By David Cabrera
#12: Samurai Pizza Cats: “As soon as someone finds the script, we might begin the show!”
The US anime market is a funny thing. Just a few weeks ago, Discotek-- a small distributor that specializes in old titles with small but willing fanbases-- announced they were releasing Samurai Pizza Cats (originally Kyatto Ninden Teyandee) to the cheers of a generation of 90s kids.
This show wasn't a major, nationwide success, but you could probably ask a child of my generation “Remember Samurai Pizza Cats?” and get a smile out of them. At the time, we were all big fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and TV cartoons were desperately throwing together every group of fighting animals they could think of in hopes of recapturing that. The S.W.A.T. Kats? That was a thing. Biker Mice from Mars? That too.
By what was likely coincidence, the Teyandee cat ninjas were perfect. They even sold pizza, the favorite food of the Ninja Turtles, so that word made it to the title. Of course, if they were ninja pizza cats, then the show would be called a shameless ripoff... so they were called samurai instead, because it was assumed that American kids didn't understand the difference. At this time, American kids didn't even know the cartoon they were watching was Japanese!
The source material (of course I've gone back and watched it!) was a very straightforward kids' comedy, but the English dub was... a little different.
The philosophy behind Samurai Pizza Cats was, in short, to throw out the script and have as much fun as possible with it. The title of this article is a line from the theme song. More a parody dub than a straight translation of the original series, Samurai Pizza Cats is extremely fond of self-referential jokes. Characters regularly point out the fact that they are cartoon characters, and narration like “it was the scariest monster our animators could draw!” was common. My most vivid childhood memory of Pizza Cats is that the narrator was constantly complaining about the cost of his ongoing divorce.
Usually when an anime series is so thoroughly messed around with for an English release, anime fans rightfully get very upset (see One Piece's failed, censored US run, or the heavily edited catastrophe that Fox made out of Escaflowne). But Teyandee wasn't the most serious thing in the world to begin with, and it wasn't something even the most diehard American anime fans were passing around on VHS tape amongst themselves. So everything worked out.
Would such a strategy work out today, when English-speaking anime fans know all about every single new show that airs on Japanese television? Perhaps, with the right material: a rewrite of Crayon Shin-chan in the same style has enjoyed some success on late-night cable. The right show for this treatment would be quite hard to find.
I leave you with some words from Samurai Pizza Cats itself that I believe represent its character: “Tomcats! You can't live with 'em, and you can't throw 'em down a well and drown 'em! There ought to be a law!”