The Tragic Case of Hello Kitty’s Best Friend Cathy

Ever since she first appeared, Hello Kitty has been synonymous with Japanese kawaii culture and all things cute. There's a lot that most don't know about the cute kitty, like that her last name is White or the names of the many animal friends that join her on her adventures. One such friend was Cathy, a white bunny rabbit just as cute as the Sanrio mascot.

Unfortunately, Cathy won't end up being nearly as timeless as Kitty. A lawsuit from a rival Dutch company led to Hello Kitty saying sayonara to one of her closest friends. Thankfully for her human fans, however, the story had a much happier ending in real life. Here's the story behind Cathy the Rabbit's legal controversy.

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Cathy the Rabbit was another creation of Sanrio, and debuted in 1976, two years after Kitty made her first appearance. Like Kitty, Cathy was white with very few facial features, and wore a bow or flower to match her clothes. Her cute appearance and role as Kitty's best friend made her a constant part of the various Hello Kitty cartoons and media. This gave Cathy a worldwide presence since, although she wasn't as popular as her best friend, the pair's connection made Cathy part of a global phenomenon. Unfortunately, their friendship would come to a permanent end in 2011, with no less than a lawsuit coming in between them.

Cathy's appearance, as well as that of Kitty's, was criticized by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. Bruna is the creator of a character named Miffy, a white cartoon rabbit whose various adventures in over 20 books have sold tens of millions of copies across the world. She first appeared in 1955, though she had floppy ears instead of straight ones. It wasn't until 8 years later that she received her more iconic design, which instead featured straight ears. Both designs use a minimalist style, especially Miffy's face. Bruna created the character after trying to draw a small rabbit that he saw hopping about.

This second look came out over 10 years before Hello Kitty's debut and 13 years before Cathy, leading Bruna to not only dislike Sanrio's creations, but see them as literal ripoffs. The somewhat uncanny resemblance between Cathy and Miffy is arguable, especially given the vastly greater popularity of the Hello Kitty brand compared to the comparatively unknown -- though still widely popular -- Miffy. This didn't stop Bruna, however, and in 2010, he and his copyrighting firm took Sanrio to court. That year, the Amsterdam Regional Court ruled in favor of Bruna and ordered Sanrio to cease production and sale of any material involving Cathy in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Sanrio initially intended to contest the ruling, especially given that it would have to potentially pay up to 2 million euros a day if it didn't comply. These plans apparently changed, however, when they reached an agreement out of court with Bruna's Mercis firm. Sanrio agreed to officially retire the Cathy character and would refrain from using her or any other character resembling Bruna's work in future media. Likewise, both companies would take their intended legal fees and instead donate around $160,000 to the victims of the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. This means that, ever since then, Kathy has been nowhere to be found among Hello Kitty and her other friends. Thankfully, at least some humanitarian good came out of the legal war of the rabbits.