu Kuu Harajuku debuted in Australia on 10 Peach on November 1, 2015, and then almost a year later in the United States on Nickelodeon on October 3, 2016 (moving to Nick Jr. in February). The art style was heavily inspired by the Harajuku district and kawaii with lots of unusual architecture, bright colors, and cute decorations dominated by smiling faces. Each episode was broken up into two segments, written by Tim Bain, Rhonda Smiley, James Hereth, Brendan Luno, Tania Lacy, Elizabeth Keyishian, Ann Austen, Obie Scott Wade, Adam Long, Becky Overton, Eddie Guzelian, Sue Rose, Mirith J. Colao, Kevin Nemeth, James Bates, Ray Boseley, Anthony Watt, Holly Lyons, Ken Pontac, Daniel Mansour and Amy Shindler, along with Aranguren and Paxson, who served as story editor. Carr directed every episode. Along with serving as an executive producer, Stefani provided the theme song and voiced Gwen, a fashion designer from the confectionary-based city of Sweetropolis. The rest of the series’ music was composed by Christopher Elves and Mark McDuff, with Dani Iacovelli and Sophie McDuff providing vocals. The music was heavily inspired by Stefani’s first two albums, which she described as a mix between “80s video game and pop music.”
Much like Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, reception to the series was mixed and labeled as cultural appropriation. Reviewers pointed out the whitewashing and Westernization of Japanese culture while simultaneously eliminating anything remotely Japanese from the show. Despite that, the series was able to churn out 3 seasons and was nominated for an Asian Television Award in 2016. For the third season, HJ5 embarked on a world tour that took them out of Harajuku City to new and exotic locations with their own crazy themes, such as bubblegum, musical instruments or yo-yos, via a teleporting tour bus concocted by Love. The last five episodes of the series aired initially on Disney Channel Australia before airing on 10 Peach.
Mattel acquired the license to produce toys based on the show, including fashion dolls and playsets, as well as packs of small charms to decorate the dolls or an included wearable ring. Shout! Factory struck a deal with DHX to release home media for the series. To date, they’ve only released 20 episodes from the first season across three DVDs. An official YouTube channel, KuuKuuTube, contains full episodes and clips. The entire series was made available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and Pluto TV, and most of it on Google Play. In 2016, Nickelodeon uploaded a music video of Stefani singing an expanded and remixed version of the show’s theme.
“Totally Teen Genie / Angel’s Flight” (11/1/15 AU, 10/3/16 US) – Angel discovers a sassy genie in a bottle of hair gel. / Angel is determined to restore her reputation when an unflattering picture of her is released online.
“Training Day / Multi Tasking” (7/1/17 AU, 7/7/17 US) – Performing for passengers causes the band to miss their train. / The band tries to play the two concerts Rudie booked them for at the same time.
“Kawaii to the World Tour / Mind Games” (8/10/18 US, 8/11/18 AU) – The band rushes around to try and prepare for a world tour within two hours. / When the Bubblegumburg concert goes poorly, G has Love invent a mind-reading device to find out how to reach their audience.