It’s easy to see why Hello Kitty has grabbed the attention of kids worldwide. Kids typically love animals.
Hello Kitty is a cat character drawn in an exceptionally cute style.
Moreover, this totally cute cartoon has appeared on a countless number of kid-friendly products, from stuffed animals to school supplies to bedding to lunchboxes.
What might be more interesting to note is just how Hello Kitty came to be, her staying power, and why it’s not just children who count themselves among her adoring fans.
Certainly, Hello Kitty’s original designer Yuko Shimizu’s conception of the Hello Kitty character lent itself to a particular universality.
In a TIME interview from 2008, the artist explained that Hello Kitty is not drawn with a mouth “so that people who look at her can project their own feelings onto her face, because she has an expressionless face….”
In this way, Hello Kitty can speak for anybody, which is in keeping with the motto “social communication” used by Sanrio, the company to whom she belongs.
And she has proved to be very communicative. Quite a feat for a cat without a mouth, and perhaps, for a cat at all.
Cat lovers will tell you not only just how their felines speak to their pet parents’ hearts, but how capable they are of making their own cat wants and needs known in general.
However, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise when a story broke in 2014 saying that Hello Kitty had been outed as a cat imposter. That’s right, the media went crazy with reports that she was instead, a human girl in a cat costume.
Hello Kitty was originally marketed to little girls, starting out appearing on stationary and diaries.
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But how did Hello Kitty’s visage end up decorating adult-sized clothing and sometimes even the credit and debit cards they’re purchased with?
Starting the 90’s, the brand began being marketed to teens and adults, hoping to capitalize on these individuals’ childhood nostalgia for Hello Kitty, and even to reach those who missed out on enjoying Hello Kitty products as children.
Hello Kitty has become a cultural icon, not only for Japan, but over the world. And, as it turns out, she is a cat, after all! Or, close enough.
After the rumors flew that Hello Kitty was not a real cat, Sanrio spoke out with a correction, saying in a Kotaku interview: “Hello Kitty was done in the motif of a cat. It’s going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Hello Kitty is a personification of a cat.”
Basically just like Mickey Mouse, said a Sanrio rep in another interview with Rocket News. No one would mistake the Disney character for a human–but at the same time he’s not quite a mouse. Just like Hello Kitty isn’t a human, she’s not quite a cat either.
Of course, Hello Kitty is a cat! In a world where cat videos and memes have taken over the internet, who else could continue to so command our attention?
Who else could so successfully captivate not just children drawn to a cute animal friend, but to grown-ups seeking a Hello Kitty makeup compact, or their latest fine jewelry splurge to bear her face?