The puppies Ryouku, Hana, Chai, Aru, and friends have small every-day adventures that teach lessons like the importance of listening, fair competition, and sharing, with an emphasis on tea.
When viewing a title like this you have to keep the target audience in mind. I obviously don't belong in the show's intended demographic - very young children. Even so, there are a number of things that make Ocha-ken enjoyable for all ages.
The animation style isn't typical to anime. Instead of the slick, glossy images fans are used to the scenes out of Ocha-ken are closer to resembling something out of South Park, with the paper-cut out style. It's not something that would immediately jump out and grab your attention, especially since the color-scheme used takes a noticeable trend towards earth tones. The simplicity is used extremely effectively though, and the characters still manage to seem quite expressive even with a limit amount of motion and details.
I can't really say much for the story. Each short (and I mean short - one minute of each 3 and a half minute episode is dedicated to opening and closing sequences, leaving us with only two and a half minutes of original animation per episode) is a stand-alone story where another lesson takes place. But even these messages are subtle, and in some episodes aren't clear until you see the haiku at the end of the episode. But I think in this case a shorter episode time works to the advantage of the show. I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed this nearly so much if each segment went on for a half hour. Two and a half minutes is much more stomach-able, especially when spread out over a number of weeks as I watched the original broadcast.
If you're thinking of trying to show this title to your own children though, I'd caution that many would be confused by various depictions of Japanese culture: watermelon smashing, the use of incense, of course lots of references to tea, and the list goes on. Most of this would probably be lost on your average American child without a lot of explanation.
I can't really give the show any points for characterization either. With such a limited time-frame to work with, you never really get beyond general statements such as Ryouku likes to sleep, Hana likes to make deserts, and Aru is very energetic. And again, this is a show meant for especially young children (7 and under I'd say). While it would have been just as bad for them to try and develop the characters more than possible in 65 total minutes of footage, I do believe they could have put in a bit more in this department.
The entire mood is subdued, but pleasant. The female narrative voice-over, which provides all of the dialogue for the series, further enhances the effect with her own soothing voice. In fact, the sounds of Ocha-ken are probably more responsible for setting the tone of the series than the muted animation itself. The ending theme is especially catchy and adorable, and I find myself humming it from time to time, even months after watching any episodes.
So, is Ocha-ken cute? Judging from the art alone, I wouldn't be inclined to say so, although sometimes what the Japanese consider cute absolutely baffles me. But with all the elements put together I found the entire package pretty endearing. What attracted me to the characters in the end were the situations the tea puppies found themselves in, the little bits of motion that seemed perfectly placed, and spot-on sound effects.
Ocha-ken isn't a title that will interest the vast majority of anime fans. However, in its short time span it still manages to be cute and enjoyable. — Hannah Stanton
Recommended Audience: These segments would fit in perfectly with any episode of Sesame Street. You have to stretch your imagination pretty far to come up with anything unsuitable.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-release fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Ocha-Ken © 2003 SEGA Toys / HORIPRO
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