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91 Things We Saw at the Hello Kitty 40th Anniversary Exhibit in Downtown Los Angeles

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Hello Kitty turns 40 this year – but just like you’re not supposed to call her a cat, don’t call it a birthday. Sanrio is very persnickety about semantics, and would rather you called this the 40th anniversary of her first appearance.

In honor of their meowing mascot hitting the middle-age mark, Sanrio is hosting several celebrations, including an exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. Yes, we were there, and yes, we have a cat-ton of pictures to show of this part-history, part-art-inspiration exhibit. Let the cuteness commence!

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Julia and I were interviewed by NPR, whose first question to me was “Hello Kitty isn’t nerdy, is it?” I opined that of course it was, just like My Little Pony, and not just because of crossovers with Ninja Turtles and Japanese pro-wrestling – the collectibility of the merchandise and the obsessiveness of the fandom lines it up perfectly with so many other cartoon characters we get into and collect.

If you don’t speak Hello Kittese, Julia has a primer for you:

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Julia got interviewed by a Japanese radio station over her fandom.

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Oh myyyy…look who a key sponsor is.

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The very first Hello Kitty item ever – a coin purse.

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Clearly a genius ahead of his time.

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Toilet paper, motor oil, and fencing gear. All totally suited to promote a cat without a mouth.

We think we’ve monetized everything in the U.S., but we are amateurs compared to Sanrio.

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I suspect the Hello Kitty/KISS deal happened because even Gene Simmons realized he was a marketing amateur in the face of this empire.

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Yes, that gray Hello Kitty on the far-right is a HELLO KITTY HEADSTONE. And my wife wants one.

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Again, this is why Sanrio are masters of marketing. Who else thinks to make a toy of their iconic character with open heart surgery? And yet for kids who have to have open-heart surgery, I bet this is an amazing gift.

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My secret’s out. 15 and a half apples tall.

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Zoetrope-type device – not yet working.

Time for the artistic interpretations…

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Let’s look at that last one close-up…

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Julia says the one above is a representation of her thought process.

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Kittyzilla!

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The most disturbing thing in the whole show. Amputee, androgynous child with no genitalia, and a Hello Kitty costume overlay. Title of the piece is “Cosplay.”

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Hail to the cat, she’s the president of kitties, hail to the cat, she’s an itty-bitty, pretty kitty…

Hello Kitty outfits used on America’s Next Top Model.

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^ Hello Kitty dress worn by Lady Gaga.

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^ By Paris Hilton.

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^ By Katy Perry.

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Sanrio said it. I believe it. That settles it.

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Conclusion: Japanese people have no eye for detail at all.


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Is that a (not-so-) hidden My Little Pony?

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Not sure what the hell this last thing is – but you have to walk through a very sobering exhibit on Japanese internment in World War II to get to it. Like your reward for getting educated is to be disturbed. Or maybe to disturb you with real life history so you’ll be immune to the giant cat-cyborg when you finally see it.

About Author

Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.) Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist