By AKANKSHA SAH
Hello Kitty – that adorable white cat with the little bows and flowers under her ear – has become a globally recognized icon since she first made an appearance on a coin purse in Japan in 1974, now decorating everything from t-shirts to beer cans. As one of the few characters who has been able to transcend country borders and language barriers to become a favorite worldwide, Hello Kitty and her great success cannot be attributed simply to luck; when designing the character, her creators at Sanrio worked hard to design her in a way that would give her the most universal appeal.
For example, the absence of a mouth on the character was actually created with the intention of making her reflect the emotions of whoever is looking at her; if someone is excited, Hello Kitty seems to be smiling back with her friendly face, but if someone is sad, her eyes seem to contain a deep feeling of melancholy. Her creators’ efforts were well rewarded, because her success is greater and farther reaching than any of them had predicted.
Indeed, it seems like just about everyone knows her nowadays, but do they really? Just who is this mysterious creature everyone knows simply for her versatile image? The answer was delivered to Hello Kitty fans worldwide on August 26, when Sanrio announced that the “cat” is not who most people think she is; in fact, she is not even a cat at all. Her real name is Kitty White, and she is a perpetual third grade girl who lives in England.
Disbelieving Hello Kitty fans have been surprised, to say the least, commenting on the new information across all social media sites. “‘Sanrio confirms that Hello Kitty is NOT a cat.’ One of the many reasons why I have trust issues”, tweeted @eisakuivan, voicing the popular position on the subject.
The controversy is not just limited to the internet, though. When asked where she got her love for Hello Kitty from, long-time fan Danica Silan (Jr.) said, “My mom was a very big Hello Kitty fan when she was little, and she still is now, so she passed down the tradition to my sister and I, and I have been a fan ever since.” Coming from a family of Hello Kitty lovers, she was definitely affected by Sanrio’s statement, and said, “At first I thought it was a joke, and then I was shocked, because my whole room is Hello Kitty, so now I imagine it’s a girl staring at me in my room.” When asked how this has affected her view of Hello Kitty, Silan said, “I think of her as a cat. Even though I know deep down that she’s a girl, I will always think of her as a cat. My love for the character hasn’t changed, but my love for the creators – my love for Sanrio has changed.” Silan, like many others, is choosing to ignore the company’s statement and continue to think of her favorite character as the cat it has always been in her mind.
In response to the controversy, Sanrio maintains its original statement.
“Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature.”
The company points out that Hello Kitty has a pet named Charmmy Kitty, who is a real cat that actually acts like one, taking naps in the sun and chasing butterflies. “How can a cat have a pet cat?” Sanrio’s executives ask, defending their claim that there never should have been confusion as to what species Hello Kitty is in the first place. While they do not specifically state that Hello Kitty is a human girl, the creators do firmly insist that she is not a cat – she is just a character.
Either way, Hello Kitty has a huge fan base that is definitely not going anywhere, and there is expected to be a huge turnout at the first ever Hello Kitty Convention in Downtown Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo. The event will go on from October 30 through November 2, 2014 to celebrate the character’s 40 year anniversary. Cat or not, Hello Kitty has one of the largest fan bases of any character today, and it looks like it will stay that way for many years to come.