Niki Yang’s Empowered Fantasy ‘Yoyotoki’ Energizes Amazon Pilot Season
Refreshingly anchored by a girl adventurer, and written by that animation industry rarity — a woman — Yoyotoki: Happy Ears! is an Amazon Studios pilot worth voting and fighting for.
“I wanted to make a character who is vulnerable, but not a saggy tear bag,” Yoyotoki creator Niki Yang told Cartoon Brew. “How many times have we stood in front of the mirror, wishing we were somebody else? Yoyotoki has, but she doesn’t let that overwhelm her. She would rather explore the world around her, and seek out who she really is.”
The world will learn more about the versatile Yang if Yoyotoki’s pilot wins the hearts and minds of viewers of Amazon Studios’ fall 2015 pilot season, and is greenlit for further development. After serving time as an artist for, among others, Fanboy and Chum Chum, Family Guy, Gravity Falls, and Clarence, as well as writing and voicing episodes of the similarly surreal Adventure Time, Yang is ready for the spotlight. For that focus, she has chosen a heroic young fox and her two companions, a fantastically elastic gummy bear named Steak and a sloppy pig named Hotwings, to lead Yoyotoki’s magical adventures into Internet television.
Yang explained to me the setup for the show: “Yoyotoki was raised with cell phones, computers, and all of the other gadgets and trappings of modern life, but her parents soon got tired of the rat race and decided to move to the countryside, where they encountered a tornado and found themselves in a strange land called Mytholopia, a beautiful world filled with waterfall farms, rainbow forests, and desert canyons. My inspiration was my 12-year-old niece, who is somewhat insecure about who she is. I’d like to encourage kids to be comfortable with themselves, because they are wonderful just as they are. They just can’t see it yet.”
Yang’s conception of Yoyotoki: Happy Ears grew, as all of her ideas do, from doodling; in this case, “a big eared fox with a playful smile and sincere eyes,” she said.
From there, the pilot snowballed into a show that is as “crazy and weird and surreal and insane” as the others that come from Yoyotoki’s production studio, Titmouse, studio co-founder Chris Prynoski told Cartoon Brew. “Yoyotoki: Happy Ears has all that, a main character with heart who really cares about her friends, and all the fresh styles you’ll certainly enjoy,” he explained, as the voting period for Amazon’s current pilot season drew nearer.
Co-produced by Amazon Studios and Titmouse, with animation from Saerom Animation in Seoul, South Korea — “My hometown!” cheered Yang — Yoyotoki: Happy Ears is an accessible but still surreal experience for viewers of all ages. Like Adventure Time before it, Yoyotoki offers multiple levels of humor and meaning across demographics. Unlike Adventure Time, however, it’s not primarily aimed at the dudebros.
In that respect, Yoyotoki remains an animation outlier, even amongst Amazon’s deserving pilots, which range from Moonbot’s sweet but strange The Numberlys to Cartoon Saloon’s smart and satrirical Eddie of the Realms Eternal.
“You should watch it because it’s bananas,” advised Prynoski. “Did you ever see your eyes high five each other?”