Julien Neaves, Editor
Somebody please cue the opening paragraph! *bird squawking sounds*
Let’s flashback to 1992. Trinidad and Tobago’s third television station AVM Television has been launched. That new station begins airing Samurai Pizza Cats, this wacky animated series about anthropomorphic armour-wearing samurai cats fighting anthropomorphic ninja crows and various robots in a modern feudal Japan-hybrid city called Little Tokyo. As a young-un I found the show’s extremely catchy theme music and over-the-top antics quite entertaining, and three decades later it still holds a fond place in my heart.
It was years later I learned the show was an American adaptation of anime series Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee) and all that farcical humour was because of the lack of proper translations and a decision to write completely original dialogue for the English dub. Talk about taking lemons and making delicious lemonade. As I’ve been currently discovering and rediscovering classic anime, I decided to revisit Samurai Pizza Cats to see how well it held up all these years later. With a giant robot-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s retro review SPC in three slices:
Slice #1 All That Gags
The first thing that hits you when watching the show is the above-mentioned theme song which not only describes the show, main characters and setting but introduces viewers to its oddball humour. “They’ve got more fur than any turtle ever had!” Yes, that is a cheeky swipe at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (easily the most popular cartoon franchise featuring anthropomorphic characters) in the main theme. And it’s a swipe that makes no sense, is completely ridiculous and therefore hilarious. We also learn they are stronger than both old cheese and dirt. Just roll with it. And you had better like the theme because it is repurposed mid-episode during the cats’ launch sequence and for the outro. This sounds like it would wear out its welcome, but Shuki Levy and Haim Saban’s delivered such a delightful earworm that it never gets old. I watched all 52 episodes and it was a joyous blast every time. It’s like the anti-Star Trek: Enterprise theme. Burn!
The main reason to recommend rewatching the series is the comedy, which is an effective mix of slapstick, meta humour and a flood of American pop culture references. As a child I would have enjoyed the slapstick silliness but everything else would have flown over my young head. But as an adult I laughed my backside out at the sarcastic narrator commenting on the quality of the show, the characters complaining about their contracts, their screentime and the script, and even directly addressing the audience. Both heroes and villains are able to deliver on the laughs, and even side characters like the incisive Little Tokyo residents Momma Mutt and Junior drop biting one liners like it’s nobody’s business.
And the pop culture references? They fly at you fast and furious and span the gamut from politics to Pink Floyd. And a lot of Garfield references for some reason. The show may have been targeted at a younger audience, but only adults would truly appreciate it. Which makes it perfect for xennials like me (born late 1970s to early 1980s).
Now there are some gags that do get repetitive, like tea house owner and love interest Lucille blowing up people with her head rockets (why she has rockets in her head is never explained) or big bad Big Cheese exploding every episode when he gets angry. And while these are charming, they’re ability to produce a chuckle dried up pretty quickly.
Slice #2 Those Crazy Cats (And Other Assorted Anthropomorphic Characters)
The show’s characters are as fun as I remembered. SPC leader Speedy Cerviche is the brave and cocky hero. Polly Esther (yes, even the names are jokes) is beautiful and bossy. Guido Anchovy is sarcastic and girl crazy. They have great chemistry and their frequent infighting and putdowns are always energetic. In terms of storylines, Speedy gets the lion’s share and Polly has a few times in the spotlight, but I was disappointed that Guido always played third wheel and never truly got a chance in the sun. This is especially unfortunate because I found his dry wit with the most relatable.
Our heroes have a strong support team. Team operator Francine made me chuckle with rhymes and onomatopoeia when firing the cats out of the base’s cannon. Palace guard head and the team’s boss Big Al Dente is wise. And the four-member Rescue Team spiced up the action whenever they came in to answer to Speedy’s ringing bell. Outside the team we have the insane Emperor Fred who constantly repeats his name like a Pokémon, spoiled Princess Violet and her penchant for condemning people to Prisoner Island, and the lecherous genius Guru Lou.
The villains are led by Little Tokyo’s prime minister Seymour “The Big” Cheese, who, like the theme’s singer, sounds very reminiscent of late US comedian Paul Lynde. Big Cheese is clearly gay (which would have been lost on junior Julien) which he demonstrates with his flambouyant crossdressing and flirting with his male henchmen. Yeah, not the most progressive homosexual characterisation but not uncommon in the 90s. His outrageous shenanigans are amusing though. The straight man (no pun intended) to Big Cheese’s glam is Jerry Artric (yes, that is a play on geriatric), his old and wise advisor and leader of the Ninja Crows. Together they make quite the comedy duo.
But Big Cheese likes to keep his nefarious dealings secret, so the hands-on dirty work is left to Bad Bird and the Ninja Crows. The smack talk between Bad Bird and the cats is as sharp as their swords, and the feisty character actually received more fleshing out than I remembered. Other main antagonists are the elite group of Ninja Crows, The Rude Noise. Like the Rescue Team, they added some variety to the action every now and again, but otherwise were pretty forgettable.
Slice #3 Fists of Furry
Two elements of SPC that unfortunately do not hold are the animation and the action. The animation is serviceable but has a dull, rough quality to it, even for 90s-era anime. A lot of scenes were reused each episode, likely as a way to keep costs down. And the action really is nothing to write home to mamma about. The fights with the Ninja Crows and Bad Bird are very brief and lacking in diversity.
And the battle with the robot-of-the week would usually consist of the cats getting their furry butts handed to them before Speedy would end it with his Cat’s Eye Slash, though Polly does step in on a couple of occasions for the coup de grace. Things slightly change up when the team discovers the Supreme Catatonic, and they get snazzy flight suits and a giant robot to fight with. But if you go in hoping to have your anime action jones satisfied, you would likely be disappointed.
The storylines are in keeping with the series’ wacky nature and while almost everything is confined to Little Tokyo, we do visit different locations and time travel in a few episodes. And there are some instances of inter-episode continuity, which I appreciated. Now, it doesn’t make sense that the cats are a secret team but when serving pizza or fighting crime they look almost identical and yet no one can recognise them. One of the many things you just have to roll out. One plot point, however, I found came out of left field was the romance between Speedy and Polly at the end of the series. There was never any hint of this before and Speedy seemed madly in love with Lucille, so this just didn’t work for me.
SPC is not a deep show or a very well animated one, but I would be lying if I said I was not thoroughly entertained throughout the 52 episodes. So, hail to thee oh Pizza Cats. I liked ringing your little bell. Although you may have been pen and ink, you cracked me up like PIZZA CATS!
Editor Jules’s Score: 7 out of 10
Are you a fan of Samurai Pizza Cats? What did you like most about it? And you can check out more anime content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.