Puffy AmiYumi are a Japanese pop group who have achieved the status of a minor industry in their homeland, where their records have sold over fourteen million units, they've successfully marketed a dizzying variety of merchandise (from the traditional T-shirts and souvenir books to dolls, bow ties, and underwear) and starred in not one but two successful television shows.
The duo has also enjoyed considerable critical success for their infectious and energetic pop music, in which vocalists Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura have succeeded in letting their eclectic musical personalities shine through in a genre where cookie-cutter production is often the order of the day, recording tunes that run the gamut from polished electronic bubblegum to British Invasion-influenced pop to hooky, guitar-based pop-punk. Onuki was a student in high school when she joined a band that scored a record deal and management contract with Sony Music's Japanese branch; however, the group splintered while the label took its time deciding what to do with them, and Onuki ended up making her recording debut as a solo artist. Meanwhile, Yoshimura had taken part in a talent competition that brought her to the attention of Sony's management staff, and she met Onuki at a party thrown by Sony after a concert. The two became fast friends and discovered they had similar taste in music; discovering they made a good vocal duo, they persuaded Sony to let them record together. Adopting the group name Puffy, the duo teamed with producer Tamio Okuda and released the single "Asia No Junshin" (aka "True Asia") in 1996. It was an immediate smash hit in Japan, and the album that followed, titled AmiYumi, followed it to the top of the charts as the young women became a constant presence in the Japanese media. A year later, the album Solo Solo appeared, which featured seven songs from Onuki's unsuccessful solo album along with an equal number of tracks from Yoshimura; the same year saw the debut of Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy, a television variety show in which Ami and Yumi interacted with several puppet friends and played host to international celebrities. 1998's Jet CD was another smash that topped the sales of Puffy's first two albums, and Fever Fever followed in 1999, featuring a few songs in English as well as production from former Jellyfish member Andy Sturmer. Sturmer began writing songs with Onuki and Yoshimura, and he was a major contributor on 2001's Spike, which became their first North American release. It also debuted the duo's new name, Puffy AmiYumi; shortly after they gave their debut performance in America at the 2000 South by Southwest Music Festival, hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs served them with a cease-and-desist notice, and they amended their name to avoid confusion. In 2002, the American independent album Bar/None issued a collection of Puffy AmiYumi's Japanese hits titled An Illustrated History, which offered fans in the United States an insight into the group's formative period. Bar/None also issued their next set of original material, 2003's Nice (wrapped in a cover that mimicked John Lennon and Yoko Ono's famous Bed-In for Peace), which followed Hit Parade, a 2002 set in which the duo covered ten major Japanese hits of the '70s. While Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy went off their air in 2002, Puffy AmiYumi returned to television in 2004 with Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, a Cartoon Network series that featured both live action and animated versions of Onuki and Yoshimura; a soundtrack CD of tunes used on the show was released that year. (Cartoon Network fans were already hip to Puffy AmiYumi after they wrote and performed the theme song for the series Teen Titans.) As Puffy AmiYumi's American following grew, Sony released an English-language version of their 2006 album Splurge in the United States through their short-lived Tofu Records imprint, which specialized in marketing Asian acts in America. The album failed to break through in the U.S., and 2007's Honeycreeper wasn't issued in America; it also marked the first Puffy AmiYumi albums since Fever Fever with no contributions from Sturmer. Avril Lavigne, Butch Walker, and Roger Joseph Manning (ex-Jellyfish) all contributed to the songwriting on 2009's Bring It!, while Onuki and Yoshimura dominated the songwriting credits on 2011's Thank You. ~ Mark Deming