So is Hello Kitty a cat or not?
News that Sanrio's beloved feline character is actually, gasp, a girl rocked the world on Wednesday, after a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Anthropologist Christine Yano from the University of Hawaii told the newspaper that the Japanese company had corrected her "very firmly" when she described Hello Kitty as a cat when preparing for an upcoming Kitty retrospective at the Japanese American National Museum.
"That's one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show," she told the Times. "Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two- legged creature."
But wait. Now it emerges that Hello Kitty, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year, is not quite human either.
On Thursday, Sanrio reportedly told Japanese website RocketNews: "We never said she was a human."
A Sanrio spokesman was also quoted on gaming site Kotaku as saying: "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."
The company may sound confused about the character's identity, but no matter. Whatever Sanrio decides Hello Kitty is, fans here are adamant that it remains the kawaii cat they have always adored.
As home-grown singer-actress Sherraine Law (left), 22, puts it: "Hello Kitty has cat ears and whiskers. How can it be a girl?"
Others, such as photographer Warren Wee, 28, cite Hello Kitty's colour as proof of its feline identity: "Hello Kitty is white in colour, like some cats."
Brand owner Sanrio would argue, however, that the character is white because she is British, with her birthplace listed as "the suburbs of London".
According to Hello Kitty's profile online, she was born to George and Mary White, has a twin sister Mimmy and counts bears, monkeys and a seal among her friends.
Since Hello Kitty's friends are all part of the animal kingdom, some fans here see her social network as yet another indication of her animal origins. Others, however, welcome the news that Hello Kitty is not a cat.
Undergraduate Priscilla Lee, 22, says: "I have a phobia of cats and I've always told my friends that Hello Kitty is just a cartoon character."
She adds: "I've always found her to be more human than animal. I recall watching Hello Kitty dressed up as Snow White in cartoons and interacting with the animals as though she were a human."
Others are cheered by Sanrio's latest comments.
Ms Kitty Tan, 36, a senior marketing manager at a laser medical facial clinic chain here, says she is "relieved".
"This makes more sense. Earlier, I felt that if I were meant to understand Hello Kitty logically, then as a human, it ought to have a mouth. But it doesn't," she says. "I'm glad Sanrio is showing us that we can indeed see cartoon characters however we want, and that we don't need to put human or non-human labels on them."
She adds: "These characters are meant to make us happy; they should not confuse us." Whether Hello Kitty is a cat or not, fans still pledge undying love for her.
Ms Sofie Chandra, 31, Zouk's head of business development and public relations, says: "It doesn't matter what others say. To me, Hello Kitty is still a female cat. My perception hasn't changed at all because I've seen her as a cat since I was young."
Adds Ms Tan: "At the end of the day, I still like Hello Kitty. Oh wait, should I call it a 'her'?"
This article was first published on August 31, 2014.
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