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Goodbye Kitty, hello Keroppi?

Published Jan. 15, 1996|Updated Sep. 15, 2005

She's the mouthless, ultra-cute white feline who believes "you can never have too many friends."

He's the athletically inclined amphibian who lives on the edge of Donut Pond, the largest and bluest pond around.

She's Hello Kitty. He's Keroppi (Ker-row-pee), a frog. She's been top cat for 20 years, but now Keroppi, a younger rival, is practically as popular.

Created in 1976, Hello Kitty is the leading character of Japan-based Sanrio Inc. products, which range from fashion accessories to software.

Super-girly from the get-go and as popular as Barbie in Japan, Hello Kitty had a brief career in cartoons in the mid-'80s. But it's Hello Kitty products _ pencils, banks, suitcases, etc. _ that kept her popular with American pee-wees.

The '90s found Hello Kitty among an older crowd, bouncing on the backpacks of the terminally hip or on barrettes inserted into green and purple hair. Her shiny vinyl accessories became the ultimate for alterna-rockers sick of drab flannel gloom. Even British comic book tuffy Tank Girl sported a Hello Kitty accessory or two (in the graphic novel, not in the movie).

Despite her immigration from the kindergarten set to fans in their teens and 20s, her popularity is now being challenged by Keroppi.

"He's cute, and he's new," says Corey Brightman, 10, of Tampa. Checking out the new items at Sanrio Surprises Inc. at Tampa Bay Center, Corey says her Keroppi collection includes (so far) a pocket planner, playing cards, a note pad and pencil. The Hello Kitty doll she cuddled as a toddler is all but forgotten as she and her friends rave about "the frog."

"The frog" may not have as cutesy a crossover appeal for boys. Her brother Randy, 7, contends, "I just don't want to be in this girl's stuff at all."

Other Sanrio characters introduced to complement the Hello Kitty line include Pekkle (a duck), Pippo (a pig) and the increasingly popular Pochacco, (a puppy). Each character has its own biography as well as a birthday. Keroppi (introduced in 1988) joined Hello Kitty's cartoon career on videos and software for tykes.

Newer characters are meeting the demands of older kids by adorning beeper cases and radio cards, but Hello Kitty is the only Sanrio character that has not expanded into an older market.

"We see the Hello Kitty fan being a little younger," says Bill Hensley, spokesman for Kitty and her pals. According to Bill, younger kids tend to adopt one of the other characters as they get older (but he still gets letters and phone calls all the time from Kitty fans as old as, say, your parents).

Both Marcy Traughber and Amy Peterson, 17-year-old Tampa students, have been into Sanrio stuff since eighth grade. Shopping for a late Christmas present for a friend, Marcy selects a Pochacco gum dispenser and pencils for the gift and a Pochacco beeper case for herself.

Both Marcy and Amy have extensive collections of Pekkle and Pochacco; in fact they say they like every character but Hello Kitty. "I just don't like the red," Amy says of Kitty's motif.

But it's hardly time to say say Goodbye Kitty. She and Keroppi run neck and neck in popularity, and last year Kitty sold more stuff than ever. Her huge following has branched out over the Internet with various Web sites set up by Hello Kitty enthusiasts.

For Laura Colado, 11, it's still Hello Kitty all the way. Sanrio Surprises is a regular birthday stop for the Tampa resident, whose mother says it's easier to point out the Hello Kitty products she doesn't have than list the ones she does.

"Keroppi is cute and all, but I don't have any of his stuff," says Laura. "I've looked, and I still like Hello Kitty."

While Sanrio Inc. completes its official Web sight, you can memorize the life stories of all your favorite characters on the Big Top Productions site (http://www.bigtop.com). If you can't stop talking about the mouthless cat, check into the Hello Kitty news group on America Online. (alt.fan.hello-kitty).

For a Sanrio catalog or the location of a store nearest you, call (800) 272-6746

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