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Teen Titans: How the Pop Duo Behind the Iconic Theme Got Their Own Cartoon

When you embark on a creative project, you never really know where it will lead. You can chart a course, obviously, but sometimes one opportunity leads to another one presenting itself in a way you likely hadn’t quite anticipated. For instance, you could land a gig recording a theme song for an animated series based on a comic book and later end up serving as the inspiration for an entirely new cartoon. If that sounds oddly specific, it’s because that’s exactly what happened with the Japanese pop/rock duo Puffy.

Puffy — known in the United States as Puffy AmiYumi to avoid legal trouble with rapper Sean “Puffy” Combs, aka Puff Daddy/P. Diddy — was formed in Tokyo by Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura in 1995, with the duo dropping their first album in 1996. Following the release of more albums and some work in the world of Japanese television, the duo was tapped to create the theme song for the anime-inspired DC Comics-based animated series Teen Titans, which premiered on Cartoon Network in July of 2003.

Teen Titans has gone on to become one of DC’s most beloved animated TV shows of the last two decades, especially among those who grew up with it. And easily one of its most iconic elements is its opening theme. After all, in addition to being an absolute banger in and of itself, the song was also utilized in a rather unique way that’s never really been replicated.

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Puffy AmiYumi recorded two versions of the Teen Titans theme — one in English and one in Japanese. What’s more, the version of the theme that played before a given episode actually gave viewers an idea of what to expect. If the English theme played, that meant the episode was part of the main story arc for that particular season. If the Japanese theme played, that meant it was one of the season’s various standalone/one-off episodes, which were generally (but not always) more humorous offerings.

Then-Cartoon Network Vice President Sam Register — who also served as an executive producer on Teen Titans — evidently saw even greater potential in the network’s business relationship with Puffy AmiYumi and proposed the idea of a cartoon based on the band that would help them grow their fanbase outside of Japan. Created by Register and featuring another original theme by Ami and Yumi themselves, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi premiered on Cartoon Network in November of 2004, a little over a year after Teen Titans first hit the airwaves. The show followed fictionalized, highly-exaggerated versions of Ami and Yumi — voiced by Janice Kawaye and Grey DeLisle, respectively — as they traveled the world in their tour bus, playing various gigs and getting into increasingly bizarre misadventures along the way.

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The pop-rock artists were joined on this journey by their greedy but caring manager Kaz Harada, voiced by Keone Young, and his mortal enemies Tekirai and Jang-Keng — Ami and Yumi’s pet cats. A good portion of the show’s conflict stemmed from Ami and Yumi’s drastically different personalities, with Ami being cheerful and bubbly, and Yumi being a bit rougher around the edges. Additionally, while the show took the band to all sorts of different locations — including a millennium into the future — there were a few other recurring characters, such as evil land developer Edwin Blair, alpha nerd King Chad and young obsessive stalker fan Harmony. In between episode segments, live-action vignettes featuring the real Ami and Yumi would air as well.

The show also got a considerable amount of tie-in merchandise. In addition to toys and the like, a soundtrack CD — which also featured the Teen Titans theme — was released to coincide with the show’s premiere in 2004. Moreover, two handheld video games based on Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi — one for the Game Boy Advance and one for the Nintendo DS — were released in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The animated Ami and Yumi were also regularly featured in Cartoon Network’s “CN City” bumpers and even starred in their own official tie-in comic book over at DC.

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Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi concluded its three-season, 39-episode run in 2006, airing its final episode in June of that year. That October, the show’s crew officially confirmed that it had been canceled amid a shakeup in management, with Register departing Cartoon Network. Coincidentally, Teen Titans concluded its own initial five-season run in 2006 as well, with the Season 5 finale airing in January of that year and the made-for-TV movie Teen Titans: Trouble in Toyko arriving in September, officially marking the end of the DC show in its original form.

What makes Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi‘s cancellation particularly odd how Cartoon Network essentially divorced itself from the series for a good long while after the fact. After it ended, every mention of the show was scrubbed from Cartoon Network’s website (which had basically been Register’s pet project up until that point). Furthermore, only a handful of episodes from the first two seasons were released on DVD and the show is still not available to be streamed online (at least, not officially).

After 2006, the show went totally unacknowledged for six whole years, with its eponymous characters finally popping up again on a poster celebrating Cartoon Network’s 20th anniversary in 2012. The character of Yumi also made a cameo appearance in the “Crossover Nexus” episode of OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes in 2018.

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Despite Cartoon Network sort of sweeping Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi under the rug for a time, the show has gone on to gain cult classic status. As a matter of fact, while the cartoon was aimed primarily at children, it actually had a sizeable cult following from the very beginning made up of teenagers and adults who had already been fans of Puffy’s music.

On top of that, even with Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi sort of falling by the wayside as far as Cartoon Network is concerned, both its creator and the band it was based on have decidedly left a lasting impact on the Teen Titans brand, which is what brought them together in the first place. In 2004, a character named after Register was officially made DC Comics canon. Created by Geoff Johns and Tom Grummett, Dr. Samuel Register/Zookeeper made his first appearance in Teen Titans #13. Meanwhile, in addition to its lyrics living on in the hearts and minds of fans, Puffy AmiYumi’s iconic Teen Titans theme would be remixed for the spinoff show Teen Titans Go!, which premiered in 2013 and is currently winding down on its sixth season. They have continued to be involved with the show, recording a cover of the song “The Night Begins to Shine” as part of the four-part special of the same name.

These days, Register serves as President of Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series. Meanwhile, Puffy is still active in the Japanese music scene, with their 13th and most recent studio album dropping in 2011, and their latest single arriving in 2018.

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A look back at Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, a cult classic Cartoon Network show based on the Japanese pop duo behind the iconic Teen Titans theme song.

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